≡ Menu

Termite aggregation is a fancy term to describe how to get a lot of termites together so you can kill them — here’s an explanation for homeowners by Ion Staunton

It’s over 10 years since the mainstream pest management industry decided to supplement their usual physical and chemical barriers with combination treatment stations and monitors that entice termites to aggregate — because, treating large numbers of termites with a chemical agent that is transferrable back to their nest is an almost certainly successful method of killing whole colonies of the subterranean termites which do 99% of the damage to Australian homes and buildings.

Over the last 200 years, barriers have been the main defence. However, whenever you watch a TV news program reporting a termite horror story, the dramatic crunching of timber, the scurrying termites and the tears are the result of termites by-passing a barrier.

So why do aggregation devices make a difference?

New termite colonies begin each and every year. A colonising flight of thousands is an annual event from mature colonies and occurs in early summer. The pairs of termites seek and find wood in contact with moist soil, excavate a small chamber, mate and begin to lay eggs which initially they tend themselves until there are enough workers to take over food harvesting, nest building and maintenance as well as tending the eggs and feeding the young, the soldiers and royalty.

Some nests don’t survive the first dry summer, others succumb to echidnas, lizards, and ants—and some run out of food before they are big and successful enough to build underground tunnels to new food sources. A few do survive and these become a major threat to homes after developing for 3-4 years. During this time the chances are in the high probability range that foraging scouts will find an aggregation device placed near a building for this purpose and that they will be discovered eating away inside it.

Termite monitors set in garden areas around buildings are discovered simply because termites are naturally out looking for new food. These aggregation devices can contain anything cellulose; wood and cardboard are the main choices for enticement. The termites turn up in large numbers for the easy-to-harvest food. Inspections need to be regular so that their presence can be detected before the food in the device is all consumed. The inspection and the adding of the treatment bait has to be performed with a minimum of disturbance so as not to cause the termites to abandon the device.

 

The pest control service industry devices on offer cost more than DIY products because the technician has to call out to quote, call again to install, again for regular inspections and then again for multiple treatments while the device is under attack.

The treatment chemical has been restricted to professionals until recently when the bait, which is not toxic to humans, pets and wildlife, was registered for use by anyone, without restriction. (See Killing Termites)

If homeowners continually have aggregation monitors in use around the outside of their homes and if they learn to inspect their homes for termites at least once a year, every year,  (See Termites Inspections) this combination of simple activities can significantly reduce (if not quite totally eliminate) the ever-present termite threat to our most valuable material asset — home.

Termite aggregation devices have provided more than a decade of success. All you need is to look at them fairly often, treat the termites if you see activity and regularly inspect your house timbers — just in case.

Fully illustrated information is available in a free How-To Guide downloadable from www.termitetrap.com.au

{ 0 comments }

Controlling Termites If You Are a Homeowner

Controlling termites is now within the capabilities of homeowners.

Termite exterminator extraordinaire, Bill Flick, founder of the famous Australia-wide pest control company was probably the first person to successfully kill termite colonies. Before his breakthrough in 1915, if termites found your house, termite controls were unlikely to be effective. At that time, if they began eating your house, you didn’t tell anyone at all — just patched it, painted it and sold it, hoping you didn’t buy another house that was patched and painted. Bill and all the pest management people who followed him have kept the process and chemicals to themselves and away from homeowners. They used arsenic and other toxic chemicals which government registration authorities deemed too dangerous in the hands of untrained homeowners.

Australians with a do-it-yourself attitude were unable to participate when it came to termite control. Poisons to kill our rats, cockroaches, bugs, fleas, lice, ants, aphids, caterpillars, spiders and virtually all other pests have been available for decades — but nothing for termites.

An insect growth regulator (IGR), almost foolproof at killing subterranean termites has been in use for more than a decade — at absolutely no hazard to humans, pets or wildlife! Yet still the labels restricted use of this safe chemical to the professionals.

Ion Staunton, a termite textbook writer, former Secretary of the national pest managers association and businessman, changed all that!

When asked by a friend how he could do something about the termites marauding around his backyard, Ion decided he could make something to entice termites into a place where they could be baited using this new IGR. The termite workers would take it back to kill off the colony. After a couple of attempts he really simplified a monitor to be placed outside in the garden that would hold large numbers of termites and, using their natural and basic instincts against them, “force” them to reveal their arrival by designing a hole in the top of the cardboard enticement. The termite instinct for security would mean they would fill this hole with their normal ‘mud’ mixture and the clear cap would allow a passing homeowner to notice the blocked hole. So simple, so low in cost, so effective.

