Termites: How to identify and control them

Here’s something all homeowners can agree on: nothing is quite as damaging to a house as termites. And here’s how to get rid of termites before they damage your home.

termites

© Mr.Smith Chetanachan | 123rf

While they do not pose any danger to humans, they can harm something even worse: your house. These silent destroyers can eat through wooden materials until there’s nothing left and cause billions in property damage. Given the potentially disastrous effects of a termite infestation, we’ve prepared a guide on how to get rid of termites at home.

What are termites? 

There are different kinds of termite species that can infest your home: 

Drywood termites Subterranean termites Dampwood termites
Belong to the Kalotermitidae family Belong to the Rhinotermitidae family Belong to the Kalotermitidae and Hodotermitidae family
Live in the wood — dead wood, structural timbers or hardwood floors Live in the soil and build underground colonies. Live in the wood with high moisture content
Do not need water to survive Build mud tubes to travel from place to place Have a preference for decaying wood

Before taking any serious measures like annihilating them from your home, it’s wise to, first, find out what kind of termite problems you have and identify what type of termites you’re dealing with and where do termites live.

Here are some interesting facts about termites:

  • Termites are as old as cockroaches and they have been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth!
  • Soldier and worker termites are blind. It doesn’t matter though since they live and work in the dark anyway.
  • The termite queen can lay up to 30,000 eggs a day.
  • They don’t clean up after eating. If you see specks of sawdust near wooden items or wood floorings, you know your home’s been invaded.
  • Termites are as hardworking as ants. Most of them don’t sleep and prefer to work around the clock to find food and protect the colony.

What is the difference between termites and flying ants?

flying termite

© Pisut Chuanyoo | 123rf

They may look similar, but there are minor details that set them apart. Here’s how to differentiate between the two:

Flying termites Flying ants
Straight antennae Elbowed antennae
Broad waist Pinched waist
Both front and hind wings are the same sizes Front wings are longer than hind wings
The size of the wings are twice as big as the body length The size of the wings are the same as the body length

Signs of termites infestation 

Don’t wait till it’s too late to do something. Have regular termite inspection and check if your home’s been invaded. 

1. Mud tubes

Mud tubes are a good indication that you have a termite infestation. Picture: Pest-Ex

Take a look around the foundations of your house, including wall edges and posts. If you find mud tubes, you likely have an infestation of termites. For those who don’t know, mud tubes look like thin brown tracks made of dirt or mud and run along flat surfaces. It’s served as a crawl space and protection from light and ants. 

2. Flying termites

The first tell-tale of a termite infestation is the existence of flying termites at home. They’re called the swarmers or some call them alates. These are the termites that have left the nest to find a partner to start a new colony. 

3. Wings

Discarded wings are a tell-tale sign that you already have a termite problem. Picture: Pest-Ex

When termites discover a good spot to dig into the wooden structures of your home, they will shed their wings. So if you find wings scattered around window sills or doorways in your house, an infestation may be about to start (or has already begun).

4. Damaged wood or Hollowed wood

Look around your house for signs of wood damage. Wood damage is a definite sign of a serious termite infestation. Picture: Pest-Ex

Wood damage can be seen in various forms; the wood may be visibly eroded, or it may sound hollow when tapped. Tap the wood in and around your home to determine if it is hollow. If it is, or the wood is already visibly damaged on the outside, your house is likely already subject to termite infestation.

5. Droppings

Drywood termites will leave their droppings around wood that they have infested. Picture: Getty

Termite droppings in and around your home indicate that drywood termites are eating the structures of your home. These droppings will likely be found close to wood that has been eroded by termites.

6. Clicking sounds

If you hear clicking sounds coming from the walls, then your house’s in deep trouble. When disturbed or threatened, soldier termites create clicking noises by hitting their heads against the wood to signal danger to the other termites. 

7. Stuck windows and doors

Think your door is damaged due to the rainy season? Think again. Termites produce moisture when they eat and tunnel through door and window frames, and this causes wood to warp and deform, making it difficult for you to open and close the windows and doors

How to get rid of termites naturally

Once you have determined that you have termites, it’s time to get rid of them. It should be noted that before taking action, hiring a professional is always encouraged. That way, you can be sure that you’re removing all of the termites that have infested your home. For those who don’t want to go to the extreme (yet), here are some natural (and non-toxic) ways to get rid of termites. 

1. Use nematodes to get rid of the termite colony

Nematodes are a kind of parasitic worm that feeds on termites. Release them into the termite colonies or areas where you suspect that termites have settled in and they’ll start munching on those pesky insects. The Steinernema carpocapsae is one of the most effective species to kill termites.  

