Woodworm, help I've got woodworm, what shall I do?
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Woodworm, most good old houses will have some
If you have an older property and you see holes or dots in your timber, the best thing is not to panic. The holes look almost like someone has been throwing darts in to a timber. It is more than likely that the holes are old and the woodworm has long since gone. Alternatively, in many decades of survey ing, we would say that even where there is an outbreak of woodworm that is active (more about how rare this is in a minute) it takes an awful lot of woodworm holes to cause any structural problems. I kid you not, I have kicked enough timbers and put knives in enough timbers to establish their structural integrity over the years and there have been very few where the woodworm is causing structural damage.
We would always recommend having a report to establish whether you have active woodworm before you pay to treat woodworm that's been dead for a 100 years!
Woodworm also found in newer properties too
We are coming across some outbreaks of woodworm in newer properties. This is unfortunately because alterations and extensions have been carried out to the property have caused the environment to change and the timber to become suitable for woodworm. We were going to say where people have carried out improvements but we are not sure whether it can be classed as an improvement when it results in you getting some woodworm!
Specialist woodworm companies, there is no such thing as a free survey or a free lunchBefore we go any further, let us talk about specialist woodworm companies and how they can afford to give you “free” surveys. This is because, you guessed it, the surveys aren't really free, they are a way of giving you a quote, very much like a builders quote is free. If all these companies went around giving free surveys, and gave independent impartial advice, they wouldn't be in business for that long. In our experience, the vast majority of properties may have woodworm holes but they don't have active woodworm and they certainly don't have woodworm that is active to the extent that it is causing structurally significant damage and if it did, which is very unlikely, the specialist woodworm company's “surveyor” would know if it was a structural problem.
The specialist woodworm treatment companies are there to treat woodworm, therefore they will normally produce a well worded large report advising you that, to be on the safe side, you will need to carry out woodworm treatment, which is ideal because that is what they do. You do need to think of these companies as chemical selling companies.
So, now let us tell you a bit about woodworm.
Types of woodworm you are likely to find
Deathwatch beetle woodworm
Apart from its terrifying name, you only generally need to be concerned if you have oak or willow within your property, which tends to be in older properties. By older properties we normally mean properties that are Listed or in a Conservation Area. Interestingly, we have heard that Deathwatch Beetle is most in church roofs and whilst we have done a number of church surveys we haven't come across it yet. If you do happen to live in a church roof or own a church with a roof that you think has got a problem please free phone 0800 298 5424 as we would love to survey such a property. We are happy to give you an almost free survey at cost, plus a cup of tea! Interestingly, it is probably most commonly found in church roofs (if you do live in an old church roof please give us a call, as we would love to see your property and would give you a free survey, in exchange for a cup of tea!). The Deathwatch Beetle likes a moisture content of 16% plus it could be in the timber (although we have heard some say that can go as low as 11%). Remember, Deathwatch Beetle are quite fussy about the environment that they live in, as is most woodworm, so if you reduce the moisture content in the area then that tends to kill of the beetles off, or they leave.
We are talking about woodworm beetles', let's explain a bit more about them
Woodworm is not a mysterious insect (though it does get the blame for a lot of things!), it is simply a maggot that turns into a flying beetle over a three to five year life cycle. You see the holes in the timber when it is flying off as a beetle. It's most active during April to July and needs timber with a moisture content of 11%. It usually is evident in sap wood, which is the wood on the outer part of the tree that tends to have a greater water content, however, it has to be said as it is in a house it will generally dry out and make it an unsuitable condition for woodworm.
Frass – is simply the sawdust type dust that's left behind the woodworm, and often lots of Latin names are used with regard to woodworm, such as anobium punctatum, which you can simply understand to mean woodworm.
Back to talking about beetles.
