Wood Destroying Organisms

The following information can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency website.

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Termites can seriously damage the structure of a house or building. Termite control specialists and Engineers look differently at termite evidence.  Engineers look for the impact of the termites and termite damage, particularly if the damage is structural.  A termite control specialist is looking at the need for treatment. If repairs are needed, the expense analysis in the engineering report can help you understand the expenses and negotiate the purchase price. Nobody can see through walls or through wood beams.  An Engineer can look for the structural effects of termites. 

A termite control specialist can also look for termite evidence, and issue a warranty covering treatment of future termite activity.

For these reasons, it is strongly recommend that you have the house checked for termites by both a licensed Professional Engineer and a termite control specialist.  This maximizes your chances of finding any termite activity and related structural damage.  You should also obtain a warranty against future termite activity from the termite control specialist.

Termites Feed on Wood

Regardless of the level of termite activity in your area, it is essential to check for evidence of a termite infestation, as well as any structural damage caused by termites.

How old is the Termite Damage?

Under conditions favorable to termites, a termite colony of 60,000 workers can consume a one-foot length of two by four in as little as four months.  Under less ideal conditions, it can take as long as eight years for termites to cause noticeable damage.  Multiple termite colonies will consume more wood.

Termite activity may remain undetectable even after serious termite damage is done.  Termite activity may remain undetected for many reasons, including:

  • Termite swarms that have been ignored by the current
         owner of the house or building
  • Termite activity may be ongoing, but be hidden
         behind walls and under the floors
  • Termite activity may be concealed behind stored
         materials in the basement
  • Termite activity typically occurs beneath the
         surface of visible wood beams structural elements

Powderpost Beetles


This term is used in the broad sense but it encompasses three closely-related families: the Lyctid or true powder post beetle, the Bostricid or false powder post beetle and the Anobiid or Deathwatch beetle.

How did they get in the wood in my house?

Unsealed wood can harbor beetle larvae, so adults might not emerge until long after your home has been constructed. It could even take several years, depending on the species and individual conditions.

The heat from kiln-drying kills all stages of powder post beetles, and although dried wood is not as attractive to them, the process is not a cure for reinfestation.

How do beetles damage wood?

Adults beetles lay eggs in the crevices of uncoated wood. When larvae hatch, they start tunneling. Sometimes you can see the outline of tunnels near the wood's surface, following the soft areas of the grain, but in many cases you can't see any evidence at all that larvae are present. As the larvae bore, the tunnel behind them becomes packed with sawdust. They stop near the surface of the wood, where they mature. Adults break through the surface, leaving tiny
round holes where they emerge. Sawdust spills from the hole, and can continue to spill out for some time even though an infestation is over.

How can I get rid of powder post beetles?

There are several chemicals that can be used, but they will not penetrate sealed wood. A more extreme (and expensive) measure is to tent the house and use poison gas to eradicate the beetles.

Ask a professional for advice about your specific situation. In some cases you'll find it's nothing to be overly concerned about. The inspector will tell you to simply watch for further development.

Ways to help prevent an infestation.

If your house sits on a crawl space, or has a dirt basement, cover the earth with plastic to reduce moisture. Watch the surface of the plastic for sawdust falling from floor joists above. Inspect the floor or moldings beneath interior wood walls. Little piles of sawdust indicate beetles have been in the wood, but are not necessarily a sign of active infestation. Schedule yearly inspections with a qualified inspector.

If you're buying a home, look closely at wood beams and other structural components for beetle exit holes and sawdust. If you find traces of a beetle infestation, have the home inspected by a pest professional.

Carpenter Bees


Carpenter bees (the genus Xylocopa in the subfamily Xylocopinae) are large, hairy bees distributed worldwide. Their name comes from the fact that nearly all species build their nests in burrows in dead wood, bamboo, or structural timbers (except those in the subgenus Proxylocopa, which nest in the ground). Members of the related tribe Ceratinini are sometimes
referred to as "small carpenter bees". They make nests by tunneling into wood, vibrating their bodies as they rasp their mandibles against the wood, each nest having a single entrance which may have many adjacent tunnels. Carpenter bees do not eat wood.

Carpenter bees are large and black and yellow in color. They are most often mistaken for bumble bees because they are similar in color and size, but they do differ in that carpenter bees have a black shiny tail section (abdomen) compared to the bumble bee which has fuzzy yellow hairs throughout the abdomen area. Carpenter bees are frequently seen in the spring time hovering around the eaves of a house or on the underside of a deck and porch railings. The carpenter bee got it's name from its habit of excavating tunnels in wood surfaces with its strong jaws. Carpenter bees (like their distant relatives, the carpenter ants) differ from termites in that they do not consume the wood as food. They simply excavate tunnels in the wood, for nesting and breeding
purposes only. They discard the bits of wood from the entry hole areas or they will use it to make partitions (walls) inside the tunnels of their nests.

Homeowners complain not only about the aggressive nature of these bees, but about the round holes that are bored into the wood trim near eaves and gables of homes, fascia boards, porch ceilings, outdoor wooden furniture, decks, wood siding and window frames. Initial damage is usually minor, but new tunnels may be excavated and old ones enlarged, causing considerable wood damage. The yellow, coarse sawdust from borings beneath their entry holes will contain
their waste materials, leaving unsightly stains throughout your property.

The males and females cut 1/2" to 3/8" inch circular entry holes into the wood (See images below). After creating a relatively short entrance, the female carpenter bee will turn 90 degrees and bore a channel from 6 inches to as long as 4 feet. This channel serves as a main corridor from which she will drill additional smaller chambers a few inches deep. These chambers become her egg holders. She will deposit an egg, bring in a mass of pollen for the newly hatched larvae to feed on, and then seal it all off to ensure its development before she repeats the process for the next egg.


Carpenter ants are usually large insects that vary in size and color. The workers are normally black and red and can range in size from 3/8 to ½ inch, while the winged queen ant could be as large as 1 inch. You can determine the carpenter ants from other species of ants by their characteristics, as their waist only has one node and a thorax with an evenly rounded upper surface, while other common ants have two nodes.


Carpenter ants are not poisonous, but they will bite on contact. If you have been bitten there is no need for treatment. Although, if the skin is broken, you will want to wash the area with soap and water, apply an antibiotic cream and cover it with a bandage.


This type of ant is one of the largest in the United States and can commonly be seen out in the open. Carpenter ants are most commonly found in the Northern regions of the United States and Canada. They tend to be in moist, wooded areas. They are the most wood destructive insect and can cause severe damage to your home by making tunnels and galleries throughout pieces of wood in your household furniture, walls, floors and garage. If you store wood such as firewood or lumber in your garage, be sure to keep it free of moisture and try to keep it elevated so it can get air circulation to prevent high moisture. The longer the ant colony is present in your home, the more damage is done.


Carpenter ants feed on protein and sugar. When indoors the carpenter ant will hunt for foods such as meats, sugar, jelly and honeydew, and while outdoors they feed on living and dead insects. It has been known that this species of ants will travel up to 100 yards in search for food.

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© Edward Holmes