Pest Inspection

Washington structural pest inspection regulations have been strengthened.

In Washington State, structural pest inspections and home inspections are legally separate trades. Both require licensing and training, but whereas the Department of Licensing administers tests and issues licenses to home inspectors, the Department of Agriculture performs these roles for pest inspectors. Although it is acceptable and legal for an inspector to practice either kind of inspection only, most inspectors are licensed to do both home inspections and pest inspections.

Before the mid-1980s, pest control operators (PCOs), not all of whom were qualified, usually conducted inspections for wood-destroying organisms. Many PCOs were motivated to use the pest inspection as a means to sell their pesticide treatments. They often succumbed to direct or indirect pressure from certain realtors who wanted them to "go easy" in the structural damages part of the report lest they jeopardize a quick closing. Meanwhile, few of those in the nascent home inspection industry had the knowledge or experience to identify wood-destroying organisms (WDOs) or related damage. As with inexperienced or compromised PCOs, many of these new home inspectors produced inaccurate or incomplete reports.
Designed to address these problems, state legislation governing the conduct of inspections passed in 1991. The next section describes the resulting legal and ethical issues. Following that is a description of the training and skills structural pest inspectors (SPIs) are required to have. Finally, we discuss what one should expect from a pest inspection.

Structural pest inspectors must comply with legal and ethical standards.

Significant financial real estate decisions are often based on inspection reports. However, reporting on WDOs is considered more critical than that on other house components because of the potential for severe structural damage. Hence, SPIs incur considerable liability, and to obtain and retain their license they must prove that they have sufficient financial coverage, such as a surety bond or Errors-and-Omissions insurance. In addition, they must periodically demonstrate through testing that they have proper training and understanding about WDOs. "Going easy" to gain future realtor referrals is now an explicit violation of established ethical standards. There are also requirements governing WDO inspection reports and their associated diagrams.

Structural pest inspectors (SPIs) have special skills.

The state has developed training programs designed to ensure that Washington SPIs know and understand wood-destroying organisms (WDOs) and their biology. This means that SPIs have the necessary skills to identify WDOs, to recognize insects that might be confused with WDOs, to recognize WDO damage, and to recognize conditions conducive to WDO infestation along with the appropriate measures used to correct them. Pest inspectors must know how to write effectively and how to develop accurate drawings of inspected structures. They also must be systematic in their process, well organized, and effective communicators.

What you should expect from a pest inspection.

The pest inspector is charged with checking for evidence of wood-destroying organisms that falls into one of three categories: (1) infestation, (2) damage, and (3) conditions conducive to infestation. Examples of infestation evidence are insects, their nests, and their frass (larval excrement and/or by-products of insect feeding or tunneling activity). Evidence of damage includes excavated wood and bore holes. There's a broad range of conditions conducive to infestation, but the key evidence is the presence or potential development of excessive moisture, either from past, present, or (likely) future leaks, or from inadequate or improper ventilation.

Expect the pest inspector to look for infestation and damage evidence where the structure is most accessible, namely, the crawlspace, attic, garage, and under decks. He should also check for nesting in firewood, stacks of lumber, or stumps in proximity to the residence. To find moisture and leak evidence, the inspector focuses on the kitchen, bathrooms, and utility room inside the house, and on the roof, gutters, downspouts, flashing, windows, doors, cladding, and too-proximate soil or vegetation outside.

Home infestations of certain species are considered satellite nests and imply the presence of a parent nest outside but close to the building. In such a case, expect the pest inspector to try to locate the parent nest, although doing so at night often proves to be more successful than during the day.

Expect a thorough report that identifies the pests found and that provides a clear descriptive narrative and/or diagram indicating infestation and damage locations. Also expect remedial recommendations, which commonly involve eliminating the conditions conducive to infestation and removing damaged or infested wood. However, depending on whether or not the organism is re-infesting, they may also include alternative treatment options such as Integrated Pest Management, which explores a combination of physical, cultural, and chemical approaches.

The pests you may find in a pest inspection report.

There are four main categories of wood-destroying organisms: (1) wood eaters, (2) wood chewers, (3) wood borers, and (4) wood decay fungi. In Washington, the wood eaters of concern are the subterranean termite and the dampwood termite. The wood chewers of interest are the carpenter ant (two species, modoc and vicinus), the moisture ant, and the velvety tree ant. Thatching ants are not considered wood-destroying, but they are sometimes mistaken for carpenter ants. The main wood borers of note in Washington State are the anobiid ("deathwatch") beetle and the lyctid or powder-post beetle. The most commonly found wood decay fungus is cubical brown rot, frequently miscalled dry rot. Others to be aware of are true dry rot, white rot, and brown pocket rot.