Termites are a major pest problem in many parts of Australia, especially in warmer climates like Sydney. These wood-destroying insects can cause serious structural damage to homes if left unchecked. While termites are naturally occurring, there are certain characteristics of a home that can make it more prone to termite infestation. Being aware of these risk factors is the first step towards termite prevention and control.
The primary food source for termites is cellulose, which is abundant in wood construction materials. Homes built entirely or partially from timber provide ideal conditions for termites to thrive. The species of timber used can also be a factor, with softer woods like pine being more vulnerable compared to harder woods like blackbutt or spotted gum. Using naturally termite-resistant timbers like Cyprus pine for key structural elements can help reduce risk. However, no timber is completely immune to termite attack. Ensuring proper termite barriers are installed and maintaining vigilant monitoring is essential in all wood-constructed homes.
Cracks and Crevices
Any cracks, crevices or gaps in the foundation, walls, joints or around door and window frames provide potential entry points for termites. During a termite inspection, these openings are closely examined. Recommended crack width for concrete slabs is less than 1/64th of an inch. Larger cracks, as well as gaps where pipes, wiring and other utilities penetrate walls and floors, should be sealed to deny termite access. Openings where two materials meet, like mortar joints in brick construction, also warrant close scrutiny.
Excess moisture is another condition favored by subterranean termites. Poor drainage that leads to water pooling near or under the foundation can create damp conditions that termites seek out. Proper grading to divert water away from the structure and the use of moisture barriers under slabs can help keep soil in crawl spaces and under floors dry. Downspouts should direct roof runoff well away from the building. Leaking pipes, landscape irrigation sprinklers spraying too close to the home’s perimeter, and inadequate splashback drainage can also create excess moisture.
Wood Mulch and Debris
Wood mulch, tree branches and other woody debris placed against the foundation provides termites with plentiful food and sheltered access to the structure. Areas with buried tree stumps left from previous construction are also problem spots. While wood mulch serves important landscaping purposes, it should be kept at least a foot away from the home. Likewise, firewood and leftover construction lumber should not be stacked against exterior walls or underneath decks and porches.
Insulation made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam provides energy efficiency but is also highly attractive to termites. The soft cellular structure of foam insulation is easily excavated while providing protection. If foam boards need to be used, select termite-resistant types impregnated with insecticides. Avoid use of foam as an exterior perimeter barrier. Cementitious rigid fiber board is a better termite barrier.
Proper ventilation in crawl spaces, pier-and-beam construction and attics helps keep wood dry and less hospitable to termites. Vents should be open and unobstructed without piles of insulation blocking airflow. Attics should have adequate intake and outflow vents, and clothes dryer exhaust vented outside. Crawl spaces and subfloor areas must have open perimeter vents year-round. Good ventilation not only controls excess moisture buildup, but also allows access for inspection.
In warmer regions of Australia like coastal Queensland and northern New South Wales, termites are more prevalent than cooler southern states. However, various species of termites can be found nearly everywhere apart from Tasmania. Factors like climate, soil types and moisture levels impact termite populations. Within a city like Sydney, homes in proximity to bushland reserves or rivers tend to be at higher risk of infestation. Suburban areas adjacent to commercial or industrial zones can also see increased termite pressure.
Alterations and Additions
Remodeling projects provide opportunity for termites to gain entry if not well sealed. The joint between the existing structure and new addition is a weak point. Renovations that involve digging can disrupt shallow termite tunnels and force them to seek alternative pathways indoors. All new construction elements should be fully integrated with slab and pest barriers. Infill slab joints must be carefully sealed, and pipe/duct penetrations properly collar-sealed to exclude termites.
Even if all known risk factors have been addressed, regular inspections by a licensed pest control professional are vital to detect termite activity before major damage occurs. Annual inspections are recommended, with more frequent checks if the property is at higher risk. Monitoring stations can also be permanently installed around the perimeter. Property owners should also schedule inspections after any renovations or repairs that could potentially create new openings.
There are some signs of termites that homeowners can watch out for between inspections. Small mud tubes or shelter tubes constructed over foundation walls or piers may indicate subterranean termite activity. Swarming winged reproductive termites emerging indoors is another telltale sign of an active infestation. Wood that sounds hollow when tapped or tiny piles of sawdust around baseboards could mean drywood termites are at work. If any signs are spotted, a termite inspection should be scheduled promptly.
There are several effective preventative treatments available that can help safeguard the home against termites. These include:
- Treated termite barriers – Termite-resistant materials treated with insecticides are installed around and under the foundation and slabs during construction.
- Liquid termiticides – These create a continuous chemical barrier around the exterior of the home that termites cannot cross without dying.
- Bait systems – Stations containing termite bait that spreads a slow-acting insecticide throughout their colony when consumed.
- Wood treatments – Borate-based chemicals can be sprayed, brushed or injected to penetrate and protect susceptible woods.
Integrated Pest Management
A comprehensive plan involving prevention, physical barriers, monitoring, early detection and targeted control measures provides the best protection. An accredited pest manager can assess conditions specific to the property and climate, identify vulnerabilities and design an integrated pest management plan using multiple lines of defense against termite attack.
In summary, there are a number of common factors that can make a home more susceptible to termites. Being constructed from wood, having cracks or openings, poor drainage, foam insulation, wood debris near the foundation, and additions/alterations without proper sealing are some of the weaknesses to be aware of. Combined with regular inspections, early detection, preventative treatments and working with a professional pest controller, the risk of major termite damage can be substantially reduced. With vigilance and proactive measures, Australian homeowners can protect their valuable investments against these destructive pests.
Contact us today for a comprehensive termite inspection. The earlier the destructive inspects are detetced the less damage they can cause.