What is Subsidence of a house?

A property investor we know engaged a buyer’s agent to find them a suitable property. The buyer’s agent found a renovated, older style home on a large corner block near a major shopping centre that ticked all of the boxes and was about $20,000 less than comparable properties on the market. The buyer’s agent noticed that there was a 25mm gap between the floor slab and the skirting board in the living room and mentioned this to me at the time of booking the inspection.

Here are some of the observations made at the inspection:

1.     The external brick walls of the house had been rendered. Cracks up to 3mm wide were present in the rendered external brick walls.

2.     I noted neat rectangular patches of newer concrete to the paths around the external walls of the house.

3.     Some vertical joints had been cut into the external brick walls.

4.     The door frame to the garage was out of square by 60mm.

5.     The large timber patio was located only 500mm from the rear boundary.

6.     The garage was built right onto the side street boundary without a fire-rated wall.

Here is some of the advice given to the buyer’s agent from the Building inspector:

1.     It appears that the house has had significant damage from subsidence. The owner had the house underpinned, rendered and articulation joints were installed. Some damage, such as the tiled concrete floor of the living room being out of level and the garage door frame being out of square, were not rectified. Further cracks indicate that there has been more movement since the rectification works have been carried out.

2.     The garage and patio are built less than 900mm from the boundary without a fire-rated wall. This indicates that these structures are illegal.

The buyer’s agent decided not to proceed with the purchase mainly because:

1.     More damage had occurred since the underpinning. The long-term consequences of more damage could not be known. There is excessive risk of future repairs and therefore a chance of reduced re-sale value.

2.     Illegal structures will make the property more difficult to insure and could reduce re-sale value.

One day I hope that every property will have an inndox and serious defects like subsidence will be disclosed to buyers. Unfortunately we still have “Buyer Beware” laws operating in much of Australia and this means that it is likely that this property was sold to an unsuspecting buyer who will eventually learn theat they have bought a problem.

Is it worth using a Building Inspector?

Of course, property should be inspected if you are making an offer to purchase a new home. But really anyone who owns property should use the services of a building inspector from time to time. So whether you are buying, selling, leasing your property or living in it, you will greatly benefit from knowing the condition of the building and how best to deal with any issues found. A seller should get a building and pest inspection report done prior to listing to assist the sale process. A property investor should have regular inspections done on the tenanted property for maintenance and safety reasons. A person living in the building and planning to renovate should talk to a professional building inspector. Anyone living in their building should have ongoing property inspections during the time they own it.

Let’s look at all these scenarios.


 WHEN YOU ARE BUYING YOUR HOME

How exciting, you’ve found a home and you just love it. Emotionally, you’ve moved in already! But wait, don’t forget that all-important inspection report. You will be living in your new home for several years, maybe decades, so make sure you know what you are buying.

Most people nowadays see the value in having the required property inspections carried out on their behalf when buying a property, but I still hear of people who don’t bother and end up buying a dud. Excuses for not getting an inspection include: the property was only two years old; it was a bargain; we ran out of time; we are going to renovate anyway; my brother-in-law had a look at it for me and he is a carpenter.

Not getting an inspection is taking a risk with a huge financial investment. Get it right and you can save thousands of dollars. Get it wrong and it can cost you thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Not only is there the cost of repairs to consider but the time and stress involved with fixing the problems and the opportunity cost of lost capital gains.

I’ve heard horror stories about years of stress and financial hardship they endured because they bought a property without any property inspections. Learn from their mistakes!

Some people are prepared and have done their homework when they are buying a property. They have assessed the property themselves (or used a buyer’s agent). They have visited the property a few times at different times of the day. They have checked with the local council for flood risk. They have asked the selling agent about the sinking fund on a strata property. They have checked that their car fits in the garage, They have asked the agent to see the inndox on the property etc. Even so, they are not professional building inspectors and therefore they need to engage someone who is experienced and suitably qualified to prepare an inspection report for them.

MAINTAINING YOUR HOME

So you go to the dentist once or twice a year to get the pearly whites checked and you have the car serviced regularly too. But the house… “Nah. It can wait, sure it’s my biggest asset but I know what I’m doing”. Wake up people, over the years your property is deteriorating and it needs to be maintained. Sticking your head in the sand does not keep your property in peak condition. Periodic professional building inspections are a good way to keep informed about maintenance needed on the property.

Some homeowners understand they have some maintenance issues so they get some quotes from tradespeople. It becomes confusing when the tradespeople recommended different solutions with widely varying costs. This has left them confused about what to do next. They appreciate getting independent expert advice so they can confidently make the necessary investment with the appropriate scope of work to properly address the issues. Inspectors will usually find other issues that the owner was unaware of that also need attention.

