Sunday 30 September 2012

The Yank's House - Woodworm

This week’s blog is a challenge. How can I write an entertaining blog about woodworm? Here goes. If I am to be totally honest this was probably the one problem we had that scared me most. Silly really because it is not like woodworm could harm me.

As a child I lived in an old house and I have memories of my mother treating old furniture with woodworm eradication chemicals every spring. She never seemed to get to the root of the problem and has had a dread of woodworm all her life. When many years later she moved into a new house she wouldn’t bring any of her old furniture with her in case it infested her lovely new home.
I think I inherited this dread from her. Nine months into the project and with the arrival of spring the issue of woodworm started to cloud my rose tinted glasses. There seemed to be flight holes everywhere. Months of reading and surfing had left me with little confident that I could solve this problem. 

We had gradually been working our way through the repair of the original sash windows and were so proud of each window we fixed, painted and reinstated. Then one day to my despair I discovered new flight holes in one of our lovely freshly painted windows. I was devastated. This window had been treated with a woodworm treatment purchased at our local paint store.

I was back surfing the net for a solution. All my good resolve to restore the house in a safe ecological way dissolved as I felt overwhelmed by the damage these little creatures could do. However it was soon evident that serious chemicals are now banned and more ecological environmental products are advised. I was convinced that anything that was good for the environment was probable also safe for woodworm to inhale. But never the less I started to calm down a bit.

I phoned around some companies and found a product called Boron. This product is Borax based. It is a powder you mix with water and spray onto all your timber. I explained my distress over new flight holes to the listener at the other end of the phone. The voice explained that this was normal and that it could take five years to eliminate woodworm from the house completely. 

Woodworm can have anything up to a five year life cycle from when the adult woodworm lays her eggs to when the egg matures and the new adult emerges through flight holes in the timber. One woodworm can lay up to 30 eggs. The larvae, bores into the timber and sprays and treatments don’t penetrate deeply enough to kill them.  I felt a sense of despair sweep over me. However the voice on the phone assured me that the Boran would deal with the problem and eventually eradicate the little blighters from our house. 

Surfing chat rooms revealed stories of others that had used the product. They claimed it was safe to use even in houses where children and pregnant woman lived. I felt assured that this was a safe product to use and not harmful to the environment. I supplied the area of the house that needed to be sprayed to the voice on the phone and the amount of Boran I would need was calculated, four 2.5kg bags. I decided to order six. After all, better to be safe than sorry. We might as well give the place a good dousing. 

Research into woodworm also said that they only survive in damp timber. Once the house dries out, the combination of heat and good ventilation should also contribute to the eradication of the woodworm. However I won’t be able to verify any of this for several years.

Meanwhile all the new timbers in our new roof had to be sprayed twice, allowing the timber to dry between applications. Any new timbers introduced into the house needed to be treated the same way, skirting boards, door jams, panelling, stud walls and kitchen presses. Existing timbers such as floor boards, doors, windows, shutters and door heads all needed a stronger mix as all these timbers had infestation. Also the old stairs in the house which we hope to save and repair needed to have all the paint stripped off and be treated. If any timbers were later sanded for decoration they needed to be sprayed again. It is a lot of work and a messy job but it had to be done if I was ever to sleep soundly in the Yank’s House. 

Now I have to add, once you decide on a product it is probable best to stop your research. I say this because there are so many conflicting views out there, each product claiming to be better than the next, solvents verses water based products, treatments that work by contact verses treatments that work through ingestion. After I made a decision on what to use, I would feel waves of panic come over me; maybe I had purchased the wrong product and wasted all that money and time. But Pat was very confident it would work and he kept me going through my doubts. 

We sprayed the house for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day 2007. What a way to spend our national holiday.  Firstly we had to give the house a good clean-out. We hadn’t done this for ages and build-up of stones, bricks, old wood and rubble on the floors had to be cleared out of the way. Starting at the top of the house we both cleared out the rooms together. Then Pat started spraying and I moved down to the next floor and started clearing the rooms.

It took about five hours in all. Pat had a pain in his arm from holding the spray nozzle over his head. By the time he got to the basement his arm was so painful we had to operate as a team. Pat carried the spray can on his back and worked the pump action and I walked in front of him with the spray nozzle spraying the timbers. It was very tiring work. 

I would have to say the boron was easy to work with. There is no smell or nasty fumes from it and apart from the fact that the house was very wet when we were finished the operation went well without any hitches. Entry time after a spray is one hour. When we were finished we closed up the house and headed home. We had done enough work for one day. 

It has been five years since we sprayed the house. Over that time I have become accustom to little holes in our timbers. I don’t know if the woodworm is now gone or not but I have not noticed holes in any of the new timber and I have to admit I am much more relaxed now about it all. I don’t look for new evidence of infestation. I guess I just hope for the best. The treatment is on-going. I still treat new timber or any timber after it has been sanded. But this is an old house. It will never be perfect. It has its flaws but now I refer to these flaws as character and features. Over the last six years I have developed a few more wrinkles and several more grey hairs myself so who am I to judge?

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