Every year, termites cause thousands of dollars of damage to homes across Australia. They’re an especially big problem in Queensland where they thrive in the hot, humid climate. Left untreated, the costs of termite damage can add up, so it’s important to deal with them as soon as possible. But it’s not always easy to spot termite damage—especially in timber floors, where it’s often mistaken for water damage.
This short guide covers everything you need to know about termite damage in timber floors, including how to spot the tell-tale signs of termite damage in timber floors in your home.
Also known as ‘white ants’, termites are small ant-like insects found throughout Australia that feed on wood. While they’re helpful in the natural environment, they can cause significant damage to homes as they eat anything from skirting boards and wallpaper, to floor boards and timber frames.
There are three main types of termites: dampwood, drywood and subterranean termites. Of these, subterranean termites cause the most damage to timber floors. Of the subterranean termites, those found further north into tropical Queensland tend to be the most aggressive.
As the name suggests, subterranean termites live in nests beneath the ground, and construct extensive networks of underground tunnels to travel along to find food. During spring and summer you’ll often see winged termites flying around looking to establish a new colony, but it’s the underground workers that cause the most damage. They typically enter homes through hard-to-inspect locations, like cracks in the subfloor or expansion joints, and can easily hollow out wooden structures.
Signs of termite damage in timber floors
Fortunately, there are a few tell-tale signs of termite damage in timber floors. You just have to know what you’re looking for, and be careful not to dismiss termite damage as water damage.
When termites enter your home, they usually bring moisture with them—particularly if they set up a satellite nest in a wall. As a result, infested timber floorboards typically have a high moisture content, which causes the weakened boards to expand and deform. Termite damage in timber floors will therefore give the floorboards a buckled or tented appearance.
To be sure the floorboards have been damaged by termites rather than water, you can look for ‘mud’ in between the boards in the area that has tented.
Usually, termites will hollow out the centre of the board, leaving smooth trails called ‘galleries’ down the length of the board, but not through the surface. If the damage is extensive, the floorboards might feel hollow or weak, even if you can’t spot the damage.
What to do about termite damage in timber floors
Finding termite damage in timber floors can be unsettling, particularly if you don’t know how long it’s been there, or how extensive the damage is. If you find termite damage, it’s important not to disturb the floorboards and instead call a termite specialist to assess the extent of damage and control the infestation. Once the termites have been eliminated, you should then arrange for a timber flooring contractor to repair the damage.
How common is termite damage in timber floors?
Some types of timber are more susceptible to termite damage than others, so the likelihood of termite damage in timber floors at your house depends on what the floorboards are made from.
Generally speaking, cypress has great termite resistance, as do many higher density hardwoods. These include: Blackbutt, Spotted Gum, Tallowwood, Ironbark, Turpentine, Grey Box, White Stringybark, Red and White Mahogany and Forest Red Gum.
On the other hand, some types of wood are more prone to termite damage, including Tasmanian Oak, Victorian Ash, Pine, Jarrah, Sydney Blue Gum, Rose Gum and Brush Box.
AFTA, 2015, Termites in timber floors information sheet