 

WHEN YOU ARE BUYING INVESTMENT PROPERTY

Most property investors will lease their properties to gain rental income. If a rental property is not maintained in a safe condition, then the owner will be in breach of common law, the landlord’s insurance and building insurance conditions. Most tenancy agreements and insurance policies require an owner to maintain the property in a safe condition at all times. Its worth sharing the inndox with the tenant so they know have access to information like operation manuals and Community rules.

The next scenario illustrating when it’s essential to engage a property inspector involves when you are buying an investment property. It will not only save you money when you buy, and potentially increase your return on the property, but it may also save you from defending yourself in court.


Liability you have as a homeowner to your tenant

In the case of Graton v Gillan Investments Pty Ltd, the owner was held to be liable for failing to keep the rental property in a safe condition. The owner was held to have had an obligation at the start of the tenancy to have the property inspected and assessed by a qualified person.

This case has extended the requirements of owners to have regular inspections done by qualified professionals. It is not enough to have property managers doing these inspections. Owners now face increased liability for defects which may have previously not been detected. In this case, the tenant was awarded damages of $100,000 for her injury.

 Property investors need not only obtain a pre-purchase inspection at the time of purchase but also need to have ongoing inspection services including: Building maintenance inspections and Termite inspections.

By utilising a building inspector, you can meet your responsibilities and aid in protecting yourself from litigation and penalties, while also ensuring that the rental property is in a safe and sound condition for the tenants to enjoy.

 Can a property manager inspect my property?

You should make it a practice that at the commencement of each tenancy, and at least every year, a qualified building inspector is engaged to examine the repair and safety of the rental property. A property manager is not qualified to do this. The building inspector’s report should be sent to you (the owner) and the property manager. The report will enable you  to instruct the property manager to arrange any necessary repairs.

PROPERTY MANAGERS

Inspecting buildings for structural defects and safety hazards is a job for a licensed and insured building inspector with suitable experience and training.

The law courts have recently held that a property manager is not considered to be a fit and proper person to inspect a rental property to ensure that the property is in a safe and well maintained condition. Deaths and serious injuries from the collapse of decks, balconies, stairs and floorboards are becoming all too frequent. The landlord (and the property manager as agent of the landlord) may be liable if an accident occurs on an investment property that you own or manage.

If someone is injured or dies while they are at the rental property and this is found to be due to a lack of maintenance that should have been detected by undergoing a regular professional inspection, then the property manager and owner may well be liable.

As I said earlier, by utilising a building inspector, a property manager can meet their responsibility and aid in protecting them- selves (as agent of the landlord) from litigation and penalties while ensuring that the rental property is in a safe condition for the tenants.


Unsafe balcony causes tenant to move out

A property manager knew that the balcony on a small block of flats  was in a poor state of repair and had asked the owner to get it rectified. The owner thought it was a body corporate responsibility and so did not take any action. When the tenant moved in, the property manager told her to watch out for the handrails on the front stairs as they were   a “bit wobbly”.

The tenant arranged for removalists to move her furniture into the property. When the removalist arrived at the property they advised the tenant that they could not safely carry the furniture up the stairs as there were badly decaying stair treads. The tenant found a piece of timber to place onto the stairs to enable the removalists to get up the stairs. When the removalists got to the top of the stairs the balcony floor gave way under foot. The removalists stopped work and took the furniture away stating that it was too unsafe for them to unload the furniture. The tenant was very upset as she had paid a month’s rent and bond in advance and could not occupy the property as she could not get her furniture moved into it.

She approached the property manager about the situation and was offered some temporary accommodation in another property. When the situation did not get resolved after a few weeks, the tenant approached ‘A Current Affair’ and asked them to investigate and report on the matter.

I was then asked to appear on the program and inspect the balcony and access stairs. I found these to be structurally unsound and unsafe. I recommended that the entire balcony and two sets of stairs be replaced.

The licensee of the real estate office admitted that they had sent a young, inexperienced property manager to inspect the balcony and stairs. The young property manager noted on her entry condition report that the handrail was a “bit wobbly” and there was some “flaky paint”. Clearly the property manager lacked the necessary training and expertise to identify structural defects and safety issues. This put the tenant and removalist at serious risk of life and limb.

The program highlighted the unprofessional conduct of the real estate licensee and the lack of care shown by the owner.

