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A regular termite inspection should be part of every home or business owner’s annual to-do list. Their home or business is almost certainly at risk and early detection can save them thousands of dollars, as many insurance policies do not cover termite damage.
The potential cost of future pest control and repairs incurred after buying a property infested by termites can run into thousands of dollars, or even tens of thousands if the structural integrity is affected. Anyone thinking of buying a new house is, therefore, encouraged to have a pre-purchase pest inspection and it is often a prerequisite for getting a mortgage.
Good relationships with realty agents, builders and others involved in the selling and buying of property can produce great results, as pre-purchase inspections are common. If you can become their preferred pest control inspector there will always be a constant flow of business.
It is important to check any accreditation requirements needed for your area, as these vary from state to state and council to council. Become familiar with the latest Building Code of Australia (BCA) and Australian Standards 3660.1 through 3. Australian Standards are constantly being reviewed and at the time of writing this book the current one is 3660-2104 which supersedes 3660-2000. It will undoubtedly be replaced at some point in time. Other guidelines you should be familiar with are Australian Standards 4349.1 parts 1 and 3, which cover pre-purchase inspections and timber pests.
Keeping detailed notes as you conduct your inspection is important, as are copies of photos and diagrams. To avoid any accusation of negligence it is important to be able to justify each part of your report later.
Discuss the various exception and liability clauses with the home owner or prospective buyer before starting the survey to make sure they understand what will and will not be covered in the report. It is important that this is clearly understood beforehand. Although these clauses will protect the pest inspector from most liability claims, any resulting negative publicity will benefit nobody.
Make sure your insurance covers you in the unlikely event that problems arise after the inspection.
There are several basic steps involved, which are covered below. More complex buildings, factories or unusual locations will require a more in-depth inspection.
- Talk to the owners.
The quickest way to gain information about a property, along with details of previous treatments and infestations, is to ask the owners. Building extensions, recent tree felling or problems with leaking pipes or gutters will affect your inspection. You cannot rely completely on what the home owner tells you, as they may have forgotten or don’t see the relevance of disclosing some information, but it can be a useful place to start. Sellers may even have a vested interest in not being completely honest.
- A thorough visual inspection
Starting at the boundary or 50 metres from the home (whichever is the nearest), the entire property should be carefully checked for signs of termites. Arboreal nests, mud channels along fences or trees, old stumps and piles of timber will all signal areas that pose potential risk.
All parts of the property should be carefully inspected for signs of attack and areas of damp, including roofs and basements. Damp or rotting timber would act as warning signs for the presence of termites. If you search nearby you may find evidence of the insects such as mud-galleries, droppings, wings or actual termites.
Take your time. Look for damage repair to joists or floorboards, or holes drilled in concrete slabs or pavers all of which might indicate a previous infestation and treatment. You may find termite bait traps or other signs that the home had been previously under attack.
If any pests are found they must be accurately identified before any recommendations are made. This is not always easy, as termite workers from closely related species can be similar in appearance but need different treatment.
- Use other tools if required.
Termite inspectors today have a range of tools at their disposal to check for the pests. Moisture meters and thermal imaging can pinpoint risk areas, even behind walls. Microwave detectors can sense movement behind plaster and partitions. Fibre-optic scopes can see inside small, inaccessible areas. Termite radar detection tools can detect changes in the density of the walls or timbers, showing where damage has occurred.
There are even dogs available in Australia that are trained to detect termites.
Using any or all of these tools reduces your risk of overlooking an infestation. Their addition to your arsenal against termites can be useful when advertising, possibly giving you an advantage over competitors.
- The Inspection Report
The report should cover, as a minimum, how the inspection was done, what was looked at and what was not and why. Your report template should be checked by a lawyer to make sure that the exclusion and liability limitation clauses are watertight. They will not cover you against negligence.
There may be areas of the property that are difficult to access but these are often the places that termites can exist undetected. Such areas should be clearly noted, along with the relevant part of the Australian Standards 4349.1. This defines reasonable access and states what is expected of an inspector and what is not. For example, they are not expected to remove screws or bolts to gain access.
Any problems found, no matter how small, need to be detailed, along with photographs. The location of the threat, the species involved and other relevant information should be clearly covered in non-technical language.
The final section of the report is normally where recommendations are given on how to remove the immediate threat, as well as suggestions on how to avoid future infestations.
Surface sprays are useful as a preventive measure. They should not be used near food nor pets. They are best applied to cracks and the inside of garbage bins.
The most common dust used is boric acid powder. It is a contact poison that is not repellent to cockroaches. If kept dry, it is effective for a long time. The powder adheres to the cockroach’s body due to the electrostatic charge and is ingested when the roach grooms itself. Boric acid powder can take up to a week to have a noticeable effect on the cockroach population.
The powder can be dusted into cracks and crevices or lightly spread in areas where people and pets are unlikely to come into contact with it. Particular caution should be taken where children are present. A thin layer is more effective than a thick one.
Diatomaceous earth and Pyrethrins are also often used in powder form, with the advantage that they are considered safer where children and pets are a concern. They act in a similar way to boric acid powder by desiccating the insect. Other cockroaches will be affected as they mingle and swarm near food.
As with all chemicals, caution is needed.