What’s that chewing sound coming from the furniture?
Updated: September 17, 2012 11:39AM
Dear Fixer: Several months ago, I purchased a piece of furniture from T.J. Maxx.
It’s a chest/cabinet that appears to be hand-carved, possibly made in India.
I recently discovered some very fine sawdust in several places surrounding the chest. I investigated and found out this is caused by a wood-destroying insect that resides within this piece.
The larvae of the powderpost beetle can stay dormant inside wood for months and even years before the right temperature conditions arise, at which point it develops into a little beetle that lays eggs and chews its way out of the wood (thus the sawdust) before it dies.
I contacted the store where I had bought the piece. The woman I spoke with was extremely nice at first; she was apologetic and advised me to not bring the item back to the store, but to instead destroy it, as they did not want further spread of the infestation.
She requested proof of purchase for a full refund. I told her I did not have a receipt, as I never thought I would be returning such a beautiful piece, but said I would be able to find my credit card statement.
She said I could just fax the info and she would credit us for the amount.
So I faxed the statement to the store. After a few hours, I received a call from her saying she had spoken to the district manager, who had decided not to make the refund because the item was bought in January.
She further said that they did not cause the infestation and no other customers had complained. I told her this was most likely not a store infestation, but rather something that had been in the wood since before it left the country of origin. She disagreed, to which I replied that if it did not originate in the furniture, then she is telling me the bugs originated in my home, which is not true. I told her they are welcome to come to my house and look for signs of infestation.
They are lucky I removed the item from my home before it caused any damage that they could be responsible for.
I took the cabinet out of my house, but I am glad I did not dispose of it, as it is evidence for my claim. Can you help?
Dear Isabel: Truly, we thought we’d heard everything, but this bugs-in-the-furniture problem was a new one for us.
It turns out, you are correct. These pesky powderpost beetles commonly live in wood that is not dried or stored properly — including tropical woods from places like India — and they can live undetected for long periods as they feast on the starch inside the wood. When they finally feel ready to come out, they leave a telltale fine, powdery sawdust from the exit holes they make in the wood.
In your case, you’d put some dishes in the cabinet, so when the beetles exited and died, some of them conveniently landed in your china bowls.
We sent your photos of the little buggers along with some info on the habits of powderpost beetles to Sherry Lang, senior VP of global communications at TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx.
To their credit, TJX immediately moved to exterminate this problem. You soon got a call from a very apologetic company representative, who said they’d be happy to make an exception to their normal return policy, considering the unique nature of your problem. They’re sending you a check for your $427.99 purchase price and they promised “a little extra” for your troubles.
Keep us posted (but please, not powderposted).