Termite traps vs termite barriers

Why would you need traps when you already have barriers?

The usual supposition is that no one builds houses without complying with Building Codes and Australian Standards requiring physical and chemical termite barriers. Another factor in the ‘termite denial’ of many homeowners is the Builder’s Guarantee of varying years. The fine print will soon tell you there is no timber replacement and the builder, if still operating will pass the buck to the pestie who applied the barrier — if still operating.

But surely, you think, thousands of hours of Committee meetings would have produced a sound and sensible standard for barriers.

They have.

However in the first paragraphs, there is always a requirement to have at least an annual inspection of the building, just in case the barriers are bridged or are destroyed or degrade. Haven’t had an inspection?

Sorry, warranty voided.

How do barriers fail if they are so good?

The subterranean termites that do 99% of the damage to timber in buildings, send scouts up from below ground level to find the timber they need to feed their colonies. (It is extremely rare for termites to set up a nest inside a building without access to the soil as a constant and necessary moisture source). The prime objective of the physical barrier is to prevent termites getting to the timber without showing themselves. An easy example: the old metal antcap placed on top of the foundation piers and stumps. It doesn’t matter if it is a wooden stump, a brick or sandstone pier— the termites had to build a noticeable mud tunnel outside and over the metal flange to get to the timber. They couldn’t eat their way up the middle of the stump or through any gaps in the mortar of the masonry pier to get directly and unseen into the flooring timbers.

Suspended wooden flooring went out of fashion in the 1960s when builders found they could cut construction costs by pouring a steel-reinforced concrete slab directly on the ground. The drainage system had to be in place before the slab was poured and due to shrinkage and movement, gaps could appear later and let termites directly into the wall plates which were attached to the studs which were attached to… all the timbers in the building. So physical barriers of stainless steel mesh, metal escutcheon plates, and particulate glass, granite, basalt, etc, were devised and OK’d to use. Termites couldn’t get through and had to go around where the mud tunnels could be noticed by that annual inspection that was required, remember?

Then there were the chemical (insecticidal) barriers. Back in ‘my day’ it was dieldrin and others that would last for about 50 years. These were phased out in the late 80s and the new barriers generally degrade in the soil over 10 years or so. Even so, a continuous ‘envelope’ of insecticidally treated soil under and around the house mostly did not survive the tradies working around the outside, or it was covered or removed during the finishing landscaping before presentation for sale.

More recently, there are chemically-impregnated membranes that have an indicated life of over 50 years. The reassuring thing about these membranes is that they are fitted between the top of the slab and the timbers and can only be installed by fully trained people accredited by the companies that make the membrane — and they are zealous in guarding their reputation.

All this ought to be reassurance enough until you realise that every time you see a TV termite horror story or hear about a termite nightmare from someone who lived through it, the termites surely crossed or bridged the barrier and did the extensive damage because no one had checked annually.

You should recognise the awful truth in the CSIRO Termite Hazard Map that shows termites are a low risk only in Tasmania and a sliver of the Great Ocean Road area of Victoria. The two main genera, Coptotermes and Schedorhinotermes are a threat everywhere else.

What are the homeowners’ options? What are the best, most reliable ways to defend your home from termite attack?

The short answer once was to leave it to the professional pest controllers. But this is the age of DIY. Homeowners can take over the on-going defence of their home and out-buildings for a lot less money.

Maybe your concern is: you’d like to save the money — but not risk your home for the sake of a dollar.

But now you can do what the current smart crop of pest professionals do. They put monitors around the outside of buildings to entice the scouts looking for new food sources. They check these monitors several times a year and do an inspection of the building once a year. If termites are found in a monitor, or eating timber anywhere, they feed them a bait which is taken back to kill the whole colony. In this way, termites are noticed and killed before they get inside and do extensive damage.

You can do the same.

The Termite Traps are a step ahead of the professionals who still place their monitors in the ground where termites take longer to find them and, they are sometimes lost under leaf litter and mulch. TermiteTraps are placed on the soil or on pavers, over expansion joints — up where the scouts are looking. No digging is a bonus! The bait used is the same chemical.

The annual inspection? You can learn to do the job as well or better than many professionals because it is your home at risk. You’ll shift the heavy furniture, look carefully at the skirting boards smothered in old sneakers and assorted ‘treasures’ in the bottom of your children’s built-in wardrobes, won’t you?

I pose this question: if your house is slab-on-ground, if the roof void is insulated and/or with sarking, what is a professional going to look at that you cannot?

In summary

Your home has been constructed with various physical barriers and, even if the chemical barrier has broken down, termites cannot get through those physical barriers without showing their mud trails. Reapplying insecticidal barriers is not 100% effective because you can’t ‘jack up the house’ to start again. You cannot entirely rely on barriers.

Using plenty of monitors or Traps to intercept termite scouts from nests developing in the areas surrounding buildings and before they find a way inside, is simple good sense. You get to kill colonies before they become a threat to your home (and finances).

This article was prepared by Ion Staunton who is an entomologist and former pest technician, TAFE teacher and textbook writer, and inventor of the Termite Trap System. For more information go to  www.termitetrap.com.au