When it comes to wood damage, termites are not the only ones giving homeowner associations cause to worry about exterior repairs. Summertime can sometimes bring an onslaught of carpenter bees, whose presence can be identified by perfectly round, half-inch holes bored into the wood of railings, fascia boards and any other wooden surface. Another telltale sign is a yellowish-brown stain on surfaces, which is actually sawdust mixed with bee excrement. Prevention and treatment can be difficult, and repairs need to be done in such a way to prevent repeat visits by these unwelcome swarms.
Carpenter bees are large and look similar to bumblebees but have shiny black abdomens. Only the females have stingers, while the males, who hover around the holes protecting the female inside, cannot sting.
These bees do not eat the wood like termites do, so technically termites are capable of causing more damage. With termites, associations can install in-ground prevention systems to keep termites away. Unfortunately, no such system exists for carpenter bees. The best prevention, says Conrad Lyons of Pestmasters, “is a good coat of paint or stain on the wood.” Even this is sometimes not enough. It helps to know a little bit about the bees’ biology.
From the initial hole drilled into the wood, sub-chambers branch out, and eggs are laid along the length of the chamber. Once the eggs are sealed up by the female bee, they will develop into larvae that eventually find their way out six months to a year later. Sealing up the wood with caulk only causes the young bee to find another exit route by boring another hole. To add insult to injury, the presence of the larvae attracts woodpeckers, who often inflict their own wood damage in search of a meal.
As a manager, my interest in learning about carpenter bees started when one of my older communities located in a woodsy suburb was plagued with carpenter bees every summer. It was hard to stay ahead of them because the bees are social and tend to make their holes close to one another, so it sometimes seemed that no sooner had we taken care of one hole than another one appeared six inches down or on the next building over. These pesky ”carpenters” could drill their way through the entire year’s carpentry budget in no time!
When the damage is minor, it is possible to plug the holes and apply a generous coat of paint. It also helps to spray insecticide into the hole first, such as a wasp and hornet spray. The best time to do this is at dusk or dawn when the bees are less active.
Nick Lupini of Loyal Pest Control says that Sevin dust applied with a pest control bulb or a turkey baster is a more effective method for the long-term, killing the larvae when they emerge, but the problem is that sometimes the holes are difficult to reach in the eaves and gables.
The more permanent fix is to replace wooden trim with PVC board that is not susceptible to the bees, says Tom Kelly of Community Group Maintenance. You can also wrap the wood in vinyl or metal, but unless all the buildings in the community are done in this way, you risk having the bees simply migrate to the next available wooden surface.
Unfortunately, the most effective solutions are the most costly, but the alternative is to fight the battle against carpenter bees on a yearly basis. In other respects, these bees are beneficial and have their place in nature. They are excellent pollinators of flowers and plants, so it is important to keep the problem in perspective and only eradicate the bees that are actually harming homes. This reminds me not to put off that exterior paint job again this year!
Margie Langston, CMCA