Frequently Asked Questions

The things people (mostly) have wanted to know.

Apart from the things that look too-good-to-be-true, like weird electronic repellers, just about any termite product you're offered that has some sort of government approval or label is capable of doing the job.  Trouble is that each product has situations that suit its use and usually also some situations where it isn't the best choice.

MDF (medium density fibreboard) is basically pulped wood that has been glued back toghether and pressed into shape.  Termites don't really like it because of the high glue content.  It is a counter intuitive thing, but you are actually better off using the trim that termites really like to eat.  That way when they do attack, you have a good chance of finding the damage quickly (like with the vacuum cleaner leaving a dent) before too much bad stuff can happen where you can't detect it. 

No.  Termites cannot gain any nutritional value from concrete.  They tend not to bite at it, much like the way you don't try to eat granite.

Termites will sometimes excavate lime mortar and really bad concrete.  That is, stuff that's soft enough for their jaws to cut into.  Sometimes they can damage bad concrete by pulling individual bits of sand out.  If you have autoclaved, aerated concrete (hebel and similar) it is possible, with some difficulty, to get termites to chew into it to make their tunnels.

I found some in the clothes in my wardrobe.

First up, you need to find out whichab  type of termite they are (dampwood, drywood, subterranean etc) as what to about them varies hugely between the different types.

I'm sorry, but there's no simple answer to your question.  It is like asking 'how much will my next car cost?': there are just too many big variables for any single answer to be useful.

Price depends very much on what steps need to be taken and this in turn depends on the type of termites, the location, the construction and a whole lot of other factors.

Yes.  "White ant" is a wrong name for termites.  Termites are not white (cream is as pale as they ever get) and they are very different to ants.  Ants belong with bees and wasps whereas termites are really social cockroaches (did you just shudder?).  Please don't say "white ant" unless you were born before 1950, have really bad eyesight or have to so as not to cause offence.

It depends on both the type of termite and the type of treatment. Basically there are three types of treatment.

The lowest risk are with baits for subterranean termites which use hormone-like chemicals to interrupt insect growth. These are very low risk to people (and anything else with its skeleton on th inside).

Next are the fumigant gases uses when a building is tented for drywood termites, these evaporate away almost entirely and pose little if any risk to you (or returning termites).

Don't these make it worthless?

Inaccessible areas are those places the inspector wanted/needed to inspect but couldn't get to.  Even in an unoccupied house, there may be listings for areas of sub-floor or roof or with locked doors that keep the inspecor out.  If the place is occupied, furniture and stored stuff often gets in the way.  You can help by clearing up before the inspection and having people available to move stuff as required.  Read the report very carefully to see if the inaccessible areas are considered to be a risk that needs to be inspected.  Sometimes this means opening up the sur

What can a homeowner do?

Drywood termites live in small colonies within the timbers of your house.  They stay well within the timber except for taking out the trash and when the kids leave.  The trash is made up of little pellets of poo (frass) which look a lot like pepper.  When they have too much in the nest, they'll open up a little hole to the surface and dump it out.  If you see little piles of peppery stuff that reapear after you remove them, then you have drywood termites.  Every so often, the colo

The technician will assess the activity in the baits over the course of the program and, usually, make a judgement call as to when success has been achieved.  A good tech will almost never tell you that the termites are all gone but will talk about colony eradication or control.  You'll still need ongoing inspections.

Like, where did they live before there were termites to live in?

Termites are just cooperative cockroaches. They are thought to have begun as something like the wood-feeding cockroach genus Cryptocercus.

They say it will be quick and cheap to get rid of them.

In real estate trading, if a deal seems unbelievably good, then it probably isn't to be believed.

A house that has been attacked by termites has lost some value.  It the attack has been severe or ongoing, then the value of the house is way down.  Remember that buildings weakened by termites are more likely to fail during severe storms.

Should we demolish part of the house that's got termites in it?

First up, the answer depends on what type of termites are creating the problem. If they are drywoods, then maybe knocking things down will kill them, but if these are subterranean termites then definitely not. Drywoods live in small colonies, usually in individual pieces of timber, so a thoughtful demolition may effectively remove active colonies. Subterraneans, don't, they like to spread out through the structure and will have paths to ground (for water).  They will just go to ground at the first vibrations and come back up later to resume the attack somewhere else.

