Woodpecker
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Cottage Q&A: How to get rid of pesky woodpeckers and slow drains

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This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

What is the best way to repair the holes caused by woodpeckers in our cottage’s cedar siding? The woodpeckers are pecking out the knots, sometimes down to the insulation behind. We can’t see signs of insects.

—Peeved by the Pecking Sigh

This is a common problem for anyone who has wood siding. (Because wood. Pecker.) A popular fix is to fill in the holes with adhesive putty. You apply it generously over the hole, scrape off the extra with a putty knife, and then, when it’s dry, sand it so that it blends into the surface. Next, paint or stain the putty to match your siding. Boom!

Except according to David Markus, a Calgary-based project coordinator with General Roofing Systems—and someone who’s had his own woodpecker vs. siding woes—“these fillers typically don’t last.” (The woodpeckers just peck them out.) His recommendation—especially if the holes are large or numerous—is to replace the damaged sections instead. “The tough part is matching the colour of the new portion to the old portion.”

Woodpeckers seem to especially go after the knots in cedar, says Glen Robertson of Robertson Wildlife and Pest Control in Coldwater, Ont. “They will just pound them. That’s what they do in nature.” So, an option is to choose replacement siding without knots. (You could also change your siding altogether, to vinyl or aluminum. But, as Markus points out, “this is a massive job. You pretty much have to do the entire cottage.”)

Unfortunately, all of this hole-filling and siding-replacing won’t get rid of the woodpecker, who, bugs or not, will drum while looking for a mate, to mark territory, or to build nests. Deterrent-wise, Robertson has had success using the Birds-Away Attack Spider, a huge, sound-activated, battery-operated arachnid that drops down on a 45 cm string. Bonus, according to Robertson: “I use mine to scare the kids at Halloween.”

My kitchen sink and bathroom sink drain very slowly to the septic tank. There is no issue with the toilet or the shower drain. The septic tank has been checked and the baffles are clear. Any thoughts on what might be causing this slow drainage? Could the problem be because of a venting issue?

—Slowly Going Crazy

It could be, yes. Assuming that each fixture is vented separately, the vents from the kitchen and bathroom sinks may have been installed improperly—pipes that are too small, have too little or too much slope, or are located too far from the traps. Or maybe the plumber didn’t install vents at all. “We have a joke about plumbing in cottages,” says Matt Girard, the owner of M&J Plumbing in Peterborough, Ont. “It follows ‘cottage- country rules.’ Sometimes the hardware store is a little far away,” he says. “You gotta MacGyver it.”

According to Max Burns, the author of Country & Cottage Water Systems, another possibility is that an individual vent stack is blocked by, for example, a bird’s nest. (Look on your roof.)

If the sinks aren’t vented or are vented incorrectly, they’ll need a plumbing rejig to fix the draining problem. That’s a job best left to an expert.

But, wait—lack of venting may not be the cause of your slow drains, says Burns. He suspects that the traps under the individual sinks are clogged. (Traps, with their U-shapes, are common spots for blockages.) Newer plastic traps have a clean-out plug at the bottom, but older metal ones may not. To loosen and dislodge the gunk, you’ll need something like a long bottle brush, says Burns. Stay away from chemical de-cloggers. “I would not put drain cleaner in any system that’s on a septic,” says Burns. “It kills all the good bacteria.”

You’ve already got plumbing problems. No need to create new ones!

Still looking for answers? Good, because we love to research stuff. Submit your questions to answers@cottagelife.com.

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