Concealed in locations that often go undetected, termites destroy timber internally, leaving only a wafer-thin layer to protect them from the outside environment.
There is no predictable pattern or height restriction to their damage, with termite-infested sites found in roofs and even high-rise construction.
All new houses, including extensions, built within areas designated by municipal councils to be subjected to termite infestation, must have some form of management against termite attack.
This is a requirement of the Building Regulations 2006 (the Regulations) and means the construction of all new buildings and additions are required to be protected against termite infestation in accordance with the Australian Standard AS3660.1 - 2000 Termite management - Part 1: New Building work. The only exceptions apply to detached Class 10 buildings such as a shed, garage or carport.
Termite management involves reducing the chances of major damage caused to your house by termite infestations.
Termites cause more damage to Australian houses than fire, floods and storms combined – and it is damage not covered by household insurance.
The Regulations require all new buildings, including alterations and extensions, built within designated termite-infested areas to have some form of management against termite attack.
The National Construction Code Volumes One & Two provide two alternative strategies for termite management:
- the use of termite resistant materials for the primary structural elements
- the installation of a chemical or physical barrier system.
Who declares an area termite infested?
Local councils may declare areas within their municipality that are likely to be subject to infestation by termites.
Consult your local council to determine whether the area in which you are planning to build has been declared subject to termite infestation.
How can termites be managed?
At design stage
If you are building a new home or major extension, you can choose to use termite resistant primary structures like concrete slabs, termite resistant timber and steel frames.
By doing this you limit the potential for termite damage to secondary and superficial elements which are easier to detect and cheaper to replace.
This option may reduce future ongoing costs and uses conventional materials and construction methods and does not rely on a regular maintenance system or professional liability policy.
Alternatively you can specify a physical or chemical barrier to be installed during construction. This should be in accordance with the Australian Standard (AS3660.1) and should be finalised during the designs stage.
Some barriers will require ongoing inspections, maintenance and/or chemical replenishment.
During building construction
The risk of attack can be reduced if effort is made to remove tree stumps, roots, off-cuts and to properly consolidate the soil to minimise cracks in concrete slabs.
Concrete is a very effective termite barrier if it is correctly designed and constructed on properly prepared ground.
Termites eat any cellulose material which besides wood, can even include electrical cabling, plastics and other composite building materials. While this does not include concrete, cracks as small as 1.5mm may allow termites to find their way into a cavity such as walls and beneath floors.
When buying a house
It is strongly recommended that before you buy a house, you have an expert inspect it for termite activity.
The cost of a full report pales against the potential expense of repairs.
Ensure you engage a properly qualified, experienced and insured pest inspector and ask them to report on the type, age and condition of any termite management system which may be installed, and on the materials used for critical structural elements.
Long-term management can be gained through the application of chemical or physical barriers (or both) to prevent termites from penetrating the structure. An Australian Standard (AS3660.1) has been written on the subject.
The aim is to keep any cellulose material, especially timber, away from soil contact and to encourage termites to build a mud tube out in the open where it can be seen during a regular, careful inspection. Termite management systems are designed to stop concealed access and force termites into the open where their mud tunnels can be more easily detected.
Physical barriers range from small graded stone particles, stainless steel mesh and chemically impregnated composite products. Termite resistant materials are designed to protect the critical concealed structural elements of your home, while ensuring a ‘small target’ for any termite activity.
Ensure you use a product that has been certified and complies with the Australian Standard and, most importantly, you must arrange for appropriately qualified operators to carry out regular inspections.
You should also be fully informed about ongoing maintenance requirements and the best pre- or post-construction options.
How do I identify termite activity?
Termite activity is often difficult to detect as it usually occurs in concealed areas.
Regular visual inspections in and around you home are recommended to identify any potential termite activity. Things to look for include:
- weak timber that breaks easily revealing wafer thin layers– skirting boards are often the first point of damage
- changes in corner fascia under gutters, as termites are attracted to damp or moist areas
- mud-like tubes or material around external footings/brickwork, or internal fittings like service pipes and electrical plugs
- cracks/holes in timber or plaster with a fine dust residue.
- surrounding trees, wood piles and garden beds (up to a 50 metres radius around the home) to identify if a colony is active nearby.
If you suspect any termite activity you should engage an expert to conduct a full inspection.
What should I do if I find termites?
Should you uncover termites, try to put things back as they were.
Surface spraying and ripping out floorboards, architraves or other building material may kill a few termites in those timbers but in doing so you have lessened the chances of an expert effectively treating the main nest. The termites will re-group and probably choose to attack another section of the house structure.
Depending on preferences and construction, an approved pest controller can assist with the best type of treatment, which besides chemical spray options, may include reticulation and/or baiting systems.
Termites regularly re-infest with multiple nests attached to the colony at a radius of 50-plus metres. This, together with the fact that a termite colony can consist of over two and a half million individuals, means that if you do discover an infestation, it is prudent and civically responsible to immediately notify your neighbours and local council.
The following tips can help you avoid termite damage:
- choose a termite management system to suit your preferences and needs for the type of construction
- understand the system of termite management and maintenance requirements for your house
- check your property and building regularly for termite activity to reduce the risk of damage
- have a pest controller inspect the house every 12 months, especially if you are in a high hazard area – expert inspection should also be done before purchasing a property with a termite free statutory declaration provided by the vendor
- if you are concerned about existing or potential infestation, contact your local pest control management company
- plumbing leaks, drainage problems and roof leaks should be addressed promptly, as termites are attracted to damp conditions
- garden beds and mulching should not be built up against walls, as this allows termites an undetectable entry point to the building
- do not block or cover sub-floor ventilation with garden beds, mulching or paving
- do not stack materials against walls, as this can allow termites to enter without early detection
- sub-floor areas should be well ventilated – ensure vents are not obstructed
- storage of cellulose products in the sub-floor space should be avoided
- use termite-resistant timber for works around the property, including retaining walls
- use metal stirrups for verandas and gateposts
- regularly clean and check timber decks.