 The video of this story featuring Andrew Mackie-Smith from inndox can be viewed at www.buildingpro.com.au/media

 

 WHEN SELLING PROPERTY

When selling, it is important that your property presents well to potential buyers and that you remove any barriers to a sale. If you can provide pre-sale building and pest reports to potential buyers, you can greatly assist the sale process.

The last thing you want is for the Contract of Sale of your property to fall through because the buyer obtains reports (from an inspector working for the buyer) revealing significant structural damage, safety issues or severe termite infestation that you were unaware of.

Advantages of pre-sale inspection reports include:

The seller knows of any major defects or significant timber pest issues in advance, giving them the opportunity to get these sorted out. I can think of many times when the seller has said “the agent recommended that we get you to do the inspection for us although I don’t know why as you won’t find anything wrong, but knock yourself out mate”. Many times I have found major structural damage or a termite infestation and the seller quickly changes their cavalier attitude and wants to know how they can quickly get the issues rectified.

Disclosing defects and fixing problems is worth the effort and expense to help them sell their property.and having the opportunity to fix the problems than hearing about it from a buyer’s solicitor after the contract has been cancelled.

Buyers are more likely to make an unconditional offer as they can rely upon the report provided. This saves them the expense and gets the deal done with less delay.

If the property is going to auction, then buyers are more confident to make a bid. I often get people calling our office desperate for a building and pest inspection to be done on a property that is going to auction within a matter of days.

Sometimes inspectors are fully booked and cannot get the report done before the auction. If the buyers cannot arrange for an inspection to be carried out in time, they may decide not to bid at the auction.

Buyers are less likely to renegotiate a reduced price after the contract has been signed because if there are any building or  pest issues with the property, they already read about them in  the pre-sale report when they entered into the contract. This doesn’t mean that some won’t try, but hey, they knew what they were getting themselves into so it severely limits their bargaining power.

The inspector can discuss the report findings with potential buyers and answer any questions they may have.

Of course setting up an inndox and sharing this with your Real estate sales agent allows them the ability to share the inspection reports with prospective buyers and to eventually transfer the inndox to the new owner.

 

PRO TIP

Some inspectors have a reputation for being overly pedantic. Others are just inexperienced and their reports are not balanced or well written. This can leave the buyer feeling uncertain about whether to proceed with the property purchase or not. A good property report should give confidence to proceed, negotiate a reduction in price or pull out. If the buyer is uncertain, then a cancelled contract will be the likely result. Make sure if you share any property reports through inndox that the buyer can speak with the consultant who prepared the report to clarify any concerns as its easy to mis-interpet some reports.

 Some inspectors will put the pre-sale reports into the name of the eventual purchaser at no extra cost or for a reduced fee. Usually the purchaser will need to agree to the inspector’s standard inspection agreement first. I hope to see our law change so that it becomes mandatory for sellers to provide pre-sale inspection reports to all potential buyers through a digital platform like inndox.

 

BEFORE YOU RENOVATE

Are you planning the big reno? Perhaps you’ve been inspired by the scripted ‘reality’ renovation TV shows? Renovations can be horrendously expensive. I am not a fan of large-scale renovations. They are usually very costly, time-consuming and stressful. Budgets are stretched or many compromises are made. Mistakes happen and lessons are learned.

Rather than renovate, I suggest that clients simply buy a better property instead where the hard work has been done for them. If you are clear about what you want and take the time to look, you can often buy the property that meets your needs without having to renovate. Its easy to store all of your renovation plans, approvals, certificates and more on inndox.

PRO TIP

Add the cost of renovating to the cost of the purchase. Then compare that figure to the cost of renovated properties in the area.

For example, if you are comparing properties and one is a basic house with a “blank canvas yard” and the other property being considered is fully renovated with an extra bedroom and an in-ground concrete swimming pool and costs only $40,000 more, then does it makes sense to buy the unimproved property and spend $120,000 and 12 months of your spare time adding these features? I would always choose to buy a well renovated or newer property that suits your needs if you can afford it. Use inndox and a Council search to look at the history of approvals on the property.

If you really need to renovate or just want to give it a go for the life experience then I strongly recommend that you get an architect or building designer to prepare the plans and specifications (with necessary approvals), so that the work can be competitively tendered for fixed price quotes from at least three licensed builders. This means the builders are all quoting on the same scope of work and you can get the best advantage from the competitive quote environment. Store the quotes in inndox for your records.

