Archive for the ‘Popular Mechanics’ 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.

9 Things to Fix Around the House Before They Get Worse – A Reprint

It is important that you consider the little things that keep your house in good condition, whether you intend to stay there or to sell.  It is not surprising how these little things can cause big problems when not addressed prompty.


No matter how much time you spend safeguarding your home and performing routine maintenance to keep everything in tip-top condition, you’ll still be blindsided by unexpected breakdowns. But often you can eliminate potential problems before they arise, saving yourself a lot of money and hassle.

Replace Washer Hoses to Avoid a Flood

Approximately $170 million in damages is caused to homes in the U.S. every year because of washing machine hose failures, according to State Farm Insurance. “We advise our customers to inspect their washing machine hoses regularly. Make sure the connections are secure,” says Dick Luedke, spokesman for State Farm. “You should also make sure there are at least 4 inches of clearance between the water connection and the back of the washing machine. This reduces the chances that the hose will kink. We would also advise that you do not leave your washing machine running while you are not at home.”

Reinforced rubber and stainless-steel hoses can break, even the ones that say “burst-resistant” or “burst-proof.” The hoses typically fail at the same spot—the coupling. But cracks and leaks at the connection point are common, too, so check that as well. If your hoses are more than five years old, replace them with ones made from braided stainless steel. That $20 investment for a two-pack can eliminate thousands of dollars of damage from hoses that fail.

Clean Your Fridge’s Coils Before Its Performance Deteriorates

Coils underneath or behind a refrigerator attract dust, debris and dog hair. Besides being unsightly, dirty coils can restrict airflow and make the fridge work harder, which could shorten its life span and reduce its efficiency. “If coils get dirty enough to block the air exchange or reduce air exchange, then cleaning them will help improve the energy consumption and cooling capacity,” says Lakshmanan Ramamoorthi, senior consumer scientist, refrigerator technology, for Whirlpool.

Use a refrigerator coil brush ($10 at home centers) to wipe the coils clean. If you have a newer fridge, you may be off the hook. Some new models have the coils encased, so cleaning isn’t necessary. For the rest of us, clean the coils twice a year.

It’s unlikely that dirty coils will shorten your appliance’s life too much, but cleaning them could give you an energy efficiency boost. And while you’re at it, follow these additional tips from Lucinda Ottusch, a consumer advocate at Whirlpool. “Reduce the quantity of ‘old items’ in the refrigerator that will no longer be used and block airflow from effectively cooling the other items. Adjust the controls for the refrigerator and freezer to meet your needs—having items that are colder than they need to be uses additional energy.”

Remove Dryer Lint Before It Catches on Fire

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that clothes dryer fires occur about 15,600 times each year. The leading cause of these fires is lint in the trap, the vent and the area around the dryer—lint is highly combustible. If your clothes take a long time to dry or the dryer is hot to the touch, your dryer vent may be obstructed.

While cleaning out the lint trap inside the dryer after each use is easy, cleaning out the vent itself is a multistep operation. Here’s a quick step-by-step:

– Unplug the dryer.

– Pull the dryer away from the wall.

– Uncouple its connector to the wall. Replace the connector if you find it’s a flexible plastic vent; these are designed for venting bathroom fans, not dryers. Replace the connector if it’s dented, cut or severely kinked.

– Use the vent-cleaning rods, or brush by hand to make an initial pass to clean out the dryer vent. Push and pull the rod/brush combo and work the vent clean.

– Then, attach a cordless drill and spin clean the vent Go outside, remove the exhaust grille and repeat the procedure from the outside. If the entire dryer vent run is more than a few feet long, you can actually use an electric leaf blower to blow the vent clean. Set its nozzle into the dryer-vent opening in the wall on the inside of the house and blow the vent clear (inside to outside) while brushing the vent clean. Yes, this means that you’ve got this blowing in your face as you clean from the outside, but do you want the vent clean or don’t you?

– Remove the dryer’s front panel and clean the inside of the appliance, being particularly fastidious to remove lint accumulation near the burner (if gas) or near the heater-element box, if it’s electric.

– If possible, remove the panel shielding the moisture-sensor assembly. Clean the assembly itself and any lint that could interfere with the dryer’s ability to read moisture.

Free a Stubborn Sliding Door Before It Gets Stuck

If opening and closing your patio door is akin to working out, then debris is probably clogging the track and jamming the wheels. You’ll want to fix the problem before you break the handle (or strain a muscle) tugging on the door.

Start by removing the door from the track. The removal process can vary by door, but typically, it requires removing the screws at the top and bottom rails, then pulling off the stile cover that keeps the door panels from lifting out. Then lift up the door and pull the bottom toward you to remove it from the track.

