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The Ins and Outs of Home Pest Control

a.k.a. "I want you out of my house NOW!!!!"

In this article...

How can I get the bugs (among other things) out of my pest control program?

Mice everywhere!! I've had an exterminator but the problem recurs every year. Help!!

NH, do you have a favorite NIGHTMARE STORY about bugs?


How can I get the bugs (among other things) out of my pest control program?

I take my hat off to the pest control industry. Through the creative use of chemicals, they have helped to eliminate disease, protect our property, and improve the overall quality of our lives. Pest control at home, though, starts with you. There are a number of simple things you can do to lessen the chance of infestation, whether it's from termites, ants, or even rodents.

  • Don't put out a welcome mat for them. Keep stacks of firewood away from the house. Keep trees and bushes trimmed from the house so your siding doesn't get damp and moldy. Don't leave piles of brush or leaves near the house.
  • If your siding is close to ground level, be sure that leaves or brush do not accumulate and cover the siding. Even if you have vinyl of aluminum siding, the materials under the siding may not be moisture resistant.
  • Have your roof checked by a pro every few years to look for signs of deterioration in the roof itself and all flashing. One particular spot that is prone to leakage is the flashing around the chimney. The reason this is important, even if you do not see any obvious wall or ceiling stains inside the house, is that damp wood attracts carpenter ants, and once they move in, they will do considerable damage to your home.
  • Bird houses are a joy to many people during the winter months. But the fact is that the seed does not only attract birds. Rodents also love the seed, and will more likely take up residence in your house if you supply them such a fine food source close to great motel accommodations... your home.

Natural Handyman is Unfair to Mice!

Mice everywhere!! I've had an exterminator but the problem recurs every year. Help!

Much of commercial pest control today is based on the use of various chemicals. Whether they are injected into the ground to protect your house from termites, sprayed to repel or kill insects, or left as poison bait for rodents, the primary thrust is, to use a quaint but appropriate saying, to "close the barn door after the cows ran away".

Though the small size of insects makes it difficult to eliminate all access points to your home, the same cannot be said for rodents. Though mice can enter a home through ridiculously small openings, the fact is that they are unlikely to use a crack under your front door for access. What they will do if find an access point that is more concealed and less obvious.

The solution is called exclusion. Simply stated, exclusion means to eliminate all entry points for the little devils. Nothing really fancy here. Rodents are creative in their own way, but also lazy. They are not going to chew away at the outside of your house to gain access. If they can't get in easily, they will take the easy route and go to your neighbors house. Good riddance!

The hardest part of exclusion is getting to all the possible entry points, which can be in hard-to-reach corners behind years of accumulated junk. And then there are the years of accumulated doo-doo you will become familiar with as you conduct your search! Wear a dust mask, grit your teeth, and do it! Just think of the nice hot shower you'll truly deserve when you are done!!

A few tips:

  • Check all around the perimeter of the foundation... inside and outside. As you go around, look for evidence of a nest. They love to set up housekeeping in the fiberglass insulation commonly put in basement ceilings. If you locate a nest (straw or string, seeds, nut shells, droppings, etc.), the entry point is probably not far away. If you find an opening of any size, seal it up. You can use caulk to seal small cracks and holes. An old and effective remedy for larger openings is to stuff steel wool into the hole. Of course, if you run into humongous openings, get out the saw and screw a piece of scrap wood over the opening.
  • Obvious places to check are the openings around exterior faucets, electrical service entrances and other electrical fixtures. USE EXTREME CAUTION around any electrical fixtures. Turning off the power is necessary before any removal of fixtures.
  • Another easy access point are the metal 'Bilco' doors leading to a basement. The doors do not seal particularly well. If you find that this is your homes weak spot, I would suggest installing a secondary door in the basement. A modern prehung steel door will do a good job of keeping them out.

Do you have a favorite NIGHTMARE STORY about bugs?

Here are two stories about carpenter ants from the Natural Handyman's "I Hate Ants" Fan Club Archives!! Actually, I shouldn't complain, 'cause these little critters do supply some of us with a continual flow of new work!!

One of my customers complained about weird noises coming from her bedroom wall for about a year. Whenever I was there, though, the noise seemed to stop. One day I finally heard it. Sounded like someone eating Rice Krispies in the next room, except the next room was outside!

Realizing that the chimney was outside that wall, I went up onto the roof to check for openings or leaks. Sure enough, there were gaps in the flashing that were allowing rainwater to enter the space between the chimney and the wall. There was no staining on any of the walls or downstairs ceiling, though, so the leak was "silent but deadly."

I sealed the cracks with roof cement (though I recommended she have a roofing contractor completely redo the flashing, since roof cement is not a permanent fix for any roofing problem). Then I suggested she contact a professional exterminator, and she did.

I returned to the house a few weeks later. Surgery occurred at 9:15 A.M. I cut open the drywall wall, while the Terminator waited, poised for action!! When I pulled away the first panel, what we found was both enlightening and disgusting. The contractor who built her home used an aluminum-faced foam insulation board between the drywall and the framing. This product is a great way to beef up the insulating value of a wall without the expense of using 2x6 studs.

What I didn't know, but was about to find out, is that foam insulation board is heaven for carpenter ants. The noise in the wall was the sound of the ants chewing the foam insulation! They had taken up residence between the two layers of aluminum, and had tunneled out about 60 square feet of the insulation!!

This house was only about 5 years old, and the builder was at fault allowing inadequate flashing at a critical location. However, had the homeowner gotten an annual inspection of her roof, this problem may have been avoided.

And our second story, shorter but no less sweet...

A customer called to complain that his toilet was leaking around the base and the floor seemed soft around it. I went out to look at the job, and gave my usual caveat before accepting the work... it could be anything!!

Because there was evidence of water on top of the vinyl floor covering, diagnosis wasn't too difficult. And since there was no leakage from the tank or the water supply, it had to be the wax ring.

But to know extent of the damage could not be done until the toilet was up and out. One problem with having a vinyl floor covering around a toilet is that any moisture that leaks under the vinyl just sits there forever, never drying. And the plywood rots, the floor softens, the toilet loosens, and the leak becomes more severe, until evidence appears downstairs or the crapper just falls through the floor!!

Well, the fateful day arrived, and, after making all the textbook disconnections, pulled off the toilet.

And guess what... right, a gazillion carpenter ants see light for the first time! They had tunneled into the damp plywood floor, and I had to replace about 16 square feet of floor. Love those ants!!

How did this happen?

The smell of moist wood had attracted the ants. They found the insulation and the plywood, and moved in... with a growing family! Needless to say, I was unnerved by the sight of millions of ants streaming into the room!

And this can happen to any of us if we ignore the warning signs of moisture in our homes!!

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