If you’re like so many other property owners, you put a great deal of time and energy, money and thought into your single biggest investment, your home. Better than anyone else, you know that there’s more to do before your home reaches its full potential, yet slowly but surely, one weekend at a time—with no small amount of sweat and perhaps a little blood, but hopefully no tears—you are closing in on achieving your vision. Here’s the catch: Limited resources aren’t the only impediment to your progress. More than you may realize, pests are capable of undermining the quality and longevity of the home improvements you’ve labored to make. After all, pests aren’t merely a nuisance; many are destructive, sometimes devastatingly so. Want to protect your sweat equity and the integrity of your home, now and into the future? Keep reading to learn about several ways in which your home could be vulnerable to insects and rodents—and what you can do to stop these threats in their tracks.
Building a deck has remained a popular project for generations of do-it-yourselfers who appreciate not only the near-term lifestyle benefits of a deck, but also its long-term effects on home resale value. But remember: However satisfying it may be to drive in that last nail, the final day of construction marks the first day in the life—and ongoing maintenance—of your deck. Always keep in mind that your deck is an attractive target for pests, especially wood-boring and wood-destroying insects like carpenter bees and termites. To ensure that your deck can stand up to the threat, be sure to build only with lumber pretreated to deter pests. Also, as time passes, remember to refinish the deck periodically so as not to leave raw wood exposed.
Down the Chimney
The warmth of flickering flames on a blustery night—that cozy image is enough to make wood stoves and fireplaces highly sought-after features among home buyers and perennially popular with remodelers. Installation requirements vary widely, depending on your home’s construction, your design goals, and functional needs. No matter your approach, however, you’ll probably need to install a stovepipe or flue—an exit for the smoke. The trick is to make sure this exit doesn’t become an entrance for pests. Fortunately, keeping out these little intruders is as simple as installing a chimney cap. Once in place, a chimney cap keeps the exhaust passage clear, allowing the dangerous by-products of combustion to escape outdoors without letting anything else in.
In the Wires
While it’s best to leave the trickiest (and most dangerous) electrical work to the pros, there are plenty of simple projects and repairs that handy homeowners can tackle safely. When you do it yourself, however, you don’t benefit from the hard-won expertise and canny eye of a professional. As electricians are no doubt aware, rodents pose a risk that extends well beyond the pantry shelves. In fact, according to some estimates, four-legged vermin may be responsible for up to 25 percent of house fires officially labeled as being of unknown origin. To allay concerns, work with a pest expert to identify and seal any cracks or gaps that may be granting rodent trespassers open access to your home.
Around the Foundation
The basics of basement finishing—framing out walls, putting up drywall, laying down floors—all tend to be DIY-friendly. But this is a project with a long to-do list. Even if you hire a contractor to tackle the tasks beyond your skill set, it’s a safe bet that, like Rome, your basement won’t be built in a day. Don’t let pests spoil the product of your weeks, or even months, of labor! As a safeguard measure, whether on your own or in concert with a pest professional, take care to inspect the exterior foundation walls. If you find any gaps, act swiftly to patch them up or seal them closed. Only then can you consider your basement safe from termites and other wood-destroying insects.
Over the Bridge
Replacing a roof isn’t a job for the faint of heart—or the recklessly brave. After all, there are serious risks associated with working so high off the ground, risks that motivate many homeowners to hire out the job. Others know the dangers but, confident in their skills, take on the task anyway. Either way, whether a DIY or professional job, a new roof should last for decades—if, that is, destructive pests don’t cut its life short. Remember this: Any branches in close proximity to the roof can act as a bridge for pests like termites and carpenter ants. If you expect a long-lasting, problem-free roof over the long haul, it’s essential to trim back any overgrown trees.
Through the Vent
Major appliances typically come with a major price tag, but so long as the product warranty doesn’t prohibit it, you can save a pretty penny by installing an appliance yourself. You should proceed carefully when installing any type of appliance, but be especially meticulous when putting in a clothes dryer. Here’s why: A dryer sends exhaust through a duct that terminates in an exterior vent. Unless you take preventive steps, insects and rodents can exploit this vent as an entry point. Ensure that the vent includes a damper, a component that opens to make way for exiting air, then closes to discourage pests. Provide an added measure of security by caulking around the vent or positioning steel wool where the vent cover meets the siding material.
Inside the Gutter
When it finally came time to replace or repair your old gutters, you dutifully hauled out the extension ladder and got right to work. Good job! But if you haven’t gone near your gutters since then, you may have unwittingly provided a perfect harborage for pests of all stripes. After all, unless regularly cleared of leaves and debris, gutters inevitably clog. From there, it’s only a matter of time before storm water pools and stagnates, becoming a beacon and a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects, some of which can do real harm to your home. As much as you may dread the chore, it’s crucial to keep your gutters clean. Otherwise, you’re tempting fate.
The termites you’re probably most familiar with are termites. They live in the soil, coming up to feed mostly on decaying and moist wood. If you keep your wood dry, you shouldn’t have much trouble with them. But there’s another type of termites to be aware of too. Drywood termites actually live in the wood, and they’ll eat your home from the inside out if they have the chance to infest it. Here’s how you can protect your home from these nasty critters.
Don’t store firewood inside.
If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, make sure you don’t store any firewood inside — even for a short period of time. There may be termites hiding in the wood, and they could crawl out and into your home’s wooden structures. Keep wood outside until you’re ready to burn it; the fire will incinerate any termites. Make sure your wood storage area is located far from your home so that if termites do take up residence in it, they can’t easily migrate into your home.
Keep screens on your windows.
Unlike termites, which live their entire lives below ground, termites go through a life stage in which they have wings. Known as swarmers, these winged termites can find their way into your home, take up residence in your wood and begin reproducing. If you live in an area where termites are common — such as in the southwestern United States — make sure you keep screens on your windows during the warmest months when swarmers are around.
Seal exposed holes and cracks in wood.
Look over any exposed wood in your home very closely. If you see any cracks or holes, take time to fill them with some wood putty. Cracks and holes are attractive to termites, they often serve as the entry point where the insects begin chewing away at and burrowing into the wood.
Keep painted wood chip-free.
Termites usually won’t bother painted wood. But if the paint starts chipping off, they will begin chewing away at the exposed wood. So, make sure you keep any painted wood in your home chip-free. Choose higher quality latex paint that’s less likely to chip, and apply several thin coats rather than one thick one. At the first sign of chipping, paint over the chipped area — or scrape and re-paint the entire item.
If you follow the tips above, you should greatly reduce your chances of a termite infestation. If you do see signs of termites, such as tiny fecal pellets and weakening wood with rough edges, contact an exterminator as soon as possible.