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Simple Summer Tasks

Whether you’re cooling off indoors or working on your tan, take the time to perform some simple, routine home maintenance. Rising temperatures and sunny days make summer an ideal season for getting work done around the house. You’ll have a safer home if you catch problems and wear-and-tear before they become hazards.

 Keeping Cool Inside

Energy efficiency is a top priority when electricity bills climb as high as the temperatures outside. Hopefully you’ve had your air conditioning system checked in the spring, as repairmen are often busy in the summer and you may have to sweat it out until your appointment.

Ceiling fans provide an energy-efficient way of circulating cool air. Dust them if needed and balance any wobbly blades by tightening loose screws. For additional energy efficiency, check windows and doors for air leaks and seal with weather stripping or caulk as needed. You’re paying for the cool air, so take steps to be sure it’s not escaping outdoors.

Home Exterior Care and Landscaping

Take advantage of the warm weather and wash the outside of your windows and clean the siding. While it might be tempting to use a pressure washer, a garden hose is best to avoid potentially damaging the exterior of your home. Apply a coat of fresh paint if needed, and repair any damaged vinyl or aluminum siding.

Be aware of termites while you’re outside inspecting your home. Termites can easily go undetected until significant damage has been done. Look for telltale signs like flaking wood or mud buildup and tunneling systems in the exterior wood of your home. Professional pest control inspections are recommended if you have any suspicions of possible infestation.

Well-tended landscaping and a trim and tidy house are as welcoming to guests as the smells of a barbeque. Garden beds look their best when mulched and weeded. Summer annuals can be induced to produce more flowers and bloom longer when you deadhead them. Removing spent flowers also prevents the plant from going to seed. Check garden plants, trees, and shrubs for insect infestations. Unhealthy plants should be removed so that others may thrive.

Lush green grass is of course desirable; however, it is not always realistic or water-efficient. Encourage healthy grass growth with regular mowing, but remember: Keeping grass cut longer in the summer months will prevent roots from drying out as quickly.

Grass and plants should be watered in the morning to allow the water to soak through the soil throughout the day in order to completely nourish their root systems. Check to see if your municipality has water conservation restrictions before watering your lawn or garden.

Trees provide shady ambience and should be well cared for to avoid potential damage to your home. Keep their branches pruned and at a safe distance from your home to avoid storm-related damage. Inspect trees for signs of decay, such as cracks or hollowed limbs, and keep branches clear of your home and power lines. Arborists or tree care professionals can assist with the cutting and removal of large or high limbs.

Also, before planting additional trees and shrubs in your yard, take into consideration the plant’s size when mature and whether or not roots might intrude upon underground pipes or paved surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways.

Garage Upkeep

Hazardous materials such as paint and solvents should be disposed of properly. Don’t store heat-sensitive or combustible materials in the garage, as the temperature will be rising throughout the season. Inspect the floor for grease spots from leaking car fluids, and have your car serviced promptly if you find any.

If you have children, instruct them not to go in the garage unaccompanied. Store your hand tools and power tools behind a lock and key. Fertilizers, weed-killers, and pesticides should be stored out of a child’s reach or behind a locked cabinet. You might also consider organic gardening, which employs nontoxic alternatives to these poisonous chemicals.

Driveways And Walkways

Inspect the pavement for cracks and holes, and remedy them. This goes a long way in preventing accidental slips, trips, and falls. It also works to avoid larger repairs or resurfacing in the future. If you see weeds popping up between cracks in the pavement, resist the urge to pull them up. You’ll remove the upper part of the weed, but the root system will remain intact and new growth will return within a few weeks. For a cost-effective and chemical free solution, boil water in a kettle, carefully carry the kettle outside, and pour the water on any weeds to kill them off for the season.

 

Pest Prevention Tips

Here are a few easy steps you can take right now to stop pests and termites from invading your home:

Pest Tips

  • Seal cracks in your home’s exterior to help keep pests like ants, spiders and cockroaches from getting inside.
  • Be sure all doors and windows are properly sealed with tight-fitting screens and weather stripping.
  • Don’t leave uncovered food sitting out. It can attract flies that might land on it and spread harmful bacteria.
  • Consider storing clothing in plastic boxes or pouches to prevent fabric pests from getting to them.
  • Ensure that the attic and crawl space have sufficient ventilation. Proper ventilation creates an environment unsuitable for cockroaches and other pests. It also improves the heating and cooling efficiency of the home.
  • Do not allow pet food to sit out overnight, indoors or outdoors.
  • Remove any piles of debris, stones, bricks, etc., around your home. They serve as a harborage for pests, especially rodents.

