Wood Destroying Organisms, What to Look for When Buying a Home

By: Eric Badgely

When wood destroying organisms are found during a home inspection, what can and should be done about it? Does the remedy entail wood replacement, or merely hiring someone to apply a pest control treatment? Some of the questions you might have about this process are answered below.

If wood destroying organisms are found in the crawl space of the home you are purchasing, what can be done about it? Many insect pests, given time and free reign, can literally destroy the substructure of a home. Some of the worst in this regard include termites, wood boring beetles and carpenter ants. Home inspectors have to deal with this problem on a couple fronts. One, is the existing damage so extensive that the wood is already weak? Two, how can the pest be eradicated?

As for the first issue, that comes down to a judgment call that has to be made by the inspector or a contractor after visually checking and sounding the lumber. Sometimes the lumber is just plain shot. A frequent problem, or area of contention, is that most sellers merely want to hire a pest control operator to apply a spray, even when the wood is too far gone to ever offer any structural integrity. In those cases, a contractor needs to replace wood that is soft and weak.

As for the second issue, there is good news regarding chemical treatment. A common control used today is sodium borate. You might have heard of it. It is low toxicity and similar to 20 Mule Team Borax, the hand soap that was the show sponsor back when Ronald Reagan was the television host of Death Valley Days. This product has been found to be effective in controlling rot and wood destroying insect pests, including the anobiid beetle, which works deep inside the wood. The chemical is applied by a licensed pest control applicator and one treatment should be enough to last forever, unless the area floods at some point and that could wash away the treatment. Eliminating conducive conditions, such as leaks, bad caulking, poor ventilation or downspouts that empty next to the crawl space, will also help keep pests at bay.

Sodium borate is very popular today, not only because it is effective but, also, because it is safe. After years of using DDT, chlordane and some of the other highly toxic solutions, it is a welcome addition to the pest control industry. While the product is considered to be relatively new, as far as popularity here in the USA, it has been used in New Zealand since 1953.

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