Handyman on Call

Could she have carpenter ants in a piece of furniture?

Q. I found a small pile of sawdust under an upholstered chair in my studio apartment and figured I have carpenter ants. I don’t know how they got in the chair, since I’ve owned it for at least 10 years and my building is a brick high-rise in the city. Anyway, I placed Raid Ant Baits under the chair where I saw the sawdust (as recommended by my dad and the hardware store), neither of whom had ever heard of having ants in one piece of furniture. If this doesn’t work, what I could do? Will I really have to throw out the chair (it was rather expensive)?

JEN, by e-mail

A. If there are ants, you’d see them because there is not enough wood to nest in. But don’t throw away the chair; there basically is no big problem. If the sawdust was very fine and powdery, the culprit is probably powder post beetles; there are several kinds, and they drill into the wood (the chair or the floor) pushing out the powdery sawdust, leaving tiny holes. They come and they go, and rarely stay for long. If you see any holes on the chair wood or floor, fill them with rubbing alcohol or household bleach, being careful to avoid upholstery or rugs. If you see no holes in the chair, then the little dickens are in the floor.


Q. The previous occupant of my rental house in Marshfield closed the gable vents for the winter. He also closed several vents in the foundation of the crawl space. Is that correct?

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A. It used to be correct, since cold air holds less moisture than warm air, and it is moisture that should be vented. But in “modern times” they should be open all year long. But what about crawl spaces that have no insulation in the ceiling; wouldn’t open vents make the house colder? Well, yes, so it is best to insulate both basement and crawl space ceilings. You can also check new houses, whose basement ceilings are insulated. Or ask a contractor or architect.

Q. I am having an old farmhouse in Western Mass. refurbished by building a poured concrete wall with rebars as part of the foundation. It is 4 feet deep and some of the crawl space dirt will be taken out. Is it too late in the season to pour concrete? Also, my big barn is full of hibernating bats; I don’t mind the bats but their guano is piling up. How can I get rid of the critters safely?



A. I think it’s too late to pour concrete as of late November, unless the contractor builds a tent over the work and heats it, or puts antifreeze in the concrete mix. As for the bats, any attempt to oust them will kill them. If you don’t want to do that, wait until spring, then hang a whole bunch of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs every 5 or 10 feet hanging from the ceiling will force them out and keep them from coming back. Maybe.

Q. Superstorm Sandy messed up my swirled ceiling, causing a leak that created a big stain, all brown and yellow. My insurance adjuster took one look at it and gave me a check for $3,900 for a new ceiling. Is there a way to saving that cash?

BOB, from Maynard

A. Wow, that was quick. But you might be able to save that check for something else. Try this: Paint the stain with two coats of clear shellac. Then paint the ceiling with one or two coats of a latex ceiling paint. A good Kilz stain also may work, but it is very bright white that is difficult to cover, so paint the whole ceiling with the Kilz stain killer, then paint with the ceiling paint.

If you really need a new ceiling, find a drywaller to put up blueboard, then skim-coat it. It might cost less than your insurance payoff.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton@
) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to