Termite Tips

  • Repair any roof or plumbing leaks as soon as possible. These leaks can allow termites to survive above ground in a house.
  • Eliminate any wood-to-soil contact around your foundation and remove wood debris near your home.
  • Prevent mulch and soil from touching the siding of your home. They make it much easier for termites to enter.
  • Store firewood away from your home.
  • Use mesh screens on all windows and doors, as well as in ventilation openings for attics and crawl spaces.
  • Seal nail holes and cracks in exposed wood to help prevent easy access by drywood termites.
  • Contract with a professional pest control company to regularly inspect your home. This will help detect termite activity and allow for prompt and proper treatment.

A Typical Inspection

It’s beautiful, close to work, great schools; it’s the neighborhood you wanted…You’ve found “IT”… Your dream home!  With the open kitchen and that beautiful tile in the bathroom, and the price…well, it is what it is and you’re okay with that.  A few decorating touches and its perfect. 

You’re excited about this one.  You’re completely captivated with your new abode.  Most houses sell on looks. The open kitchen and fresh new paint do wonders for sales appeal and you’re already placing furniture in your mind. You know you should get a home inspection just in case, so you talk to your friends about who they used, search the web, check qualifications, affiliations, testimonials, and fees for the various inspectors, call up a few and go with the one you feel most comfortable with.

It’s the day of the inspection.  You’ve met the inspector, signed the contract and they’re ready to go.  The inspector starts his procedure and you’re following him around the house step by step with a nervous and joyous anxiety.  Then it happens, that first comment…”The roof appears to be at the end of its life and you should anticipate replacing it in the near future.” You think, hmmm… I didn’t notice that but I can deal with it. He checks some areas around the window trim with a screwdriver and finds that some moisture damaged wood had been painted over and several sills will need eventual replacing.  It’s only been a few minutes. You start to wonder what else he’ll find. 

He’s making notes on his laptop as he checks various items on the outside of the house.  Curiosity is getting the better of you and you realize this is not going to be a day at the beach, this is serious business and everything he is saying is translating into dollars and cents. He explains that there are no perfect houses, they all have problems, and that you should try to take things in one step at a time.  You’re grateful you choose this inspector and calm down, even if just a tiny bit. 

You were wondering if there was something structurally wrong with the house. The inspector says you have some typical cracks in the foundation and they are not a structural concern, but they should be sealed up to prevent moisture entry and termite entry and recommends getting it addressed by a professional.  You feel a little better though because you remember seeing those cracks and you had a major concern about them. The cracks were the reason you thought you should have an inspection in the first place.

 

The inspector points out a few other concerns on the exterior, namely a set of stairs with no railing and some offsets in the concrete walkway that he calls a trip hazard. He says both conditions are unsafe and should be corrected and you’re thinking this guy is too much of a perfectionist. He goes on to talk about  trips and falls being the number one health and safety hazard in a home. You realize again that he appears to really know what he’s talking about and you’re happy about that.

You’re now moving on to the garage, then the basement.  You noticed as he tests an exterior outlet. He does this again at the garage outlet and states that the GFCI receptacle is inoperative, a safety hazard, and needs repair by an electrician. He explains that a GFCI is a safety device that can actually save your life in certain instances, and should be present at all areas where electricity and water are in close contact, such as exteriors, garage outlets, kitchen counters, bathrooms, and unfinished basements. Since you have an older house, he is expecting that you have some in a few places. He says he may also recommend additional GFCI outlets be added as a safety upgrade. He also tests the garage door and states that the auto-reverse mechanism is inoperative and needs to be adjusted or repaired.

On to the basement. He checks the framing at the perimeter of the house with a three foot long probe and states everything seems OK, looks at the rest of the basement framing, makes a few checks, and its on to plumbing. He checks the main line, the supply lines, the gas lines, the drain lines. Everything is going much better now. At the new water heater he pauses, checks the label and states the water heater may be at the end of its service life. You’re thinking, “but it looks brand new…” He explains that the tank appears to be about 10 years old as indicated by the serial number on the nameplate, which is beyond the normal life expectancy of a water heater and you should plan on replacing it before it becomes a problem. Okay – deep breath, that’s just a trip to Home Depot.

