I’ve been blaming the cat. In the middle of the night I could hear him, somewhere in the bedroom, scratching.. always scratching. scratch scratch scratch. Sleep is limited at the moment, with checking on the-ewes-who-have-no-intention-of-lambing, without added distractions of a flea ridden cat scratching in the night. Abandoning my principals of no nasty chemicals, I announced it was time to frontline the cat. Fleas in the bedroom, I don’t need.
The cat duly frontlined, and sulking, the next evening I was sat writing my blog when I heard that scratching again.. only this time said sulking cat was fast asleep in the box of important house papers (all those important papers now have cat footprints too..), and not actually scratching. Still there was the noise.. a tick tick ticking. Then of course it dawned on me. Death watch beetle.
We are well aware that the house has problems with DWB – can’t really miss that fact when you vacuum joists up as they are now nothing but beetle poo… but I guess I was harbouring the notion.. as proposed by the estate agent back along.. that maybe the beetle was long gone. Not so.
Spring is the time the beasties emerge and bang their heads on your woodwork to attract a mate, so they can make lots of babies to eat your house up…I found a sound recording of the delightful death watch beetle making it’ s tapping noise.. if you too are wondering if you have live and well DWB, check out programme one, at about 12 minutes in.
Not long after we moved here we discovered that the ceiling/floor at the front of the house was in bad repair.. in fact it was too dodgy for the cat to run across it.. and we replaced it. It’s a shame cos every repair like this is potentially removing the character of an old house. As it goes we had little choice but to keep the interesting slope etc, or either the window downstairs or the cast iron fireplace upstairs would have been cut off.
Anyway, this was, of course, noticed by the locality.. and at a village gathering I was accosted by someone with the accusatory ‘I see you have started to make changes’. Here’s a strange thing.. we bought the house, but there can be a bizarre attitude of some that we are not actually allowed to change anything as the previous owner always had it like such and such… (ha ! wait until we change the colour of the house!!) So I went about explaining that we had no choice,, treading that difficult line of not wanted to bad mouth the ex resident, certainly as we knew what we were getting into, but that things had fallen into some disrepair and these changes were necessary.
“why?” says she
“well, there is extensive damage due to the death watch beetle, and the joists are not actually there anymore, the floor is held up with a very dodgy patch and mostly habit” I reply.
I might as well have mentioned the plague.. the woman stepped back, perhaps some of the death watch beetle were on me and about to leap into her handbag? Fortunately at that point another villager.. one of more practical nature, flapped her hand casually and said “pff, all of the houses here have death watch beetle.. it’s all the rain here you know” and I was saved from being labeled the plague bringer of the village!
But this is, sadly, typical if you talk to anyone about beetle damage or damp.. it’s something dreadful! Probably the house will have to be demolished !.. fumigated at least. If you google for these things at all, you are likely to find adverts selling you ‘services’ to be rid of both damp and beetle. Well we would like to be rid too.. but older houses are not necessarily that obliging.
Luckily I had found the website period property UK a mine of information, and best of all a forum where answers can be found, with little hysterics over the words ‘damp’ or ‘beetle’. (other useful reading: rideout associates and buildingconservation.com)
Back along, the advice was to throw insecticides around with mad abandon. Since research has shown this is not effective at all – more damage can be done to an old building trying to rid it of the DWB that the beetle can do itself, not to mention the impact of nasty chemicals on the house occupiers! The insecticides were either unnecessary, as the beetle was long gone anyway, or would not touch them as they were tucked nice and deep in the wood. The sprays would, unfortunately wipe out the spider population, who are the predators…
DWB likes damp wood.. so the solution is to stop the water coming in, and make the environment unsuitable, rather than tackling the beetle . In our case, the tapping is coming from the chimney breast. The same chimney breast that had a damp problem when we first moved in, and on investigation water was pouring in via wrongly fitted flashings in the roof. We got a roofer in.. the flashings were fixed,, the rain stopped coming in, the damp has gone. In time the timber should dry out and the beetle be less of a problem.
Water is sneaking into the house in other areas.. and has been for some time before we got here.. and slowly we are sorting them,, fixing gutters is a simple but effective way. We found next door’s downpipe emptied water straight into a hole next to our outside wall.. a little drain repair and that area is dry. We do have to do a lot of exterior lime repointing at some point. . that should improve things too.
One thing that does occur to me, with more eco-friendly living, I wonder if there will be a rise in DWB – as we dry clothes in front of the rayburn, increasing the damp, heat the house less, and so on?
The other advice, we got, which was to put a grandfather clock against that wall to cover up the ticking sound is not a bad one either! (apart from not having the clock.. but ignoring the ticking in principal) it is worth hanging on to the reality that although this house is slowly being eaten from the inside out.. it is 400 years old, and it takes a while.. will probably outlast us, particularly if we don’t do anything rash and try to look after it.
And should anyone point out my terrible housekeeping and the large number of spider’s webs about the house, I shall reply ‘what can I do? we have death watch beetle and spiders are our friends…’