 


 


Why you should always ask your Builder to itemise the quotation

Ask the builder to itemise their price, i.e. separate the costs of plumbing, electrical work, painting, etc. If your preferred builder has some significant anomaly between his price for a particular line item and the price from other estimates/quotes you will know in advance. You can then ask the builder to check his price to make sure they have not made an error. If a builder under-quotes due to an error in calculation or understanding, they are more likely to cut corners on the job to recover profit lost from the quoting error.

Let’s take a look at an example.

You receive a plumbing quote from your preferred builder that is $35,835. Plumber quotes from other builders (for the same scope) are $47,560 and

$50,500. You ask the preferred builder to check his plumbing quote. He comes back to you two days later and sheepishly admits that he forgot to include the new roof in the plumbing quote. So you ask him to price the roof and he confirms the new roof will cost $11,000. The total amended plumbing component of the quote is now $46,835.

In my experience, it is better to have a builder making a fair profit on the job than trying to complete a project where the builder has started with a loss. If this is the case the temptation to cut corners or to find ‘extras’ may be too great. I always strive for a win/win – a good job for a fair price.

Keep all of your property related quotes in inndox for easy reference.

 

How often do I need to paint my property?

An important part of maintenance of your property is the paintwork. Every year you should check the condition of the exterior paintwork and every two years check the internal condition. . Most buildings need repainting every 20 years or so. Paint protects the building component that it covers. Unpainted materials or peeling paint cause surfaces to weather and deteriorate which leads to a shorter life span of the material. The cost to repaint a building can be significant. To paint an average-sized, two-storey, timber home inside and out could easily cost $30,000 or more.

Buildings built before 1970 are at risk of having lead present in the paint. Lead is known to be toxic if ingested, eaten or breathed into the lungs. Care must be taken when sanding back lead paint as ingestion can cause lead poisoning.

If the house is more than a single storey, scaffolding may be required to repaint the property. The necessity for scaffolding can add significantly to the cost of repainting.

Poor quality paint jobs are common because many property owners try and DIY the painting. An amateur paint job can reduce the overall quality of the property. There are usually other instances of poor workmanship if the painting is below standard.

It is worth noting that your building inspector is not required to report on the condition of interior paintwork, although I would say that most would.

To maintain your property its best that you regularly clean the internal and exterior as this prolongs the life of the paintwork. This is especially important for buildings near the sea or located close to the city where pollution from vehicle exhausts can leave a fine layer of toxic dust on the building.

Keep paint colour details and Painter contact details in your inndox to make it easier for future touch ups and repaints.

Maintaining your roof in Australia

ROOF EXTERIOR

The roof exterior can be tricky to closely inspect without getting onto the roof. Accessing the roof is a potential safety hazard and I would not recommend it unless you are a professional with the right gear and insurance. Many roof defects can be detected from the interior and from the ground. I suggest you inspect the roof from the ground only and leave the full roof inspection up to the building inspector or Roofer.


 Metal sheet roof

If possible, get to some high ground from where you can view the roof. If the roof is a metal sheet type of roof, the biggest concern will generally be rust. If there are areas of rust, the rust can cause holes in the roof that allow water penetration. Sometimes the rust is visible from the ground as brown patches. Often the most significant rust occurs where roof sheets overlap, and this is not easy to see from the exterior. If the roof is the original roof, and access is difficult from the ground, then ask the building inspector to check it from inside the roof.

Generally, a metal roof will last for about 50 years, so if the building you are looking at is more than 50 years old, the roof should not be the original roof. If it is the original, it may need to be replaced. The average cost of replacing a roof on a single-storey house of around 100m2 is $15,000 or more.

 

Hail damaged roof

I once inspected two new blocks of townhouses and found both blocks had hail-damaged roofs. The real estate agent and builder had not disclosed their knowledge of this matter to the purchasers. The cost to replace an entire roof would have to be claimed on the body corporate insurance as the buildings were complete. To rectify this defect, scaffolding would need to be erected around the entire building, the old roof would need to be removed and a new roof installed. The body corporate would need to fund the excess on the insurance claim and each owner may also have to pay an increased premium each year as a result of the body corporate making such a huge claim.

 

Metal roof tiles

Metal roof tiles are tiles that look like concrete tiles from a distance, but upon closer inspection you can see that they are metal. These were popular in the 1980s. Metal tiles are flimsy and if you don’t step very lightly in soft-soled shoes right above the tile batten they will dent.

 Most of the clients I inspect for have no idea that the house they are buying has a metal tile roof. The single-storey, tenanted houses always have the worst damage because tenants do not seem to notice the damage they are causing when they get on the roof, for example to retrieve a lost cricket ball or adjust the TV antenna.

