Critters take over woman's hardwood floors


Barbara Matteucci was mopping her dining room one day when she noticed something very odd -- a small circle of sawdust on her ash wood floor.

"I looked really carefully and I said 'how do I have sawdust in my dining room?'" she said.

Soon after, Matteucci discovered a whole trail of little holes running all the way across the dining room and into her kitchen.

"There must be at least 50 on this piece of wood, and then over in the corner there's got to be hundreds," she said.

There were hundreds of holes just big enough to fit the point of a pencil. She called an exterminator right away, and he told her the tiny holes meant her floor was infested with a little known wood-eating bug known as the 'powderpost beetle.'

"They're after the starch. Wood is basically made up of starch and sugar so there has to be sugar in that wood," UC Berkeley entomologist Vernard Lewis said.

Lewis wasn't surprised to hear of Matteucci's case. He says the beetles deposit their larva in hardwoods, like the Matteucci's ash wood floor. A few years later, the larva hatch, chew their way through the wood and crawl out the other side.

Matteucci experienced this first hand, as more and more bugs crawled out of her floor.

"We'd get up in the morning and we'd look and we'd see another board with holes in it. Sometimes you could see the bug just peeking out the hole," she said. "They're black and they have like two things that stick up. How could you walk on the kitchen floor in your bare feet knowing all the bugs are there?"

Matteucci's exterminator said the larva must have been already inside the wood before her ash wood floor was installed four years ago and Lewis says that's typically the case. These beetles can only bore through the ends of the raw wood, he says, so they can't get in once a floor is laid and varnished.

"Normally what will happen here in California, someone will have a new hardwood floor put in and a problem will result within several years," Lewis said. "Most likely that infestation came in probably with that lumber. But once these floors are installed and varnished then you're not going to have insects."

Matteucci wanted her floor repaired, so she asked her contractor where the wood came from. She says no one would tell her. That's when she contacted 7 On Your Side and we tracked down the answers.

"The next day he called me and gave me the name of the mill," she said.

It turns out, the wood came from Don White Lumber Company in Oakland. Right away, the lumber mill stepped up and took action, agreeing to have its insurance replace Matteucci's entire floor.

Mill owner Don White said he's not convinced the bugs infested the wood at his mill and issued at statement saying, "It's the only time in 138 years in business that this has happened. It's a rare kind of occurrence but you plan for it and you take care of your customers."

Finally Matteucci received a check for $16,000 and workers ripped out the infested floor and installed a brand new made of oak.

Matteucci is grateful the worst piece of her old pock-marked floor is gone.

"As soon as we called 7 On Your Side, boy, did we get action. I can't thank you guys enough," she said.

White no longer makes ash wood floors because the wood attracts this type of bug. Lewis says if you have these beetles, you'll notice the sawdust and the holes before you see the bugs themselves since they hide during the day.

The beetles do show up not only in floors, but in furniture made from ash and other hardwoods.

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