“Eureka!” — it was the moment Ion realised every owner of a free-standing house in Australia was a potential customer. He patented the window/hole combination and then set about registering the bait without the label wording restricting its use to professionals. This bait was the first in the world to be offered, without restriction, to any and everyone — including some professionals who buy it because it is packed in convenient feeders.

Controlling subterranean termites which do 99% of the damage to homes is now well within the capabilities of homeowners who have a D-I-Y attitude!

Information on what homeowners can do to minimise their termite cost at the design and building stage, reducing the attractiveness of their homes and surrounds to termite invasion and the various termite treatment options is available by clicking on these underlined links to appropriate sections of this website.

Basically, the most needed items are: monitors or TermiteTraps to intercept termites while they are still outside, some Colony Killer Termite Bait to kill them whether they are found in your traps or found in the timber of your home or other structures and, the advice on how to do it safely and effectively. Lastly and very importantly, your structures should be inspected regularly either by you or a professional. The termites inspections are to find any new infestations before they get to do significant and costly damage — just in case they have already found their way inside.. There is a How-To Guide available as a free download from www.termitetrap.com.au along with commercial information on packs and pricing.

{ 0 comments }

The National Move Into Termite Territory

About 108,000 Australian families are about to build new houses next financial year, 2011-12. As usual, they’ll be built just a bit further out from where we built about the same number last year — and the years before. (It was a high of 118,000 in 2003-4.)

Rebuilding after the fires, floods and cyclones of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and WA may raise next year’s projection from the Housing Industry Association. You can expect these rebuilds to be constructed observing the lessons learned from water, wind and fire.

But can we ask what lessons will influence the construction of the thousands of new homes destined for the ever extending fringe areas of the big cities? Will they be built observing and recognising the lessons which should have been learned from 130,000 termite attacks last year?

Slim chance!

Yet these homes will be put on new subdivisions of what was once either semi-rural or even fully covered bushland.

It can seem insensitive to compare the $1b termite damage to 130,00 homes a year to the much costlier damage by fire/floods/cyclones to about 100,000 homes — but insensitive or not, termites damage this many homes at an average cost of $8000 each according to Archicentre the website of the Australian Institute of Architects.

Some of these owners will also experience sleepless nights and a desperate sinking feeling as they face refinancing their home (if there’s any equity left in it) to meet termite treatment and repair costs.

So what are the building authorities, developers, builders and homeowners doing about plonking another 108,000+ free standing houses down in termite territory?

Currently, new buildings must be constructed with physical and termite barriers under building codes based on various Australian Standards, “enforced” by Local Government.

If these standards are followed, the barriers will either prevent the passage of subterranean termites from the soil into the timberwork of the buildings or at least, force the termites to build their mud-like access tunnels out in the open where they can be seen during an annual or twice yearly inspection. Using termite resistant timbers (or even no timbers) will just about eliminate the probability of termite inflicted pain.

So would building houses up off the ground; suspending floors so inspections could reveal attack before it became significant. That won’t happen unless home owners insist, because builders, since the 1960s, worked out they could build houses faster and cheaper on a concrete slab. However, cheap comes with a cost. A 1958 survey of the incidence of attack reported 3% of homes were attacked; a recent CSIRO survey, confirmed by Archicentre’s survey in 2008 showed the incidence had climbed to 33%… 11 times more and the percentage keeps climbing.

Why?

In most cases, termites did not get through the barriers — they crossed over them from the surrounding, untreated soil. The termites that do 99% of the damage to Australian homes are the subterranean type. They nest, forage and live in the soil. It takes them a couple of years after their initial colonising flight, to develop a nest of such size that they can significantly threaten a house and while they are building up their numbers, homeowners are mulching, planting ground cover and shrubs which could hide the tell tale ‘mud’ tunnels that cross from the soil, enter through the weepholes into the floor plate or studs which join up to all the other framing timbers of the walls and roof. If the weepholes are kept clear and watched, great! However, some homeowners build an extension, a pool pump house, a timber screen or a pergola, a cubby house or a dog kennel which can allow termites concealed access from the soil to the house. It happens. All too frequently… like 130,000 times a year!

That 33% incidence is going to climb much higher as more new homes are built in areas where termites are currently doing what they’ve done since prehistoric times—recycling fallen branches and logs, and eating the occasional dead tree. On each new block, we replace these trees with a truckload of very edible pine timber and wrap it in masonry and plasterboard so we can’t see it. If, or when, termites find a way in, we can’t see them either until damage is advanced, and costly.

As most of the trees have been removed, where do they come from? During the tree clearing process, bulldozers crush and convert parts of some trees to myriad timber fragments which remain in and on the soil surrounding the new buildings. These fragments are then covered with turf and landscaping where they can decay slowly giving off carbon dioxide which attracts the next wave of would-be termite kings and queens flying in to set up a new colony in the ground.