 Concrete tile

Concrete tile roofs have capping tiles at the ridges, hips and gables that are wired onto the frame, secured and waterproofed with mortar. This is known as ‘bedding’ and ‘pointing’. Over time, bedding and pointing can become cracked and loose, and this allows water penetration. The cost to repoint an average sized tile roof of a house is $2,200 or more.

 

 Terracotta tile

Terracotta tile roofs are the orange-coloured tile roofs. These roofs are long-lasting and attractive, but they are more prone to leakage in heavy rainfall as the gaps under the tiles can allow wind-driven rain to enter the interior and cause minor damage to the ceiling. The lichen that grows on terracotta tile roofs is generally harmless and can be removed with pressure cleaning if a cleaner appearance is desired. Tiled roofs will have a life expectancy of approximately 60 to 100 years plus. Terracotta tiles last longer than concrete tiles. Terracotta tiles can be prone to pitting. This problem is known as ‘fretting’ and it manifests itself by leaving small piles of tiny flakes and grains of terracotta on top of the ceiling inside the roof void.. Over time, the fretting can become so severe that some of the affected tiles need to be replaced.

 

FASCIAS, EAVES AND GUTTERING

As well as checking the roofs, you need to inspect the elements around them, such as fascias, eaves, gutters and downpipes.

Fascias are the timber boards that support the gutters. Check these boards for evidence of fungal decay (rot). They will often have some minor decay at the corners where gutters overflow. Minor decay only needs patching and repainting, but more significant decay may require replacement of the entire fascia. Gutters will need to be removed and replaced if the fascia needs replacing. The cost of this work will increase significantly if scaffolding needs to be erected to access the fascias.

Eaves (or ‘soffit’ as it is also known) are the lining boards or sheets used under the roof overhang. A roof overhang is a good thing because it protects the building from the elements like heavy rainfall and hot summer sunlight. When there is no overhang of the eaves, and the gutter sits on top of the external wall, the risk of leaks is much greater. Check the condition of the eaves. If eaves are broken or have peeling paint, and the eaves’ lining material contains asbestos sheeting, then the cost to rectify this is significantly increased.

Inspect the gutters and downpipes from ground level for any signs of rusting or leaks. Leaks often occur at joins. Rust can be caused when trees overhang the roof and leaves are not regularly removed.

 

What spacing do you require on downpipes?

There should be a downpipe every 12 metres of guttering and a downpipe should be located within 1.2 metres of a valley gutter.

Why I hate box gutters

Box gutters are internal gutters that are often not visible from the ground. This type of gutter is very prone to overflowing during exceptionally heavy rainfall. The water overflows into the building interior and causes damage to other components of the property.

Downpipe connections

 Check that downpipes are connected to stormwater pipes in the ground. If the downpipes discharge water onto the ground this can create excessive dampness that can contribute to timber pest and mould issues.

If the house is an older property, the stormwater pipes could be made of terracotta clay. You can usually see the clay pipe top where the downpipe meets the clay pipe at ground level. Clay pipes are prone to pulling apart and can easily be invaded by tree roots. The cost to replace clay pipes with plastic stormwater pipes is usually a few thousand dollars for an average home.

Why does valley metal rust on a terracotta tiled roof?

If the roof is a pitched terracotta tiled roof that has valley gutters, then check them for rust (from the ground). If they are brown in colour it is likely they have significant rust. It is said that the glaze in the terracotta leaches into the galvanised steel valley metal and causes premature rust, therefore, if the valleys look brown they may be rusting and need replacement.

 

What if my property has solar panels on the roof?

Many energy-conscious property owners and builders have installed solar panels. These are usually placed on the roof and orientated for maximum sunshine collection. The inverter is a box on the wall, usually located near the meter box. The system converts solar energy to electricity for use at the property. Excess electricity generated can be returned to the grid for a credit on the electricity bill.

Some solar credits are not transferable to the next owner. Solar panel installers have a habit of not properly sealing around the roof penetrations (where solar panels are connected to brackets attached to the roof frame through holes in the roof). This can result in roof leaks. So check the ceiling below the solar panels for leak stains or damage.

Note: Inspection of the solar panel installation is excluded from a standard building inspection report so if you have a property with them installed it best to get them checked by a specialist.

Watch out for a future blog on Solar Panels where we will deep dive into this topic.

