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Understanding the consequences and risks of termite attack

Large scale commercial construction projects, such as schools , aged care facilities and hospitals, require significant investment, which means they are worth the best possible protection. Let’s understand what the risks from termite damage look like in Australia.

Termite Risk

While termites prefer tropical and warmer climates and colony numbers can vary, they are active in all areas of Australia. Industry surveys show that termites cause damage to approximately 34,000 homes every year and the average termite damage repair bill is $10,000. Interestingly, there is no data for commercial buildings. Why? Termite attack and or damage is not something building owners want to publish. However it is not unreasonable to extrapolate the figures potentially increase when termites attack large commercial properties. 

“In the simplest of terms, our Termimesh System is about mitigating risks for architects, commercial builders and their clients. The integrity and quality of the physical barrier and installation by trained experts, should be the minimum consideration for commercial projects. It is the only way to achieve an effective termite management system that will last.” - James Damianopoulos - TMA Corporation Director and COO

Treated structural timbers or steel frames do not guarantee protection from termites. When they find access, termites can attack electrical and computer cabling, MDF fixtures, cabinets, timber floors and  carpets.

And, termite damage is not covered by standard insurance policies.

Across mainland Australia, termite attack and damage is a constant risk for all properties, from residential homes to the largest of commercial construction projects. Protection strategies are a must to protect stakeholders from the financial ramifications and compromised reputations.

Financial Consequences

Worldwide, damage caused by termites to cities and urban areas is estimated at US $22 billion per year.

The data available regarding the risks and costs of termite damage are more detailed regarding residential properties, and these figures give useful context to the overall potential of attack across all properties, from homes to large facilities such as aged care homes, schools and hospitals.

Let’s consider these statistics on the costs of termites to Australian home owners:

7.2 million      Households in Australia 

650,000         Estimated number affected by termites

130,000         Estimated number of new attacks per annum 

$10,000         Average rectification cost 

$650 million   Estimated annual cost per annum 

“Commercial architects and builders should be aware of the facts, and deserve to be well educated on termite management options. The peace of mind we deliver is as much about the knowledge and assistance we offer, from specification, to working onsite installing effective systems.” -  Anthony D’Amico - Termi Home & Commercial Operations Manager, Perth WA

It is estimated that an average of 10% to 20% of Australian houses have been, or will be, subject to termite infestations during the life of the building. In certain higher risk areas, such as South East Queensland, that figure rises as high as 65% with an associated annual cost of $4 billion. 

For the 1999 - 2000 financial year, the Queensland Department of Housing spent $410,000 managing termite infestations in public housing. Across the Ipswich, Woodridge and Capalaba regions of South East Queensland, the cost of repairs to rectify termite damage are estimated to range from $18,000 to $60,000 per property.

On average, termite infestations in residential properties cost approximately $1500 in treatment, and repairs of $10,000 per affected building.

Termites

Termites are found throughout the world and are essential to our soil’s ecosystem. In their natural environments, termites provide benefits such as improving soil pH, organic carbon content, water content and porosity by cycling dead organics. 

It is when they find entry into homes, properties and commercial facilities that they have a negative impact. And herein lies the risks to architects, builders and investors of large scale, high value projects. While the costs of termite damage, repair and counter measures are significant in residential properties, those costs are on a far greater scale when there is damage to a commercial site. 

Termites are usually highly active when they enter a property, and create damage that often goes unseen until it is far advanced. Globally, the annual economic cost of termite damage and termite prevention is estimated in the billions. 

Methods of Construction

Unfortunately, there is no particular method of construction that can guarantee termite protection. As mentioned earlier, termites are capable of penetrating properties constructed with treated timber and steel frames.

That’s why specifiers should include a strong specification for the installation of a proven termite management system during construction. While the concept is simple - to deter termites from entering concealed entry points, with a strong, dependable and long-lasting barrier - the application can be technical. The complexity of construction types and the variables that come with commercial projects can be a challenge for inexperienced contractors, therefore it is best to work with a team that has a long history of effective installations behind them. 

This is where the Termimesh System offers one of the most important points of difference - our installation techniques and experienced people. 

Our system is not only about our industry-leading stainless steel mesh, it is very much about the additional value we deliver to our clients, from our knowledge and experience, to the investment in our product development, to the backing of our independant Warranty Fund. On commercial construction sites, understanding the environment, the variables and the individual challenges that arise, is central to the final result. Our network of experienced people are dedicated to minimising risk and protecting not only the building itself, but the reputations of the architects and builders we work with.

Physical Vs Chemical

In the mid 1990’s organochlorines were withdrawn from use as termiticides in Australia in the interests of health and environmental considerations. The move away from chemicals as viable protection options inspired the creation of the Termimesh System that is not only safer and environmentally sound, but also more effective when installed correctly. 

These days, there are still chemical options that can be divided broadly into preventative and curative measures. New buildings can be treated with a chemical barrier that is applied underneath and around the slab. Where under-slab access is not possible, or practical, chemical reticulation can be used to distribute the chemicals into the ground to create a barrier. Chemicals are also used to deal with existing termites as spot treatments, sprays, baits or gases.

The fact is, that unlike a physical barrier, chemicals break down. They are a less persistent and reliable solution as they have to be reapplied every few years to maintain protection. For architects and builders who focus on the environment and sustainability, chemicals are not an attractive option. When compared to chemicals, a stainless steel mesh barrier makes a safer, more effective and more environmentally sound choice of protection and risk mitigation.

There can be little doubt that the future lies with well developed termite management strategies that deliver performance and durability over time, without the need for chemical use. The risks associated with termites in Australia are clear and well documented and they demand innovative solutions. 

The threat of termite attack will remain part of the urban environment in most Australian cities and towns, and architects and builders will be increasingly motivated to choose solutions that minimise risk for large scale construction projects.

Conclusions

All over Australia, extensive and serious damage is caused by termites to buildings of all types. Commercial construction is complex, and the risk of termite entry in all projects is great. Termites can undermine the building’s integrity if an inferior termite management system is chosen. Remember, properties built with steel framed construction are just as likely to suffer a termite attack as those with timber frames.

The financial and economic risk of termite damage being caused to Australian residential and commercial properties presents major challenges to architects, builders and those who invest in these high value construction projects.

We encourage architects and construction professionals to take the best possible precautions in the design and building provisions and specify the smartest anti-termite measures. 

Sources

Archicentre Special Report, An Analysis of Termite Damage in Sydney and Melbourne, 2006

www.ecologistics.com.au The Termite Effect

American J. of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Termite Damage to Buildings: Nature of Attacks and Preventive Construction Methods, 2011

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