Winter is officially in full swing, which means a good number of us are cranking up the heating and layering on sweaters. If you’re lucky enough to have a cozy, wood-burning fireplace at home, you may also be making regular trips outdoors to ferry firewood back to the house. Unfortunately, firewood kept outdoors or in a shed is likely to be crawling with bugs, some of which will inevitably find their way indoors.
The only way to stop insects from hitching a ride into your house this way is to treat and store your firewood carefully. By making the wood unsuitable for chewing, eating or otherwise inhabiting, you can effectively stop potentially problematic bug infestations from taking over your home this winter. But which bugs are you likely to find in your firewood, why are they a problem and how can you keep them out?
Why do insects invade firewood?
Insects are likely to make their home in stacks of firewood for two main reasons: shelter and food. During the cold winter months, several insect species (such as beetles, wood cockroaches, and various spiders) may curl up under the bark of firewood to survive. However, these are not ‘indoor bugs’ and will not cause an infestation if brought inside.
Other insects invade woodpiles because they eat cellulose fibers, or because they build their nests inside wood. These wood-boring bugs (which include termites, carpenter ants, and powder post beetles) can lead to an infestation in your home if allowed to become established.
Why is it a problem to have insects in your firewood?
In most cases, finding bugs in your firewood isn’t a big deal, even if they find their way indoors; after all, the odd earwig or pill bug is unlikely to cause any significant problems. However, some insects (such as termites, carpenter ants, and powder post beetles) can cause massive structural damage to your home if a large infestation sets in. These wood-chewing bugs can destroy extensive portions of the beams and joists that support your home, often with devastating consequences.
Even worse, wood-boring bugs often go unnoticed by homeowners for long periods of time and, by the time the problem is detected, the extent of the damage can be severe. The only way to protect your home from their wood-destroying habits is to stop them from getting in in the first place, and one way to do this is by treating your firewood for insects.
Treating firewood for insects
Never use chemicals (i.e. insecticides or pesticides) to treat your firewood. This is an ineffective way to kill insects, as these products are unlikely to penetrate deeply enough to do so (e.g. if you have powder post beetles in your firewood). It may also be dangerous, as the chemicals could give off toxic fumes when the wood is burned.
Instead, focus your control efforts on storing your firewood in a way that effectively keeps pests out of the pile:
Keep firewood stored off the ground
This may be one of the most important preventative methods for keeping your firewood pest-free.
Firewood stacked directly on the ground is highly accessible to termites and carpenter ants, making it very easy for these soil-dwelling bugs to climb aboard. Storing your firewood on the ground is also likely to make it damp, further increasing its appeal to insects. Keep your firewood stacked at least a few inches off the ground to keep it dry and out of reach of certain insects.
Store firewood away from the side of your house
You can make it harder for firewood pests to find their way indoors by storing your firewood away from the side of your house.
Leaving firewood in contact with your building for long periods of time increases your risk of termite or carpenter ant infestations, so stack it at least a few feet away from the wall.
Burn firewood soon after you bring it indoors
If there are carpenter ants in your firewood, it’s not necessarily a problem. You just have to make sure they don’t get the opportunity to wander around your home.
The best way to do this is to burn all firewood immediately – or, at least, within a few hours of bringing it indoors. This is guaranteed to kill any insects that may be lurking inside before they get the chance to cause mayhem.
Burn older wood first
Older firewood is more likely to have become infested than newer wood. Burning your oldest wood first can help to minimize infestation time and keep the insect population of your woodshed down.
Cover firewood when not in use
Cover your firewood whenever you’re not using it (i.e. during spring and summer). This will help to keep it dry and, as insects love moisture, this is an effective way to reduce the number of pests that crawl inside. It also creates a physical barrier against insects, making them less likely to find and inhabit your firewood.
Give it a shake
You can physically dislodge hiding bugs by giving your firewood a good shake before bringing it indoors. Knock logs together sharply to jolt insects out of hiding and dump them outside before you carry the wood indoors.
Bugs found in firewood are mostly harmless, but introducing termites, carpenter ants or powder post beetles into your home can be a disaster. These wood-boring bugs can cause widespread damage to the structural beams and joists that support your house, often with devastating consequences.
Though firewood cannot be effectively treated with insecticides, there are several important steps you can take to prevent woodpiles from becoming infested. By storing firewood off the ground and away from the side of your house, burning wood as soon as you bring it indoors and keeping it covered when not in use, you can effectively reduce your risk of bringing firewood pests indoors.