By Bob Vila, home improvement expert
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.
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.
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.
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 Critter Busters, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila's Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com.