What should I do? I've vacuumed them up and there are thousands of them and wings everywhere. It's a rental and I've only been here a week.

You are doing the right thing by vacuuming them up.
Next you need to know whether they have come in from outside or if they are emerging fromsomewhere within the building. If outsiders, keeping your bright lights off and widows shut for the next few evenings should see you through. If they come from within the building, then you need to know how bad the damage really is.

Assessing the situation depends on the type of termite and how long they've been around as well as things like where you are.

He thinks he can go straight back in, but I'm worried that the poison will hurt him.

The fumigant used for drywood termites is a very thin gas. It is supposed to penetrate deeply and be all gone before anyone considers re-entry. Perhaps some gas might remain for a while in things like the sponge-rubber of furniture but it will dissipate fairly quickly. I wouldn't worry about washing utensils but I'd probably go through his pantry and dump some food that worried me.

It is much easier to go in before the application and double-bag (Ziplocs or similar) anything that might be a concern.

Sorry, but you've probably done the wrong thing. The termites can switch to another path into the house that you can't find. Trouble is, you exterminator may not find it either. It is almost always better not to disturb them until you have a proper inspection done and decided on the right response strategy. Instead of slowing them down, you have likely slowed yourself and it may end up costing you a bit more to be rid of them.  Sometimes the termites will quickly repair a damaged tube but some species will stay away for a long ime and a few may not ever come back. 

They sprayed all around the outside of the house about four years ago.

You can do it right now, but should keep your garden far from the house. 6 feet or 2 metres is good. The water you add to the soil will be attractive to termites, so the further out the better (but not so far you can't nip out for a herb). If this doesn't work for you, grow your garden in raised tubs that you can see underneath.
Leafy greens will often take up toxins from the soil and some termite spray (like imidacloprid) are taken up by plants. That's good if you have aphids, but not if you have termites.

I live in the deep south of the USA. Termites are a problem here but gardens need mulch. What should I do?

The risk from mulches depends a lot on where you live and what types of mulch are used, but yes, generally mulch will be attractive to termites.

The termites like mulch because it gives them much better ways to travel. Think of it, a whole new loose layer over the soil.  No more tunneling.  The mulch creates a dark, damp and safe set of ready-made roadways which they just love to exploit.

The really odd thing about a termite swarm is that it is the one time when cooperation goes out the window.  It is every termite for his- or herself.

Not long after planting, they're nearly dead from termites eating the roots.

In some parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia, termites will quickly attack and kill transplanted trees and plants.  They attack the roots.  In the past, some very heavy doses of scary pesticides have been used to help the plants get established.  The attacks seem to drop off once the plants have been in for a few months. Keeping the plants well-watered all the time can make a big difference as water-stressed plants are more readily attacked.

Around the world, ants are the main predators of termites.  When you see termite soldiers, most of the funny-shaped jaws or pointy or blocky heads are effective adaptations against ants.  When termites fly, lots get eaten before they can create a safe nest.  This makes life very hard for termites, but usually not so hard as to kill them all off.

I saw them in Home Depot but they look very small.

I've seen these sorts of baits too.  Way back, there was a court case where various groups once claimed that a retail bait system was not working properly.  They kept selling them, but put a little warning on the box about how they weren't the same as a professional treatment.  The ones I bought said "Not recommended for sole protection against termites, and for active infestations get a professional inspection".  Companies don't put things like that on their products unless they are forced to or need to so as to avoid liability.  Even if the bait system w

Yes.  Drywood termites can have their whole colony in a small piece of timber like a chair leg or bread board.  In something bigger like a bed, a door or a piano, you can have several colonies.  They can all fly and mate and start new colonies in your house.

Keeping termites in the garden largely means leaving them alone.  Keeping those termites out of you house can be harder.  For the subterranean pest forms, particularly some species of Coptotermes and Reticulitermes, it is probably better not to take the risk.  To be sure, you need to know what species you have and how much of a risk they are in your area. 

Most species of termites have soldiers.  This is a special caste within the colony that takes on certain roles. Soldiers tend to have large heads.  It is very common for their mandibles to be greatly enlarged.

