4 signs that your HDB has termites & expert tips on dealing with an infestation

4 signs your house has termites, according to an expert

50-year-old Singaporean Ramzan Yusoff has a job that most people would shy away from.

Six out of seven days a week, he travels around Singapore in his mobile office — moving from house to house in search of termites.

Photo credit to NEA.

Mr Ramzan has been a termite specialist with Aardwolf Pestkare since 1999. The former aircon technician found the job opening the old-school way, in the newspaper, and when he got the job he never looked back.

With more than two decades of experience in the industry, he has seen the damage that termites can do to homes — from destroyed parquet flooring to collapsed cabinets.

Below, Mr Ramzan gives his expert take on how to spot termite infestations in your home — before it’s too late.

1. Presence of ‘mud trails’ near cracks & crevices

“When I enter a house, I will try to mimic myself as a termite,” said the expert.

“If I’m a termite right now, where should I look for, where is the entry point, where are the places that humans don’t see me?”

This line of questioning will bring you to the cracks and crevices of your home, where if you’re unlucky, you may spot mud trails — one of the signs that you might have a termite problem on your hands.

Mr Ramzan shared that termites cannot survive in temperatures over 25 degrees Celsius.

Therefore, these mud trails serve as tunnels for the termites to protect themselves from the external environment, especially in hot and humid Singapore where daytime temperatures can soar above 30 degrees Celsius.

Sometimes, the elusive creatures may also use the building’s electric wiring as their secret “highways” from their nest in the ground to particular places in the home.

They then intrude houses through the tiniest hairline crack in your walls.

Contrary to popular belief though, the insects do not build their nests in our homes.

If you suspect a termite problem, this means that some worker termites have found a suitable feeding site.

Termites feed on cellulose, which means that they’re drawn to wood, paper, and even cardboard — whether it’s in your cabinets or bookcases.

2. Termites warp wood floors and destroy furniture, says expert

Mr Ramzan said that toilet doorframes and kitchen cabinets are some of the most popular termite hotspots, especially if there’s been a leak.

This is because they flock to dark, damp places and rotting wood.

Those with parquet or wood flooring should be extra cautious as well and look out for warping or discolouration.

“When there is a termite infestation, they usually come in thousands or more,” said Mr Ramzan.

“They will also bring in mud to maintain their desirable temperature and humidity,” he added. Wood flooring will become discoloured and warp when in contact with the moist material.

He recalls a termite infestation on the 47th floor of a unit in a condominium near VivoCity.

“It’s not even one section, the whole flooring was gone — completely gone,” he said, commenting on the state of the parquet flooring in the home.

The termites had warped and damaged the flooring of the high-rise home to the point of requiring expert help to treat the issue.

As it turns out, termites do not necessarily prefer ground-level homes, even though these are closer to their nest in the ground.

According to Mr Ramzan, these pin-sized critters build nests that may grow as tall as humans, containing millions of termites and even multiple queens.

If you find a fraction of these pests in your home, chances are, there is a main nest within a 60-metre radius.

That said, his main job is not to exterminate the nest. He seeks those “creating havoc” in homes.

3. Mysterious clicking noises in the walls

“If you have very sensitive hearing, you may hear clicking sounds,” shared Mr Ramzan with a mysterious smile.

The tiny creatures are blind, so they have devised a special way of communicating.

To the human ears, it may sound like rhythmic clicking when in reality, it is hundreds — maybe thousands — of soldier termites banging their heads on your furniture.

Doing so creates vibrations that alert the others about possible dangers or threats such as breaches in their colony walls.

Source: Pest Gnome

Head-banging is apparently the loudest sound that termites can make, according to Pest Gnome.

Even then, the sound — produced by the termites by “banging their heads fast, three to four times at once” — isn’t easily heard by the human ear.

You may need to be in a completely quiet room, or even go as far as to press your ears against the wall.

To hear what this clicking might sound like, check out these soundbites compiled by the Acoustical Society of America.