On to electrical. The inspector unscrews the service panel door, looks inside for a while and states that there are a few double tapped circuits that should be separated by using “skinny” breakers and that labeling could be improved. Not so bad. He also notes a few uncovered junction boxes that need covers and an open splice, where two wires are connected with tape, important fire safety hazards that need correction.  It all sounds like Greek at first, but he does a fantastic job of explaining what is there and what needs to be done and why.

He checks the gas heater and gives it a clean bill of health. It’s a ten year old cast iron boiler that he says should last a long time.  Whew…

He says the worst is over now and you follow him upstairs. The upstairs inspection seems to move much faster. The inspector checks the kitchen, no real problems except some dings in the vinyl floor. The toilet in the bathroom needs a new wax seal, a sink needs a new faucet, small stuff in comparison. He moves through the dining room, living room, and bedrooms, checking electrical outlets and windows, looking at the ceiling, walls, and what he can see of the floor. He also checks the heat in each room with a cool little laser thermometer as he cruises from room to room. A few things come up, nothing major. He has been shutting all the windows in the house as he goes for the radon test.

Last place he goes is the attic. He gets up in the scuttle hole and disappears from view, but you hear him walking around above you. He says that the framing is okay but you could use more insulation for energy savings and you will also need some extra attic ventilation as well. The bathroom ventilator terminates in the attic and can cause condensation problems, he says. He recommends rerouting it to the outside. You’re nearly done!

He places radon canisters in the basement and you discuss the protocol of the test and when to pick up the test canisters.

He completes his final notes and asks if you have any questions.  Reminding you that you’ll get your fainl report via email, he notes a few remaining things on this laptop.  He reminds you to read it carefully and to call if you have any concerns or questions.  You pay the man and he’s on his way. 

And that’s it.  You’re adding up estimates in your head of the items he’s mentioned during the inspection.  Quick math and then considering the current price of the house – Its up to you to decide if it’s worth the current price or if you’d like to negotiate.  You’re impressed with the inspector’s Non-Alarming approach and his way explaining that this is not a Pass or Fail scenario.  This is an education of what condition your dream home is and what you need to anticipate in the immediate and not so immediate future.  The point is that almost all homes need repairs and some of these may be major. You must decide whether the house is worth it, whether you’d like to negotiate a lower price, or whether you’ll walk away due to unanticipated major repairs.

Your not exactly overjoyed, there is a lot to consider and you have a little more homework than you bargained for, but you’re glad you hired that home inspector!

Termite Infestation

How Do I Know If My House Is Infested?

Large carton nests in trees, attics, wall voids, etc., are obvious signs of an infestation. Sometimes the damage caused by Formosan subterranean termites is not so obvious. Soft spots, damp or moist patches, bulges, and blistered paint or wallpaper in walls, doors, floors, and other areas may indicate termite activity underneath. Probing these areas with a screwdriver may reveal damaged wood, soil, carton, and live termites. Formosan subterranean termite infestations are recognized by the presence of lots of soldiers.

Subterranean termites crawling above ground build mud shelter tubes because they do not like being exposed in the open to light and air. The tubes keep the termites from drying out and shield them from predators, such as ants, and natural enemies. Shelter tubes are often found on walls coming up from the ground or floor. They may also be found sticking out or dropping down to the ground in crawl spaces, under porches or stairways, etc. Tubes and carton may be in places where they are difficult to see such as stucco or plaster cracks, tree holes, tree crotches, etc. You can break the tubes open to check for termites.

Remember that Formosan subterranean termites swarm during the evening from April through July. Keep in mind that swarmers outside around your home could be emerging and flying in from somewhere else. Check carefully around the premises to see if they are coming from your property.

What Should I Do If I Have Formosan Subterranean Termites?

The best thing to do is to have the infestation professionally treated. There are two types of control available: soil termiticides and baits. The treatment used depends largely on the type and size of the infestation, and which one the homeowner is most comfortable with.

Soil Termiticides

Pre-treatment. Treating soil with a liquid termiticide creates a chemical barrier beneath the structure. Depending on the chemical, the termites will either avoid tunneling through treated soil or die soon after they come in contact with it. Soil termiticides have been the standard preventive treatment for subterranean termites up until the mid-1990s. Termiticides are applied before the foundation slab of a structure is poured. Under ideal conditions, protection should last from 5 to 7 years; but under less than ideal conditions or because of improper application it can be much less. The slightest break in the protective barrier is all that is needed for termites to reach a structure. They can tunnel through areas in the soil where no termiticide is present. Expansion joints, cracks, and utility and plumbing lines are common termite entry points through a concrete slab. Termiticide breakdown, soil erosion, improper application, and careless construction practices (such as leaving wooden grade stakes in the slab or disturbing treated soil) are several ways that the chemical barrier can be broken.