 

Maintaining fireplaces, chimneys and wood-heaters

Open fireplaces

An open fire or wood heater can add appeal to a property. Cosy nights sitting around a crackling warm fire with your favourite beverage in hand is a great way to unwind. But brick and stone fireplaces need to be cleaned from time to time. This cleaning is done by a chimney sweep. Remember the Mary Poppins movie? Yes, chimney sweeps exist outside of fairy tales and kid’s movies. It’s worth the expense of having an older fireplace inspected and cleaned by your local chimney sweep to ensure it is clean and safe to use. Cleaning and checking clearances and for deposits every year is recommended if you are using the fireplace regularly..

NOTE: The building inspector will not test the fireplace or wood heater as part of a standard building inspection.

Some older houses have fireplaces that are ornamental. In other words, the fireplace, hearth and mantelpiece are there, but the chimney has been removed or blocked up. Maybe they had problems with vermin or water leaks. Either way, it’s going to get pretty smoky and even dangerous if you start a fire and the chimney has been blocked. Look outside, above the roof, to see that there is a corresponding chimney or flue for each fireplace (and its clean and has the right clearances) before you light a fire! Any cracks in the chimney or deteriorated mortar should be repaired.

 Wood heaters

Wood heaters provide a lovely warmth that appeals to many people. They must be installed strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Have your solicitor check with the local council for evidence of building approval and final inspection to ensure that the wood heater was properly installed with correct clearances and materials.

Note: Inspection of wood heaters is not included in a standard building inspection.

Wood heaters are generally more efficient than traditional fire- places. In a past life as a council building inspector, I checked hundreds of these approvals and installations. The key points to understand are these:

1.    You need building approval to install a wood heater.

2.    Manufacturers get a prototype tested at a laboratory to ensure it meets the Australian Standards.

3.    The installation needs to be strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications.

4.    Making sure the ‘appliance’ has enough clearance from combustible elements is the key to compliance.

The quick guide to termites and timber pests

A quick guide to termites and timber pests

For residential and commercial property

PEST INSPECTIONS

A pest inspection will look for termites, borers and decay at your property. These are the timber pests.

Many areas of Australia are known to be at risk of termite attack. Where I live – in South East Queensland – the risk is high, while the risk in Tasmania is relatively very low. Termites like warmer climates, so the further north you go, the more termites you’ll find and the higher the risk of termite attack.

The pest inspection involves finding and reporting on timber pests and conditions conducive to timber pests. This inspection includes inspection of timber in all reasonably accessible areas of the property. The property is checked for subterranean and damp-wood termites, borers of seasoned timber and fungal decay. The location and severity of live pests and damage is commented upon in the report.

Conditions conducive to timber pest attack, such as poor surface drainage and poorly ventilated subfloor areas are also reported. 

Some property owners think that a brick building is at low risk of termite attack. Often these buildings contain structural timber floor and roof framing even when the walls are brick. If in doubt, discuss this with your inspector when agreeing upon the scope of work. My advice is to always get the pest inspection done. For a few hundred dollars it’s worth the peace of mind.

The inspection is non-invasive and does not involve breaking open timber or walls, lifting carpet or insulation, moving heavy furniture, etc. It is essentially a visual inspection.

Standard tools used by inspectors are a torch, ladder and moisture meter (see later section on ‘Equipment’).

 The inspection is done to check for three types of named timber pests only. Other timber pests like carpenter ants and drywood termites, although commonly found, are not included in the inspection. Pests such as snakes, possums, rats, mice, ants, cockroaches, spiders and other pests are also not included.

 

Drywood termites not included in a standard report

A real estate agent I have known for many years related this story to me. “I bought a house and had a building and pest inspection. When we moved in and started renovations our builder found extensive termite damage. We called the pest inspector for an explanation and he came over and told us that because the damage was caused by drywood termites it was not his problem. So we rang the building authorities and they confirmed that the inspector was not liable. We felt ripped off!”

 While we are on the subject of pests and termites, here is some advice: please don’t call them white ants! They are termites, not ants. More closely related to cockroaches than ants, these insects are responsible for a lot of building damage because they eat timber.

CSIRO reports that in Australia over 130,000 houses are infested annually causing $910 million worth of damage. The average damage repair bill is $5,500 and the average treatment cost is $1,500. I think there is excessive fear surrounding termites, and that fear is perpetuated by the pest management industry. As we know, fear is also ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. In my opinion, people get way too concerned about termites. Sure, they do damage properties and the damage can run into the thousands to rectify, but let’s get you educated on these critters to give you some perspective.

There are around 300 different species of termites in Australia. But unless you are an entymologist with years of termite identification experience you would be considered knowledgeable within the pest industry if you could correctly identify and name 10 different species. Where I live in Brisbane, I commonly see about five different types.

