Homes in the South require year-round maintenance
The year-round warm and often humid weather, the sprawling live oaks with Spanish moss and surrounding fresh and salt waters that make the Lowcountry famous also provide the perfect setting for pests that threaten homes — from palmetto bugs and termites to mold and lawn fungus. Lowcountry homeowners must keep a watchful eye out for the unique problems that can affect all aspects of the home: lawns, foundation, siding, roofs and more. Here’s a peek at some of the typical home improvement issues affecting the lower part of the Palmetto State.
The truth about palmetto bugs
Take a nighttime stroll during the hot summer and you’ll most likely run into a palmetto bug, a Southern euphemism for cockroach. These reddish brown bugs grow up to 2 inches. The average cockroach found in the northern parts of the country is half the size of Southernbred palmetto bugs. As if the size isn’t gross enough, these pests have wings used for flying and for protection that shields them when they skulk the ground in search of food.
The first step in preventing a palmetto bug infestation is to keep your house clean. Sweep and vacuum often, especially after meals and under appliances and furniture.
Cockroaches are attracted to food, water and warm places. Seal food in plastic containers and store them in cabinets or the refrigerator. This means you may need to pick up your pet’s dishes after feedings.
Avoid leaking standing water in bathtubs, stopped-up sinks or soaking dishes. If your home is particularly damp, purchase a dehumidifier. However, even the cleanest homes can see some palmetto bug traffic from time to time.
Cover up the entry points into your home. For instance, search for holes around your house and cover them with fine mesh screening and duct tape. Try using weatherstripping along the bottom of your doors, stuff screening into cracks along the foundation and keep drains plugged when not in use. Remove all natural palmetto bug habitats within 10 feet of your home, such as foliage, tall grass and wooden crates.
However, the sure-fire way to keep palmetto bugs at bay is to hire an exterminator to spray around the perimeter of your home, both inside and out, on a regular basis. Pest control professionals are using environmentally safe products — sometimes a mixture of nicesmelling herbs — to treat homes.
What to do about fire ants
Unfortunately, palmetto bugs aren’t the only insects that enjoy setting up camp and reproducing. Fire ants are just as resilient and difficult to kill.
They create a complex network with mounds up to 25 feet underground. According to American-lawns.com, fire ants used to build nests with one queen. Now, mounds are often found with multiple queens willing to share and produce other colonies.
While worker ants live only a few months, the queens can live two years, producing about 1,000 eggs a day. If you’re walking in unfamiliar grassy territory, watch where you step. Fire ants are aggressive. They grip skin and sting multiple times.
Often found in the Lowcountry, the red imported fire ant migrated from Mobile, Ala., in the mid-1930s on South American cargo ships. Since then, the fire ant has invaded most of the Southeast and is slowly expanding west and north.
Late August through early October is an ideal time to apply fire ant bait to your lawn. Baits are slow acting. That means it can take weeks or months to reduce ant mound numbers. Landscapers tend to treat mounds as aggressively as the fire ants attack their victims with baits and individual recurring mounds treatment.
Did you know?
Just like bee stings, fire ant stings can create an emergency situation. If there are many stings or the victim is allergic to the toxin, serious problems may occur. Anaphylactic shock can follow, rapidly requiring emergency treatment. The symptoms to watch for include:
- Severe headache
- Severe nausea
- Profuse sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Call 911 if someone is experiencing these symptoms. The victim could lapse into a coma or stop breathing and require life saving drugs, which are carried on all the EMS ambulances. Children, the elderly and people allergic to bee stings are the most likely to experience these symptoms.
Mosquito control, inside and out
With more than 2,500 different species of mosquitoes throughout the world — 77 of which occur in the coastal areas — take a proactive approach to treating mosquitoes. However, pesticide spraying is a last line of defense, according to Mosquito Information Corporation. Treat mosquitoes where they breed — in standing water around the yard and home. Start by draining water and larviciding puddles of water, which can prevent thousands of mosquitoes from hatching.
Keep your lawn mowed and bushes trimmed throughout the mosquito season. This eliminates a mosquito roosting place. If you and your family do a lot of outdoor entertaining, try using machines, such as the Flowtron Mosquito PowerTrap, the Coleman Mosquito Delato or the Mosquito Terminator to attract and kill the bugs within your yard. The machines work by utilizing deterrents or repellents to stop mosquitoes from being attracted to pets and humans. Above all, always use skin repellents, mosquito traps and barriers.
For more information, visit the American Mosquito Control Association at www.mosquito.org.
Getting the bugs out
For outdoor entertainment, tiki torches are probably the most aesthetic way to fight off those nagging blood-sucking mosquitoes. Be sure to purchase tiki torch oil that offers a bug repellent.
Manufacturers claim sonic, electronic and ultrasonic devices imitate the flight sound of a male mosquito and work because a mated female mosquito would avoid further contact with males. There is no scientific evidence that such devices have any significant effect on mosquito behavior.
Homeowners or businesses may use hand-held ULV foggers, portable or fogging attachments for tractors or lawn mowers for temporary relief from flying mosquitoes.
Stop termites in their tracks
Take small preventative measures on your own, but leave the rest to the professionals
New Lowcountry homeowners often are surprised that they’re required to keep a termite bond on their house. But these wood-eating insects can wreak havoc on houses faster than you can say, “home inspection report.”
According to the University of Kentucky department of entomology, termites cause billions of dollars in damage each year. They primarily feed on wood, but also damage paper, books, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems.
