Hot summer weather is almost here and it’s the season for pests. Detecting termites early and getting rid of them before they cause structural damage to homes or business is Termite Buster’s goal. The company’s co-founder, Chris Kirk, is taking on the insect world with a new termite detecting application for smartphones.
Q: How bad are termites, really?
A: Not all termites are the destructive type that eat your home. But the ones that are can cause a lot of damage to homes and dwellings. That amount does not include damage to forestry and fruit growing trees where termites can clean out a living tree in no time, depending on the colony size. They can be found in every state of America that has really nice warm summers, except for Alaska. Forty-five species reside in the U.S. They are hardly a topic heard in conversation, but termites are extremely dangerous due to the destruction they cause to their environment. Together, all termites outweigh all the human beings living in this world and are responsible for 5% of all methane.
Q: How did you decide to make an app that detects termites?
A: My co-founder and IT expert Kerion Liddle and I were actually in the hospitality business and wanted to develop an app that detected bed bugs, so travelers such as backpackers could check for them. Instead we got segued into the world of termites and found the destructive ones have a unique feature of head-banging. We were so intrigued with it we decided to build an app around those sounds.
A: When termites are disturbed, they literally bang their heads on the tunnel as a warning to the other termites. The head banging creates a unique sound frequency that we are able to tap into. The naked ear can actually hear the sound. It is very faint and has a similar sound to pouring milk over rice crispies, a snap-crackle-pop sound. The app detects these sounds using a smartphone. Many people don’t know this, but there are actually two microphones on the phones where one of the microphones is for noise cancellation as well as for the speakerphone and video. It gave us the ability to detect the subtle sounds the termites make. The app records the sounds and compares them to a huge database of various termite species and other pest sound frequencies.
Q: How successful is the app’s detection of termites?
A: Basically what we were able to determine from our R&D is a 96% success rate. We worked directly with the top entomologist in Australia, Ion Staunton. His text book, “Mr. Termite,” is widely known in Australia and he tested the app to make sure we hit all aspects of termite detection. Through our own research and that of Staunton, we learned a lot about the termite’s habits and way of life. The app helps detect termites before a lot of damage is done and causes major problems. It’s also good to be aware of visual clues for termite infestation as well.
Q: What are some clues to look for?
A: One of the surest signs of a termite infestation is a swarm or signs of a recent swarm. On a warm day or evening in the late spring or early summer, thousands of young termites leave the nest looking for a mate and a new home. They fly in tightly packed clouds known as swarms for a short time before dropping their wings and moving to their new location. Check your windowsills for droppings and discarded wings, which are clues to a recent swarm. Other signs include wood that sounds hollow when tapped where mud tubes, roughly the width of a pencil, make a floor spongy or blistered looking. If you notice any of these potential indicators, call a termite specialist right away. Most of the time when visual clues are present a fair amount of damage is underway.
Q: Is this your first app?
A: No, we’ve been in the technology part of business for awhile. We have built many other apps and websites for the motor industry such as car dealerships. After our initial study into termites, we found we could tackle the problem and take on the challenge. We worked on it for nearly four years. It has the potential to save millions of dollars with early detection of termites through simply placing your phone next to areas termites like to hang out and activate the app. The app walks you through what to do and where to go in your home.
Q: How much is it?
A: The app itself is a one-time cost of approximately $7.99 in the U.S., $9.99 in Australia and can be downloaded from the iPhone’s App Store or Android’s Google Play. I’d like to be clear, we are not out to replace pest control. We advocate for an inspection by a professional every 12 months. But it is a handy tool that home buyers can use to quickly see if a home they’ve bought might have an infestation. For instance a couple we knew bought a house and passed on the pest inspection. They figured they’re renovating anyway. Well it cost them $80,000 to spray and because they had so much termite damage they ended up losing $150,000.
Q: What are termites like in Australia?
A: Quite similar to the ones in your area. But in the Australian outback you’ll find termites that eat through truck tires to get to something else, even eat their way through rusty nails and draw blood if they bite you. The really big ones cause so much damage so quickly where you’ll find big holes mice can fit through. But don’t worry, those are only found in the northern territory of Australia. Most termites range from 1/8” to 1” long and are satisfied eating cellulose found in wood.
By Gina Dostler