Landscaping with tanbark or mulch? Use caution!

Some Silicon Valley homeowners spruce up their yards and gardens in spring and summer with tanbark or mulch. While this is a very common practice, and often encouraged as a drought-friendly gardening option, it can be a bad idea if it is too close to the structure, especially the home’s foundation.

Tanbark is simply small bits of wood, and most common mulch is often no more than shredded wood. Why is that bad? Wood is food for termites and piles of tanbark or mulch can invite and hide them as well!

 

Tanbark or Mulch?

Beware Tanbark or Mulch by the foundation!Mulch is the more widely used term and it can cover a broad scope of materials, but the most common type you will find in stores (and in Bay Area gardens) is the woodchip mulch. If you ask for mulch at a hardware store, this is most likely what they will show you. In the local vernacular, we often refer to mulch as the fine, thin, or decomposed stuff – we have a different name for the larger bark and wood chips.

I learned only recently that tanbark is something of a local term that people from other parts of the state or country may not be familiar with. Here in the Bay Area we call the stuff you commonly see underfoot at playgrounds or piled thick on the planted berms around a shopping mall parking lot by the name of tanbark. Some people may reserve the name for the large chunky bark chips while others will call just about any wood chip substrate by that name. So tanbark is, in fact, a mulch.

Homeowners and sellers wanting their home to make a good first impression are often tempted to apply mulch or tanbark in otherwise bare patches around their yard, but you can wind up with far bigger (and more costly) problems if it’s too close to the foundation!

What Was That About Termites & tanbark or mulch?

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Silicon Valley is rife with rats. Is your landscaping attracting them?

Garden scene with the words Landscaping and rat harboragePet rats – the kind you buy at the pet store – can make the most adorable friends. Our daughter had one as a pet and she was a very beloved family member.

But rats in the roof, attic, crawl space, walls and landscaping are not so adorable. They wreck havoc and can cause damage to home and health. Wild rats gnaw on wood and wires, and they carry fleas that can spread disease. Further, their droppings can be unhealthful, too. There are many reasons to make sure that rats aren’t at home in your home, garage, or yard.

What kind of rats exist here?

In Silicon Valley, the predominant type of wild rat is the Roof rat (also known as the Black Rat, Shop Rat, or Tree Rat).  They are identifiable because their tail is longer than the head and body together. They are dark brown or black in color. They do not live only on roofs or in attics, but do appear to prefer higher places, like branches in trees.

A lesser seen rat in the San Jose area is the Norway rat (also called the Wharf Rat, the Sewer Rat, or the Brown Rat). This rat has a shorter tai; and larger, heftier body with light brown or gray coloring, and may be seen in more rural or less developed areas.

A few years ago, a neighbor of ours found a dead rat in his yard, and he called The Santa Clara County Vector Control District office to come out and help him identify if there was a problem with rats getting into his home or not, and to shed light on the issue of why this critter recently appeared in his home. The officer came out and performed this service for free, enlightening my neighbor as to access points and providing a helpful brochure about rats and what attracts them.

Landscaping and rat harborage

I’d heard that Italian Cypress trees, juniper and ivy were all bad – that is, that they attracted rats and create a nice setting for them, or rat harborage. What I did not realize is how many other things do too.
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How Often Should You Get A Termite Inspection?

Dampwood termite seen at the Almden Winery neighborhoodIf you live in Santa Clara County, once known as The Valley of Hearts Delight, you no doubt appreciate our mild, sub-tropical climate. Unfortunately, so do the termites. With that in mind, the question often arises about how often to get a termite inspection.

Types of termites in Silicon Valley and nearby

We have two main types of termites here (and other wood-destroying pests too), drywood termites and subterranean termites.

The subterranean termites, or subs as they are called, can be identified by the mud tubes they build from the ground or floor up the side of a wall. As their name implies, they live underground, and build the tubes as they go. Pest Control operators will remove the tubes and treat the area, injecting chemicals underground at spaced intervals, to exterminate them. See my post on identifying subs here.

Drywood termites, or drywoods, may live anywhere in the the home where there’s wood to eat. If they are found only in one or two areas, a licensed pest control company may do a local treatment. The difficulty with local treatments is that drywood termites may also be lurking in places that cannot be seen, such as between the walls. For that reason, the standard recommendation is to fumigate (also called to tent or to fume) the structure.

If you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains, or close to them, you may also have dampwood termites to contend with. I have seen them in Los Gatos, Cambrian, and Almaden.
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How to prepare for a home inspection in Silicon Valley

Home Inspections Home Sweet HomeWhat needs to be done for a house, townhouse or condominium to be ready for a home or pest inspection?

Inspections 101

The property inspector will need to be able to see what’s being inspected, of course, so the first and most basic thing to do is to make the home and garage accessible and visible.  For people trying to move, some areas under the roof, such as the garage or a spare bedroom, may be packed full of boxes and other stuff, so this may come as a surprise.  Anything inaccessible or covered up will need to be excluded from the inspection and report, often causing pest inspectors in particular to call for “an unknown further inspection” with a cost for a return visit being levied too.

Room by Room

Because most Silicon Valley homes do not have basements to serve for storage, garages tend to accumulate a lot of stuff.  In some cases, the walls cannot be visible due to built in storage cabinets, work benches, etc.  But for non built-in items, such as boxes, it is best to either move them out of the garage for the inspection or at the very least, place them in the center of the floor so that the inspectors can view the walls, particularly where they meet the floor.  Automobiles should be moved out for the inspection too.

