Nfld. & Labrador

Newfoundland couple horrified to find their hardwood floors bugged — well, beetled

They say they've been living with a powderpost beetle infestation for four years, and stuck in a legal battle over the bugs for three and a half.

'Who would want this?' asks homeowner Brian Neary

Brian and Tina Neary say they're living in a nightmare. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Tina and Brian Neary enforce a peculiar rule in their Portugal Cove-St. Philip's home: no socks.

That's because anyone wearing socks is taking a big risk of slipping on their hardwood floors — and not because they're buffed to a slide-happy sheen.

Their floors are slippery because they're coated in a thin layer of sawdust, forever regenerating itself, even when the couple sweeps and washes two or three times a day, due to what they say is an infestation of powderpost beetles: tiny woodboring insects whose talents rival those of the termite.

The Nearys say powderpost beetles leave behind mounds of sawdust when they bore up through the hardwood flooring. (Submitted by Brian Neary)

And the Nearys said it all began with flooring purchased at Costco and manufactured by J. Sonic, a company based in St. Laurent, Que.

"The entirety of every room in our house is infested," she said.

"It's just creepy. Who wants to live in a house knowing that wherever they might be, it's full of beetles?"

The Nearys have been living with the infestation for four years, and stuck in a legal battle over the bugs for three and a half.

"Knowing that every year this has happened, there's that many more … it's awful."

Tiny destroyers

Brian Neary and his father built the house in 2009 through their contracting company and installed the hardwood floor. The Nearys bought the house in 2012, Tina said, but it wasn't until 2014 they noticed something was up. 

"We first noticed it in our room, only a couple of dots, a couple of spots." 

But then there were more, showing up in different rooms of the house, she said.

They called a pest control company, who determined it was a true powderpost beetle infestation, she said — thanks in part to a specimen Brian dug out of the wood.

Brian Neary points out damage in the hardwood floor of his home that he says was caused by a powderpost beetle infestation. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

They started researching the insect and came across the story of a couple in Paradise who seemed to have the same problem.

She also contacted a number of entomologists, she said. She found that the beetle's larvae can spend up to five years maturing below the surface of the wood, and that it isn't until they've fully developed that they make their presence known by boring telltale tiny holes up through the surface of the wood, and leaving miniature mounds of sawdust in their wake.

The Nearys say this damage was caused by powderpost beetles. (Submitted by Brian Neary)

Legal battle begins

That timeline suggested the beetles were in the flooring when it was purchased from Coscto, she said. So they contacted Costco, which helped them find J. Sonic, the manufacturer.

J. Sonic, she said, wasn't quite as helpful.

"When this gets fixed, we'll have to move out of our home for three months, the house will have to emptied, gutted, everything stored," she said.

The Nearys say they rejected flooring manufacturer J. Sonic's offer of $23,000. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The estimate she got for those costs plus the cost of the extermination tallied about $86,000, she said, and it wouldn't be covered by their insurance.

She wrote J. Sonic with "a request to just cover simply our costs," she said. "We truly thought that it would end there."

The company responded with a letter sent on a Friday morning, she said, offering $23,000, which would cover just the cost of the pest control. The letter said the Nearys had 12 hours to respond and accept the offer, she said, and if they didn't make the 12-hour deadline, the offer would be off the table and the company wouldn't be putting another forward.

"We did not accept that and immediately contacted our lawyer," she said. 

Living in a nightmare

Three and a half years later, the situation isn't resolved.

Paperwork has gone back and forth between lawyers for the Nearys and J. Sonic, she said, and J. Sonic has indicated it'd like to conduct its own investigation.

The Nearys said they first noticed damage in the floor of their master bedroom. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

But in the meantime, the Nearys are still living in what they call a "nightmare."

"We don't know why people are not addressing this," Brian said. "Would they come here and live in this house? I don't think so.

"Who'd want this?"

CBC News contacted David Hearn of McInnes Cooper, the lawyer representing Costco and J. Sonic. He wouldn't comment, but said both sides are in the discovery phase of litigation.

With files from Fred Hutton

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