Certain insects, like termites, powderpost beetles and carpenter ants and bees, can destroy wood. The telltale signs include seeing holes or missing sections of wood and sawdust on the floor or ground. If you are a real estate agent and notice any of these signs in a home you are trying to sell or a homeowner that suspects insect damage, you should seek out the services of a structural engineer.
Carpenter ants infest rotting wood and hollow it out in order to make their nests. You can identify carpenter ants by their relatively large size (one-eighth to one-half inch long) and segmented bodies. These insects range in color from black to brown and red. Carpenter ant infestations are characterized by holes and small piles of dust where they’ve cleaned their nests or hollowed out the wood. You may even see the ants scavenging for food in your home. Since carpenter ants do not eat wood, they do not cause immediate structural damage. However, if the nest isn’t found and eradicated, they can cause significant long-term damage.
Carpenter bees are found primarily in unfinished outdoor decking and railings or in the exterior trim. These insects look a lot like bumble bees except instead of having hairy abdomens, their abdomens are shiny or metallic. Carpenter bees rarely cause significant damage because they do not eat the wood. They drill one to two-inch diameter holes in order to lay their eggs. However, those holes can allow water to infiltrate the wood, causing rot and leading to infestations by other insects.
Powderpost beetles are black insects that grow to be about one-eighth of an inch long. They are notorious for destroying both hard and softwoods, and the adults have the ability to dig through paint and varnish. They spend most of their lives as larvae where they tunnel through wood, looking for nutrients. Powderpost beetles can cause significant damage within a relatively short period of time.
The termites that exist in the US are called subterranean termites because they live underground. They look like tiny legged worms with pale or tan bodies. Subterranean termites are classified as either dampwood or drywood termites. Dampwood termites live in the soil and infest wood that is close to the ground or in contact with the soil. Drywood termites infest wood and then live in the wood. Drywood termites can be found inside wood beams, furniture and even walls. Termites can cause significant structural damage within a relatively short period of time.
Preventing and Eliminating Insect Infestations
Most wood destroying insects, like carpenter ants, powderpost beetles and termites, prefer wet wood that has started to rot. In order to prevent infestations, you should make sure that your home does not have any leaks or moisture problems, and you should check the exterior of your home to make sure none of the exterior wood touches the ground. To prevent carpenter bee infestations, you should paint or seal all the wood on the exterior of your home.
If damage to wood has occured, a Structural Engineer can assess and design repairs to the damage. To contact one of our structural engineers, dial 973-771-6970.