How to recognise damage from powderpost beetles

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The name powderpost is often used as a catchall phrase to talk about six kinds of beetles that damage wood. Some have a lifespan of three months while others may live inside wood for as much as thirty years before coming out. They can be as small as 0.8 mm (1/31 inch) to as large as 7 mm (9/32 inch).

They all do the same things, however, which is to bore holes and destroy wood.

Know what they look like. Wood boring beetles all have six legs and a two- or three-segmented hard-shell body with antennas. They are found feasting on just about anything made of wood that is dead, dried or even treated. They damage anything from gun stocks to fine furniture and flooring to rafters.

Know what they sound like. Beetles make strange noises. Pay attention if you hear a light rasping sound or even a light clicking or ticking sound. You will probably only notice this at night when the house is quiet. These are probably not ghosts but beetles feasting on your digs while you sleep -- or try to sleep through the creepy little noises.

Know the telltale signs they leave behind. Beetles leave behind frass. This is a powdery or sawdust like material with the texture of either smooth or gritty talcum powder, depending on the species of beetle. Frass is composed of the wood's waste products and the beetle's waste. They also leave little holes. Some species holes are as tiny as the ball on a ballpoint and others are a little bigger. The frass will be around these holes. There is sometimes an appearance of light blistering on your wood. You may never ever see a beetle -- they usually stay holed up until their food source is gone.

Know that these beetles damage wood products very, very slowly. Aside from making tiny little holes they make tiny little tunnels that take a very long time to go anywhere. New damage from active beetles will usually have new wood coloured frass while older holes that may or may not be inactive will have frass that is slightly darker and it may have a layer of dust on it if it's in an unoccupied area such as the attic or cellar. In order to know whether to treat these beetles, you have to determine if what you've found is an active or inactive infestation.

Know how to tell if the beetles are still in residence or have moved out of the area. To be absolutely sure of whether there is active damage or not, fill the holes by swiping a crayon over them or using a piece of tape. Sweep up all the frass cleanly. Beetles are usually actively emerging from April to July so that's a good time to check even if you have to wait several months until Spring. Remember they damage the wood very slowly and you don't have an emergency going on here. If new holes and frass appears in the Spring, there is active damage still going on.

Protect your home and belongings from powderpost beetles by making sure that every wood finish is either stained or painted. They will not lay eggs on any kind of wood that has a finish on it. Know that using wood salvaged from an old house or barn is the surest way to bring them into your home. Treat every piece of old wood before it gets inside to prevent the problem. When using new wood outside, buy pressure treated lumber and put a finish of stain or paint on it. You can't buy this for inside use so put a finish on everything that comes inside.

Do a home checkup every year to look for beetles or damage or other problems such as termites or foundation problems. A little time spent checking things out can save thousands of dollars in repair work later. If beetle damage is found, don't run out and spend a lot of money with exterminators or listen to them tell you how compromised your home is. These insects damage things excruciatingly slowly and you do have time to wait and see if the infestation is active or inactive.