Archive for the ‘Home Inspections’ Category

Mouse Problems?

The following is a reprint of an article from Popular Mechanics – “Weapons of Mouse Destruction: How to Eliminate Relentless Rodents.”  

As I read this article I was reminded of the first few times that a mouse had taken out out our kitchen stove.  Yes – and we had to replace them (twice).  So now you know that we have our pest control company come each year to be sure that doesn’t happen again.

The Mouse

The mouse: It’s a pest that has been invading  human living spaces ever since we holed up in caves. The hardy creatures require  little food and virtually no water, allowing them to thrive in modern buildings,  behind our walls and under our floors.
Although cute and squeaky in the  wild, mice are a dangerous nuisance in the home. The critters chew up insulation  and gnaw through electrical wiring, creating a fire hazard. Mice can contaminate  food with their feces. They carry fleas and diseases. Many people are allergic  to the animal’s urine. To top it off, the rodents breed prolifically; in several  weeks a few mice can become a dozen.
Mouse intrusions happen year-round,  but tend to spike in many parts of the country in the summer months and late  fall, according to Ralph H. Maestre, technical director at Magic Pest Management  based in Flushing, New York.  Exterminators have developed a full arsenal of  methods to kill, capture and control the millions of rodents, mostly mice, who  aim to set up shop in our homes and businesses, from the simple and iconic  mousetrap to far more elaborate attacks. Here’s a look at the weapons of mouse  destruction.

Kill Zones: Front-line Traps

The traditional way to fight mouse infestation is with  traps. Inquisitive mice can’t help but check them out, especially if there’s  bait. “Mice are very curious about the new things in their environment,” says  Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for the National Pest Management  Association.
Traps come in three basic varieties. First, classic snap  traps, whose invention dates back to 1894. “To this day, the original  old-fashioned snap trap is one of the most effective traps we have,” Fredericks  says. While going for the bait in these traps, the mouse steps on a trip and,  SNAP!, a spring-loaded bar slams down with backbreaking force.
A second  class, glue or sticky traps, uses strong adhesives to ensnare mice. (However,  glue traps have raised the hackles of some animal-rights proponents, as stuck  mice will sometimes chew through their limbs or rip themselves apart trying to  break free.)
A third and less gruesome option is multiple-catch or live  traps. Through mechanical means-spring-loaded doors, flippers,  teeter-totter-like levers and the like-the traps capture several mice in a  storage area. The spared vermin can then be deposited far from the dwelling to  keep them from coming back.
As for the choice of bait, skip the  traditional cheddar cheese. “Mice really like seeds, chocolate, peanut butter  and bacon,” says Greg Baumann, Orkin technical services  director.

Mousetraps 2.0: Unconventional Killing Machines

“Building a better mousetrap” isn’t just an adage.  Exterminator pros are always trying to come up with better ways to catch  rodents.
The Rat Zapper by AgriZap uses ordinary food bait to lure a  mouse or rat, just like a traditional mousetrap does. But then the device zaps  the rodent to kingdom come, courtesy of four D batteries. Victor makes various  electronic mouse traps as well, including one that can catch and fry 10 mice.
Another alternative trap is the NOOSKI, made in New Zealand. As a mouse  enters the trap, it must stick its head through a rubber ring-which instantly  contracts and suffocates the little bugger.
Perhaps the most advanced  mousetrap around is the RADAR (Rodent Activated Detection And Riddance) device  by U.K. company Rentokil Pest Control, geared for commercial use. When a mouse  scampers into RADAR’s tunnel and crosses two consecutive infrared beams, the  trap seals shut and floods the chamber with a deadly dose of carbon dioxide. As  a courtesy, RADAR notifies its owner via text message when the deed is done.

Poisons: Gobbling Down Some Sweet Death

If traps don’t take care of your mouse problem, maybe  it’s time to switch to chemical warfare. Poisonous baits sold in pellet form, or  in newer putty formulations, turn the natural tendency of mice to gnaw and  nibble against them.
So-called rodenticides come in a number of  varieties, but the most common are anticoagulants. These compounds cause  internal hemorrhaging, ending a mouse’s life in a few days. If you choose this  route to kill mice, however, keep a supply of vitamin K1 around: It’s an  antidote to the anticoagulants that you can give to cats and dogs if they eat  the poison, Fredericks says.
Other creative chemistries for dispatching  mice include metal phosphide-laced baits, he says. When zinc phosphide reacts  with the acid in a rodent’s stomach, highly toxic phosphine gas forms. Vitamin D  is another killing agent. The vitamin makes mice absorb too much calcium from  their food, while leaching the mineral from their bones. The resulting  hypercalcemia (excessive levels of calcium in the blood) damages the heart,  kidneys and other organs.
Fredericks points out that all pesticides,  including rodenticides, must be approved by the EPA and are regulated by state  agencies. In other words, custom cocktails are not available. “Pros definitely  don’t make their own secret recipe,” he says.

