Pest Control
Insects like termites have been on planet Earth much longer than we have but there are some steps you can take to protect your property.

Best offence

With household pests the best offence is good defence. This means making your house - especially the kitchen - unattractive to insects by cleaning up food spills immediately, keeping hard-to-reach areas reasonably clean and removing clutter that can hide pests.

Don't expect a 100 per cent success rate because insect breeding rates are very rapid and they are highly capable of evolving their behaviours, appearance and resistance to chemicals. Compared to them, we are very recent arrivals on earth.

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Cockroaches

The strategies you can use to manage cockroaches and other domestic insect pests are based on depriving them of the food, water and shelter they need to survive. This means:
  • Proper food storage - Keep your food in tightly closed containers but not cardboard boxes. Don't leave pet food out overnight.
  • Organic waste storage - Fit tight lids to compost buckets and wash any articles like bottles or cans before storing for recycling.
  • Vents and windows - Screening in apartment buildings and home units can prevent cockroaches from entering from next door. Put seals on the bottom of doors. Use eucalyptus oil to repel them.
  • Water - Insects need water to survive so fix dripping taps and leaking pipes. Remove containers of water, even trays under pot plants.
  • Cleaning - Regularly vacuum corners, cracks, behind and under fridges and stoves and inside cupboards. This will also suck up egg cases.
  • Sealing cracks - Cockroaches can hide in minute spaces so seal as many cracks as possible.

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Natural methods

Artificial pesticide treatments vary in their effectiveness. Why not try some of the safer alternative methods first.
  • Ants - You'll need to locate the nest and kill the queen to have any chance of getting rid of them. Once you do so, pour in a mixture of boiling water and a few drops of eucalyptus oil. A short-term solution is sprinkling the ant trail with lemon juice or talcum powder. Alternatively, try sprinkling powdered red chili pepper, paprika, dried peppermint or borax where the ants are entering
  • Cockroaches - a centimetre of red wine in the bottom of an old butter container left in the kitchen overnight will attract cockroaches. They can't get out and the alcohol penetrates their exterior then drowns them. Alternatively, try spreading the following mix on the floor of infested areas: about 30g of TSP (trisodium phosphate), 170g of borax, 110g of sugar and 230g of flour. Repeat after 4 days and again after 2 weeks.
  • Mosquitoes - Have a frog-friendly garden. Frogs need places to hide and breed so try growing plants of various heights with plenty of compost and mulch.
  • Fleas - Feed them brewer's yeast in tablet form or as a powder mixed with food.
  • Moths - Air your clothes in the sun; store in airtight containers and scatter sachets of lavender, cedar chips, or dried tobacco in your wardrobe and drawers.
  • Rats and mice - Close off any holes in walls (exterior and interior) and try to keep your storage spaces orderly. The most efficient natural remedy is the cat, with mouse and rat traps next.

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Termites

You will need to give special attention to termites which in many developed countries cause more damage to homes than fire, storms, earthquakes and cyclones all put together.

Termites feed on cellulose which is found in wood and wood products. Ground termites need only a source of food, a consistent supply of moisture and a moderate climate.

They can also attack paper, vinyl and fabrics. They consume wallboards, stairs, door jambs and windows, cupboards, skirtings and can damage furnishings, books and a range of stored goods.

Australia's ground termite species (also known as white ants) are voracious. A single colony can severely damage almost all the timber in a home in three months. And they flourish on our ignorance and lack of vigilance.

We can, however, manage the risks they pose.


Termite habits

Because termites die once exposed to air they build mud tunnels up to 50 metres long to travel from one place to another. These tunnels are often visible and can be found running up brick pillars, over concrete slabs and across the fence. These are highways into your home. A regular visual inspection will help identify their presence.

Other less obvious routes might be through construction joints, retaining wall joints and cracks, floor gaps and plumbing, electrical or other slab penetrations.

Once established in a home termites eat away at the woodwork from the inside. Everything might look fine from the outside, but an experienced termite inspector can detect them just by tapping the timber.

Ground termites sometimes create secondary nests above the ground called aerial colonies, which can survive if a water source is available. Common water sources include roof leaks, plumbing leaks, leaky showers or tubs and toilet leaks. Aerial infestations must be located for effective control.

Evidence of termite activity includes:
  • Swarms within the building;
  • Distinctive sand-like pellets or droppings;
  • Characteristic mud tubes ascending from the ground to the structure or protruding from walls and/or trim;
  • Slits in the wood; and
  • Uncharacteristic waviness in the wood.

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Termite control

Since most of us live in an area where termites are active, there are some steps we should take to minimise their threat.
  • Try to keep the outside perimeter of you home (and underneath) free of stored goods, plants, fill, fire wood or any materials that prevent you seeing the entry of termites to the building. Early detection is your best defence.
  • Never leave untreated timber in contact with the ground. Remove any unwanted or unused timber from within 50 metres of your home.
  • Because moisture is essential to termites, repair any leaky shower stalls, dripping taps, overflowing gutters, downpipes, tanks and other plumbing as soon as they are detected.
  • Ensure sufficient ventilation through the brick piers to keep the underside of the house dry.
  • Don't allow the concrete slab to touch the mud outside. The edge of the slab is where termites can be most readily seen when they build their mud tunnels.
  • If possible, check every pier and link between the house above and the ground for evidence of presence and activity.
  • If you are about to build a new home, inquire about appropriate treatments and barriers. For example, the soil can be treated before construction with an appropriate termiticide, so can timber. All cracks and crevices should be sealed with caulking.
  • Be vigilant. If you suspect anything like softening or collapsing timber, or telltale sand-like droppings, contact a termite professional immediately.
  • Don't interfere with a suspected termite colony: seek a professional inspection and do it immediately.

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