Hidden Housemates: One Important Thing First Home Owners Rarely Think About

This post was brought to you by and . All writing is mine and all views expressed are my own.

Buying your first house is such an exciting time, especially if you have always rented. All of a sudden here is this house you can theoretically do anything to that you want – paint, wallpaper, knock out walls, create a ball pit, fill with as many throw cushions or cats as you want and decorate to your heart’s desire (my secret house fantasy is to have a bookcase door or a secret passage). After having daydreamed of having my own house since I was a teenager, when I first moved in here I definitely remember those heady emotions that came with knowing this house is mine and I could decorate it however I wanted.

Our house’s old jarrah kitchen.

But – and there is a but! – when you get all caught up in the fun of decorating our own home I think it is so, so easy to overlook, or even downright ignore, the ‘not-so-pretty’ stuff. The structural issues. The sensible, boring bits.

My old craft room. Photo by .

We think so much these days about what’s INSIDE our homes, styling it and how it looks on Instagram that we don’t really think about the structural things, the real nuts and bolts, the foundations, the walls. You know, the things stopping the roof from caving in on your head one night. It’s just easy to forget about it in our decorating and renovating excitement. I do understand because I’m so guilty of it myself. Who really wants to think about things like foundations and structures when they could be thinking about the new cushion range from Target? Or what colour they could paint their bedroom walls?


But the not-pretty stuff is SO important. One of the things I think a LOT of home owners don’t think much about – especially young home owners – is termites. The hidden housemates. Worse than any housemate that drinks the last of the milk and leaves no toilet paper; these tiny guys can wreak havoc.

At the risk of sounding naïve, I feel like I am pretty ‘house-aware’ and even I have barely given a thought to termites or pest control over the years. But I have recently, because my parents’ neighbours, who are good family friends of ours, discovered extensive termite damage in their old timber-framed house. The damage was so bad the house couldn’t be saved – it just wasn’t worth it. They had to knock it down and are now building a whole new house!

That was an eye-opener for sure, showing me how important it is to be really vigilant, and not long after that we made sure to get a termite inspector round ourselves… and I guiltily realised that in SIX years of owning this house we’ve never had it checked for termites. Oops.

And we had some in the garden! No damage in our house, luckily, but there was evidence of termites in some old wood piled up by the fence. I told the guy that wasn’t too bad; I could just torch it. “Set them on fire,” I said cheerfully, while an image of flaming termites came to mind (clearly I’ve been watching recent Game of Thrones). The termite inspector looked at me like I was slightly deranged. “Uhh, to a termite, wood is food,” he said, slowly and gently. “If you get rid of one food source, it will move onto the next. So if everything in your garden disappears, it will move onto something else. And to a termite, your house is a restaurant.”

“Oh,” I said. Yes, I felt foolish. I definitely learned a lot more about termites in half an hour than I’d ever learned in my entire life! (For example I didn’t even know that our old wine barrels, where we grow vegies and fruit, were tasty-looking termite eating spots. Cafes, perhaps).

Yuck. And don’t even get me started on thinking about termites possibly in my house. It makes me feel itchy and squirmy. Remember that bit in Gilmore Girls where they found out their house was riddled with termites and they couldn’t sleep at home because they thought their house was going to fall down. (I know I do refer to Gilmore Girls a lot, however it was a critical part of my early 20s and my development). But Lorelai and Rory still didn’t even prepare me fully because I did not even know that termites mostly make their nests in the ground. Yes, they live and sleep in the ground and they go up above-ground to eat our houses, trees and whatever timber takes their fancy.

As it turned out I actually knew pretty much nothing about termites until I started researching it, I thought I’d share ten facts  about them. Warning: if you are like me, some of these facts may make you feel as uncomfortable as Lorelai and Rory – but it is SO important to have a basic knowledge of this stuff.

10 Things You Should Know About Termites

There are three main types of termites – dampwood, drywood and subterreanean, the ones which are the main threat to timber in houses.

Timber-eating termites (or white ants) are so small you can usually hardly see them (they’re about half the size of a match head).

Termites cause more damage to Australian homes than fires, floods and storms combined!

Termites can completely destroy the structural walls and roof beams of a house in as little as three months.

Termites nest and breed underground.

A termite nest might be hundreds of metres away from your house – but they build mud tunnels through the ground into houses.

Termites can squeeze through cracks the thickness of a sheet of paper!

