A wasp-free climber and swingset makeover

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We’ve been battling wasps in our yard since mid-summer, but they’ve gotten really bad over the past month. For whatever reason, wasps have decided to make our children’s backyard swingset their home.

This is the third year that wasps have infested the kids’ climber. If there were a stronger word to use than “infested,” I’d be using it. The number of wasps living in every concealed crack and crevice in this thing was astounding. No one could go near the swingset — swarms of wasps flew in and out all the time, and we dreaded even having to mow the lawn around it. No one wanted to hang out on that side of the yard for fear of being stung.

Of course, these are also the months our boys would really like to be able to play on their swingset. Something had to be done.

After refinishing our deck this summer, I started thinking about refinishing the kids’ swingset too. This also motivated me to attack the wasps and get rid of them.

I’m guessing that our climber/swingset combo is about 20 years old. Friends of ours graciously gave it to us seven years ago after their daughters outgrew it, and other than moving it into our yard, we haven’t done much else to it. Structurally, it’s still in good shape:

climber

At first glance, it may not be obvious where the wasps were residing, but they were everywhere. They built nests in any area where there were dry, protected spaces. Look inside the brackets for the glider swing:

climber makeover

The wasps also built several nests under the peak of the playhouse’s tarp roof at the top of the climber. However, the majority of the wasp nests were within the walls of the playhouse.

climber

Wasps were building nests inside these plastic walls. The walls screw onto the side supports of the climber, giving the wasps dark and dry spots to build their nests. And build they did. Here’s what the playhouse looks like on the inside:

climber wasps

From the cloud of wasp activity around the climber, I suspected there were multiple wasp nests behind each of the wall panels, as we could see wasps crawling in and out of these spaces all the time. This was not going to be a fun job.

After observing the wasps for most of the summer, I noticed they were less active in the mornings and at night when the weather was cooler. Over the course of a week, I ventured out early each morning wearing a hoodie, long pants, gloves, socks and shoes — only my face was exposed..! I crept up, blasted the gaps behind these panels with wasp and hornet spray, then waited for the activity to die down. Then, I started to remove each wall panel.

Further compounding things, the screws holding the wall panels on had rusted in place. This meant I had to spend a lot of time standing among the wasps, slowly working on each screw. As I removed each panel, this is what I found:

climber makeover wasps

climber wasps

Ugh! As I said, this was a long process — every time I would remove a panel, I’d let it drop to the ground and retreat to the house until the wasp activity died down enough to come back and spray the remaining wasps. There were ten panels to deal with, and each one housed wasp nests at the top and the bottom. It was awful.

climber makeover tube

See this black tube? It ran from the playhouse level of the climber to the sandbox below. Kids could talk in one end and listen in the other. This tube had to go too, though, because I’m sure you can guess what was living inside it. I sprayed wasp and hornet spray inside both ends of the tube, then left it alone for a while. When I removed the brackets and began moving the tube, dead wasps (and some live ones!) poured out each end of the tube. Yuck!

The wasp nests under the roof tarp were the easiest to deal with, as I could see them. Removing the tarp was tough though, as all of its screws had also rusted in place.

climber makeover

Once I had the walls and roof removed, I shoveled the sand out out of the sandbox, then sprayed the climber with deck wash and scrubbed it. There was so much wasp and hornet spray residue in the wood that I wanted to remove it before staining. The screws and bolts attaching the swingset’s metal hardware had also rusted tight, so I opted to leave the ladder rungs and brackets in place and simply paint them with a rust-stopping paint.  I wanted to rebuild the rest of the climber in a way that would (hopefully) deter the wasps from returning.

climber floor

The deck stain went on beautifully — the bare wood was very thirsty from years of being exposed to the elements, and it quickly took on a deep brown tone. (I used One Time brand stain, which is supposed to last 7 years. I stained my deck with it too, and here’s how it’s been holding up since this project.

climber makeover ladder

climber hardware

I masked and painted the climber brackets, ladder rungs and glider swing brackets (now filled with Great Stuff and closed off to the wasps.)

swingset makeover mesh tarp

To further deter wasps from building nests in the playhouse, I replaced the old solid vinyl roof tarp with a heavyweight vinyl mesh tarp. It lets light, water and air through, so hopefully the playhouse will no longer be a dark, dry haven for wasps.

mesh roof

climber mesh tarp roof swingset

climber stainless steel bolts

After battling with rusty screws for days, I decided to replace the slide and tarp hardware with stainless steel bolts and washers too. At some point, these are things that may need to be removed again, and I don’t want to battle with any more rusted hardware…

climber spindles

I had no plans to reattach the plastic playhouse walls to the climber. Due to the walls’ design, there is no way to prevent the wasps from re-establishing themselves in there where it’s dark, enclosed and dry. I bought wood deck spindles, cut them to fit, and enclosed the climber walls with a more open design that should be less attractive to the wasps.

(I plan to stain the spindles in the spring — they’re very wet because the lumber is new, and I don’t know if we’ll have enough weeks for the wood to dry out before it gets too cold to stain.) 

