Worse Than Termites? Why Powderpost Beetles Spell Bad News for North Bay Homeowners

by Matt Solis


Termites aren’t the only wood-destroying insect Bay Area homeowners need to worry about. Photo: Redwood Empire Termite Pest Control ©2019

Any homeowner in California knows termites are a major concern. Between the native drywood and subterranean species, termites are responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of statewide property damage each year. However, in Northern California, homeowners face an even greater (yet lesser known) pest threat. “The biggest pest problem we currently have in the North Bay Area is the powderpost beetle, which is a wood-boring member of the Lyctinae family,” says Brandy Straub, owner of Redwood Empire Termite & Pest Control in Windsor. “Within the last five years, these beetles are the number one issue I’m finding in homes throughout Sonoma, Marin, Solano and Napa Counties.”

If powderpost beetles are such a big problem, why haven’t many homeowners heard of them? Mr. Straub explains that they’ve only recently become such a large issue due to extreme weather conditions. “Up until this past winter, California had spent several years in a drought,” he recounts. “Like subterranean termites, powderpost beetles need moisture to survive, and since less moisture has been available in nature, they’ve been finding it where they can: underneath homes. Basements and crawl spaces are cool and shaded, and when moisture is present, they provide ideal conditions for beetles. From there, they can easily get into the structural wood of the home. Furthermore, if there are any leaks or drainage issues on the property, it can make matters even worse.”

Basements and crawl spaces aren’t the only catalysts for powderpost beetle infestation. “Beetles can also get into the home via nearby trees,” says Mr. Straub. “Species like maple, birch and Leyland Cypress are prone to decay as they age, which makes them prime targets for hungry beetles. Plus, following the recent rash of North Bay wildfires, we have all these burnt trees that haven’t been removed and are getting infested with beetles. When beetles start infesting trees near a residential property, they’re more likely to migrate toward it and infest it.”

So, how exactly are powderpost beetles worse than termites? It’s chiefly a matter of proportion—beetles do essentially the same thing as termites, only faster and on a larger scale. Plus, once they’re in a home, they’re harder to get rid of than termites. “With termites, you can often do a localized treatment if you catch them early, but that doesn’t usually work with beetles,” explains Mr. Straub. “Likewise, when doing a tented fumigation for drywood termites, it only takes one lethal dose of Vikane® gas to eradicate the colony, whereas it takes 10 times that much to kill powderpost beetles. Also, the procedure takes five days, as opposed to three days for termites.”

Not surprisingly, the increased potency and timeline needed to eradicate powderpost beetles translates to bigger bills from pest control companies. To put it in perspective, the cost to fumigate an average home for termites might be $2,500, whereas fumigating the same home for beetles can cost as much as $7,500!

Now that you understand the threat powderpost beetles represent, you probably want to know what you can do to prevent them. Mr. Straub offers some tips:

Minimize moisture. Make sure your basement and/or crawl space has plenty of ventilation. Place a vapor barrier in your crawl space to reduce moisture. Make sure your downspouts are diverting water away from your home.

Eliminate wood-to-soil contact. In particular, make sure your home’s wood siding isn’t touching the soil. This is usually an issue of grading. Between landscaping measures and dirt accumulation, a property’s level can rise several inches over the years. When the dirt starts touching the siding instead of the foundation, this makes the home more susceptible to intrusion from termites and beetles. To prevent this, check your home exterior and have it regraded if necessary.

Keep an eye on your trees. As mentioned earlier, vulnerable trees can attract beetles, which in turn can find their way into your home. That’s why it’s important to regularly inspect your trees for signs of decay or infestation. Learn the expected life spans of your trees and have any dead, decayed or burned trees removed.

Get recurrent home inspections. The best way to prevent powderpost beetles (as well as termites and other pests) is to have your home and property inspected on a regular basis. Working with a termite control professional will ensure any issues are caught early and treated before extensive measures are required.

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