Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Termite toast

This could well invite great opprobrium from Greenies and nature-lovers generally but I have just destroyed another termite infestation in my house so I am not feeling too kindly towards termites at the moment.

Fortunately the structural timbers in an "Old Queenslander" house are hardwood, which termites find a bit hard on their little jaws -- so infestations tend to do no serious structural damage in such houses. So the various attacks on my house don't take much to repair.

Anyway, the point about this post is to pass on a bit of old bush wisdom that I learnt many years ago from my father: Termite mounds (in the bush) burn. So if you knock the top off one and light it up, you have a very good damped fire for making toast. Just throw some bread on and you will soon have some of the tastiest toast you have ever eaten. It has a unique flavour. Though I guess it could depend a bit on what wood they have been eating.

So there is ONE good thing that comes from having termites around.

While I am talking about termites maybe I should dispense some termite wisdom. I am an old termite warrior from way back so I have seen a lot.

When most people are told that they have termites in their house they basically run screaming. And if the house is a modern brick veneer that is about all that they can reasonably do. The structural timbers in a modern house are pine -- which is a very soft wood. Termites go through it like a buzzsaw and soon your walls are flapping in the breeze. And at that point all you can usually do is pull the house down and start again.

In an older house, however, it will be only the softwood (floors, walls etc.) that is destroyed. The hardwood framework will have been attacked but not enough to reduce drastically its load-bearing capacity. Hardwood is amazing stuff. So you poison the termites and nail new floorboards or wallboards onto your framework and you are as good as new again. It just costs you a bit of timber and a couple of days work by a carpenter or handyman.

But most people don't know that so run screaming from old houses too. And that is how I bought my house for a tenth of what it is now worth. It had a whole bedroom floor eaten out by termites when I bought it. The floor concerned was just a couple of inches above the ground, however, so I just got a rubbish man to cart it away and poured concrete where it had been. I'd like to see the termites try their jaws on that!

But in my experience you never get rid of termites and I have had at least half a dozen infestations in the last 20 years or so. To me it's just routine maintenance to deal with them.

Pest control people always try to talk you into spending thousands of dollars on putting a poison "barrier" around your house to prevent future infestations but that is just malarkey. There are at least 3 reasons why such barriers don't work:

1). The termites are inside it already;

2). The chemicals these days are pissweak. They degrade in around 12 months so don't bother the termites for long. If the Greenies would allow us to use Dieldrin instead, however, there might be some point in it. Dieldrin never seems to degrade from what I can see. We used it for years but it is now "carcinogenic", they say.

3). Most flying ants are termites so they can fly right inside your property without having to burrow through any soil. I get an annual flight of them.

And pest control people are mostly a laugh anyway. On a couple of occasions I have had them tell me that one of my properties is "clear", only for me to say: "Put your listening gadget here". "Oh yeah"! they then say. They miss a lot. They are good at pumping Termidor into an existing infestation and killing it -- but not much else.

There are a few people who try to evade termites by building steel-framed houses. I mustn't laugh! You need to be pretty noise-tolerant to live in a steel house. Steel expands and contracts according to the temperature -- something that timber does not do. And it makes a lot of noise as it expands and contracts: pops and creaks and groans etc. Some steel houses "sing". There's no "get out of jail free" card with termites. You just have to be vigilant.

There's always the old double brick construction method, of course. Nothing for termites to eat there. But you have to be on very stable ground and your dampcourse has to hold up. Once that fails you have rising damp -- and that is VERY hard to defeat. Been there. Done that.

Speaking of Dieldrin, I had a great pest control guy years ago whom I used to get to spray my houses for pests such as cockroaches. I suspect that he must have collared a good supply of Dieldrin before it was banned because he would first spray my houses with the "safe" chemicals (safe for bugs too) and if that did not work completely he would come back and spray some of "the good stuff" around -- which always worked like a charm. But he did die of cancer in his mid-50s ...

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