The Standards Association of Australia, the Shires and Councils and the building industry bodies are doing all they are going to do about termites. Maybe you believe ‘they’ should reduce the allocation of sub dividable land. Although development costs have certainly risen and therefore the cost of homes, it hasn’t stemmed the urban sprawl. An editorial in The Australian in January said, “…home ownership is not a great Australian dream, it’s a reality.”  About 70% of the new dwellings will be houses because that’s what we want. Apartment living is chosen by about 50% of new owners around Sydney, 35% around Melbourne but the choice of a free-standing home Australia-wide has remained constant at 70% for many years. We still want our own block even if the size has shrunk and the price has risen.

Yes, ‘they’ are doing something about the design of replacement houses in fire, flood and cyclone prone areas. As for termites, the Building Codes are not going to change any time soon. Individual homeowners need to take ownership of the termite threat. What can they do to defend their homes as they move into hostile termite territory?

Just over a decade ago, the professional pest control industry realised that barriers fail eventually, either by chemical degradation or the by-passing of intact barriers in the ways described above. Placing monitors in the soil surrounding our building structures have a high probability of intercepting those damaging subterranean termites while they are still outside in their build-up phase. When these monitors are attacked, the termites are fed a non-toxic-to-humans -pets -wildlife bait that the termite workers take back to their nest wherever it is, resulting in the complete death of that colony.  Over the decade, the system has worked well. Homes are less threatened as a result of a monitoring system reducing the number of colonies. But it is an ongoing war. Monitors must be regularly checked for years; forever.

Homeowners are the major cause of their own downfall; less than 20% of us call in the local pest controller. It may be because we think the barriers the builder told us about are a guarantee of immunity. This is wishful thinking or denial. Or we have heard the stories of pest controllers that didn’t do the job or check the right places so how do you find a good one? Anyway, their costs are too high. These are the usual excuses for doing nothing. However, DIY termite colony killing has finally come about. There are now DIY termite trapping systems and a termite bait that anyone can buy cheaply. If the products are now available and it only costs a few hundred dollars spread over 10-15 years, you’d have to be crazy not to defend your home yourself.

The CSIRO have produced a map of Australia showing termite prone areas where the incidence ranges from very low to very high. Scarily enough, the only place in the mainland States (Tasmania has no termites of consequence) showing ‘very low’ to ‘low’ incidence is the thin strip along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. The rest of us are in the ‘moderate’ to ‘very high’ incidence areas. Termites know where we live.

The government is not going to stop the termites and the insurance companies do not cover you for termite damage. It’s up to each of us to defend our homes — monitoring and baiting works well and is not complicated.

Ion Staunton is the author of Urban Pest Management in Australia UNSWPress, Australian Termites UNSWPress and The Book on Termites, www.TermiteResearch.com.au

{ 0 comments }

Keeping Termites In The Dark

Ostriches and Termites aren’t the only ones with heads in the sand.

Blocking out the bad is a human trait; thinking about termites seems to fall into this category.

Surveys from both CSIRO and Archicentre report that about a third of all houses/townhouses in Australia have now or have had a termite attack. Yet 80% of homes are not regularly inspected for termites.

A good question is: why not?

There are reasons like blocking some things out until you have to face it. The Archicentre survey put the average cost of treatment and repairs at about $8000. That’s average, but there are many instances where the home has to be refinanced to pay a renovation bill of $50,000+. That is hard to face.

Evening TV news often shows a segment where homeowners are distraught when timbers of their home are able to be crumpled by hand for the cameras.

Who gets the blame for a termite attack?

Sometimes it is professional pest controllers who didn’t look in the right place or didn’t look at all. To be fair to the diligent inspectors, they cannot be expected to find live termites in wall stud timbers hidden behind plasterboard or in roofing timbers covered by sarking and/or insulation. Or even deep inside built-in wardrobes crammed with clothing, toys, books, etc., where a homeowner didn’t make any effort to make the inspection process more valid.

Builders, architects and yes, the real estate agent are also blamed; they don’t want to bring any negatives to the fore. Younger homeowners expect a recently built house to be “termite proof.”  Paradoxically, termites are more likely to be attacking homes built in the modern style with concrete slab floors than homes built with suspended wooden floors. Any homeowner expectation of built-in termite protection is not justified but the termite threat never enters their minds anyway and they become one of the 80% doing nothing about it.

The cost, and maybe the inconvenience, of a professional inspection is another given reason. “Why pay hundreds of dollars for an inspection by a bloke you can’t be sure will do the right thing?”

