It’s woodworm season: How to spot and treat wood-boring beetles before they cause serious damage

It’s woodworm season: How to spot and treat wood-boring beetles before they cause serious damage

Has your home got woodworm? You might think not, but the startling reality is that the majority of homes (80%, it’s estimated) have a woodworm infestation.

And summer is the height of the infestation season. Now is the time when wood-boring beetles, whose larvae are colloquially known as woodworm, may be chomping their way through any kind of wood in your house, potentially threatening the structural integrity of those built using timber, or significantly damaging treasured items of furniture.

The key to stopping woodworm before they cause irreparable harm is identifying them early. But you may not realise you have a woodworm problem until the damage becomes visible, and the structure of your home may have already been seriously damaged.

Woodworm expert Nicholas Donnithorne, technical services manager at Rentokil Property Care, says: “Around now, it’s not uncommon to notice round holes appearing in woodwork. These are the telltale signs of woodworm activity, the adults of wood-boring beetles emerging.”

Donnithorne explains that the woodworm life cycle is three to five years from egg to adult, meaning that if you see exit holes in timber beams, floorboards or furniture, you could potentially already have several years’ worth of damage.

The light or dark brown beetles prefer a moist habitat,  and their eggs won’t hatch on wood with moisture content less than 8-12%. In a heated property, the wood will typically have a moisture content of roughly 9%, while the timber in a colder home can have a moisture content as high as 15%.

So how can you tell if your home has woodworm, and how do you treat it if it does? 

1. Fresh exit holes

A hole-riddled table (Rentokil/PA)
A hole-riddled table (Rentokil/PA)

Look out for small round exit holes, similar in size to the holes in a dartboard. Holes can be found all year round but often form from May to October.

2. Bore dust

Woodworm beetles leave bore dust when emerging from timber. The fine, powdery dust can often be found around the exit holes, and even if you can’t see any holes, you might find the dust escaping from the back of, or underneath old furniture.

3. Weak and damaged floorboards

This could indicate a serious infestation – as it progresses, you may notice crumbly edges to floorboards and joists as a result of wear and tear around the woodworm boreholes near the edge of the timber.

4. Tunnels

If you can cut into the timber, obvious signs of woodworm are small tunnels bored into the wood.

5. Live adult beetles

Woodworm beetles will often be looking to mate.

6. Dead beetles

Occasionally, adult woodworm beetles can’t escape the property and you see dead ones. However, bear in mind that dead beetles, holes and dust might indicate a previous woodworm infestation, rather than an active one. If you’re unsure, check with a woodworm specialist.

7. Take precautions with wooden items

If you’re buying a piece of secondhand furniture, inspect all surfaces for emergence holes, which are about 2mm in diameter. Active infestations have clean holes, which may have dust coming from them. Pay special attention to plywood drawer bases and wardrobe backs, unpolished surfaces and the bottom of chair legs. You might also spot sawdust from the holes, known as frass, on the floor.

8. Ask to see a guarantee

If you suspect a property has had a woodworm problem which has been treated, ask to see a guarantee certificate for when this took place. A professional treatment should come with at least a 10-year guarantee.

9. Ventilate the house

Removing moisture and humidity in the home will reduce the likelihood of a woodworm infestation. This means proper ventilation, particularly under floors, and heating the property during colder months.

10. DIY treatment

If you’ve identified active woodworm in your home, it’s important to take immediate action. DIY products can help treat localised infestations and are suitable to use on small items such as tables and chairs. From wax to oils and water-based preservatives, these DIY treatments will not only kill, but also help prevent woodworm infestation in the future.

11. Professional treatment

Sometimes you really need to call in the professionals (Rentokil/PA)
Sometimes you really need to call in the professionals (Rentokil/PA)

Depending on the severity of an infestation and how delicate the affected item is, there are also advanced technologies that can help.

Professionals use Controlled Atmosphere Technology (CAT), a safe and effective method to treat wood. Inert gases are used in a controlled atmosphere that eliminates all life stages of the insect, including eggs and larvae, while leaving no harmful residues on the furniture. The treatment also penetrates fabrics, so upholstered furniture can be treated without having to remove the fabric.

If you’re unsure of the type of beetle in your home, or the extent of the infestation present, call in the experts.

- Press Association

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