2. Set up a cardboard trap

cardboard boxes

© picsfive | 123rf

Now that we’ve established termites like to hang around in the moist area, let’s use this information against them. First, you need to get your hands on a few pieces of cardboard. Then wet them and stack them on one another in the infested areas. Since cellulose (cardboard) is also one of their food sources, they’ll be crowding within the cardboard in no time. Once the cardboard is infested with termites, take it out of the house and completely eradicate them by placing it out in the sun or burning the box. 

3. Expose affected wooden furniture to sunlight

When it comes to termites, any item made of wood is vulnerable to attack. For wooden furniture that was affected by termites, we recommend you to bring it outdoors and expose it to the sun (make sure it’s a sunny day). The heat and light emitted from the sun will kill them. 

4. Spray vinegar solution on the infected area

Aside from being useful at cleaning household products, it’s also effective in killing household pests like termites. Here are all the items you need: Half a cup of vinegar and juice from two lemons. Mix them in a spray bottle and spritz it in suspected areas. The acidic nature of the mixture will kill any termites on contact. 

5. Sprinkle borax around the affected area

Sodium borate, or commonly known as borax powder, is not just a detergent for your laundry, it has so much more potential to it. Another use of sodium borate is killing termites. Just how effective is borax to get rid of termites? Very. Just sprinkle the white powder around the affected area. Borax can kill termites by interfering with a termite’s digestion, which can cause its death.

6. Deter termites with orange oil

Made of d-limonene, orange oil (which comes from orange peels) is like poison to termites. It kills termites by dissolving their exoskeletons. Spray the oil on infested or areas where you suspect termites are hiding. Alternatively, you can also spray it around your house to deter termites from coming in. 

If all else fails, you can try other DIY methods or call a pest control professional to eradicate this invasive species from settling in. There are also termite eating animals that are happy to get rid of them for you, namely birds, carpenter ants, spiders and anteater. 

DIY termite control

1. Use a chemical termite barrier treatment

Using a chemical termite barrier is one of the most effective and fool-proof ways to get rid of termites. Picture: Pest-Ex

The best product on the market for treating termite infestations on homes where the foundations are built into the ground (eg. slab homes) is Termidor. Termidor is a chemical treatment which does not repel termites, yet is poisonous once ingested. This means that once they return to their nest, they will infect other termites in their colony. To use Termidor as a chemical treatment, you’ll need to inject it into the soil around the perimeter of the house at 10 litres per metre. 

2. Use a termite baiting system

Baiting systems are a great alternative to chemical termite barriers for houses with elevated foundations. Picture: Pest-Ex

Another method for treating a termite infestation is to use a termite baiting systems. This method is suited to homes where the foundations of the house are elevated off the ground. We recommend using Exterra for this. It allows you to build baiting stations around your house. The baiting system poisons the termites slowly, similarly to Termidor, meaning the termites will return to their colony and poison other termites as well.

How to prevent termite infestations

The safest way to mitigate a termite infestation is to be conscious and aware and to frequently check your property for early signs and risks. Picture: Pest-Ex

Sometimes the best way to mitigate a termite infestation is to reduce the risks of a termite attack and be aware of the signs of an infestation. Here are some DIY termite prevention methods you can do. 

1. Reduce moisture

Reducing moisture around the edges of walls and wood in your home will decrease the likelihood of termites being attracted to your house. This means keeping an eye out for dripping taps, leaking downpipes, and poor drainage.

2. Keep slab edges exposed

Make sure the slab edges of your house are always exposed, with at least 75mm space between them and the ground or mulched areas. This will reduce the chance of termites accessing the foundations of your home through mulch or soil.

3. Check your electrical metre box

Not all homeowners know this, but you can actually check your metre box to determine if there has been a termite treatment done to your home in the past. Knowing when the last treatment was done will allow you to determine whether you ought to do a thorough examination of your home.

4. Physical barriers

Your home may have a physical barrier installed into the brickwork already. This will last 10-20 years, so it may be worth asking your landlord or real estate agency to check if this has already been done, and when.

5. Install ant caps

Ant caps are metal sheets that are installed in the sub-flooring of your house. While they don’t prevent termite infestations, they make infestations far more visible upon inspection. Without ant caps, termite infestations in the floors and foundations of your house will be far less easy to spot. This means infestations could progress without you noticing them in time to prevent extensive termite damages.

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