4. Check if your books, and cardboard boxes are stuck to the shelf

Watching Mr Ramzan as he works, one can see his experience as he deftly checks cupboards, cabinets, and even the rubbish chute for signs of termites.

Every so often, when he comes across cardboard boxes and books, he will shake them and check the cabinet’s recesses.

All this is to make sure that the items are not stuck to the shelf, clarified Mr Ramzan.

In a case where there is a serious infestation that’s been left to fester, the by-product of the pests may be so plentiful that it adheres the items to the furniture.

This happens when worker termites use their saliva together with mud or soil to block any entry points against their “number one enemy” — the ants who prey on the termites.

The expert advises homeowners to lightly clean their cabinets and bookcases once in a while, just to prevent termites from getting too comfortable.

Additionally, Mr Ramzan shared that plastic containers may be a better alternative than cardboard boxes when it comes to storage options. Termites aren’t interested in plastic.

Expert says that termites can be found anywhere in Singapore

In Singapore, the termites found in homes belong to the Coptotermes species — also found in other countries in Southeast Asia.

When asked which area in Singapore has the most termite cases, Mr Ramzan said: “If you asked me 20 years ago, I’ll say the east side.”

“But now, they’re everywhere, even in schools (and) prisons.”

He attributed this to the lack of proper ground treatment when building houses and other infrastructure. In some cases, homes may have been built over existing nests.

Termites can cause significant damage to houses, as Mr Ramzan has observed many times in his career.

On one occasion, he shared, a resident in Upper Thomson was watching TV when the false ceiling collapsed due to termites.

Meanwhile, in 2010, a Jurong West resident’s kitchen cabinet collapsed on the eve of Hari Raya — just when she was cooking some rendang.

As it turns out, the homeowner had spotted the insects previously and thought they were ants.

She then sprayed the creatures with store-bought pesticide thinking it would do the trick.

Little did she know that doing so would only make the situation worse, said Mr Ramzan.

At the sign of threat, termites will just block off certain mud tubes and create a new trail to attack elsewhere.

Thankfully though, the makcik and her rendang escaped unscathed, although she likely had to fork out some money for new furniture.

Leave termites to the professionals, says expert

When asked how homeowners should deal with termites, Mr Ramzan advised that it’s better to leave it to the pros.

Unlike cockroaches and ants, the termite problem cannot be easily solved by off-the-shelf pesticides.

“For termites, you have to have professional help, because if you don’t treat it correctly and wisely, it will come back,” said Mr Ramzan.

It doesn’t help that the tiny critters are often smaller than a grain of rice.

Because of this, Mr Ramzan uses the TermiCam, a thermal camera that detects the heat signature of the hidden critters.

In 2002, he went to Australia for training to use this piece of technology, and is now an expert in it.

Should there be a termite problem, the TermiCam will flag it as a different coloured spot.

Arrows point to active termites shown as purple spots on the TermiCam (image on the left). Photos courtesy of Aardwolf Pestkare.

After which, something called a Termite Baiting Station will be installed at the infested area.

Licensed pest control officers like Mr Ramzan have access to a unique anti-termite product made of 99% cellulose and 1% active ingredient that works as a slow-acting insecticide.

The baiting station will remain there for about six to eight weeks to eradicate the termites, said the expert.

During this time, there will also be follow-up inspections every two weeks.

From boyhood fascination to decades-long career

Growing up, Mr Ramzan had a fascination with ants.

He never thought that this interest would manifest into a long-term career, though it has made his work more enjoyable.

Apart from servicing clients in Singapore, Mr Ramzan has also gone overseas to countries such as Vietnam during his two-decade career.

For that occasion, he had been sent to a hotel near Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City to inspect and eradicate their termite infestation problem.

“Once you have that kind of passion in the things that you do, the work is not a chore,” he said.

“You’re happy to do the work — day in and day out.”

Also read: How to spot insect hives in S’pore & what to do if you encounter them

How to spot insect hives in S’pore & what to do if you encounter them

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Featured images adapted from Hulett Environmental Services and Uchify.

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