Do you know of any nontoxic way to get rid of ants near the foundation?
Answer: Try some borax laundry product —either in tiny, ant-sized dishes or sprinkled near the intrusion areas as a repellent. You also can mix some boric acid crystals, sugar and water together in a container with enough holes to allow them access. Evidently, they drink this delicious-tasting nectar, run back to their nest and spread the contamination. But make sure your pets don’t have access to the area while your eradicating “bait” is extant.
One other incredibly simple but effective treatment is to sprinkle some instant grits around their trails and nests. When they ingest it, their little stomachs swell and they expire. This is a dry weather idea only, because the grits will expand if they get rained on and so will lose their appeal to these pesky critters.
I’ve heard you explain this before, but I didn’t write it down. How do you get rid of oil and grease stains on concrete?
Answer: It’s worth repeating. Grind a mélange of cheap kitty litter and mineral spirits into the spot. Let that sit for a day or two, sweep it up and repeat the process one or two more times. Then scrub the area with a detergent, such as TSP, and water. After it dries, you should be left with a faint residue. Sprinkle some dry, powdered cement over the spot, and blend it in with a stiff-bristled brush to match the grayish concrete background.
One other solution a listener recommended is to use some full strength liquid dishwashing detergent, such as Dawn or Joy. Let it sit for an hour or two on the spot, then power wash.
What are the pros and cons of turning off the furnace pilot light in the summer?
Answer: You must have an older model, because electronic ignitions have been the standard for the past 25 years or so. You can save money by extinguishing the pilot. It costs about $8 a month to keep it burning. But there’s a downside, too. That warm flame can help repel rust and corrosion on the internal steel components of the furnace cabinet and flue. It also repels spiders who might want to nest in the protected, dark recesses of your furnace. So on balance, it’s probably a good idea to let the pilot stay on.
On the other hand, if you have a sealed glass fireplace with an internal, perpetually burning pilot light, I would turn it off. It not only wastes money, but also allows heat to radiate from the glass front, raising your cooling costs.
I notice an unpleasant odor from our crawlspace. Any suggestions?
Answer: The usual culprit is inadequate ventilation. You need at least two exterior crawlspace vents (on opposing walls) to let air circulate into the space. Also, cover the dirt with some 6-mil (heavy) plastic sheeting. That will lessen the evaporation of water through the dirt, which is also contributing to the miasma coming from your crawlspace. Avoid sprinkling any chemicals, such as lime or baking soda. They will change the pH of your soil to such an extent that it might damage your foundation.
The cable guy said the ground in my house wasn’t good enough. So I now have a line across my screen. Is this something I need to work on?
Answer: Older homes usually aren’t as well grounded as newer ones. These days, we tie together the water line, circuit box and its components, one or two deep copper ground rods and the power company’s incoming neutral line by a process we call bonding. That ensures that stray currents that could shock you or damage your appliances or delicate electronic equipment get carried away as quickly as possible to an earth ground.
It’s possible one or more of these connections have loosened, and that can lead to stray currents floating here and there throughout the system. So you probably should involve an electrician who can modernize your system and check the bonding components for continuity. Chances are, your cable signal will clear up, and you’ll be living in a safer house in the bargain.