Termites (commonly called white ants) are small insects that work on a sophisticated colony system. There are many different species but we are mainly interested in the wood destructive species that affect buildings and properties. This is not a technical sheet but is intended to give an overview to the damage that can be done to a building.

No two infestations are the same, but some characteristics can be evident. Firstly, termites will go to great lengths to do great damage without detection. After all their "job" is to obtain food which is usually wood (your home) or cellulose (paper or paper products). The food is to support a colony which may have in excess of 2 million termites. Termites will infest a building usually in concealed areas or areas where there is little or no human activity. This can include timber walls and roof framework.

Termites can also access a building by using termite resistant materials such as bricks or treated timber for a pathway.

They are usually difficult to detect except to a trained professional. Left untreated, they can cause major structural damage. If treatment is completed late, then structural damage will still exist and replacement of affected timbers will be required. Most builders will not give a quote for repairs due to the uncertain nature of the damage. There is no insurance against termite damage and costs usually run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

In the later stage of infestation, termite damage may become evident to internal timbers.

Termites will not damage all timbers, but usually leave enough timbers so that the structure does not collapse.

Since 1995 there is a change to the pest industry using different systems. There is no magic spray that will fix the problem. Nor will “an annual spray” do the job. The industry is now a pest management industry that requires a greater expertise and reporting. Infestations have to be assessed as to the best system for treatment of the infestation. That involves expertise, time and money. Annual pest inspections are recommended to detect activity in the early stages. More regular inspections may be recommended where a higher than normal risk exists.

Some termites are non-destructive and pose no structural risk to a building. A pest inspection will identify the different risks.

Borers can be of a concern, but are not in the same category as termites. Most buildings completed prior to 1930 will have anobium borer in the floorboards. This borer will not usually affect the structural timbers, but can be a surprise if a hole appears in a floorboard. Anobium borers will very slowly honeycomb the timber and can result in a hole on reasonable impact. Your next pest inspection will identify these borers.

Delignification can be of a concern as it is deterioration of the timber cells that will eventually affect the structural adequacy of the timbers. Deterioration can be caused by salt deterioration or chemical environment. Delignification is noted in reports, but is only of a structural concern in advanced stages.

Rot in timbers is noted.

This can range from rot affected windows due to lack of painting to structural timbers. All exposed timbers will require maintaining with paint or a preservative unless it is a Grade 2 or better. Rot in timbers can cause collapse of decks, patios, floors, pergolas and patios. The following photograph shows the ends of a collapsed front first floor balcony in a Victorian era terrace which was not only affected by rot but termite activity.