How to Spot Termites in Your Home

Termites are destructive insects that are part of the cockroach family. They live anywhere where the ground doesn’t freeze in the winter, so if you’re in a warmer climate, you may battle termites someday.

To learn a little about your enemy, you need to know that they live in colonies similar to ants. Each group or caste has a special job – to lay eggs, defend the colony, or find food. Like ants, they build mounds and live underground or out of sight — like behind your walls or under your house.

Termites can do a tremendous amount of damage before you are aware that they’re there. It pays to regularly check your home for signs of infestation, particularly in any damp areas such as a basement, laundry room, crawlspace, etc.

The one thing you need to know is that termites love to eat cellulose. Most houses are made with wood elements which contain cellulose. Ergo, termites want to eat your house. But since termites usually live and dine unseen, how can you tell if you have a few hundred unwelcome dinner guests?

These signs of a termite infestation are unmistakable:

You can hear them in your walls. If you hear faint movement and tapping, it is likely to be termites.

You see their droppings. Cleanliness is next to bugliness. Termites keep their own homes free of feces and dead termites, so they tend to deposit their offal outside of your walls while they remain inside.

You have dark or soft spots in your wood. Easily scratched wood may be infested. Don’t forget to check the foundations of decks, as well.

You find mud tunnels, tubes, or mud piles. These will appear near your foundation to indicate an infestation.

You see small holes in the walls. Your sheetrock, plaster, wallpaper, and mouldings look like a tiny woodpecker is living in your house.

You see wood damage. Wood floors will droop, buckle, or sag if termite damaged. Sawdust may be present. You’ll also see discolored or blistered wood from termite tunneling damage.

You see ripples in your walls. Dirt channels or ripples that go up the length of your drywall is likely termite activity. Tapping and prodding on the wood around your home may reveal termite activity or damage, if the sound is hollow.

You see ant-like insects with white wings. You may also find termite bodies or dropped wings near your home’s foundation.

Unfortunately, you can’t always tell if tunnels, mounds, and other signs are current, so if you are buying a new home, make sure you have a termite inspection by a professional service. Most inspections only cover the main house, so if you have a wood shed, detached garage or other structure, make sure the inspection extends to those buildings. You’ll pay extra, but it’s worth it.

You might also check with your neighbors to see if they’ve had any termite activity lately. If another house has been recently treated for termites recently, the colony just might migrate over to your house.

As a homeowner, you should know that these 50 million year old pests are hard to kill. Call a professional termite exterminator to kill the infestation if you think you have termites.

Electric Debate

It doesn’t matter if you own or rent your home — chances are you’ve been hit by some shocking electric bills in the past few years. Our energy crisis seems to have no end in sight, and more and more power companies are increasing their rates and struggling to keep up with the demand as we grow ever more dependent on the digital.

As electricity prices skyrocket, so does the interest in the alternative forms of energy that can be used to power homes. Many people have installed solar panels on their roofs, and in some states, like Iowa and South Dakota, 25% of their electricity is produced by wind power. Another increasingly viable option for people living in deregulated states is to turn to natural gas. Gas companies in Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Nevada, to name a few, have been touting the benefits of using natural gas as one of the ways to power your home (and in some cases, your vehicle). Thanks to deregulation of the electricity market in these states, you can use as much or as little natural gas as you’d like.

Generally speaking, natural gas is commonplace in the average American home for things like cooking and heating, however, there is a whole new school of homeowner who is exploring the possibility of using natural gas and compressed natural gas (CNG) to power the rest of their home as well. Natural gas not only comes with a financial benefit, but also significantly reduces your carbon footprint. Coal powered electric generation is responsible for roughly 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour, while a natural gas powered electric plant would emit half of that in the same time. With this information, and energy deregulation on their side, many homeowners are choosing energy providers who use natural gas as opposed to coal.

Natural gas is also being used to supplement other, renewable, sources of power like solar power. Last year the research team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory started conducting tests to see if using solar heat could magnify the power of natural gas, thus reducing the amount needed to perform the same functions, and reducing its carbon emissions.

Of course, there are those pioneer home owners who are completely forgoing the energy company and using natural gas to power their homes on their own, effectively taking themselves off the grid. A prime example of this is the home ofSteve and Brenda Norwood in Houston, who created their home using a micro-trigeneration system. This system, developed by M-CoGen, uses a natural gas powered unit which then combines solar power from the home’s own solar panels, natural gas, electricity, and battery power. The unit has the capability to produce more energy than the couple uses, which would then allow them to sell it back to Reliant Energy as part of that company’s sell-back program.

With all the benefits of using natural gas, there are some setbacks and concerns about it, the primary one being fracking. Fracking is the process during which rock is fractured by a high pressured blast of liquid (usually comprised of various chemicals, sand, and water) in order to create cracks in the earth from which natural gas, brine, and petroleum can flow. Once the pressure is removed the sand and chemicals will prop the cracks open to keep the gas, petroleum, or brine flowing. The issue many people have with fracking is its negative impact on the environment. An article by Valerie J. Brown in Environmental Health Perspectives cites cases in Wyoming and Colorado where fracking resulting in contamination of citizens water as well as air quality, resulting in illness for the citizens in those areas. This is in spite of a 2004 report by the EPA that declared that the chances of fracking resulting in contamination of the air and water supply were very low.

It isn’t only contamination of our natural resources that has people concerned either, it’s the possibility that fracking is triggering seismic activity and earthquakes. In fact a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research showed that fracking had caused over 109 small earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio in a span of only 14 months, a shocking number especially when considering the town had no history of earthquakes ever in the past. Many fear that if fracking continues it could result in more frequent, and more intense earthquakes in places that simply aren’t prepared to withstand that kind of seismic activity.

The one thing that is clear in all of this is the need for more research, testing, and hopefully innovation. While natural gas is becoming an increasingly viable source of power, it’s not without its downfalls, just the same as the traditional coal. What we do know is that its reduction in carbon emissions is certainly a plus of using it, and opting to use natural gas generated electricity serves as a signal to power companies that they need to change to more environmentally friendly practices.

Fall Landscaping Tips

Fall landscaping chores are your last chance to prepare your property for winter, and to protect that curb appeal you’ve worked so hard to create. So pull on some gloves, grab your tools, and get ready to mulch, prune, and plant before snow and frozen ground turn the lights out on your landscaping.

Spread Mulch

“Fall mulching is better for the plants than spring mulching,” says Dan Taft, owner of The Cutting Edge in Chantilly, Va. “It helps protect roots from frost and helps retain moisture during a cold and dry winter.”

Spread 2 to 3 inches of fresh mulch around shrubs and trees. Taft warns home owners to avoid using free mulch from municipal piles, which often contain disease spores; instead, buy hardwood shredded mulch from home and garden centers, he says.

“Cheap, dump mulch mainly is made from trees that have died from disease,” Taft says. “Many diseases will linger in the mulch, like leaf spot and pine bark borers. You don’t want ground-up diseased plants around your landscaping.”

Remove the Dead and Dying

Fall isn’t the time to prune, because that encourages growth when healthy plants should remain dormant. But don’t shelve your shears and loppers yet. Fall is the time to neaten your landscaping before putting it to bed for the winter.

“If you remove dead landscaping in fall, you don’t have to look at it all winter,” Taft says.

  • Remove dead annuals.
    • Deadhead spent blooms, and cut back dead and desiccated ornamental grasses and perennials.
  • Lightly prune dead and dying branches from shrubs and trees. Carefully remove dried blossoms from hydrangea, but don’t remove dead-looking stalks, where new buds will form in spring.
  • After the first frost, cut back tea roses to about a third of their height.

Wrap Delicate Shrubs

Heavy snow, ice, and high winds can dry and split your delicate and pricey shrubs. To protect your landscaping from the winter elements:

  • Hide small plants under overturned plastic pots or buckets.
  • Wrap shrubs, such as boxwoods, in burlap.
  • Surround vulnerable trees with shredded leaves.

Take Advantage of Fall Sales

Early fall until the ground freezes is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Not only do cooler weather and autumn rain put less stress on young landscaping plants, nurseries often have sales to empty their shelves before winter.

“They need to sell every plant by Dec. 1,” Taft says. “Nurseries generally pay a third of the price that you’re paying. So don’t be afraid to offer less than the asking price. If you’re buying several things, the manager may give you a break.”

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Top Home Buying Myths

Whether you’re a real estate professional or first-time home buyer, the home buying process and real estate transactions can be stressful.  There tends to be some common misconceptions in this process, so it’s very important that you’re well informed of what is fact and what is fiction.  We’re here to set the record straight.

Myth #1:  You don’t need a REALTOR®.

Before you bravely take on one of the biggest purchases or sales of your life, remember this: it’s not as easy as it looks.  REALTORS® know all the ins and outs of the local area as well as the market in which you’re looking to buy or sell.  Picking up the phone and calling a REALTOR® may be one of the best decisions you’ll make.

Myth #2:  The bigger the downpayment, the better off you’ll be.

Buyers’ immediate reflex is to put as much cash down as they can when buying a new home because they’ll borrow less, lower the monthly mortgage payments, and won’t need to buy mortgage insurance.  However, putting 20% down is not a requirement and it’s not for everyone.

Thanks to Federal Housing Administration Loans (FHA Loans), you can put as little as 3.5% down.  With this method, you’ll potentially have a lower interest rate, giving you more flexibility.  Your money is not all tied up in your house like in a traditional down payment that can leave you with little or no extra cash to spend on home care, improvements, or any other unforeseen circumstances.

Myth #3:  Appraisers set the value of a home.

The role of the appraiser is to produce a credible opinion of value that reflects the current market.  Appraisers are not responsible for setting the value of the home and they also do not confirm a home’s sale price.  According to David S. Bunton, President of The Appraisal Foundation, “Appraisers provide an analysis of the collateral, so that lenders understand the value of a property when making the loan decision.”

Myth #4:  You need perfect credit.

Most people assume that you must have absolutely golden credit in order to get a loan, but that just simply isn’t the case.  If buyers have less than perfect credit, lenders are often willing to work with them to get the best possible loan.

Credit is not the only thing that lenders look at when deciding to approve a loan, but your score will have an effect on the interest rate on your mortgage.  Make sure you review your credit report and if any errors are found, they should be reported to the credit reporting bureaus before applying for a mortgage.

Make A Home Emergency Preparedness Kit

Putting together a home emergency preparedness kit you hope never to use may seem like a waste of time and money. But when disasters happen that are beyond your control, you can take charge of how you respond.

Items for an emergency preparedness kit

Store all items in an easy-to-carry bag or suitcase that’s readily accessible. Make sure everyone in the family knows where it is and what it contains. If you need to evacuate your home quickly, here are the essentials you’ll need for a basic “grab and go” kit:

  • Water: One gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation; double if you live in a very hot climate, have young kids, or are nursing. Bottled water is best, but you can also store tap water in food-grade containers or two-liter soda bottles that have been sanitized. Factor in your pet’s water needs, too.
  • Food: At least a three-day supply of non-perishables and a can opener. Pack protein, fruit, and vegetables, but make sure they’re in a form you actually like—it’s bad enough not to have access to fresh food without also having to subsist on nothing but canned tuna. Include treats like cereal bars, trail mix, and candy bars. Store food in pest-proof plastic or metal tubs and keep it in a cool, dry place.
  • Flashlights and extra batteries: Candles are not recommended because there are many house fires caused by candles left unattended.
  • First-aid supplies: Two pairs of sterile gloves, adhesive bandages and sterile dressings, soap or other cleanser, antibiotic towelettes and ointment, burn ointment, eye wash, thermometer, scissors, tweezers, petroleum jelly, aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, and stomach analgesics such as Tums or Pepto-Bismol, and a laxative.
  • Sanitation and hygiene supplies: Moist towelettes in sealed packets, paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, and plastic ties. You might also want travel-size shampoo, toothpaste/toothbrush, and deodorant.
  • Radio or TV: Keep a portable, battery- or crank-operated radio or television and extra batteries to remain connected in case the power goes out, as well as an extra cell phone charger. Search for emergency radios online.
  • Helpful extras: Duct tape, dust masks, a signal whistle, toys for kids.
  • Cash: Have at least $100 in your kit.

Tailor a emergency preparedness kit to your needs

Along with the basics like food and water, it’s important to have what you need for your particular situation. You may not need extra blankets in southern California, but you do need escape ladders in case of wildfire. And you’ll want extra blankets to survive a winter power outage in Maine.

Update your emergency preparedness kit regularly

Replace all food and water approaching its expiration date. Replace batteries. You might pick a specific time each year to check, such as before hurricane season in the south or after Thanksgiving if you live in the north.

Buy a pre-made kit

As an alternative to making your own kit, you can buy a stocked kit from the American Red Cross ($50-$100).

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Fall Home Maintenance

The best way to protect your home, likely your biggest investment, is through preventative maintenance.

Clean behind the fridge

Fall is a great time to defrost and clean your refrigerator and freezer. Make sure you pull the refrigerator away from the wall to vacuum the condenser coils. Use a long, narrow, brush to dust off bottom-mounted coils.

Inspect your furnace

Save time and buy a winter’s supply of furnace filters now. To get maximum energy savings, change the filters monthly. Also, schedule an annual checkup for your furnace now. It’s best to schedule the appointment for three to four days after you begin running your furnace for the season, but check first with your service expert.

Clean the gutters

Whether you hire it done or do it yourself, cleaning your gutters twice a year is one of the most important things you can do to protect your home. Wait to do it until all the leaves have fallen, but before the risk of ice is real, and replace damaged gutter pieces if necessary.

Inspect your roof

Look for signs of deterioration such as loose shingles, rotting wood, or cracks. Carefully trim heavy branches that are hanging over your roof. If the branches are near power lines, call a professional tree-trimming company to do the work. They may need to ask your power company to temporarily disconnect power before they start working.

Check all windows and doors

Remove summer screens and install storm windows and doors. Inspect and repair any loose or damaged windows or doorframes. Install weather-stripping or caulk around windows and doors to reduce drafts and save money and energy.

Inspect the laundry room

Check your dryer’s exhaust tube and vent for built-up lint, debris, and even bird nests! Make sure the exterior vent is closed tightly when not in use. And refresh the air in your laundry room by using Glade Fabric & Air Odor Eliminator. It eliminates tough odors, especially those from odor-causing bacteria.

Secure the cracks

Don’t let your home house any unwanted invaders. Before critters start seeking shelter from the cold, inspect the perimeter of your house for cracks or holes where they could enter and seal them well. If you detect evidence of animal activity—such as urine odors, unexplained gnaw marks, droppings or footprints—consult an exterminator.

Detector check

Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re working properly (you should do this once a month), and change the batteries in all of them at least twice a year. If you don’t have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed, now’s the time to do it!

Outdoor prep

  • Cover your air conditioning unit
  • Repair and seal driveway
  • Plant flowering spring bulbs
  • Clean and store summer garden tools
  • Drain hoses and shut off outdoor water valves
  • Clean and apply sealer to decks
  • Cover and store outdoor furniture and grills
  • Empty dirt from flowerpots and garden containers

Fifth Avenue Dam Removal and Olentangy River Restoration Project Complete

Courtesy of Columbus Underground:

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is commonly referred to as “Bikin’ Mike” due to his commitment to biking infrastructure and common spandex-clan sightings. Today, he can add “Canoein’ Mike” to his dossier, as he arrived at a press conference this morning where local officials celebrated the completion of the Olentangy River Restoration Project.

“This project is a prime example of our commitment to provide responsible stewardship of our natural resources,” said Mayor Coleman. “The dam that once stood behind me was a safety risk as well as an obstacle. It prevented the river from flowing naturally, impacting the Olentangy’s water quality – something we changed with the help of our partners at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, The Ohio State University, and Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed.”

The Fifth Avenue dam removal began in the fall of 2012, kicking off the two-year project, which included the re-engineering of the river itself and the creation of a new shoreline ecosystem. Of course, the river will continue to evolve in the coming years and decades and native plant species grow, animals return to the habitat and the river waters determine which areas of shoreline it will keep and where it will natural erode.

A similar project is currently underway Downtown, where the Main Street Dam was removed and the shoreline of the Scioto River is being resculpted between North Bank Park and Bicentennial Park. Eventually, the two projects will become interlinked with the removal of several other lowhead dams along the Olentangy River that will return the waterway to a natural, clean and navigable state for recreational use.


Fifth Avenue Dam Removal and Olentangy River Restoration Project Complete


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