It’s a good idea to have a helper since the door is heavy. Lay the door flat and look at the wheels along the bottom. If they’re broken, you’ll need to replace them. Otherwise, clean the wheels, door bottom, and door track with warm, soapy water. Wipe everything dry, then replace the door. Spray silicone lubricant on the track, then slide the door back and forth a few times to spread out the lubricant across the track.

Fix Up Crumbling Masonry Before Cracks Widen

Crumbling mortar can cause bricks to come loose and even fall out of the wall or chimney. When you notice deep cracks in the mortar and wasps are taking up residence in holes in your masonry, it’s time to act. It may be that only one side of a house, chimney or retaining wall has problems, but it needs to be fixed before it gets worse.

To make minor mortar repairs, you can start by grouting: Mix up portland cement, lime and sand and force it into cracks in the mortar. (Be aware that the new mortar probably won’t match the existing color exactly, but it will weather over time for a pretty close match.)

To make more serious mortar repairs, though, you’ll have to get out the tuckpointing tools. Tuckpointing involves using an angle grinder and a plugging chisel to remove the old mortar to a depth of about three-quarters of an inch to an inch. After you mix up the mortar, put it onto a hawk or trowel, hold it next to the wall, then use a pointing trowel to pack the mortar into the joints. When the mortar starts to harden, use a joint strike tool to “finish” the joints, starting with the vertical joints and finishing with the horizontal ones.

However (and this is important): Tuckpointing is a much bigger repair job than grouting; it has the potential to cause serious damage if not done right. So if your home needs major mortar repair and you want to do it yourself, first be sure to get some training.

Secure Loose Rails Before You Take a Header Off the Deck

Deck posts and railings that rock back and forth can break off. Screws and nails won’t fix this problem. This job calls for a special connector that secures the railings to the deck framing and meets code requirements.

Several companies offer this type of connection. Simpson Strong-Tie Company, for example, has a DTT2 Deck Post Connector that attaches posts to joists. Simpson Strong-Tie advises: “Because the post is tied back into the deck joists, rather than to the rim joist alone, the connection is stronger than typical through-bolt installations and complies with IRC and IBC code requirements regarding handrail and guardrail post connections for decks.”

Snip Wayward Carpet Strands to Eliminate Runs

This one’s easy, but surprisingly important. Strands of loop carpet that stick up higher than the rest of the floor need to be cut down to size. Otherwise, you can catch one with your vacuum cleaner or have a curious kid pull on it, which will cause it to unravel and leave a run across the floor. “Never pull a snag,” advises Mohawk Industries, a floor-covering manufacturer. “You’ll lose the whole line.”

Fixes don’t get any easier than this—just cut any strands that are sticking up with scissors until they’re level with the surrounding carpet. Problem solved!

Replace Drawer Slides Before You Pull the Drawer Apart

If pulling out a drawer has become a feat of super strength, it’s only a matter of time before you pull the face right off the drawer—or bust it up by using all your body weight to shove it back in. The problem probably comes from worn out slides. This happens to silverware drawers, for example, because they support a lot of weight.

To fix the problem, replace the drawer slides with ones that are the same size or nearly the same size as the ones you have now. This job can be challenging: It entails unscrewing the old ones and screwing on the new ones, but it can be difficult to reach—and see—screws that are far inside an assembled cabinet. If the screw holes on the new slides don’t line up exactly with the old ones, drill pilot holes before driving the screws.

Home centers carry a small selection of drawer slides, but you can find a wide range of suppliers online. There are different types, such as side-, center- or under-mount, with various operating methods. Less expensive options typically have plastic roller wheels that run along a track, while the pricier ball-bearing slides generally glide smoother and hold more weight, and some offer a self-closing option.

Fill Cracks in an Asphalt Driveway

Small driveway cracks can fill with water and then freeze, causing them to widen and multiply. Plus, grass and weeds end up growing in the cracks, which looks hideous. So start by using a herbicide to kill those weeds or grass.

Once they’re dead, pull them out and rake the joint clean with an old hacksaw blade or reciprocating saw blade, or, for wider cracks, use a putty knife. For severe cracks, you might have to use a more powerful cleaning method, such as a wire wheel brush on a Mantis garden tiller or a rental machine. If there’s any debris such as pebbles or stones left in the cracks, remove them using a vacuum with a narrow nozzle.

Fill wide cracks with clean sand—pack the sand tight—or use backer rod. Then fill the crack with a cold patch or crack filler. Be sure to rigorously follow the manufacturer’s advice for the maximum width of crack the patch or filler can handle.

Crack fillers don’t last long, especially for wide, deep cracks. But using a sealer can help. Once you fill the cracks, don’t forget to seal the entire driveway—otherwise all your work might be in vain.

Other great information can be found on the Popular Mechanics website
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