old log cabin with powderpost beetles

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I am considering buying a very old (1840) log cabin that has been added on to over the years so that it is semi-invisible and more looking like a farm house. I saw old termite cases and asked for a pest inspector to check it.  He has found powderpost beetle damage in the basement.  I don’t have his written report yet so I don’t know if he considers them active or inactive.  There is powder dust on the basement floor, but I don’t know how to tell if it is new or old.


Should I let this be a showstopper for buying the property is what I’m wondering.  I already knew that I had to tear down walls, ceilings and take up floors to rehab it back to it’s log cabin days. So there was already planned to be plenty of elbow grease in this project. I just don’t know enough even after reading the articles to determine when should the powderpost damage cross the line to be bad enough to say, STOP, don’t purchase.  Any advice on things to check so that I make an intelligent call on this, versus just a reactionary call, would be appreciated.  Part of me says, hmm been there since 1840 and still standing, but the other part of me says… hmmm what am I letting myself in for.

As our POWDERPOST BEETLE ARTICLE explains, it’s sometimes very hard to say for sure whether visible damage or even powderpost beetle dust is being caused by an active infestation. In fact, any structure that’s been around since 1840 would almost certainly show some signs of a prior infestation. And any pest control company doing an inspection would no doubt find something to make them become leery of guaranteeing the structure as being pest free when the building has been standing this long. What all this means is that it’s highly likely any company doing an inspection would not feel confident clearing it of pests without doing some kind of treatment so I’m pretty there will be a job done whether it’s active or not. This is more for the protection of the institution writing the mortgage on the house than anyone else because obviously they have a vested interest in the structure and they need to know it’s pest free. So in the end, does it really matter if it’s live or not?

I ask this because if the building is to be financed, it will most likely have to undergo some kind of treatment. But to me the big question is will it be a good treatment and who will pay for it? Additionally, the current condition of the structure is what you should really be looking at and if you don’t feel confident in determining whether it’s okay or not, then get an engineer in there to see if the structural members of the building are safe, sound and damage free. Cosmetic damage can usually be fixed and corrected by anyone without a lot of cost. But if the building has a lot of structural issues with sill plate or main girders needing to be replaced, the costs for repair can be astronomical and to me, that would be when I would start thinking about walking away.

So for now, I say get an engineer in there who can tell you the current condition of the building. If they feel it’s okay and they can’t see any major problems or concerns, I’d then move to on to phase two of the process. And phase two would be getting the structure treated. To me, this cost should be mostly if not entirely absorbed by the seller. You see, any wood infesting beetle, termite or other wood destroying organism found in a structure is reason enough to have it treated. More importantly, once this has been reported, it will become a “pre existing condition” and something the seller will have to disclose to anyone interested in purchasing the property or else risk legal ramifications. That means they will have to get it treated at one point or another if they want to sell it and the sooner they do, the less of a loss they’ll have to absorb.

More importantly, if the building is in good shape and it receives a good treatment, there is no reason to doubt it shouldn’t be able to last another 150 yrs + so why shouldn’t you buy it? Of course, in the end it really becomes a matter of what you are personally content or comfortable accepting as far as the “risk” involved so I can’t tell you one way or the other. But I do know if a reputable company treats it with BORACARE, there is no reason why the problem can’t be corrected and the cabin become beetle free. And remember this: any home can get termites or a powderpost beetle infestation and it’s not dependent on the age of the home. In other words, there is always a “risk” of these kind of problems when you own a home. The good news is there are ways to fix the problem and these are tried and true methods that really work.

So my advise is make your decision on what you’re comfortable with accepting. As I see it, if the structure is inspected by an engineering firm and considered fine with little to no significant damage, then I’d consider getting it if the seller is willing to pay for most if not all of the treatment needed to get it beetle free. And who’s to say you can’t do a little treatment yourself later on when you move in and start renovating? In fact this is usually a great time to get the house fully protected and to make sure all areas are treated. In the end, if you approach the problem directly, I’m positive you can both salvage the structure and keep it pest free.

Hope this helps! And here are some direct links to the products and information mentioned above:

Powderpost Beetle Control Article:  http://www.powderpostbeetles.com/powderpost-beetle-control

Boracare:  http://www.bugspray.com/catalog/products/page52.html

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