This same principle is also true for the outdoors with anything which might be stacked up against the house under the eaves.  The walls need to be seen.

Indoors, if the property is built on a raised perimeter foundation with a crawl space (not a slab foundation), the access hatch needs to be accessible. (more…)

Preparing Your Silicon Valley Home to Sell: What Will It Cost?

Planning and Budgeting to Sell Your Silicon Valley Home

monopoly housePreparing your San Jose area home to sell should be done enough in advance of when you want to have your home go on the market that any unplanned repairs can be completed first (without a lot of time pressures) so that you net the most money possible from the sale. It’s hard to know how much time to allow for the unknown, but my suggestion is to provide yourself a month or two, if possible. Three is even better.  If you want to sell this upcoming spring, it’s smart to get started on your plan now.

In Santa Clara County, we have very mild winters and it’s not usually difficult to get most repairs & remodeling done even in winter (unless they are “outside” repairs and we’re in the middle of a rare El Nino year).  If you start now, you should have no trouble finding inspectors (presale inspections are more than just a good idea!)  and contractors. If you wait ’til March, you may not be on the schedule of your own choosing.

So where to start? What to budget?

dollar-billIn my experience, most Silicon Valley homes that have been lived in for many years often have 1 – 2 % of the value of the home needed in repairs, landscape freshening and staging prior to going on the market. The longer you’ve been in the home without doing periodic inspections for termites and other pests, on the roof or structure of the home, the more likely that number will creep upwards. If your home is young and you’ve been there a short while, chances are good that this doesn’t apply to you. (more…)

Fumigation needed? Be aware of burglary risk!

This morning I read an Action Line column in the San Jose Mercury News which got my attention: a house was burglarized during a fumigation and many valuable items were lost. “The burglar tore through the tent and took some very valuable and deeply sentimental items, important documents, and our Social Security cards as well as a lot of credit cards.”  This surprised me as the structure was full of poison.  Apparently with gas masks donned, the thieves had no fear and helped themselves to the unguarded goodies within.

I wondered if this was a fluke or if it was a growing trend.  After all, the economy has been rough for years. Perhaps criminals all over California and the U.S. as a whole have had to get creative and take more risks.  So I went to Google to see what kind of response I’d get with a search for “burglary during fumigation“.  Indeed, it’s a nationwide problem of theft during tenting for termites and this incident in Silicon Valley does not appear to be an oddity, but rather part of a growing trend.

Until a few years ago, perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, security guards were required to be on hand when a property was fumigated.  I don’t recall when or why this changed, but today guards are not routinely on site for fumigations in the San Jose area – at least not to my knowledge.

What to do?  It is a real pain to live in a townhouse, house or other home and have it tented.  You not only need to move out for a few days, but also you must generally move out all food (some exceptions).  Many people also want to clear out bedding and other goods, including valuables.  But most folks won’t completely empty a house and then move right back in again. That’s costly in terms of time and money.  Even in a vacant house, some items could still be stolen such as thermostats, potted plants in the back yard, and light fixtures.  (That happened to one of my clients in Cambrian a number of years ago.)

The presence of a security guard is likely your best bet for improving the odds that your property won’t be targeted by thieves.  Your fumigator or pest control company can probably suggest a reliable firm with trustworthy employees who have all the necessary requirements (licensed, bonded, insured?).  If your property is vacant (between owners or tenants), you may not feel that this cost is warranted and be willing to take your chances.  But if you fumigate your home and it’s got valuables within, I would suggest investigating some security.  It’s not a secret when a building is fumigated, and apparently too many bad guys consider it “open season” on your possessions.

Related reading on termites and pest control issues:

Would You Recognize Signs of Subterranean Termites If You Saw Them?

How often should you get a termite inspection?

“The house was ‘termited’ four years ago. Do we need to do it again?” – Question of the Day!

 

 

 

A mouse in the house, a bird in the chimney, a bat in the bellfry – who do you call?

View from Campbell of Percolation Ponds and Coastal Hills

If you live near a creek, pond or lake, you may have more trouble with wild life

Recently I was in a Silicon Valley neighborhood forum where someone asked what to do about a mouse (“or something”) in the wall of a house.  For better or worse, I have a fair amount of experience with this both personally and professionally: birds in chimneys, mice and rats in homes (inside plus in the attics, walls, crawlspaces, and heating ducts) and even a bat that got into first an attic and then into the living area itself – that last story goes with the photo from a backyard in Campbell of a townhouse I sold some years ago.

Sometimes this can be a do-it-yourself project but often it’s better if you leave it to the professionals: a good termite & pest control company is normally going to be your best bet for removing rodents and other unwanted visitors and keeping them out.

What happens if you hire someone to get rid of your mouse, rat, bat, bird or other invading animal?

Usually it’s a 3-4 visit process over 3-4 weeks to catch the house guest, then do “exclusion work”, which means finding how it got in and making sure that or any other access points are cut off, then rechecking another time or two to make sure that the problem is taken care of.  (What you do not want to do is get a dead rat or mouse stuck in your wall, so the pros will usually use traps where they can retrieve them rather than poison in the house’s attic or crawl space.)  The cost is often a few hundred dollars for this multi-visit process. (more…)