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Getting rid of unwanted guests; Creepy crawlies in your home are rarely the big problem you may think, says Peter Fall.

Byline: Peter Fall

WHEN a prospective buyer asks a surveyor to do a building survey the three most common things they worry about are subsidence, dry rot and woodworm. Subsidence and dry rot are defects you should be concerned about, but maybe not woodworm. Like all good surveyors I will qualify my advice.

Subsidence is rarely major. Indeed, I find it's unusual for a vendor not to know their house is suffering subsidence and has not done something about it. The big problems are obvious - it's the minor ones surveyors tend to find. But this can often be fixed cheaply, so don't worry too much.

Dry rot, on the other hand, can be a big problem, even when we only see a small attack. That's because dry rot likes to hide away. Once it becomes obvious, it has probably reached its peak of development, so the cost will be high. The challenge for the surveyor doing your pre-purchase building survey is spotting the small signs or even the potential causes, before the attack is visible because even then the cost of repairs could be high.

Woodworm, on the other hand, is rarely a big problem. At this stage I have to correct myself. Let's stop calling it woodworm and instead refer to wood-boring insects. Woodworm is more properly called Common Furniture Beetle and there are at least 12 wood-boring insects that could affect your home and most are not too much of a problem.

The common furniture beetle is just that - commonly found in furniture. You will find it in buildings, usually introduced by a piece of furniture and it can happily chomp its way through our structural timbers until they turn to dust, but it is particular about the wood it eats. It doesn't like heartwood, preferring sapwood. As a result, it may eat just the outer parts of a beam leaving the structural heartwood untouched. It can also take a long time before it develops into a problem attack, in that time you could have it treated. Also, unless it's in an advanced state, it's unlikely to require any replacement timbers, so the cost is rarely high. Sometimes the attack just dies out of its own accord.

You might have heard of powder post beetles, house longhorn beetles or even worse death watch beetles. But it's most unlikely that you'll find them in the North East.

A wood-boring insect that is quite common around here is the wood-boring weevil. It's common because it's often found in wood that's too wet for wet rot or dry rot. It can be prolific but it won't spread into dry timbers. Its attack tends to be quite confined. Once you removed the source of the dampness, you can cut out the affected wood and replace it with sound wood keeping the cost of repair quite low.

A wood boring insect often found in roof or floor timbers is the bark borer beetle. This is one we can forget. It will eat away at any bark edges left on the joists and migrate into the adjacent wood but that's the limit. It doesn't need treatment and affected timbers will not need to be replaced.

So if you get a report that says your dream home has an attack of wood-boring insects, don't run away in horror. It's most likely minor and will probably have a very low cost to put it right.

? Peter Fall, a chartered building surveyor, is a former president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, tel: 0191 284 3467 or go to
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 19, 2011
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