What is and what is NOT covered by the Beetle Certificate?
Welcome to the third newsletter in our extremely popular “Certificates Explained” series.
We have already covered both the Plumbing and Electrical Certificates in earlier articles, for those of you who missed them, they are still available on the below links.
This time around we’ll cover the Beetle Certificate, which is somewhat unique compared to the other certificates for a couple of reasons.
The Beetle Certificate is NOT a legal requirement.
The Beetle Certificate is, contrary to popular belief, not a legal requirement, it never has been.
The Beetle Certificate is however often a requirement by the financial institution, Bank, issuing the Bond on the property and has simply become a standard requirement over the years in most Deed of Sale contracts. Particularly in Coastal Regions where woodborer beetle are more likely to occur.
The Banks wish to be assured that the timbers within the property are structurally sound and that, particularly the roof, is unlikely to collapse thus negatively affecting their investment.
An example of the adult Anobium Punctatium beetle.
What is required for a Property to be declared beetle free.
This is one of the major areas where the Beetle Certificate varies from the other Certificates.
Unlike the other certificates that deal with absolutes, plumbing is plumbing and electricity is electricity no matter where in the country it is, with Beetle we are dealing with varying species from one geographical region to the next, termites may be a problem in one area, but simply not exist in another region while other areas have no woodborer beetles at all.
For the purpose of this article we are primarily concerned with the general Cape Town and surrounding areas only.
In the absence of set standards we are guided by the Beetle Clause in the specific Deed of Sale Contract signed in each transaction.
Naturally these Beetle Clause’s can vary from contract to contract and it’s important to understand the meanings or differences in the wording of each contract and the implications thereof.
An example of the Woodborer beetle life cycle, infestation only becomes evident at the end of the pupa stage.
The Beetle Clause in the Deed of Sale Contract.
It’s important to recognise that in the absence of set standards the Beetle Clause in the Deed of Sale contract is the only written agreement defining what the seller is obliged, or has agreed, to undertake in order for a Beetle Certificate to be issued to the purchaser for each specific property or transaction.
Unfortunately we do find that the “Beetle Clause’s” can vary dramatically from contract to contract.
Example 1: In some contracts the clause can be highly specific in terms of what is required, naming the specific species of woodborer beetles and indicating exactly where on the premises these beetles should be eradicated if found, generally only in the main dwelling or structure.
Example 2: Other clauses are ultimately vague calling for the eradication of all wood destroying organisms in all timbers anywhere on the property.
Many Beetle Clause’s are a varying combination of the two above examples. Naturally we prefer Example 1, as we know exactly what to look for, where, and what to do if we find the specified beetle.
Example 2 above simply calls for the eradication of all wood destroying organisms, which could strictly speaking include all and any wood destroying beetle or insect, irrespective of how much structural versus cosmetic damage they cause and could even include the different types of wood rot.
It further refers to all and any timbers anywhere on the property, this could include wooden fences, gates, poles and even Wendy Houses.
It’s important to bear in mind that the purpose of the Beetle Certificate is to ensure the structural integrity of the timber in the actual building and to further ensure that it is not a potential danger to it’s occupants.
We have unfortunately seen variations of Example 2 above result in the Seller having to undertake very expensive, and possibly unnecessary, repairs in order to abide by the Beetle Clause in the signed Deed of Sale.
An example of the adult Hylotrupes Bajules beetle.
What wording do we recommend in the Beetle Clause.
Fortunately woodborer beetle infestation is fairly rare, occurring more regularly in the older areas where the homes were built prior to the late seventies. After this period the timbers had to be SABS approved and treated to prevent infestation.
Although beetle infestation is uncommon it does occur and we need to know exactly what to look for and what to do in these cases.
In the Cape Town areas we have three wood borer beetles we normally check for and recommend they be included, specified, in the Beetle Clause.
ANOBIUM PUNCTATIUM (commonly known as furniture beetle)
Found predominately in wooden flooring
Found predominately in roof trusses, fascia boards and wendy houses
Found predominately in roof trusses, fascia boards and wendy houses.