Some are destructive and can do significant structural damage, and others are quite lame and only do superficial damage. When the weather is humid and stormy, that is the time when thousands of winged termites (alates) will take flight and seek a mate to start their own colony. If they are successful in finding each other – and a cosy spot – they will start a new colony and hey presto, they become the king and queen. Termite colonies in the suburbs can grow to more than one million termites.

If you find termites and want to kill them, you can just take off a shoe and whack them or get professional pest control. I would advocate for the latter because chances are, if you find termites, you have only found a few hundred workers harvesting the timber and if you kill these guys the colony will not miss them. The queen pumps out 4,000 eggs per day, so if a few hundred go missing they will quickly be replaced. You need to use a poison that will find its way to the nest and get some poison into the queen. This will eradicate the colony.

Residential buildings that are built in a designated termite area require an approved termite management system be installed during construction. To find out if the property you are buying is in a termite risk area I suggest you contact the local council for advice.

 

What are the main types of termite management systems?

Most modern houses have physical barriers built into the external walls and collars placed around pipe penetrations (where pipes go through concrete floor slabs on the ground) to prevent termite entry. The building certifier has the job of ensuring that the system installed is approved for use. Most freestanding dwellings built after 1995 have a physical termite management system installed but some do not.


 Another method of termite risk management is to build the ‘primary building elements’ (i.e. load bearing members) with termite resistant materials, for example metal, concrete, masonry, fibre cement, naturally resistant timber and preservative treated timber.

In Queensland, the primary building elements also include door jambs, window frames, reveals, architrave and skirting boards as the risk of termite damage is higher in this state.

 

Chemicals

Another type of termite management system is a chemical one. This system involves the installation of a treated zone of topsoil abutting the perimeter external walls, by drilling through concrete and digging through topsoil. If the building has a subfloor, then this area is treated also. These chemical systems are often referred to as ‘barriers’ but the more correct term is ‘treated zone’.

 

Banned chemicals

Old school chemicals based on organochlorines and organo- phosphates such as ‘Aldrin’ and ‘Dieldrin’ were fantastic at keeping termites away, but they were found to be too toxic for the environment because of their long after-life.

There are now many effective and safer chemicals available to professional pest managers that last between one and ten years.


Expensive Termite chemical V Cheaper Termite chemical, what’s the difference?

Do the maths. Some chemicals are cheap and some are expensive. It’s no surprise that the expensive ones actually work better and last much longer. A good quality chemical will last eight to ten years. If you are comparing quotes on chemical termite systems make sure you take into consideration how long the chemical will last. Here is a quick and easy way to compare the value of two different quotes.

Quote 1. “Bloody Ripper Pest Control”

Uses a cheap chemical. Installation costs $2,250. Re-treatment (expiry date) in three years = Cost to you $750 per year.

Quote 2. “Aussie Battler Pest Management”

Uses a more expensive chemical. Installation costs $2,750. Re-treatment (expiry date) in eight years = Cost to you $344 per year.

When comparing quotes, you should always look at the annual cost over the life of the termite management system to understand the true cost.

 

Monitoring and baiting systems

The third most popular type of termite management system is a monitoring and baiting system. This involves the installation of many (sometimes 30 on a standard suburban lot) ‘bait stations’ in the ground around the building. The bait stations are typically a plastic tube with openings in the sides and a removable lid on the top. These are buried in the ground with the lid sitting level with the ground. Inside the tube some timber or an attractant like ‘Focus’ is placed. Usually the timber is a species of pine timber. Pine is a softwood and more often is the target of termites as it is easier for them to eat. The teeth of a termite have the density of a human finger nail so they find eating denser timbers a slow process.

The bait stations are checked regularly by the pest management technician for the presence of termites. Any termites found are killed with poison. There are both professional and DIY monitoring and baiting systems available. Systems are extensively tested for years to ensure they are effective but be warned, this system needs constant monitoring.

Some buildings have structural elements made from treated timber or steel. When the structural elements are termite resistant no termite management system is necessary. These properties are still at risk of termites doing damage to timber found in kitchens, floating floors, architraves, skirting boards and door jambs, etc.

Every pest management system requires regular inspections by a professional timber pest inspector. Most properties should be inspected at least annually and some more often depending upon the level of risk of termite attack and the type of management system installed.

 Exposed concrete slab edge

This involves using at least 75mm of visible slab edge on the ground as part of the termite management system.