Tracking Tech: Seek and Destroy

Mice are frustratingly elusive, nibbling on food left  out at night and vanishing during the day. But, unbeknownst to the rodents, they  leave signs that reveal their movements. Those signs just happen to be in UV.  Mouse urine fluoresces in UV light, so shining a black light around can show  where the rodents pee. “The use of black lights is really a great inspection  tool,” Fredericks says, though it takes a trained eye to discern genuinely  glowing mouse urine from splashes of, say, floor-scrubbing detergent.
Simply leaving traps wherever you find mouse droppings might not be the best  approach, though, says Douglas Stern, managing partner at New Jersey-based Stern  Environmental Group. His company developed a fluorescent powder that could help  you track mice back to their nests. “When the mice walk on the powder, they get  it on their feet and it leaves a footprint,” Stern says. To get the powder onto  the mice, load it into a box with food or dust it onto cotton balls, which the  mice nab as nesting material. Then follow the footprints, which appear under UV,  to find where the mice have set up shop. This lets you set up traps there, or  seal off an outside entry point if mice are entering into the house from  outdoors.
The so-called Track & Trap system has yet to become  widespread, but Stern envisions the product having key niche applications. ‘I  think it’s going to be very popular in instances where you have mice running  around and no one knows where they’re coming from,‚Äù he tells PM. Meanwhile,  major manufacturer Bell Labs has also started selling rodenticide food pellets  doped with chemicals to make mouse

Fight Animals With Animals

Release the hounds! Exterminators today are taking a  cue from law enforcement and turning to dogs’ supersensitive noses for smelling  bed bugs, ants and termites. Dogs are just beginning to enter the field of mouse  control, Fredericks says, but canines could potentially sniff out rodent  headquarters.
Cats, of course, are the traditional nemesis of mice. “I  think there’s probably a lot of farmers that would swear their barn cats keep  the mice out,” Fredericks says. But the idea of a house cat attacking your mouse  problem is probably more cartoon fodder than reality. A standard domesticated  cat that lives in a house is probably not really hungry enough to be interested  in killing mice,” he says. In fact, Baumann describes a case where mice stole  cat food right out of the dish and hoarded it under the stove without the pet so  much as raising a paw.
Finally, for those homeowners who aren’t like  Indiana Jones, snakes are always a fine predatory option. Case in point: Corn  snakes, a popular, nonvenomous pet which winds around prey constrictor-style,  love dining on mice.
Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that a barrage of  traps, poisons or high-tech repellents will solve a mouse problem, especially if  mice find your home to be a sanctuary. The best approach, then, is one of the  simplest: Make your home inhospitable to rodents. “Keep in mind, mice are pretty  much like us. They need food, water and a place to live,” Baumann says.  Eliminate those resources by keeping the house clean and sealed off, and store  food in secure containers.

Repellants and Fortifications: Defense is the Best  Offense

Preventing rodents from infiltrating the home in the  first place has become big business. A number of rodent-repelling odorants are  sold at hardware and home stores, including Critter Out spray, Fresh Cab Scent  Pouches and Shake Away Rodent Repellant Granules that claim to smell like  predators, banking on fear to keep mice away. Some people swear by strong  scents, such as pine or cayenne peppers, or even dryer sheets. But experts say  the effectiveness is questionable.
On the high-tech side, several  companies offer ultrasonic repellers that supposedly keep mice at bay with sound  waves. These devices send out sound waves above 20 kilohertz, the typical human  high-end threshold for hearing, and some modulate between 32 and 64 kHz so  undesirable animals cannot adapt. But Orkin’s Baumann and others are skeptical.  “My favorite is the fact when [manufacturers] say these things will repel  insects, rodents, birds-only the bad stuff-but if you have a bird or a dog, it  won’t be affected,” Baumann says. “There might be some promise with these  products coming out in the near future, but I’ve not seen any scientific data to  suggest that they actually work.”
Simply shoring up a home might be the  best way to thwart rodent intruders. Do a residence self-inspection by checking  the foundation for holes, and spaces under doors. “If you walk around your house  and see any hole that a pencil can fit though, a mouse can fit through,” Baumann  says. Seal up those holes with caulk, weatherstripping or steel wool, which mice  can’t chew through. Follow up with regular patrols of your property.

Installation Musts for Below Grade Bathroom Fixtures – A Reprint from Inman News

This is important information when installing bathroom fixtures bel0w-grade (in the basement) – this comes from Inman News ( author Paul Bianchina

Q: We need to install  a toilet and sink just below grade going into a septic system for my elderly  parents. Do we need an ejector-type toilet? Also is there a specific make/brand  that we should be looking at? Does someone also make an ejector sink or is  there a way to connect it to the toilet? –Susan M.


A: For the type of installation you describe, where both the  toilet and the sink are below grade, you actually need a sewage ejector pump.  With this type of installation, all of the liquid and solid waste from all of  the below-grade fixtures flows into a holding tank.


