Expert inspections needed to track termites
By Andrew McKinnon
Buying a home is often the largest investment you will make.
You expect the professionals hired to conduct a pre-purchase timber pest (termite) inspection to do the inspection correctly and to the relevant Australian Standard AS 4349.3. However, that is not always the case and some new home owners end up buying homes with termite damage and, in many cases, homes that are beyond repair.
Some timber pest inspectors spend only 30 to 40 minutes on the job but the average house should take a minimum of three hours to inspect. Some companies send people to inspect homes who have very little or no training.
Case study - Thomas v Timber Pest Inspector
Mr and Mrs Thomas bought a small home in the lakeside suburb of Warners Bay, NSW. They did what they thought was the right thing before buying the house and paid for a termite inspection. The Thomases decided to buy the house, based on a termite inspection report that said there were no termites and no previous termite history.
Six weeks later they received the keys and started moving in. While moving an entertainment unit into the lounge room the side of the cabinet hit the skirting board and, to the Thomases horror, the board collapsed and hundreds of termites scrambled out. They commissioned an independent inspection, which revealed they had bought a home with major problems.
Termite damage was widespread with severe damage from the roof to the subfloor, under the house. The house needed immediate help. The Thomases' solicitor contacted the pest control company that conducted the original inspection. The company took no responsibility and offered nothing, denying any wrongdoing on their part. The solicitor then proceeded to seek compensation from the company.
The next step was to commission an expert witness report. A specialist visited the home and conducted a thorough full-day inspection. The termite damage was extensive. The home was structurally affected and it was a safety issue for the home owners.
The insurer sent an independent inspector who said the termites had been in the property only a few weeks and, at the time of the original inspection, they claimed the house would have been termite free.
The argument was over how long it takes for termites to damage a house. From the expert witness report findings, it was clear termites had been in the house for many years.
The Thomases won the case based on several factors:
• Termite damage was evident within the roof void indicating it was a well-established, long-term nest from a species of termites that had damaged the timbers (this was paramount as some termites destroy timber at a slower rate than other species).
• The original report said all areas of the property were inspected and no areas were inaccessible on the day of the inspection. In fact, areas under the stairs and patios were not accessed and were the termites' main entry points into the home.
• The insurer's inspector quoted the wrong Australian Standard in his report and regularly referred to it.
• The original inspection failed to comment on other areas, such as drainage, ventilation, timber decay, dampness and other conducive conditions.
• The original report did not follow Australian Standard guidelines.
A timber pest inspection should report on more than just termites. The Australian Standard states that a report should include drainage, ventilation, timber decay, leaking pipes, mould and other conditions that are conducive to termites and/or can create a termite problem in the future.
That is where cases are won as inspectors forget to comment on the full scope of what is required by the Australian Standard AS4349.3.
An expert witness report is essential when cases are presented to court. Expert opinions clearly highlight where the other companies/parties have been negligent.
Expertise: Andrew McKinnon has been in the pest control and timber pest inspection industry for more than 20 years.
Unisearch, owned by UNSW Australia, is a market leader in providing expert opinion services. Phone 1800 676 948 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.