 Termite shields

These are made of folded metal sheeting. These shields are built at the base of walls, and termite caps are placed on top of support posts. As with exposed slab edge, it is advisable to have at least 75mm of visible slab edge to enable regular visual inspection to detect termite attack.

 

PEST INSPECTION EQUIPMENT

Most obvious termite damage is found by home-owners who have no knowledge of what termites look like, or their habits or how to find them. Professional timber pest inspectors can usually find the damage the average person cannot. They do so with the help of the following equipment.

 

Torch

The best tool anyone has is their eyesight, but you have to know what to look for. Your eyesight can be enhanced by a high-powered LED torch. Buy yourself a rechargeable LED torch. A very handy piece of kit.

 

What is a donger?

The next most vital piece of kit is a sounding stick. This will often consist of a golf club type of handle with a golf ball or similar plastic ball on the tip. In the trade, this sounding stick is called a ‘donger’. By lightly tapping the donger onto accessible timbers the inspector can listen to the sound made. If the timber sounds hollow, this will indicate termite damage and if the timber sounds dull, this will indicate water damage (that can lead to decay and then attract termites). Most ‘tapping’ is done on visible and accessible timber inside the building, for example wall-panelling, exposed beams, skirtings, architraves, windows and door jambs.

 

What does a moisture meter do?

Another essential item is the electronic moisture meter. The moisture meter is a device that measures the relative moisture of the building surface. Termites need water to survive, so when high moisture readings (above 18%) are present, this can be an indication of live termites. Sometimes the high moisture can also be due to a water leak from a leaking plumbing fixture. High moisture in a wall is a condition conducive to termites and decay. Moisture meters, like other tools, have their limitations and cannot be used reliably on days of high humidity or rain.

 

Can a thermal camera really see inside walls?

Thermal imaging cameras have been used in the pest management industry for many years now. These cameras work by shooting a laser beam onto a surface. The temperature of the surface is detected and then mapped onto a screen, often in multi colours. Relative cold spots can indicate dampness associated with water leaks or termite nests. Conversely, hot spots can indicate heat from termites or another heat source.

Anyone using a thermal imaging camera in a professional capacity should also be a certified thermographer. Pictures of the thermal imaging camera results must also be included in timber pest inspection reports otherwise they are not valid.


 What is Termatrac?

I personally use a ‘Termatrac T3i’. This is a termite detector that combines three technologies in one device. It has a radar to detect movement, a thermal sensor to detect temperature and a moisture sensor to analyse moisture levels. The digital screen graphs the movement and with a small amount of training it is possible to recognise the movement pattern of termites. This is an accurate non- invasive method of finding active termites.

 

Are termite dogs any good at finding termites?

Occasionally I am asked about other methods of termite detection, including sniffer dogs, listening devices and other methods. The different tools and equipment used for detection of termites all have their pros and cons. A carefully trained termite dog can cost more than $20,000. Termite dogs can be easily distracted by the smell of paint, pet food, cigarette smoke and many other smells. They are also easily bored and need the excitement of finding termites every day to stay motivated. For all but a few properties and situations the use of a termite dog is unwarranted in my opinion.

There are many other types of equipment available. I have tried to cover the most commonly used here. It is important to note that the standard timber pest inspection is visual only and only visible and accessible areas are inspected. This excludes moving furniture or stored items, lifting floor coverings, inspecting inside walls, looking under insulation or stumps below ground level.

 

Conditions that will attract termites

Places and conditions conducive to termite attack include (but are not limited to) the following:

Warmer climates with lots of trees.

Tree stumps and logs. Trees, especially dead trees.

Weepholes covered or partly covered by concrete, soil, gravel or other material.

Leaks, such as a leaking water pipe or leaking shower. Untreated landscaping timbers.

Deficiencies with termite shields or ant capping, such as rust holes, missing sections, damaged sections.

Timber in contact with the ground, such as posts and weatherboards.

Piles of timber such as firewood or loose timbers in the garden or under the house.

Old timber formwork used in construction, left under suspended concrete slabs, e.g. patios.

Poor surface drainage makes buildings damp and more prone to termite damage.

A timber pest inspection report should include comment on conditions conducive to termites and recommendations to address these issues. The fewer conditions conducive to termites there are on the property, the lower the risk of termite attack.


 

 

 

inndox exhibits at the 2019 Asia Pacific Cities Summit!

inndox exhibits at the 2019 Asia Pacific Cities Summit!

inndox is an exhibitor at the Asia Pacific Cities Summit 2019. Over 1000 attendees will be there to learn from city infuencers and hear from thought leaders about trends and innovation for cities of the future.