Woodpeckers tap holes in siding in apparent search for bugs


August 21, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

It's bird season again. And bug season. A reader in Pearl River, N.Y., is getting unfriendly treatment from some feathered fiends.

"My question concerns woodpeckers," she writes. "They have 'drilled' holes into the wood siding in the back of my house. There are about eight quite large holes in a row. . . . It looks bad and I'm afraid they may come back and do more damage. How can I repair the wood siding?"

Repairing the siding may be the easy part of the solution for this reader. Holes in wood siding can be patched with wood-filler -- there are several epoxy-based products that work well -- and the patches sanded, primed and painted to match the original color.

But keeping the woodpeckers away might be more difficult. Woodpeckers peck holes in trees looking for bugs to eat. It might be a good idea to find out if there's something in the house that's attracting the birds. Check with neighbors and relatives for recommendations on a good pest-control company, and have an expert come out and evaluate the house for pest problems. If bugs are present, the whole house may need treatment.

If there aren't any bugs, check with a wildlife center or university extension service for bird-discouraging tactics appropriate to the species and to the locale.

Cracks in basement walls

A reader in Baltimore writes, "The cracks in the basement walls of my 60-year-old home have had me concerned. The walls are part concrete, part block, and the cracks appear in both. They are both vertical and horizontal and are up to 1/8 -inch thick. Also, the width seems to change depending on the season. Water comes through some of the cracks, but the french drain keeps the basement dry.

"I called six basement waterproofing specialists. Three said there is definitely a problem and that I need to spend up to $5,000 to take care of it. One even said the walls will cave in eventually. The other three said that this is due to normal settlement and is nothing to worry about. How can I get an opinion I can rely on?"

It sounds like the reader may be seeking advice from the wrong sources. Waterproofing companies can give advice about solving the water problem, but for reliable advice on the integrity of the basement walls and whether or not the cracks represent a serious structural problem, you should ask a structural engineer. An engineer can determine whether the cracks are serious and suggest a solution you can count on.

It's true that it will cost to get the engineer's advice -- it could be as much as a couple hundred dollars -- but you can be assured that the engineer is not going to make money on the construction, so he or she is not likely to advise you to do something expensive and not needed.

The fact that the cracks change with the season could mean that there is a problem with the foundation footings. That's something that only an engineer can determine.Check the phone book for "structural engineers." Ask for an opinion and a solution that's clear enough to present to contractors for bids.

If the problem is simply water from outside finding its way into the walls, there are ways to eliminate it. The simplest is to make sure the ground around the foundation is graded so water flows away. A fairly complex solution is to waterproof the walls from the outside. In new construction, walls are sealed below grade, but the reader's house seems to pre-date this practice.

There are paintable coatings that make the walls waterproof; there is also a fairly new, high-tech solution for sealing walls, called "subsurface drainage matting," a multilayer covering that allows water to seep through its outside covering to an interior core that conducts moisture down, to a point where it can be removed by the drain tile. Applying this stuff involves a lot of digging, so it's likely to be costly. If the water is a serious problem, however, this solution may be warranted. This is an area where the advice of waterproofing experts could be of value.

Oil-eating bacteria

Finally, a reader in Havre de Grace, who read our advice about disposing of old oil and sludge left in a disconnected heating-oil tank, wonders, "Is it feasible for a homeowner to buy and use oil-eating bacteria [a la oil spill usage] to render safe oil storage tanks?"

This is one of those cases where you don't need high technology. It's against federal law for private citizens to use oil-eating micro-organisms to attack any kind of spill or residue. This kind of clean-up is something that needs to be closely monitored and controlled; it's not like putting a cat in a barn to control mice.

And it's not really a solution. Even if a homeowner could acquire the organisms and dump them into the old oil tank to eat their fill, he would be left with a tankful of happy, roly-poly, contaminated microorganisms to dispose of.

We have heard of people using kitty litter to soak up oil. But the oily kitty litter is as environmentally unfriendly as the original sludge. Old oil has to be disposed of in a sound, safe manner. It costs as little as $50 to hire an oil-disposal expert. It could easily cost that much in kitty litter to soak up a lot of oil.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o Home Work, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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