Termites can injure living trees and shrubs. While it’s important to have the pros thoroughly treat and inspect your home for termites, there are small steps that can make all the difference. Terminix.com says to eliminate moisture conditions and food around your home, including:
- Repair leaking faucets, water pipes and air-conditioning units.
- Divert water from foundation.
- Remove excessive plant cover and wood mulch.
- Drain standing water on roof.
- Keep all vents clear and open.
- Seal entry points around water and utility lines or pipes.
- Keep firewood, lumber, and wood mulch or paper away from foundation and crawl space.
- Remove stumps and debris near the house.
- Check decks and wooden fences for damage.
Termite control requires specialized equipment, such as masonry drills, pumps, largecapacity tanks, and soil treatment rods. Not to mention, a typical treatment involved hundreds of gallons of a liquid pesticide, known as a termiticide, injected into the ground alongside the foundation, beneath concrete slabs, and within foundation walls.
Leave termite control to the professionals. The “do-it-yourself” products, sold to homeowners at retail stores or bought over the Internet, will seldom eradicate an existing termite problem.
Fighting lawn fungus
The sun, excessive rain and bugs set the stage for brown patches in Lowcountry lawns, especially with Bermuda, Kentucky Bluegrass, Centipede Grass, Bentgrass, St. Augustine and rye grasses.
Brown patch is a fungal disease that can be controlled by following a strict fertilization schedule with the proper amount of nitrogen, watering in the early morning to remove dew, mowing grass a little taller with a sharp mower blade and bagging lawn clippings. The most common fungicides used on brown patch are benomyl and chlorothalonil.
It’s also important to aerate often and to reduce shade to effected areas, according to Americanlawns. com. But be careful of over-watering or watering at the wrong time of the day.
Weed and feed
If your lawn has been ravaged by brown patches, the first step is to spread fungicide. Let it set for two weeks. Then aerate your lawn and spread weed and feed (a combination of fertilizer and weed-control). Above all, don’t overwater your lawns. Call an expert for advice.
When mold and mildew strike
Hot and humid conditions attract mold and mildew to almost every part of the house. The first sign of a mold or mildew problem is a musty odor infiltrating your home. Mold, fungus and mildew are formed by airborne microscopic spores that attach themselves to moist surfaces.
Mold and mildew leave a black stain that can rot fabric, leather and paper. They also can cause serious health problems for people suffering from allergies and respiratory problems.
However, these tiny plants aren’t difficult to prevent. The trick is to make it hard for them to grow, according to doityourself.com. A general rule of thumb for most Palmetto pests is to keep the home clean, including closets, drawers, walls and clothing. Limit the amount of moisture in the home:
- Wipe down shower walls.
- Cover pots while cooking.
- Use exhaust fans in the kitchen, utility room and bathroom.
- Seal any cracks to the foundation.
- Spread heavy plastic or roofing paper over 80 percent of your crawl space.
The Environmental Protection Agency warns that if an area in the house is affected by water damage, homeowners have a window of 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. When water damage affects your home, The University of South Carolina recommends discarding books and papers that have become wet, removing water from carpet with a water extraction vacuum and discarding and replacing ceiling tiles and insulation.
However, the inside of the house isn’t the only part that needs constant attention. Lowcountry homes need to be powerwashed up to two times a year to prevent mold from growing in the crevices of the siding.
Professionals use a detergent and bleach mixture that will kill mold and mildew and prevent further growth. Find a certified mold inspector and mold remediator to examine and ultimately treat your home.
HVAC maintenance a Lowcountry must
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are often out-of-sight and out-of-mind when you’re looking to buy a new home, moving into one or just making sure your current home is in good repair. However, it’s important to provide regular maintenance of your system, especially during the months you’ll need it most.
Hire a specialist for annual pre-season checkups. Specialists get busy once summer and winter come, so it’s best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.
A typical maintenance check-up should include the following:
- Check the thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
- Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors.
- Lubricate all moving parts.
- Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/ or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
- Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates and shuts off properly.
- Clean the evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system’s ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
- Inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump. Your contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.
Courtesy of Article Resource Association Content and Energy Star.
What to do when: A seasonal checklist
When spring in the Lowcountry arrives, it typically includes sporadic torrential downpours. Check these parts for leakage, breaks or debris left behind:
- Gutters and drainage spouts
- Crawl space
- Windows and doors
- Concrete and brickwork
- Floors and subfloors
Spring also is a good time to call in contractors to help with repair work and prepare your home for the warmer weather, such as:
- Maintenance check of the air conditioning and ventilation system
- Maintaining outdoor irrigation system
- Sealing the deck
- Clean/repair swimming pool
The hot and humid Lowcountry summers provide the perfect playground for pesky mold, mildew, yard fungus and more. Be aggressive when tackling these home improvement projects:
- Housepainting or powerwashing
- Roof replacement
- Construction of fences, decks or room additions
- Replacing cracked driveways
- Inspection for and extermination of termites, moles and fire ants
- Treatment of lawn fungus
- Cutting back branches of trees
While the rest of the country is preparing for cold-weather winters, Lowcountry homeowners have to pay constant attention to their home and lawn. However, once the humidity subsides and some cooler weather sets in, it’s a good time to:
- Clean and fix drainage systems, including gutters and rain spouts, the foundation grading and appliance leaks
- Clean and repair the fireplace
- Maintain heating appliances, such as the water heater
SOURCE: AMERICAN-LAWNS.COM, DOITYOURSELF.COM AND EHOW.COM