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Even though termites get all the credit for being one of the world's most notorious wood-destroying insects, they're not alone. Powderpost beetles can also cause damage to wooden structures. Fortunately, your average home inspector's termite inspection will also cover powderpost beetles, as well as other wood-destroying insects (just double check with your home inspector first). What Are Powderpost Beetles, And What Do They Do? Powderpost beetle is the name applied to several different species of small, wood-boring insects. They're normally a reddish-brown to black color and are approximately less than 1/4-inch in length. The name derives from the fact that these insects reduce the wood they have been feeding upon, usually a hardwood of some sort, to a fine, flour-like powder. Adult powderpost beetles lay eggs on or below the surface of unfinished wood. Once the eggs hatch, they become tiny larvae and subsequently bore into the wood where they can remain for 15 years before emerging as adults, usually during April-July. The damage caused to the wood actually comes from the larvae (sometimes referred to as "woodworms") as they create tunnels through the structure. Thus, there can be up to 5 year's worth of damage in one structure due to these larvae. Home inspectors can identify infested areas by locating the exit holes (also known as "shotholes") where the adult beetles have chewed their way out. These holes are usually the size of a pin. Inspectors will likely see the beetles' damage before they see the beetles because adults are usually short-lived and are active primarily at nighttime. Therefore, the powdery substance and the presence of these small holes goes a long way in locating any such infestations. Prevention Powderpost beetles predominately enter homes in lumber or finished wood products, such as flooring, furniture, paneling, joists, antiques, etc. It's believed that most of the more severe infestations arise from the usage of old lumber from a barn or pile of wood lying around one's property that's then used inside the home. It's strongly advised that you avoid doing this. Keep in mind that improperly stored or dried lumber shouldn't be used as is. If you must, however, visually inspect the wood for any of the shotholes noted above (if it helps, search the Internet for images to get a better idea of what you're looking for). Luckily for homeowners, powderpost beetles have some limits of their own. It turns out that these beetles will only lay their eggs on bare, unfinished wood. Thus, any wood that has been painted, treated, preserved/sealed, varnished, or waxed will likely be protected from infestation (so long as no unfinished portion is exposed).

That being said, if you notice beetles emerging from any type of wood just described, it may be that the beetles entered the structure prior to its finish. If this is the case, the adults that have emerged can actually lay eggs into the tunnels they bore out themselves. Should this occur, make sure you seal any holes and apply a finishing coat of some sort. That should hopefully prevent a reinfestation. Treatment First, if you're already living in a home and thus aren't relying on a home inspector's report and you feel that you have a powderpost beetle infestation, you should contact a professional pest control expert or a local home inspector that will conduct just a wood-destroying insect infestation inspection. Second, the home inspector's duty isn't to identify and remedy the problem for the prospective homebuyer. Instead, the home inspector is to provide the buyer with the information needed for him/her to make a better decision. If the home inspector feels there is cause for concern, the inspector will recommend that the buyer contact a professional pest control expert. Such experts may decide to fumigate the wood, if possible. For example, a pest control operator can fumigate a piece of furniture that's been infested with the beetles. The good news is that fumigation will eliminate the beetles in all stages of development. The not so good news is that this will not prevent future attacks. Thus, you should then apply a finishing coat of some sort if you wish to prevent a recurrent infestation. There are also surface sprays that can prevent newly hatched larvae from entering the wooden structure. Such sprays aren't effective, however, on wood that has been sealed from attack by moisture. Ultimately, it's best to contact a professional to determine what exactly is the best course of action to resolve the matter. Hopefully, however, you'll never have to worry about this!

Joe Bonilla, Founder Photo Finish Home Inspection, LLC

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Infestations are one of the most disturbing phenomena which can afflict a home owner, although some types are considerably worse than others...

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