Get Lost Wasp

In my extensive Google research on wasp activity throughout this project, I learned that some kinds of wasps are deterred from building new nests when another colony of wasps has an existing nest in the area. Who knew? And, of course, someone has invented a product for this. I spotted a 2-pack of fake wasp nests on clearance at Bed, Bath & Beyond, so I figured, after what we’ve been through with these awful wasps, why not try? It says it’s “100% Guaranteed!”

get lost wasp

Get Lost Wasp is a nest-shaped twist on a paper Chinese lantern. Incredibly, it has more than 300 positive reviews on Amazon. Reviewers recommend spraying the assembled nest-lantern with clear acrylic spray to make it weatherproof, as it is merely made of paper and wire. We’ll see how it works. 

finished climber

Here’s the finished product! I love the way it turned out, and so do our boys, who have been playing on it nearly every night since its completion. They were so happy to have their swingset back, and I’m happy to report that while there are still wasps out and about in our yard, they have not re-settled in the climber.

Speaking of nights, I don’t know what it is about these long, fall evenings, but our boys have been out in the yard from the time they get home from school until after the sun goes down (with a dinner break, of course.) They’ve really been enjoying these autumn nights. One of the kids in our neighborhood decorated her backyard climber with a string of holiday lights, which the boys thought was extremely cool. Thinking about nighttime play, I had already purchased a solar lantern for their climber playhouse that has a cool flickering candle effect: 

led solar candle lantern

 

After seeing how much they enjoyed their friend’s climber lights though, I added a string of solar lights to the top rail of our climber’s playhouse too. I mounted the solar panel on one of the climber supports, so it faces the sun and charges all day. Now they’ve got light every night without any cords running through the yard to trip on!

solar rope lights

solar panel

lightup swingset

Since its makeover, our boys’ climber has been an army tank, a pirate ship sailing the seas at night, a hideout for spies, and, who could have predicted…

waterslide climber

A waterslide. Because 75-degree evenings in October don’t come around very often. 


 

Climber/Swingset Makeover supplies used:

  • Five (!) cans of wasp & hornet spray (various brands)
  • Two gallons of Sunny Side deck wash (free from a past Menards rebate)
  • PB Blaster, an amazing product my dad recommended to loosen the rusty screws and bolts
  • Great Stuff Big Gap Filler to fill glider swing brackets
  • Rust-Oleum 2x Ultra Cover spray paint in Nutmeg shade (and masking tape)
  • One Time deck stain in Chestnut shade
  • Chicago Canvas 5′ x 7′ vinyl mesh tarp in Tan shade
  • Stainless steel bolts and washers from Ace Hardware 
  • 24 treated pine deck spindles (.80 each at Menards — crazily, the deck spindles each cost less than each of my $1.50 stainless steel bolts did at Ace.)
  • Leftover deck screws from my deck refinishing project
  • Get Lost Wasp paper wasp deterrent (I bought mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $5.59 with a 20% coupon)
  • Threshold solar candle lantern from Target (on clearance – paid $6 and change. Amazon has them too.)
  • String of solar rope lights from Harbor Freight (with a 20% off coupon)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Read full Disclosure Policy.

Comments

  1. JoAnn says

    I feel your pain. We are just getting over a yellow jacket infestation. They were living behind the vinyl siding of my house and were finding their way into my bedroom and subsequently, into the rest of the house. Cans upon cans of bug spray did no good, and our sleeping situation became, well, nonexistent. The warmth and light of the house meant they were up all hours of the night and so were we. It finally took a $159 house call to D-Bug (Thanks Doug!) to clear up the situation. Just when we let our guard down, one straggler appeared the other day in the house, obviously wounded from the spray, but still inside nonetheless. I hate bugs.

    • says

      UGH! I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be to have them living under the siding. They’ve just been horrible this year.

      I would say that was $159 well spent if all but one are gone. I cannot believe how determined & relentless they are..!

  2. Jeanette says

    We had hornets living under the siding of our shed. Thankfully, ours only took one can of spray and one brave husband. I am terrified of wasps, hornets and bees and I refused to cut the grass in the back until he got rid of them. Between the hornets and the darn spiders winter can’t come soon enough!!

    • says

      I put a list of all the supplies I used and where I got them at the end of the article, just in case there were questions :)

      I got it from Chicago Canvas: http://www.chicagocanvas.com/product/vinyl-coated-solid-color-mesh-tarps

      It’s really a nice, heavyweight tarp. I paid $17.50 for it, which I didn’t think was bad considering the quality. I had seen this kind of vinyl-coated mesh tarp years ago when I worked for a trucking company — they’re the kinds of tarps our truckers would use to tarp a load. Very durable. (Of course, this one is a 5′ x 7′ and much smaller than truck-size.)

      If you are in the city, you can pick your orders up free with Chicago Canvas and avoid shipping charges too.

      I had looked at some playset/playground supply companies, and the replacement vinyl roofs for these climbers are pricey because many of them are a custom size that’s a couple inches smaller than 5×7′ – I saw them priced from $50 on up.

      The old tarp that came with our climber was about two inches shorter on each side, so I just mounted the tarp’s edges along the bottom edge of the climber’s “roof” boards instead of along the front edge to kind of use up that extra fabric.

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