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Woodworm and Termite Infestations

During our Building Surveys, Survey Spain’s surveyors always look for evidence of attack by several kinds of wood-boring beetles (‘woodworm’ for short). This can be found in any wood within a property, from floor to ceiling, and from window to door, from furniture to kitchen utensils. It takes the form of holes or channels in the wood surface, with recently active infestations showing up by dust around them, especially if the wood is lightly tapped, when in the worst cases it may sound hollow.

“But there’s only a few holes, so what’s the problem?”.

woodworm holes in old door

Well, the problem happens like this. These attacks normally start by the mature flying insect laying eggs, sometimes in batches of 30-60, in crevices in the wood. These then hatch and the resultant larvae feed on the timber, sometimes for up to 5 years, resulting in tunnels below the surface, which eventually damage the strength of the wood. Eventually, they pupate and turn into the adult beetle. It is this adult that creates the holes in the surface as they emerge. After mating the female then lays eggs and the cycle starts again. The damper the area, the shorter the life cycle, so the more generations of larvae there are, eating their way through the wood.

The treatment involves covering the wood with an insecticide, that may kill the larvae, but will certainly kill the emerging beetles and stop them laying future generations. Well decorated wood, with paint or varnish, does not have any access for the beetle to lay the eggs, and chemically protected wood kills the beetles before they can lay their eggs and any larvae that may hatch out from eggs already there. Young, unseasoned, poorly decorated or unprotected wood tends to be favoured, as it has more moisture within it. All wood within a property, especially if part of the construction, should be chemically treated before it’s built in. If it’s within a stud partition, for example, the effects will not be seen, but the adult beetles will be emerging and creating problems elsewhere in the house.

Termites on the other hand, are different, in that they live in colonies and build their homes in the wood. Like bees and wasps, they have a queen who lays the eggs. They are larger than the average woodworm at all stages of their lifecycle. Like bees, they develop with different roles, but all involve processing the timber in which the colony lies, which can carry on for 3-5 years, before they become apparent through swarming flight holes.

termite damage to wood

To remove the problem completely can mean the whole house needing to be chemically treated, which requires the human residents to leave for a few days at least, as the chemical treatment is not by nice stuff. Those who have seen the episodes of the TV series ‘Breaking Bad’ on Amazon, where the house is encapsulated in an airproof tent, will know the measures that sometimes need to be taken for a timber frame property. Fortunately, in Spain, the structure of most houses is concrete, so treatment here doesn’t have to be so extreme.

Whether ‘woodworm’ or termite, their existence in a property is bad news. Survey Spain’s home inspectors can find the evidence. Eradication of the insects must be professionally carried out, as soon as possible, as if it’s left, the ‘dining’ and reproduction will carry on, so the effects are only going to get worse.