Eating Away 

Underneath the house, it’s always something

Well, here it is April, and it’s about time for the local termites to swarm. From what I’ve seen in 20 or so years of looking at other peoples’ houses, swarming termites are usually the first—and sometimes the only—sign that a house is infested with termites.
Well, here it is April, and it’s about time for the local termites to swarm. From what I’ve seen in 20 or so years of looking at other peoples’ houses, swarming termites are usually the first—and sometimes the only—sign that a house is infested with termites. Termite swarms aren’t subtle. If it’s April in Tennessee and your house is just fine one minute, then crawling with thousands of flying bugs the next, that’s probably a termite swarm. If you get a swarm, call your bug man. There’s some pretty good swarm info—with pictures of termite swarmers—at www.terminix.com/services/termite/termite-or-ant/. Nashville is the 15th most termite-infested city in the U.S., according to Orkin. And that’s just based on Orkin’s sales. If you figure in all the locals who are off Orkin’s radar—the people who try to kill their own termites by pouring motor oil into the ground, the people who use a bug company other than Orkin and the people who piss away their termite-killing money on lottery tickets and malt liquor, termite infestations in Nashville might just be under-reported. Nashville might well be the termite capital of these United States. But you don’t have to worry, do you? You’re paying a bug man to crawl under your house every year and tell you that you don’t have a termite problem, aren’t you? I hate to be the bearer of troublesome tidings, but believe me when I tell you: there is little or no correlation between what you’re paying for bug protection and what the bugs are doing. The bugs don’t have a contract with anybody. They just get up every morning and go looking for wood. If termites want to eat part of your house, they’ll find a way to do it. And there’s this: crawling around under houses and looking for bug signs might just be the worst job in the world. A man who crawls under houses every day will find himself supine and filthy, surrounded by toxic rodent crap, dead cats, angry possums, poisonous spiders and snakes, itchy dryer lint and the occasional skunk with his tail up. It takes a helluva man to thoroughly inspect a crawl space, when he usually has the option of just saying he went in the crawl space. It gets worse: if a bug man finds years’ worth of termite damage under your house, there’s not a lot of incentive for him to report that his own company has been negligent for all that time. It’s a lot easier to let the next bug man deliver that bad news, if anybody delivers it at all. I’ve seen hundreds of houses that have been “protected” by a bug company for decades, but have been eaten up by termites for most or all of that time. If you don’t have a bug company already, or if you’re looking to hire a new bug company, I say hire a locally owned company, one that’s been around a long time and can give you a list of references. From what I’ve seen, the local companies do better work than the franchise outfits. (However, the franchise outfits have much better websites.) While I’m thinking about worrisome things around the house, I might as well give an update on the ongoing mold scare and the highly questionable mold-testing business. By this time, probably every homeowner in America has been warned about toxic mold. And with every warning comes a reminder that the company doing the warning will gladly send somebody to your house to take mold samples, tell you what kind of mold you have and then get rid of your mold. I haven’t done any scientific studies on the usefulness of mold cleanup companies, but I’m pretty sure that more people are harmed by useless mold testing than are harmed by mold. If you’ve got mold growing in your house, you need to get rid of it. But you probably don’t need to test it. With very few exceptions, the only people who benefit from mold testing are the people who make money testing for mold. Many—if not most—of the people who do mold tests aren’t remotely qualified to do the testing. For several years now, folks who are looking for easy money have had easy access to one-day “mold seminars,” in which those people learn how to separate homeowners from their money. The gimmick is to take a few samples, report what kind of mold is growing in a house and charge for the service. Here’s what they don’t tell you: toxic mold and benign mold grow in the same places—wet places. Today’s wet spot full of benign mold could grow a patch of toxic mold tomorrow. The cure for mold is to find the leak that make the wet spot, fix the leak, remove anything that’s moldy, then replace the material that you tore out. That said, if mold has made you sick and your physician tells you that you need to do mold tests, I say hire a Certified Industrial Hygienist, not somebody who spent a day or two in a make-more-money-from-mold seminar. For info on mold and mold cleanup, check the EPA website: www.epa.gov/mold/moldcourse/chapter3/lesson3.html.

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