What to do when a survey reveals woodworm?

When you’re buying a property and get a survey completed, you cross your fingers that nothing will show up. However, if you find out there’s woodworm on site, you’ll be glad to find out before you commit to the purchase.

Woodworm can be terrible news… on the other hand it might turn out to be nothing but a minor inconvenience. If your home survey report reveals woodworm, here’s what you need to know…

What is woodworm?

Woodworm is the larval stage of wood-boring insects. Eggs laid on the wood hatch and the larvae burrow, making holes, tunnels and chambers. Eventually, the mature insects will emerge from the holes, lay more eggs and the cycle continues.

It is the larvae rather than the mature insects that cause the real damage: weakening and destroying wood.

There are different kinds of woodworm including;

  • Common Furniture Beetle (Anobium Punctatum);
  • Death Watch Beetle (Xestobium Rufovillosum);
  • Ambrosia Beetle;
  • Bark Borer (Ernobius Mollis);
  • Powder Post Beetle (Lyctus Brunneus);
  • House Longhorn (Hylotrupes Bajulus);
  • and the Wharf Borer (Nacerdes Melanura).

Different types of woodworm may prefer different types of wood and leave slightly different ‘calling cards’ but the bottom line is basically the same: you don’t want them in your property!

Why is woodworm bad?

Most woodworm make tunnels that are only about 2mm wide, so you might think they can’t cause much of a problem. However, if undetected, woodworm can keep burrowing until wood simply crumbles away. If the infested wood in question is a structural timber, then that can be seriously bad news for a property.

Is woodworm harmful to humans?

Although woodworm can be extremely bad for furniture and wooden structures, it is not directly harmful to humans. However, there are parasites that are linked to woodworm, e.g. Scleroderma domesticum, which can sting humans, leaving a rash.

What causes woodworm?

Wood boring insects generally like damp conditions so you are more likely to have problems in cold, damp houses. However, woodworm can be brought into your house on firewood or furniture before spreading to other wood once inside.

What are the common signs of woodworm?

It can be very hard to tell that you have a woodworm problem and different insects leave slightly different clues. However, it’s possible you have an infestation if you notice:

  • A mass of tiny holes in the wood
  • Floury powder
  • Pellet-shaped wood shavings

How do I know if woodworm are still active?

It can be hard to tell if you have a current woodworm problem, or if the damage and holes you’ve found are old and the beetles and larvae long gone. Some tell-tale signs of a current infestation include:

  • Light coloured wood inside the holes i.e. a fresh hole
  • Holes with sharp edges
  • Fresh dust near holes
  • Wood breaking away leaving fresh, light coloured wood underneath

How do you stop woodworm from spreading?

Once you discover you have a problem, alongside woodworm treatment, you’ll want to take steps to stop woodworm from spreading.

  1. Removing infested furniture is a good first step, although it’s obviously not as easy to remove structural timbers.
  2. As the beetles like damp conditions, keeping humidity down and ensuring good ventilation are prudent measures.
  3. Installing fly traps can kill emerging beetles, interrupting the life-cycle and reducing the problem.

Can woodworm go away on its own?

The short answer is ‘yes’, it can. If wood is properly dried and the area kept ventilated, woodworm can go away… but it’s a risky assumption that it will. Also, the damage already caused cannot be undone, so it’s worth getting a professional opinion on a) the severity of the damage and b) how to treat woodworm properly.

Is woodworm a reason not to buy a house?

If your survey finds that there’s woodworm present, it could be a reason to walk away from the purchase… but not necessarily. You need to find out the severity of the problem and what needs to be done so that you can make a fully informed decision.

Depending on the severity of the infestation, you may find you can’t get a mortgage and the decision will be made for you!

You will need a RICS Home Survey Level 2 or Level 3 Building Survey when buying a property as these will highlight signs of woodworm and other damp or timber issues. 

What should I do if my home survey finds woodworm?

If your home survey finds woodworm, you need to find out a few more details if you still hope to proceed with the purchase. Get an expert to determine the severity of the problem; what woodworm treatment is necessary; what repairs need to be carried out; and what the cost will be.

Next, you can make your decision:

  • Go ahead with the purchase anyway
  • Walk away from the purchase
  • Ask the seller to arrange professional woodworm treatment before you buy
  • Negotiate will the seller on the price of the house, taking into consideration woodworm treatment cost and repair of any damage

Find out more

The prospect of uncovering something like a woodworm infestation can be daunting but, as the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed and it’s certainly good to know about any issues before you complete a purchase.

Finding out about the problem at pre-contract stage allows you to investigate best next steps and make informed decisions as you go.

If you’d like to arrange a property survey to check for woodworm and other issues before you buy, please get in touch. Our team of experienced Chartered Surveyors will be happy to help.