Skeeter threat leads to quick screening of repair options

July 27, 2002

YESTERDAY'S rain stirred up the bugs and reminded me of another home repair project that I had to get cracking on. Namely fixing the holes in the door and window screens.

My favorite category of home maintenance is the one called "deferred." When something needs fixing, I promise I'll do it later. That is what happened earlier this summer when I spotted a few holes in the household screens. I made a mental note to plug those openings. Then I promptly forgot about them.

The gaps in my memory and in my screens were apparent yesterday as I gazed into my moist back yard and saw squadrons of Asian tiger mosquitoes moving toward me.

I am intimately acquainted with this breed of mosquitoes. I know they sneaked into America from Japan, hiding in old watery tires. I know that, according to bug experts, these mosquitoes are extremely opportunistic breeders. That means they can reproduce in a little bit of standing water found in the bottom of a trash can, in a flowerpot or in a gutter. I have yet to find any such mosquito brothels in my back yard. Yet I know they are there. Tiger mosquito progeny feed on me daily.

I suspect they are breeding in the bushes. But so far I have rejected the "Mr. T Solution" - named after the actor who cut down the trees ringing his home - of eliminating the mosquitoes by bulldozing the vegetation.

(Earlier this summer I put my hope in MosquitoContro, a device that supposedly scared female mosquitoes away by sending out bad vibrations, ones that replicated the wing vibrations of male mosquitoes and dragonflies. Rather than fleeing in fear, the female tiger mosquitoes seemed to be attracted by the device.)

I have moved to what I call the "fortress America" strategy, employing screens as my first line of defense. There is, of course, a raging debate over what kind of screening - metal or fiberglass - provides the best protection. Mainly I am a metal man, but I have my fiberglass moments.

Metal screens are tough; they can take a blow from a kid's prying fingers, the handlebars of a passing bike, or the claws of a curious cat, and still hold their shape.

Metal screens, by the way, are also the preferred method for preventing ferrets from falling out of the windows of high-rise buildings. Until reading about this (at www.petplace.com), I never considered the threat that falling ferrets presented to urban dwellers. But thanks to metal screens, that threat appears to be under control.

Metal screens, though, are prickly. Anytime I try to patch one, I seem to end up bleeding. The recommended method of fixing a small hole in a metal screen is to cover it with a patch of metal screen slightly larger than the hole. Next you weave the strands around the edge of the patch in and out of the surrounding screen. I call this the "basket-weave" technique of screen repair. I have never been very good at it. In other words, I fail at basket weaving.

Fiberglass screens are softer, and to repair them a fella has to tap his feminine side. One recommended way to repair a tear in a fiberglass screen is to get out the needle and thread, and sew up the opening. This is easier, I am told, when you use something called a "curved needle," which I guess you find by contacting your neighborhood sewing circle. In the circles I travel in, the needles are straight and the sewn fiberglass patches are pretty wimpy.

I am tempted to try the "iron-on" method of fiberglass screen repair. I found it among a list of tips put out on a Web page from Backwoods Home magazine. The torn screen is placed on a flat surface. One piece of aluminum foil is placed underneath the hole in the screen. Next a fiberglass patch is placed over the hole, topped by a second piece of foil. Then a "hot iron" is run around the edges of the patch, fusing the new fiberglass patch with the old screen.

I am not sure I am brave enough to try the iron-on method. The notion of using an iron as a "tool" makes me uneasy.

I ended up using an unorthodox method to fix the holes in the metal back-door screen. The holes were near the edge of the screen. I popped off the wooden molding and stretched the screen until the holes had been moved over, outside the frame. Then I reattached the molding.

It was a temporary fix. Someday I will pull the old screen out and install fresh, strong metal screening. But in the meantime, I am on one side of the screen and the bugs are on the other. That is the way I like it.

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