  1. Sort of nutty, especially if fried.  You might need to try more than one . . .
  2. They have taste receptors a bit like us and like us, they get a lot of their taste sensation from what they can sniff. (Don't believe me?  Blindfold a volunteer.  Hold a freshly cut slice of apple under the nose.  They'll happily munch a piece of raw potato thinking it to be apple)

A competent inspector should know enough to understand that there is almost always a small possibility that an inspection could, no matter how thorough or competently done, miss some termites.

There are several reasons for this:

No.  In general termites prefer timber that is a bit soft, decayed or weathered but they will eat many types of hardwood (wood from trees with flowers not cones).  There are also many types of tree that produce timber which is generally termite resistant and quite a few of these trees are hardwoods.

The homeowners' dilemma

Lets say you live in a known risk area for termites (count the advertisements in the telephone directory).  It is normal for an inspection to be recommended to be done not less than once a year.  Some people tend to stretch that out a bit.  If you do go for less-frequent inspections it will almost certainly impact on any insurance or warranty you may have covering the termite risks.  Read the contracts.

OK, so the termites are after moisture. What can I do to make life hard for them?

Here's some pointers to get you started.

You can do things that reduce the amount of water getting in to the soil near your perimeter walls:

  1. Make sure that rainwater on the roof does not drain into the soil.
  2. Grade the soil around the house so that water drains away, not towards the walls
  3. Don't have gardens, ponds, sprinklers, ferneries or pools near walls.
  4. Make sure that overflow drains from hot water services and air conditioners don't soak into the soil near the wall.

You can do things to help the water get away: 

. . to my home?

Mostly they are looking for food, which is usually some sort of wood.  Sometimes they've come to your house chasing water to drink and then look around for closer food.

. . . when she says she's not a plumber?

All pests, like us essentially seek the same basic things: food, shelter and water to drink.  Without good supplies of these they can't thrive.

The process of baiting for termites is highly variable. 

Sometimes much of the time is spent getting them into the baits.  Sometimes they're in by day two.

Some bait toxins take several weeks or months to noticeably affect the colony.  This is especially true of the hormonal approaches.  Some toxins will usually kill off a colony within two to three weeks of the first feeding.

Baiting for termites has a long history.  I first used it in 1979 to survey a park, but others had used baiting way before then.  Basically, a bait is something that termites will happily eat.  Often it is placed in a fancy (=expensive) container.  When the termites are feeding on the bait you (i) know they are there, (ii) can identify them and (iii)  you can exploit them.  The original bait box method had the termites collected and dusted with toxin before being allowed to sulk home.  Other methods

Very few termites are likely to be interested in eating the straw bales themselves.  Lots of subterranean termites will happily travel through the bales to reach unprotected framing timbers (such as door frames and window lintels). 

You won't sit the bales right on the soil anyway (moisture hazard) so all it takes is some attention to design to put a termite barrier in the foundation, just as you would with any other block house design.

If you've already built without barriers, find a well-skilled termite manager to inspect and advise.

This will depend on the size and complexity of the structure, the location and the type of inspection required.  Say you are getting a typical house checked out before you buy it.  I would normally expect that to take around two to three hours for the pre-purchase inspection.  Obviously, an old or heavily renovated house will take more effort than a brand new one.  If you have a contracted service or have a barrier system installed (subterreanean termites), then the regular inspection can be a lot faster, maybe even 45 minutes to one hour.  If you have reported an i

Orange oil is the name given to extracts from the peel of citrus.  Mostly this is near pure d-limonene.  It is a general solvent.  You have probably used it in bathroom or hand cleaners.  It kills insects.  I used it as the recommended cleanup solvent for the Blockaid non-toxic termite barrier as it was much less of an OH&S risk than mineral turpentine.

. . if they don't tunnel in like the subterraneans did.

There are two ways drywood termites to begin infesting a house.  By far the most common is by when they fly in and find a good place to live (in an exposed piece of timber).  The second way is for a colony to hitch a ride.  Often this happens when they come in with furniture, even in new furniture, but just about any lump of wood can do it- such as a bread board, ornament or violin.  I've had reports of new hollow-core internal doors being installed with drywood termites already in them. 

Inspection is the only way to know that you have them.

Tanks to catch rainwater from your roof are a great idea but if thoughtlessly placed, can massively increase the risk of subterrranean termite attack. 