Common Furniture Woodworm Beetle; it may be a Common Furniture Woodworm Beetle but it is still fussy
This is, as the same suggests, far more common. If affects most woods. This beetle also likes a moisture content of 16% plus. Again, reduce the moisture content and you will reduce the common furniture beetle. Interestingly enough, when we have found it in quite modern properties and wondered why, and have spoken to other surveyors, particularly older surveyors, it is generally thought that the woodworm is brought in on older pieces of furniture that has been acquired. Often this is put down at the base or top of the stairs when the furniture is brought in, so these are areas where we find the common furniture beetle. We were told by an older surveyor (or he would probably prefer to be known as experienced) that much of it was brought in when timber boxes used to be used for house removal. The hole is normally one to two millimetres in diameter. We would emphasise that it is usually no longer active, as this is a flight hole.
What is frass and why is it important?
One way of seeing if woodworm is active, because this is what we are looking for, is to see is there is any frass. Before you ask what frass is, this is simply the chewed up sawdust that the beetle leaves behind. Therefore, if it is relatively recent there should be some frass about. We simply tap the timber to see if there is any frass (this works particularly well in a roof in torchlight). We also needs to examine the colour of the frass as well; a light coloured dust and a light coloured hole indicates this is relatively recent. Obviously if it is a darker coloured frass, or darker coloured hole, it means it is older and the woodworm may have gone.
Unfortunately, having undisturbed frass is not easy on floorboards and floor joists, etc, as the mere act of walking on the floorboards can create frass, but don't worry, in these areas there are other ways of discovering whether there is woodworm.
The fussy woodworm
Remember, frass looks like sawdust. We would just reiterate that woodworm like damp conditions, therefore, if you reduce the dampness in an area you kill the woodworm. They are also really keen on sap wood, which is the juicy timber between the heart wood, which is at the centre of the tree, and the bark, though it has to be said that some of them like eating the dry wood veneers; it has been said by experts that they are probably attracted by eating the animal glue.
If woodworm is so fussy how come it's in our newish property?
We are finding some cases of woodworm in relatively new properties. In building surveying terms this is from the 1930's onwards in this particular case. We have come across problems in floors, often where replacement floors have been put in a suspended timber floor and the air vents have not been sufficient, the dampness that's being created under the floor has then produced an environment for the woodworm to live and survive.
The first cuckoo of spring, nice to hear, but is also a good time to see woodworm
The spring is the time of year when woodworm breed and lay their eggs. We have heard some people say it is in April/May and others say it is in July (which seems a late spring to us). It is at these times that you can see the woodworm. It is recommended that you put tissue over the woodworm holes to see if they force the way through the tissue (they are obviously alive if they do this). They also tend to congregate around areas, such as areas of natural light, i.e. roof windows, or the roof access if they are in the roof, or by windows and doors if they are in the floor.
Finally, one of the big mysteries: our older surveyor (we mean experienced) has seen woodworm holes through lead, which, to us, was either a very determined woodworm that we wouldn't like to come across, or something else; we are not sure what!
Woodworm treatment companies use poison to kill the beetles, or do they?
Woodworm specialists do use a poison that they spray around on timber surfaces. This always intrigues us, as there are many surfaces that are hidden, or indeed not accessible, and obviously the woodworm is deep in the timber during most of its life, apart from in spring time, which is why it the best time to apply a poison spray if you are going to use it. However, we generally would not recommend a woodworm spray / poison / treatment as there are better ways of sorting out woodworm problems.
How do I treat woodworm if I don't use a poison spray?
This is a question that we have been asking ourselves for years. There was at one time flypaper for beetles and we thought this was the perfect answer, but we don't seem to be able to get it any more. There is, of course, the ensuring that the areas are well ventilated and dryer than the 16% moisture content and you can also paint apply a poison to the surface of the timber. Probably the most satisfactory one in our mind is to ensure that moisture content has been reduced.
If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a surveyor with regard to structural surveys, building surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, dampness issues, dry rot, wet rot, woodworm, home buyers reports or any other property matters please contact 0800 298 5424 for a surveyor to give you a call back.
If you are in dispute with a builder, having boundary problems with your neighbour or carrying out works on a party wall then you may wish to look at our Disputes Help website www.Disputes.com and whilst this website looks at commercial websites, in the form of dilapidations, we do have a specialist dilaps website on this subject at www.DilapsHelp.com .
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