If you are in the 80%, you won’t know how costly those sneaky termites are— until you have them. So, don’t let them get started. Inspecting your home yourself will mean that even if they do find a way in, they won’t have damaged very much by the time you find them.

It’s not that hard or complicated says Ion Staunton, who for 40+ years taught professionals and wrote their text books before he invented a simplified system that enables ordinary homeowners to do what he calls “a proper job without poisons or special equipment.” It follows the same principles as the mainstream professional systems but costs hundreds instead of thousands of dollars.

He says despite the best laid chemical and physical barriers, termites still get into buildings. The chemical barriers degrade over about 10-15 years and although the physical barriers such as stainless steel mesh, particulate glass or granite may last “forever”, the termites that attack those one in three homes have managed to by-pass barriers by getting in through additions, extensions, new landscaping, etc.

Do a proper job on termites … yourself!

Professionals have been using termite monitors around buildings for over ten years, because they work! Homeowners can either build or buy and install their own monitors and they will work as well. Ion Staunton’s “Eureka” moment, when he switched from helping only professions to also directly helping homeowners, came when he invented and patented the detection part of his monitor. Recognising the natural termite instinct to block out light, he purposely left a hole at the top of the cardboard attractant inside the monitor. Using a clear cap to let in light and keep out rain, homeowners can glance into the monitor as they walk past. If the hole is clear, you just keep walking.

This is a termite “we’ve arrived” signal viewed through the clear cap of a TermiteTrap monitor

If termites have blocked the hole to block out the light, a safe to humans, pets and wildlife termite bait is added so it can be taken back by the workers to kill off the colony wherever it is. This bait is also the same as used by mainstream professionals but now anyone can buy it.

Now can get monitors and bait that works, you may also want reassurance that you can get the helpful advice to actually defend your home now and into the future.

Ion, the text book writer, has turned these skills to writing this website for homeowners who think they would like to do a proper job without poisons or special equipment— including how to regularly inspect their homes.

So, why not do it all yourself? And save thousands.

Ion Staunton, the inventor who switched to helping homeowners understand and eliminate termite colonies.

{ 0 comments }

Termite Control Is In Your Hands

Over the years, homeowners have taken over the treatment of fleas, cockroaches and spiders, but until now, termites have been a pest thought of as too hard — too complicated and too likely to cost big money if you get it wrong.

A healthy scepticism is warranted because most people know a termite horror story and many times it has been because a professional took short cuts, didn’t look in the right places or didn’t look at all.

Well, there are a lot of great blokes in pest management and the good ones do first class work. They know the principles and they are diligent.

But, homeowners can learn the principles and they will definitely be diligent because it is their own home.

Of the 300 plus species of termites in Australia, only a few make the list of serious economic timber destroyers.

In the SW corner of WA, there are only four to five of these significant termites and they all have the same habits, lifestyle and instincts. They are subterranean, meaning they live and nest in the soil and whenever they leave it to find wood, they cover their tracks with a mud-like tunnel and use the same ‘mud’ to block out light coming through cracks and splits into where they are eating.

What you need to do to check for termites is to carefully inspect for mud tunnels between the ground and the timber parts of your buildings, fences, etc.

If your home has a suspended floor with joists and bearers, you’ll have to go under and check all the piers, stumps and foundation walls.

Then you go inside and starting, at say the front door, keep moving to the right (or left) and check all timber surfaces such as skirting boards, architraves, window and door frames.

Tap them all, listening for a hollow sound and look for an uneven surface where termites may have hollowed it out leaving only the paint. You need to check everything as you go until you end up back at the front door.

Now you face the same problems in the roof as the best professionals — insulation that hides the roofing timbers. Theoretically, if you didn’t find signs below, then there is less likelihood of finding them up there. But termites are so sneaky you can never be really sure they are not attacking your house, so inspect at least every year. The first week of spring or the first week of autumn are better because it’s not so hot or cold up in the roof or under the house.

The other major contribution you can make to the war effort is to put some monitors around your buildings.

The important termites live in the soil — they forage for new food sources through the soil and when they find a monitor such as the Termite Trap with its clear top, they let you know they’ve arrived by their mud signal in the hole at the top.

After that, it’s just a matter of adding a non-toxic-to-humans-and-pets termite bait which is taken back to the nest to kill off the whole colony.

As colonies can take two to five years to to get to the numbers to launch a significant attack on buildings, putting Termite Traps out in the gardens surrounding your house means you can kill off nests faster than the termites can build them.

For more information, phone 1800 20 30 20 or see www.termitetrap.com.au

{ 0 comments }