Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Bug Detective -- Follow The Money

Actually, the title of this post is a bit of a joke, but not too much so. I can honestly say that I never would have dreamed, ten years ago, that, at some point, much of what I do for an income would involve bugs and being a bug detective. I am a home inspector but, in this state, the root of home inspection for several years has been to also perform wood destroying organism inspections.

With home inspector licensing that changed some -- an inspector no longer must be licensed as a structural pest inspector. However, far as I can tell, it has not changed much. Most of us, because our clients and realtors have come to expect complete inspection reports, include wood destroying organism (WDO) issues.

I thought you might find it interesting to see just how much so a structural pest inspector has to be a bug detective. I was preparing some photos for an upcoming class at Bellingham Technical College. These are photos I will be using in class, so without weighing you down too much, I will explain a bit of the theory as to what a structural pest inspector should see in each photo.

This "scaly" damage below is typical of subterranean termites. 


This pile of chewed shavings, frass,  is from carpenter ants.

This closeup shot is also from carpenter ants, note the bug parts -- typical of carpenter ant frass.

This pile is from a wood shop. You have to be able to tell WDO damage from remnants of workers who were cutting or drilling under the house.

This damage is from moisture ants. They build galleries in wet and decayed wood.

This pile of dark frass is from moisture ants.


This shot is the most destructive wood-boring beetle in our region -- the anobiid beetle. That sawdust is an indication that the species is very much alive and eating the wood.


These larger exit holes, slightly oval, are from another wood boring beetle that is known as the cerambycid beetle. In our region they do not reinfest. That means the pest needs no chemical treatment. But in some places they do. Ever heard of the old house borer?


Here is a sign of another wood-boring beetle -- the buprestid beetle. It has a very elongated exit hole and is not reinfesting. It got in the wood when the wood was a tree in the forest.

This is a view inside a piece of wood that the buprestid beetle has been tunneling in.

And here we have old cerambycid beetle holes that are plugged with mud. This packing was done by orchard mason bees who are beneficial and not wood destroying organisms at all.


These photos are only a handful of the pictures in the BTC  presentation on wood destroying organisms -- which takes six to eight hours to complete. While abbreviated here, it gives a good idea of the amount of information one needs to know to figure out which pest is doing what to whom. And if you wonder what frass is, it consists of the byproducts of insect feeding or tunneling activity.


Thanks for stopping by,

Steven L. Smith


Steven L. Smith

If you enjoy nostalgia and music of yesteryear, click on Elvis' gold record to visit This Day In History. To explore The Stories Behind The Music blog posts click on the electric guitar. 







Comment balloon 12 commentsSteven L. Smith • December 28 2009 12:52PM


Good post Steve.  . . . And it reminds me that we both just retested and passed with flying colors.

Posted by David Helm, Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp (Helm Home Inspections) over 9 years ago


That is true. I still think that the most serious problems I have ever found at houses involved issues with WDO's -- usually in the crawl space. Here is one below, wonder if ol' Charlie can figure it out. He is kind of lost when Nutsy is up north.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

I do not perform wood destroying insect inspections. We are not required to do them, but almost every inspection has a WDI inspection done. Some inspectors do them with or without a license. The license is not required here.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 9 years ago


It may go more that way here eventually, I do not know. But for years the inspector was licensed for pests and nothing else so, if you did not have that license, you had zip. And, around here, there are so many WDO issues that someone needs to do it for sure.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago


Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Yeah, I know. You thought the hole was made by a shrimp. Close though.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Knowing all that is impressive.  We must not have that many different kinds here in Arkansas.  I hope we don't.

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) over 9 years ago


Nutsy is tutoring Charlie on the whole WDO issue. That squirrel is a genious.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Steven- Great information for the public of just how deep and committed inspectors are in giving a complete home inspection report.

Posted by Eric Middleton, Professional Property Inspector (Closer Look Property Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

That's a lot of inforamation on bugs!  I don't like bugs. But I'm glad to know what to keep my on the lookout for.  Thanks!

Posted by Marian Pierre-Louis, Metrowest Boston (Fieldstone Historic Research) over 9 years ago

Steve, you certainly do know your bugs!  I'd rather have the stuff left by workmen that the bug stuff.  But sometimes we are not given a choice.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 9 years ago

Thanks for the lesson Steve!  That was great...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago