The Craigslist House
  Description of the Property
  Tree Removal Services
  Pests and Pest Removal Services
  Mold and Moisture Problems
  French Drains
  Sealing the Stucco
  Legalizing Second Unit
  Engineers, Architects and the Like
  Parking/Retaining Wall Project
  Foundation Types
  Foundation Contractors
  Helical Screw Contractors
  Dirt, Debris and Demo
  Rain, Rain, Rain
  Fire Sprinkler Vendors
  Framing Contractors

Replacing the Decks

  Pests and Pest Removal Services  

I guess the first thing I'm supposed to write about is termites. All my friends were surprised when they found out that I did not get a termite inspection before purchasing this house. My logic - the house was a teardown, and I was purchasing the view. As I explained to them, if I had learned that there was $30,000 worth of termite damage, it wouldn't really have changed anything. And speed in this transaction was paramount.

That said, I understand that the best termicides are Termidore and Premise.

Mosquitoes - Here in the North Bay we have the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito Vector Control District (website = www.msmosquito.com.) They actually deliver, for free, little fish that will eat the mosquito larvae that thrive in decorative ponds and other such water sources. Free is good.

Rats - Up until recently I assumed that rats were a sign of filth, of a dirty house. Up until recently I would have been ashamed to say I had a rat-problem. Well, I have (or more accurately, "had") a rat-problem, and it's not because of filth. It's because we live on a hill in a heavily wooded suburban area. (I'm sure it didn't help that the house sat empty for 18 months.) And as an old house, with no perimeter foundation, there are plenty of penetrations, so the wildlife on the hill simply moved in. When Terry and I moved in, it was time to get them out of here.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to know that there was a problem. Droppings were everywhere, and holes had actually been gnawed in a few walls, and even a kitchen drawer. I went about purchasing rat traps, glue traps, and a Have-a-Hart trap and went to work. 

Rat traps cost ~$2.60 each. I purchased six initially, and I've periodically added to the collection. The first time I caught a rat you would have thought I was dealing with Bubonic plague. With gloves on, I carefully double-bagged the rate with the trap, and placed it in the garbage can. Now I'm used to this part of home ownership. Traps get reused. They say that rats are smart, and will stay way from a trap that's killed. Not true.

One of my better ideas is attaching, with screws, a wood extension to the bottom of rat traps so I can hold the traps firmly in place with my foot while setting the trap with both hands. I have a fear of those mechanisms and so far my fingers have been safe.

Four more thoughts on rats:

1) Glue traps work, but I seem to catch mice with them, rather than rats.

2) The sonic traps that are advertised as using vibration to work, apparently don't work. We received one as a gift (!) and there's no indication that it worked here. 

3) Rat poison seems tempting but the last thing you want is a dead rat somewhere in your house that you can't get to. As I recall the poison vendors promote that the rat will want to die outside or die where there is water. I also have an article here that I clipped that says that's a crock. The rat will die where he feels like dying and you will deal with the smell.

4) For those that are animal lovers, understand that I am too. But there's a time and place for wildlife. In spite of my aggressive stance against them, the rats have eaten a hole though a $700 kiteboarding kite, and a similarly valued inflatable boat.

Skunks - Skunks are a bigger concern than rats. And we had skunks. Apparently they also like the dryness and warmth of the crawl spaces of our house. Unfortunately, they don't get along with the rats. Or maybe they don't get along with the possums. Or raccoons. Or whatever else they would face-off against.

In the middle of the night I would hear this squeaking, squealing sound. Actually, I wouldn't hear it, my wife would hear it and wake me up and tell me about it. Then moments later, there would be the smell of a skunk having fired off. This went off repeatedly, sometimes every second day, every third day, for weeks on end. This was bad. I probably could have slept through it all, but my wife was adverse to the smell of skunk and in the middle of the night would get up to boil vinegar - she had read somewhere that this would help knock-down the smell. I'm not sure it worked. We tried other chemical tricks to make our new home less appealing: ammonia rags tossed into the deep dark corners, mothballs tossed into crevices, etc. The cure might have been worse than the illness. The whole house stunk.

We contacted three listings in the Yellow Pages under "animal capture and removal." One of them was just a person's name. Left a message on the machine, he did not get back. Next was Animal Damage Management. Their rate was $100 per five nights of servicing a Have-a-Hart trap plus $75 per animal removal. Then we learned that they don't trap in Marin. The last vendor was Atco Pest Control (415)898-2282. I spoke with Stella. Three nights of trapping cost $200 and there was no guarantee they would catch anything. Desperation being what it was, we had Atco come visit. Richard set a Have-a-Hart trap just outside of the crawl entrance and on day three captured a possum. Possums look like big bald rats, and they seem pretty mean, but at $200 it didn't seem like a bargain.

I think we agreed to keep the trap for a few more days and pay $100 if we needed them to pick up any more animals. Sure enough, that night, or at least the next morning, we had a skunk. Now I had a chance to watch how a professional dealt with a skunk. What I learned was Richard was nervous. He indicated that if the skunk is thumping or tapping with its paw, that's a sign that the skunk was tense. If the skunk is tense, you should be tense, too. Sure enough, this skunk was thumping. 

He carefully draped a blanket over the case and gently walked down the stairs with the cage, telling me that they released trapped wildlife in the outskirts of Novato. Sure ;-)

Other things Richard told me:

- Skunks are pretty tame, they will do nothing and give you a chance to get away

- You will know when they're planning to spray you because they will face the other direction and raise that tail. 

- When in the crawl spaces, I should make noise, so that I did not surprise a skunk.

- The key really is to keep the skunks from getting underneath the house. Chicken wire is a good solution. Richard explained that they are diggers and that the chicken wire needs to be buried 4 to 6 inches. 

- February is the mating season and litters are born in March, maybe early April. The county was very protective of litters, so a skunk with a litter could not be touched.

We picked up our own Have-a-Hart trap, and in the course of the few years, each time we got skunked from underneath our own house, I set a trap near the likely entrance point, baited with a can of cat food, and later, peanut butter. I think I captured two raccoons and four skunks. The raccoons I released at the edge of the lot. They came across pretty mean, but when I opened the cage, thankfully the raccoons wanted nothing to do with me; each bolted. 

Capturing a live skunk is a mixed blessing. The middle-of-the-night squirts were over, but there are no great solutions when you have an angry skunk in your cage. The $100 pick-up service starts to sound OK.

The house, fully stocked, sat empty for 18 months before it was put on the market; it was a magnet for pests.

With parts of the house basically resting on dirt, there were plenty of ways for critters to get in...

I learned to make baiting rat traps safer by first screwing them to 1'- 2' strips of wood. Keeps the fingers safe!

Lots of traps, some with multiple kills.

A skunk in the Have-A-Hart trap. Now what?

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Last Updated Feb 2014.