My fiance and I are in the process of buying a house, we have proceeded as far as the termite and moisture inspection and have since decided to hold off on any further decisions as we take in this matter. Neither, my fiance or I were present during this inspection to see the damage first hand. The inspector would not give us the clearance letter we need to proceed, becuase he said he saw powder post beetles; in the crawl space as well as in the attic. I have searched online about the ppb’s and from what I understand is they start in a moist area, such as the crawl space; and work their way up. Our realtor is fairly new to the scene only been in the business a couple months, and she siays there is no way to tell if the beetles have infested the walls/whole house (the house has hardwood floors). I also read that the infestiation could be inactive. Is their any way to tell if the beetles have infested in the walls and or the floor and if so, are there any treatments you would recomend.
First, welcome to the world of home ownership! As you are learning, the process of acquiring a house can be daunting but wait till you move in; if it’s not the roof it’s the dishwasher and then it could be the hot water heater. I didn’t even know a hot water heater could explode till I owned my own house and it wasn’t anything they talked about at closing which is where they need to give you a list of everything that might happen once you make the buy! Considering all we sign at those events you’d think someone would “give us a clue” but they don’t seem to mention these little problems that seemingly never end once you own a home. Still, I love my house and overall the experience adds to you and your families well being and it’s something I do think is well worth the investment of time and effort to maintain.
Second; onto the matter at hand. As an “old timer” in the field of pest management (having done home inspections for over 30 years) I can tell you what you’re experiencing is quite common. In fact most any home will have insect evidence of some kind; many times this evidence is confusing. Powderpost beetles are right up there when it comes to both confusion and the resolution of the “evidence”. To make matters more difficult, it’s rare the activity involving this pest can be measured accurately since there is always the possibility of “latent” or hidden problems. But there are some guidelines and advise I can lay down which will serve well for any young couple out on the market attempting to purchase a home.
1) See what the termite/home inspectors “feel” about the problem. Most will tell you there is “evidence” but you must be firm and ask directly: Did you just see signs of activity which could be old or new or did you see live insects? When pressed, many inspectors will say something “off the record” or what “they’re gut” tells them. This will be more true when dealing with a worker/inspector and not the owner of the company. Owners know not to make such “off the cuff” comments but workers are more sympathetic to the buyer and many times are just “reporting” as their job requires. Remember, there is a risk for the inspecting company so it’s important they “cover” themselves.
2) Find out the history of the problem. Is this the first the homeowners have heard about this pest or is this something they knew about 20 years ago when they bought the home? If the latter, did they have it treated back then? If any services were performed during the history of the house, ask for documentation. Old warranties or receipts can be valuable in a time like this and many people save such paperwork.
3) Can anyone find any dead insects in the house? This is really important. If you’re able to find dead beetles throughout the home – especially in living areas where people tend to vacuum and clean – this would be a good sign of recent and current activity.
4) Read up on the pest. Our POWDERPOST BEETLE CONTROL ARTICLE gets into the control methods quite a bit but the beginning part explains a lot of what you should be interested in knowing for any one house with signs of a problem. The one thing you’ll learn from our article is that there are many species of beetles which can infest wood. And since they all like to “eat” different kinds of wood, it’s not common that you’ll find them in hardwood floors and structural members since most homes never use hardwoods for the structure itself. This means if the flooring is hardwood and shows insect activity (which most any hardwood floor will show in any house), there is no reason to panic and suspect something has spread to floor joists, studs and other structural members of the home. The species of beetle in the flooring won’t be able to live in the other species of wood used. Now if activity or damage is discovered in the softwoods of the home it could very well be another species of beetle or even some other pest like termites or carpenter ants. But again, it’s important to understand the “options” and this starts by understanding the pest. What you’ll learn when reading up on PPB is that there are many beetles which have fallen under this name. In fact these are all potential problems in the home but they all eat different species of wood, can come inside the home via different routes of entry and in most cases don’t “spread” much but tend to stay where they were first active (flooring, studs, furniture).
5) Don’t panic. Remember, the sellers of the home are still the people with the problem. If you’re uncomfortable with anything like this and feel overwhelmed with the prospect of buying something with a major problem, don’t do it. But I would look at this as a chance to maybe leverage a good buy. If the problem is old and was treated a long time ago and the house is 20+ years old, it’s quite possible you’re looking at old damage which no one can determine is active anymore. In my mind this would be a good chance for you to get a good deal on a house the sellers might be inclined to sell before the housing market gets worse. Additionally, once something like this is known about in any house being sold, it can’t be hidden. At least not intentionally. Eventually the sellers will have to make some decisions about this “problem” and in most cases it will be a concession to the people who ultimately buy it. Sometimes this concession is warranted but I’m convinced many times the buyers benefit with little risk taking. This could be such a case so don’t rule it out.
In summary, the best advice I can offer is to first work within the parameters of what you’re comfortable with doing. If you’re willing to gamble a little, try to put the odds in your favor. You can do this by learning about the “enemy”; in this case that would be the PPB. Next, try to gauge the inspectors and their interpretation of the problem. Do they think it’s current, old or even something to worry about? Banks will many times pull out of a deal due to a report which was submitted mentioning this pest. And in this economy the financial institutions are extra cautious. I’m not saying to just jump in here and grab the home but I’m saying it would be a good idea to educate yourself on the matter and “the players” in the deal if you’re willing to look at this as an opportunity. Oh – and the part about accessing the damage in the walls – that can be done by drilling test holes or visually inspecting them. Any good home or termite inspecting company should have access to a small camera used for looking into wall voids. Small holes can be drilled to allow the camera entry and once inside the void any damage or insect activity can many times be seen. I have actually been in homes where the banks required drilling to all the studs of the home in order to confirm they were still solid. We had to use extra long drill bits, 12″ as I recall, and drill every 2 feet into every stud, floor joist and sill plant to confirm it wasn’t eaten out and damaged. Our effort proved the house was 99.9% secure and untouched and that the local “activity” we discovered was isolated to the one spot we first found. One can never tell what banks, buyers or sellers might require or request but we complied since we were being paid to do the service. In the end it worked out for everyone. And as you’ll see in our article, even if there is activity in any of the voids, it can be treated with the FOAMING TOOL and BORACARE we have listed so whatever the current state of the house, it can be handled. More than anything, you must decide what you’re comfortable with and once you do, the rest of the process will be easy. Good luck!
Here are links to the information and products mentioned above: