Hell hath no fury than a squirrel scorned.
I love wildlife. It has its place, and that place is not inside my home. Our prior home in northwestern New Jersey was a wildlife mecca, with black bears, deer, turkey, groundhogs and other wild creatures often frequenting our yard. With the exception of mice and one minor incident involving a black bear (a mother bear who entered our garage to steal birdseed), the wildlife visiting that old homestead preferred to live their lives out-of-doors. The wildlife visiting the Neebor Lee compound seem to have a different agenda: they want to come inside whenever they can.
Our first incident involving an uninvited furry guest occurred last Spring. A squirrel gained entrance into the Mason Lodge where it found itself trapped. In a desperate attempt to find its way out, and perhaps to make its own exit, it chewed the wood around every window inside that building. The damage to these antique 100+ year old windows was significant, but reparable with a little effort and time. I will be making good use of an epoxy product that I recently began using elsewhere for wood repairs. This product can be used to rebuild damaged wood surfaces, filling and molding them back into their original shape. I’ve already used some to repair a rotted window frame in our sun porch and to repair a damaged rear door. I’ll need lots of it for the chewed up window frames in the Lodge.
Our second incident involved bats. I first noticed the bats while sitting at my home office desk one evening last summer. Looking out the office window I noticed bats flying just past the window, all in the same direction. I found this unusual because whenever I observed bats at other times, they were always darting around in all different directions trying to grab insects. Suspicious about where they were coming from, I went outside to investigate. What I found were bats exiting the house from a single opening beneath a section of roof shingles. The following evening I waited outside beneath this section of shingles and began counting. Altogether, I counted approximately 25 bats exiting from the same gap. I had a bat colony living in my attic.
Normally, this wouldn’t bother me. I am familiar with bats from my experiences with our old northwestern New Jersey home. However, the bats living in the attic of the Neebor Lee house crossed a line when one decided to fly not out-of-doors but rather through the living room, dining room and family room of the house. With my wife ducking beneath a table, I ran over to the family room’s rear door and opened it hoping to provide an exit to the outside. What happened next is subject to much debate between my wife and I. I’m convinced that the bat exited the house at that time. My wife wasn’t so sure. It turns out that she may have been right because two nights later the bat reappeared (or perhaps it was a second bat!). This time, however, it was me who was ducking beneath the table. After composing myself, I grabbed a cardboard box to use as a shield and grabbed a fishing net with the other hand and attempted to capture the bat. One of the lessons learned that night is that you cannot catch a bat with a fishing net. So, I fell back to my original solution: I ran to the rear family room door and opened it hoping that the bat would simply fly away.
Again, debate ensued as to whether the bat actually left the house that night. I was convinced that it did. One week later, however, when my daughter was home from college, the bat (or perhaps a third bat) appeared again. Now it was my daughter’s turn to duck under the table. This time, however, instead of flying out the rear Family Room door, the bat flew through the kitchen and butler’s pantry and entered my home office where it landed on the ground. By this time I had done a little homework and learned that bats cannot get themselves airborne from the ground. In order to obtain flight, they must first climb to a certain height and then drop from that height so that they are already in the air when they begin flapping their wings.
With this knowledge guiding me, I grabbed a plastic container from the kitchen and then approached the grounded bat. It did attempt to fly as I approached, but rather than flying it could only manage a hop. Taking advantage of the bat’s inability to fly, I placed the plastic container over it and then eased the container’s lid under the bat. Success! I had the bat trapped. I carried the container outside and released the bat near a large oak tree located in my rear yard, where it could climb to gain some height for flight.
This was not the last incident with a bat, but the last time in which a bat would be found flying around the main living area of the house. From what I later observed, bats are like mice, and can squeeze through the smallest of spaces. I caught one about a month later trying to squeeze into a small gap above my bedroom window only to find itself trapped between the window and the plastic covering that I had recently placed in front of the window (old houses have drafty windows; plastic coverings in the winter help reduce those drafts!). This Spring, before the bats returned from their winter hibernation, I sprayed expanding foam into the gap where I had observed the bats entering and exiting the attic, hopefully keeping them from re-entering the house this summer.
Cracks, openings and gaps. All old houses have them and each serves as a pathway into the home for little critters seeking warmth or safe place to hide. Last Spring while watching television on a weekend morning my wife and I heard scratching above our heads as well as a chirping sound. An inspection of the outside walls of the family room wall revealed a gap below the roof line that provided a path for a bird to enter. Once the bird entered this gap it found itself is a space between the family room ceiling wallboard and the roof. After a few weeks, the chirping stopped and we then forgot about the gap.
This winter, sounds resumed within this space, but this time it wasn’t a bird. The animal or animals that moved into this space were larger and decided to stay through the winter. And from the multiple sounds coming from the ceiling we deduced that they soon had a family. All winter long we were forced to listen these little critters running around, chasing one another and making squeaking and scratching noises all day long. And it became readily apparent that there was no insulation between the ceiling wallboard and the roof; our animal guests had free reign to run at full speed from one corner of the room to the other. We eventually concluded that living in this space above our family room was a family of squirrels. We tolerated the squirrels as long as we could, but eventually had to purchase a trap in order to capture and transport them to a new location far from the homestead. They were smart little guys, however, and routinely evaded the trap, sometimes setting it off. None were ever caught in the trap.
As winter waned and the weather improved, the ceiling above the family room would become quiet during the day. It seemed that the squirrels were leaving their nest during the day to forage and were returning back to their nest only in the evening. This change in behavior provided me with an opportunity fix the problem once and for all. One Saturday morning several weeks ago, after the animal activities above above our heads had quieted down, I took out my extension ladder, climbed up to the gap and covered it with a steel wire mesh. Problem solved. The squirrels could not get back inside the house.
The mesh was indeed successful at keeping the squirrels from returning to their nest. However, it created a new problem: it made the squirrels very angry. The squirrels took their frustrations out on two coaxial cables that crossed in close proximity to the gap. One of those cables was connected to my Internet modem that was sitting in my home office. The squirrels chewed that cable down the copper wire, which then came in direct contact with the wire steel mesh, thereby killing my Internet connection. It also killed my house phone and caused the television signal to behave in a quirky manner, causing the television to black out momentarily every 30 seconds. The squirrels did the same to the second coaxial wire.
With my phone and Internet down, I attempted an emergency repair, cutting and then splicing the coaxial wires in order to bridge damaged sections. These emergency repairs failed and I was forced to call Verizon, my Internet and phone provider, for help. A day later a Verizon service representative arrived and attempted to re-splice the two wires that I had spiced two nights earlier. This too failed to fix the problem and we surmised that the damage to the wire wasn’t just in front of the steel mesh but that the squirrels may have also chewed up sections of the wires that were inside the ceiling. The only way to gain access to that section of the wiring was to pull down family room ceiling, which I was not going to do.
My options were limited. I could pay a pretty penny to have the Verizon service representative run a new coaxial cable from the control box over the roof and around to the rear of the home to my home office. This would have required running about 80 feet of wire and putting a hole through an exterior stucco wall, which I also had no desire to do. The second option was to move the Internet modem to a new location inside the house using an existing third, but undamaged coaxial cable. The drawback was that this third cable was connected to one of the second floor bedrooms located in the 230 year old section of the house, which was surrounded by 19-inch thick stone walls. As I learned previously trying to get Internet to all of the rooms in the house, a WiFi router signal does not penetrate stone walls effectively. In fact, to the dismay of my visiting children, much of the house was an Internet dead zone. Internet was pretty much relegated to the common spaces located at the rear of the house, including the family room, kitchen and home office, which are additions that were added to the original house, outside of the home’s original stone walls, after the 1950s.
I chose to go with the second option. In doing so I purchased a state-of-the-art WiFi router. I was hoping that the new router could produce a signal strong enough to pass through the stone wall, at least sufficiently enough so that a signal could be picked up by a WiFi extender installed in the kitchen just outside the stone wall. This all failed, of course, leaving my home office without Internet.
Not willing to concede, I came up a third option. The television in the family room, which along with the home office and kitchen was in the newer section outside the old home’s stone walls, was still receiving a signal through what I eventually identified as a fourth coaxial cable. By tracing this cable I discovered that it was not the second coaxial cable that the squirrels had chewed up, as I originally thought. I thus moved the modem and WiFi router to the family room and used the WiFi extender to push the signal into the home office. I needed to purchase a WiFi USB adapter for my office desktop, but at least I was receiving a good signal in the home office thereby allowing me to work from home.
I successfully prevented the squirrels from re-entering my home, but it came at a cost of several days of aggravation and $200 in new equipment to ensure that I had Internet in my home office. As for the rest of the house, particular the 230 year old section, it still remains an Internet dead zone. The way I reconcile this is to remember that if the prior home occupants could survive without Internet for several hundred years, so too could my children when they came to visit. Sorry, kids.
And now as I sit here writing this blog, I see a carpenter bee hovering just outside my home office window. It looks like I will need to go back out and start looking for its entrance into my house.