We do not generally find other insects in the Cape Town area that cause structural damage to the timbers, yes, there are a few that cause minor cosmetic damage to timber, but for the purpose of a Beetle Certificate they can be excluded.
There are also different forms of naturally occurring rot that can attack timber, but again for the purpose of a Beetle Certificate this can and should be excluded.
When considering that the purpose of the Beetle Certificate is to protect the home and occupants from a weakened timber structure and the potential dangers thereof, is it really necessary to have to replace an external picket fence or a wash line pole because it has some holes in it? We recommend limiting the timbers to be checked to that of the actual building only.
The visible flight holes left by the larva as they exit the timber.
What is involved in the Beetle Inspection?
In short the Beetle Inspection involves:
A VISUAL inspection of the ACCESSIBLE timbers on the property for ACTIVE woodborer infestation by a qualified, registered, beetle inspector.
We have specifically highlighted the three words Visual, Accessible and Active for further explanation.
Firstly the Beetle Inspection is a visual inspection only, there is currently no magical device with which we can simply scan a home for indication of beetle infestation, we rely on the trained eye of a qualified beetle inspector to physically “see” and identify the telltale signs of an active woodborer infestation.
An active woodborer infestation is evident by the flight holes the larva create in the timber as they exit leaving fresh frass (dust) at the scene of the exit hole.
The larva of certain species can live undetected inside the timber for a few years before approaching adulthood and exiting the timber to breed, thus the lack of visual evidence of woodborer infestation is NOT a 100% guarantee of the timber being Beetle Free, it may be experiencing it’s first “life cycle” of infestation which will only become evident when the larva reach adulthood and exit the timber, which could be next week or a few years in the future.
For this reason the Beetle Certificate has a very limited period of validity and is only valid for the purpose of transfer, we further recommend an annual Beetle Inspection for any property with timber infrastructure, the sooner an infestation is detected the less expensive the repairs.
Secondly for the timber to be visually inspected by a human being the timbers need to be accessible to a human being for visual inspection, for obvious logistical and cost reasons we cannot and do not check timbers in a flat roof, under fitted carpets, sub floors or inaccessible basements etc, if an obstacle cannot simply be moved by hand we cannot “see” what is behind or under it. Purchasers need to be aware of this limitation when purchasing a home with a flat roof, or wooden floors under fitted carpets etc, the risk is ultimately theirs.
Thirdly we are seeking signs of Active Beetle Infestation, an experienced Beetle Inspector will be able to identify the difference in an active ongoing infestation and the signs of historical, but no longer active, infestation. We are generally not concerned with non active infestation.
What is NOT involved in the Beetle Inspection?
We’ve had some rather strange and at times humorous “issues” after issuing a Beetle Certificate and the new owner moves in.
We do unfortunately, very occasionally, get some rather irate new owners who have purchased a home with a flat roof, or timber floors under fitted carpets and have started renovating, removing ceilings, fitted carpets or digging up foundations etc and then signs of active Beetle Infestation are revealed. As discussed earlier this risk is unfortunately the new owners, we cannot inspect what we cannot see.
The Beetle Certificate is NOT a pest control certificate, we do not check for, or treat, common pests like cockroaches, fleas, rats and mice etc. We are only concerned with woodborer beetles.
We have even had a client unhappy that we issued a Beetle Certificate on his new home, but he struggled to open his wooden windows. Any timber that is exposed to the elements will eventually absorb some moisture and swell resulting in wooden windows, doors and gates becoming difficult to open or close, particularly in winter. This is normal wear and tear and NOT something that is covered by a Beetle Certificate.
We do find, that with all five certificates, most issues arise from a lack of knowledge or understanding of the limits and requirements of the certificates. The sellers generally seem to believe there is nothing wrong with their homes and the buyers are often under the impression they are going to get “brand new” homes that are in perfect condition.
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What are the possible remedies in the case of an active woodborer infestation?
We have a few options available should an active woodborer infestation be discovered.
Where possible, or necessary, we can simply remove and replace the infected timbers.
Alternatively we can drill into the timbers and inject a poison that kills the larva.
In more extreme cases it may be necessary to fumigate the entire building.
We will advise on the recommended course of action in each case.