Post-construction treatment. When infestations occur after a structure has been built, termiticides are applied by one of three methods: rodding, drilling, or trenching. In the first, termiticide is injected directly into the soil at specific intervals around the perimeter of the house and beneath the slab with a rodder, an injection tool with a long, hollow, metal rod with an open tip. Drilling involves making holes through concrete slabs, walkways, patios, walls, and floors in order to treat the soil beneath the slab or inside wall voids. Trenching involves digging a shallow trench (about 6 X 6 inches) around the base of the home, applying termiticide to the trench and the backfill and then refilling the trench.

Baits

Baiting systems provide an alternative to liquid termiticides. Developed in the early 1990s, they are also effective against the Formosan subterranean termite. Baiting involves placing bait stations in the soil around the outside of the house. The stations contain small pieces of wood (in some products the stations are installed with both wood and bait) and are checked regularly for termites. When termites are found in a station, the wood is removed and replaced with the bait. The bait is either a paper- or cardboard-like material or textured cellulose that contains a substance that slowly kills the termites. The idea behind baiting is that the termites feed on the bait and get a dose of the active ingredient. Although this does not kill the termites immediately, it gives them enough time to feed the other termites in the colony. Eventually, all the members of the colony are affected. The termites begin dying and the population of the colony is severely reduced or eliminated.

Several different baiting systems are now being used by pest management professionals or are commercially available. Some have insect growth regulators (known as IGRs) as their active ingredient (AI). These are chemical compounds that act like termite hormones and keep the termites from developing normally. Other AIs prevent the termites from getting energy from their food.

Aboveground bait stations are also available and are used when termites are found in walls, doors, posts, flooring, etc. The stations are placed directly on areas where termites are present so that they can begin feeding immediately on the bait.

Advantages of baiting are:

  • It is non-invasive (the baits are odorless and no liquid is involved so the soil remains pesticide-free).
  • Technicians usually do not need to enter the house (unless in-ground stations are needed indoors).
  • Drilling through floors and walls is usually not required.
  • There is no exposure to the active ingredient because it is self-contained within the bait station.
  • Only a small amount of an active ingredient (sometimes less than 1/20 oz.) is used for an entire treatment.
  • The active ingredients are relatively harmless to humans and so little is used it makes it even safer.

The main disadvantage is that control is not immediate. It may take from several months to over a year to rid the home of termites.

How Can I Keep My Home From Being Infested?

There are numerous ways you can reduce the chance of your home being infested by Formosan and other subterranean termites:

  • Remove any wood or cellulose-containing material (such as cardboard) that is in direct contact with bare ground.
  • Carefully inspect wooden items, especially railroad ties, for termites before buying them.
  • Do not leave wooden items such as planters, tubs, trellises, railroad ties, firewood, and stakes on top of or in bare ground.
  • Anchor wooden posts for fences, decks, porches, sheds, etc. in cement so that no wood is contacting bare ground.
  • Structural wood at or near ground level should be pressure-treated with a wood preservative. Preservatives mainly protect against wood-decaying fungi but are also effective against termites.
  • Maintain a zone of at least one foot around the outside of your home that is clear of plants and other landscaping materials. This reduces soil moisture and makes it easier to inspect for shelter tubes coming up from the ground.
  • Install rain gutters to prevent water from dripping down around the perimeter of your home.
  • Keep rain gutters clear so that water drains quickly and does not accumulate and soak the upper walls and roof of your home.
  • Fix or replace leaky outdoor faucets and water lines.
  • Gutter downspouts and air conditioner condensate lines should empty out at least one foot away from the base of the home.
  • The ground next to your home should slope away so that water does not pool next to it.
  • Keep sprinklers from wetting the walls of your home.
  • Fix leaks in the basement, roof, water heater, appliances, and other sources inside your home. These leaks moisten wood and create damp environments that Formosan and other subterranean termites like to live in.
  • Remove all wooden grade stakes, form boards, supports, and scrap wood after finishing construction or remodeling.
  • Remove dead trees and plants including the roots and stumps, if possible, from your yard.
  • Eliminate or reduce the use of mulch and wood chips around the foundation of your home. This eliminates cooler and moist soil conditions favored by Formosan and other subterranean termites.

Intersted in learning more about ways you can improve your property and avoid Insect Infestations?  Call us today!