Any homeowner knows that a termite infestation is something to be avoided at almost any cost, as the damage they can cause to the wood fittings in your home, both structural and ornamental, can be utterly catastrophic. Treating the wooden components of a home to resist termite invasion is usually achieved by saturating the wood with insecticidal chemicals such as acetamiprid or permethrin, or else by the insertion of solid boron rods into the wood that are activated by natural humidity and soak into the wood over time.
However, there are a number of downsides to this approach. A bodged termite treatment can contaminate the interior of your home with chemical vapours that can cause rashes, breathing difficulties and severe allergic reactions. They can also contaminate the groundwater and any drinking water wells near the home, which can cause illness and spread rapidly, not to mention bringing down a nightmare of legal problems. Manufacture of these chemicals is also decidedly unfriendly to the environment in general.
Of course, such catastrophic failures in treatment safety are very rare, but if you don't want to run the risk, or are more environmentally conscious, there are a number of other measures you can do for termite control.
These measures are simple, effective, and should be undertaken even if you've chosen chemical treatment.
- Remove all sources of unwanted damp and standing water, by fixing leaking pipes and tanks and unblocking gutters and drains.
- Remove dense vegetation from around the walls and immediate exterior of your home, as dense foliage creates a damp, sheltered place for termites to thrive.
- Keeping firewood and other large wooden objects away from the home is essential; stacks of firewood in particular are notoriously welcoming breeding grounds for a new termite colony. Remove tree stumps and roots.
- If you maintain flowerbeds around your home, a relatively sparse arrangement of ornamentals shouldn't provide much shelter for termites. However, avoid using mulch as possible, as this provides a loose, easily-dug nesting area packed with moisture and nutrients.
It may seem a little primitive, but erecting simple, inedible barriers between your vulnerable wood and the termites outside can be remarkably effective.
- Concrete slabs buried around your home are a cheap, effective deterrent for subterranean termite swarms, but it is possible for some species of termite to dig beneath them.
- Stainless steel mesh can supplement these slabs, and can also be placed within the walls of your home to form a secondary barrier. However, it is more expensive.
- The most expensive and most effective barrier material is copper sheeting. Bought in wafer thin sheets backed with polyethylene or other plastics, thorough shielding of your foundations, pipes and other entry points is very effective and will last for decades. As another bonus, copper's natural insecticidal qualities mean that any termites that get too close to it will be weakened or even killed by it.
The ol' bait and switch
If you're not averse to using a small amount of insecticide in a way that is highly unlikely to contaminate anything, consider using termite bait. The process is fairly simple: untreated segments of wood are buried around your home, and checked periodically (ideally weekly) for termite damage. If termites are detected, the damaged wood is then replaced by wood treated with a potent, slow acting toxin. This is carried back to the next by worker termites, which ideally leads to the entire colony being poisoned.
This method eliminates potential contamination within the home, and is inexpensive to accomplish. However, you will have very little way of knowing if it's worked or not, and there is still a small chance of soil and groundwater poisoning if heavy rains hit.
Nematodes are microscopic, worm-like creatures, and some species like to cause nasty infections in humans - but some of the species that don't like to kill termites instead. Anti-termite nematodes are generally sold in powder or cake-like colonies, and are simply washed into a termite nest or mound with running water. Once inside, they infect the termites, spreading quickly and lethally. These treatments are very effective, but can be expensive and oddly hard to get your hands on. Additionally, they will also attack other insects they come across - wood-boring weevils will bite the dust, but so will harmless ground beetles, woodlice and caterpillars
For more information, check out companies such as