Spring is here and that means it’s time to get a jump start on yard work. A great weekend project that many people tackle at this time is mulching and landscaping. A lot of times in the past I’ve thrown down mulch and so long as it looked good, the job was done. Really though, there are a number of issues that should be tackled at this time because they are interrelated.
While there are many steps that can be taken for a successful landscape job, this article is going to focus on what your house needs. As a home inspector, I’m concerned with function, not design. There are a few things that should be done to keep away weeds and, most importantly, insects. Some of the things that need addressed are, holes caulked, mulch in the right place, shrubs trimmed, and insecticide.
The first area a homeowner should start with is trimming the shrubs. This is a great time of the year to trim plants because it’s not too hot and there is plenty of rain. When trimming shrubs, it is critical to cut them back away from the house. There should be at least 6” of air space between the shrubs and your house. Shrubs that touch siding do two things. First, they are a bridge for insects to climb onto your house. Second, they prevent the siding behind them from drying quickly. Increased moisture can lead to moss or mold growth on the siding. Additionally, insects need water, in liquid form preferably but high humidity will suffice if necessary.
If you have an outside air conditioner unit you need to trim the plants and shrubs away from it too. This time, you need to trim your shrubs 2 ft away from the air conditioner. The air conditioner needs the extra space to allow for adequate airflow around the unit. If plants are too close it’s hard for the air conditioner to cool itself and can result in a shorter life of the unit.
The next item that should be addressed are holes in the wall. I know, you don’t have any holes in the outside walls. I bet you do.
Insects need only a small crack to gain entrance to your home. Often, foundations have cracks small enough to allow for insect entry that people usually overlook. The small crack in foundation pictured below is more than adequate to allow carpenter ants and termites access to your home. It needs pointed or caulked, depending on your skill set.
Another way for insects to enter your home without ever being able to see them is behind insulation board. Termites and carpenter ants, and most other creepy crawlers, love insulation board. They can excavate tunnels through it or simply crawl up behind the insulation and right behind your siding. If you have insulation board, cut it back. The picture below is of a joint crack in insulation board that has been covered with a cement coating to protect it from weathering.
Other holes often exist in homes where wires enter homes. The most notorious, in my mind at least, hole driller is the cable guy. Every time you change service a guy comes out and drills new holes through your siding. Another common area is where air conditioner lines run into the house. Most HVAC servicemen will caulk them. However, because such a large amount of caulk is used, there is a tendency for the caulk to shrink more. If too much shrinkage occurs the caulk will pull away from the edge of the siding and leave a hole.
Now your ready to mulch, but wait. Did you mulch last year? What about the year before? If your mulch has built up over time you may have to remove some mulch from below the siding. The ground and your siding need around 8 inches of clearance. If there is less clearance then insects are much more likely to crawl up the foundation and behind your siding. Remove mulch if necessary.
Mulch is down but you’re not done yet. It’s time to apply some pesticide. First, I need to point one thing out. I have a commercial pesticide license and I want to make it clear that anything you can buy at the local hardware store is nowhere close to being as effective as what a licensed pesticide business uses. If you already have some kind of insect infestation you should hire a professional. Professional pesticide companies are happy to spray your house as part of a seasonal maintenance program if you want the best job you can get.
If your house doesn’t have a current insect problem there is nothing wrong with a DIY approach. For a DIY approach I would recommend a granular perimeter spread. Spectracide and Sevin are two common brands you can find locally. Use a broadcaster of some sort and spread the granules at least 4-6 feet around the perimeter of the house. It is tick season and if you’re interested in preventing ticks in your yard you can apply the granules to the entire yard. These pesticides are usually made for applying to the entire yard. Again, read the label.
It is important to follow the directions on the bag. These pesticides may be off the shelf, but can still cause contamination. Spread them on a clam day and wear proper attire. One of the main ways people get contaminated with pesticide is spreading the stuff while wearing shorts. Don’t drag pesticide inside your home.
These pesticides usually need to be “watered in” to activate them. In order to water in your pesticide you need to spray the area with the hose. After the insecticide has been watered in and dried, it’s safe to walk through.
Once the granules are done, you should use a spray pesticide in a few locations. Any cracks that remain in your foundation should be sprayed. Where the foundation meets the house’s siding should also be sprayed to prevent insets from making a home behind your siding. Spray around window wells. Finally, spray the ground in front of doors to create a barrier.
When mulching this year, take the time to do a few extra things. Mulching is a great time to address common associated home maintenance issues, especially pest control. Your house may thank you in the long run.