Termites will put a lot of effort into breaking through something that stands between them and food or water, just so long as the prize justifies the effort required.  Plaster (drywall etc.) is no barrier.  Mortars slow them down, but lime mortars are readily penetrable while mortars with a high cement content may not be excavated.  Good quality concrete cannot be excavated BUT cracks in poor concrete may be opened with ease.  Autoclaved aerated concrete (those lightweight bubbly blocks) were readily penetrated in my field tests.  Concrete (cinder) blocks sometimes

Can they spread disease?

Yes, termites do bite people if you get them angry enough.  With most species they have to find the thin skin between your fingers (or similar) before you'll even notice.  They don't set out to bite people, but they will bite in defense.  Bigger species like Mastotermes, Macrotermes and some dampwood termites are much better at being noticed.

Don't Panic

Firstly, put down that can of fly spray.  It really won't help.  Grab a few termites and put them in a plastic bag or a glass in the freezer.  You may want these later.  Gather up the rest (broom or vacuum).  Maybe feed them to your chickens or fish (if you didn't spray).

Now for the important bits. 

To grow up, produce swarmers, make new colonies.

Maturity is commonly said to be reached when the colony can reproduce.

Should I get the house sprayed?

Depending on where you live, it may well be that the termites in your garden are no threat to anything.  There are lots of species that never, well mostly never, behave as pests.  In my garden a Nasutitermes and a Porotermes pose no threat to my home.

They say I need a treatment too.

This is a tricky one, and this answer is only for subterranean termites (not for drywoods and not for dampwoods).

Let's say the termites are in your neighbor's house.  If baits or another colony-killing method is used, then the risk of that colony to your house is gone.  If they just repair the damage or poison the ground with a repellent chemical (like bifenthrin), then the termites may be 'pushed' towards feeding at your place.  That isn't good.

What's a termite lifespan?

There's no simple answer to this one.  It depends. Species, life-type, wear and tear, colony health--all these things affect the potential for a long life.

My house looks just like the ones that don't have termites.


Termites have no malice, so it is definitely nothing personal.  Their needs are simple. Food and shelter are almost always freely available for them in what we build. Water is the big issue and often we can build termites out by making it harder for them to get water so they can eat.

They might.  Subterranean termites, of most types, [A house in the woods]will travel at lest 50 metres through the soil to exploit good food.  Termites flying from colonies can sometimes spread a thousand metres.  If your house is well maintained and has a termite management plan, the risk can be reduced to something quite acceptable (but never totally removed).  Apart from known colonies of major pests very close to a building, there is usually little to

It's a misnomer.  Absolutely all termites do need water to live and none can survive long in totally dry wood.  The drywood termites, though are very good at getting by with surprisingly little moisture and this enables them to live in small colonies in small pieces of wood.  Just so long as the wood is good food that stays sufficiently moist and doesn't get too hot or too cold, they can thrive.  Mostly they are found in the tropics, in forests and along water courses, in fact anywhere that re

It might, but don't count on it. Baits are good at grabbing termites' attention and can be used to slowly poison their colony BUT baits are not barriers and it is possible for termites to ignore them and eat your home anyway. The termites mightn't find them, the baits might be poorly placed, they mightn't suit your termites, they might be too often disturbed or left too long, too wet or too dry. Baits are great at cutting populations and even killing colonies, but it is probably best that you add other ways to keep termites out of your home, just to be sure.

OK, I've crossed out the product name. I don't like going to court. "Fumigation" is when they wrap your house and gas it. In general, the answer is a simple, no. Fumigation means lightweight poison gas that seeps right through your home and into everything, even right into the wood, is generally thought to be bad for the atmosphere and uses a lot of toxin. It does have the benefit of wiping out every last termite that's exposed. It is the best treatment for drywood termites.

A few times each year the sky seems to fill with fluttering termites, but not all of the termites get to fly. some alatesThe colony lets a few grow wings and strike out into the world. A rare time when termites act as individuals. These fliers (called alates) are just for colony reproduction. They seek to find a mate and start a new nest of their own. Just like most of we do.

There's no simple answer for this one. Probably more than two years. Some sprays, like chlorpyrifos can degrade very quickly. Others such as bifenthrin and fipronil will last longer. Imidacloprid is somewhere in between. The rate at which a poison degrades varies enormously over short distances. The main factors are: the initial dose applied, temperatures, rainfall, soil type, alkalinity, presence of plants, applicator skill and the chemical properties. Then there's disturbance from floods, gardeners and burrowing animals.