Termites live on cellulose, which is found in all plants. While not all termites eat timber, those that do can come into your home looking for food – and wreaking havoc on your house’s structure.

The crazy thing is termites don’t just eat solid wood – they’ll even eat gyprock and plasterboard walls, sometimes leaving a paper-thin layer of paint. (This is a really bad stage).

If you find termites, it’s best NOT to disturb them! Call your  as soon as you can.

Our bedroom with pressed metal bedhead.

So we are about to take action on our tiny hungry neighbours, and as I’ve now learned, from research (in between scouring Target’s latest cushion range and getting my Pinterest fix) that there are numerous kinds of termite treatments. But the most effective is chemical soil treatment – drilling pesticides that target termites (called termiticides) right into the ground, to get the termites right at their nests. We are planning to use which is the newest innovation in termite control. While standard treatments have limited movement through the soil, Termidor HE spreads slowly through the soil to create a full coverage zone that affects all termites in its path. One of the cool things (well ok, I’m clearly a house nerd, but I thought this was cool) is that unlike other termite treatments when a single termite comes into with Termidor, he takes it back with him to his nest and transfers it to his friends. That termite is Gwyneth Paltrow in Contagion. He basically knocks out his friends FOR you. It is called the Transfer Effect and is one of the main reasons no other termiticide performs as well as Termidor, as it kills whole populations more quickly than any other treatment. (You can ask for it from your pest control guy, or find an accredited Termidor HE applicator and get more info ).

Anyway, looking forward to that getting done for peace of mind – and then I’m going right back to poring over Target’s latest cushion range and getting my Instagram fix.

Do you think about things like termites? Or are you guilty of overlooking it, like me? Has your house had termite damage?

This post was brought to you by and . All views expressed are my own.

 

Maya-Anderson-House-Nerd

Author: Maya Anderson

When Maya Anderson was thinking of a name for her homes and design blog, nothing seemed more fitting than Modaokon. Obsessed with everything to do with houses, renovating and interior design, Maya is a features journalist by training with a background in print and a focus on homes and real estate. She has been renovating her 1970s house since forever, loves dogs and can eat her body weight in dumplings.

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  • Yes, I think about it. Actually, I now tend to think about structural stuff more often than pretty stuff. That’s probably why my house is still looking like a worksite/junkyard/crappy 80s disaster, 3 years in – because we have been spending more time and money fixing the “invisible” than making it gorgeous. We too had evidence of termites in the backyard. It’s pretty normal in Perth. Fortunately, nothing near the house, but I don’t want to encourage them coming any closer so I am not having any timber close to the house. Not even a half-wine barrel, even if it looks (so) good! 🙂

  • When I bought my first house (a little starter house in Toronto) I was told that the house had been treated for termites in the past (just like you, the thought of termites never crossed my mind – if anything, I thought termites live somewhere in Africa). The inspector did not find any sign of current termite presence/activity so that was reassuring. I was told that Toronto is practically one big termite colony!
    Sorry to leave a negative comment but I am not a fan of the new blog design. I much preferred the old one. All the blogs seemed to be switching to the same format, where there is a picture and you have to click on “Read More”, I don’t quite understand why. I really love the old format where one can scroll from the newest post to older ones etc.
    Sorry.

  • I recently had my house treated with Termidor and did some checks into the product afterwards (when a sizeable pool of the stuff was left on the floor of my kids’ cubby house and was sickened by the alternative views of the product. I had freaked out after finding in the cubby and reacted quickly. I really regret that now. Termidor also acts on other invertebrates in a similar way. So yes bees, ants and other food for birds and lizards- so it goes up the food chain and it is an accumulative substance in vertebrates. In fact the colony collapse disorder of Eurpoe has been linked to Fipronil (the active ingredient in Termidor) and the EU have sought to ban the use of Fipronil. I have spent 10 years making my garden as organic as possible and using Termidor has seriously put backwards our attempts for a greener future for our kids. Our dog vomited for three days after our house was “treated”. In future I would rather use spot treatments and regularly check for termites than blast all invertebrate life with such a toxic chemical. The slow movement of a chemical like fipronil through soil is scary, not reassuring. Think of DDT moving slowly through your soil. I have had to move all edible plants in our garden away from our house and buffer with non edible, non insect attracting species. Itis up to everyone what they choose to use and how, but being well informed and taking seriously the alternative views of any product is wise. I wish I had done more homework.