When the waste reaches a  certain level, a float mechanism triggers a pump, which pumps the waste up to  the home’s main sewer line. With this type of arrangement, you can also install  other fixtures below grade, such as a shower, bathtub or washing machine.


A complete installation includes the holding tank, which is  a noncorrosive tank that’s usually around 30 gallons of capacity; the pump and  float; a waste line that’s connected to the home’s sewer line; and a vent line  that’s connected to the home’s plumbing vent system. A grounded electrical  connection is also required for the pump.


If you’re not familiar with this type of installation,  you’ll want to have it done by a licensed plumber who’s experienced with  remodeling work. You’ll also need to check with your local building department  to see what plumbing and electrical permits will be required for the  installation.


Q: We recently  purchased a 7-year-old brick home with a crawl space. The inspector said we  need to get a vapor barrier installed in the crawl space to prevent mold. We  haven’t moved in completely yet but do stay at the house for four to eight days  a month.


During our last stay  we noticed that it took a long time to get hot water to the kitchen faucet.  It’s about 30-35 feet from the water heater. I haven’t been in the crawl space  but I’m wondering whether the floor is insulated. What would you recommend we  do? –Dave H.


A: You actually have three different issues here, so let’s  take them separately, along with my recommendations.


The vapor barrier in the crawl space is used to prevent  moisture from the soil from migrating up into the crawl space and, as the  inspector suggests, potentially causing mold problems. It can also cause  problems on the wood framing, and other issues in the crawl space. The vapor  barrier should be 6-mil black plastic sheeting, laid directly on the  dirt.


Crawl-space vapor barriers have been code for quite some  time, so it’s surprising that your 7-year-old house doesn’t have one. My  recommendation: Have a vapor barrier installed as soon as possible.


Issue No. 2 is the floor insulation. Because you had a home  inspection, the inspector would have noted the presence — or lack thereof —  of floor insulation in his report. A crawl space definitely needs a vapor  barrier if it has floor insulation, so unless the vapor barrier was removed for  some reason, you probably don’t have an insulated floor.


My recommendation: Floor insulation definitely helps with  heat loss, so it will keep your home more comfortable and keep your energy  bills down. If the floor isn’t insulated, I’d certainly suggest that you have  that done.


While floor insulation can help with hot water delivery by  keeping water pipes from losing heat, that’s not going to be the cause of your  delay in getting hot water to rooms that are some distance away from the tank.


My recommendation: Drain and flush the tank to be sure it’s  clean and operating properly. Check the thermostats to be sure they’re set  properly. Insulate all the water pipes under the house. Consider having a  plumber install a recirculating pump, which will make a big difference in how  fast hot water makes it to the back of the house.


Q: We live in a 2  1/2-story home with a finished attic. We recently had it insulated. I just  found out that [the insulators] didn’t insulate the attic floor, which I  thought they were supposed to have done. My husband says they shouldn’t, that  it needs to be “open.” Who’s right? –Kris C.


A: Insulation is used primarily to slow down the movement of  heat between heated spaces and unheated spaces, such as between the inside of  the house and the outside, or between a living space and an unheated attic.


Because both your main house and the attic above it are heated living spaces,  from an energy standpoint there is no reason to insulate the floor between the  two spaces. You could, however, insulate it if you wanted to reduce transmitted  noise from that upper room.


Remodeling and repair  questions? Email Paul at All product reviews are based on the author’s actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

January – National Radon Month

For those who may not know, radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas formed by the natural breakdown of uranium.  It can be found in high concentrations in rock and soil containing granite, shale, phosphate and uranium, or even in fill soil containing industrial waste.

It can be present in any area, in any home.  Its source can be the radon in the soil or the building products used in a home.  Studies say that approximately one in 15 homes in the US and Canada has high levels of naturally-occurring radon gas.  Generally the potential, however, is greater in hilly or mountainous areas and lower in sandy, coastal areas.

According to various sources on the web, depending on how houses are built and ventilated, radon may accumulate in basements and dwellings. It can also seep into an indoor environment through cracks in solid floors, construction joints, cracks in walls, gaps in suspended floors, gaps around service pipes, cavities inside walls, and the water supply.  Radon concentrations in the same location may differ by a factor of two over a period of one hour. Also, the concentration in one room of a building may be significantly different than the concentration in an adjoining room.territory.

According to the EPA website ( there are two ways to test:

(1) The quickest way to test is with short-term tests.  Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device.  “Charcoal canisters,” “alpha track,” “electret     ion chamber,” “continuous monitors,” and “charcoal liquid scintillation”     detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon     levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test     is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test     followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.

(2) Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days.  “Alpha track” and “electret”     detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.

Why consider testing? According to the EPA website:

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe.  As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy.  This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course  of your lifetime.  Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer.  And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be  many years.

Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because  estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).

Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk.  Stop smoking and lower your radon level to reduce your lung cancer risk.

If you are buying a home, consider a short term test.  Generally for less than $100 extra during a home inspection, you can put your mind at ease.

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