And now for something totally different

Somebody cue Monty Python’s Spanish inquisition…

Odorous House Ant (photo - 5391193 - Joseph Berger,

Odorous House Ant
(photo – 5391193 – Joseph Berger,

Odorous house ants are a huge problem in the northwest. They infest many more homes than people realize and when they do, they move in in much larger numbers.

It is also been proven that they have super colonies in our area where whole neighborhoods and many many homes are all infested with one colony consisting of dozens of nests  - which can make getting rid of them a nightmare.

This is all known and published information.

Whats new?

Odorous house ants are supposed to swarm in late June and July. They did. We are getting calls about a second swarm happening now.

Go figure.

Odorous house ants feed outside on aphid secretions and other insects. We have long suspected that one of the reasons we continue to get calls on these ants over the winter is that they will forage underground on aphids attacking the root systems of trees, shrubs, and ground cover, as readily as they will attack the aphids that feed on tree limbs and leaves.

We are left wondering what this means for activity levels next year. I’m guessing it’s going to be a banner year.

See our Odorous House ant page for treatment details.


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Preventing rot in the winter.

Here are a few things you can do now, as winter approaches, that can help keep you from having expensive rot repair bills later.

Clean out your gutters now. Especially important to do before it freezes. If you live anywhere near trees, there may be gutter areas that need cleaning out once a month throughout the winter.

Check and make sure that your downspouts direct rain runoff water away from your home. Downspouts should have functional elbows at the bottom and splash blocks. Splash blocks are devices to help drain away rain water and are a great idea if your downspouts don’t drain into a drainage system. If they do drain into a drainage system, go outside while it’s raining sometime and make sure the drain lines are working properly. If water is pooling around the surface or worse, bubbling back out – you may need to have them cleared.

Now is another good time to make sure that your home’s siding is clear of soil, beauty bark, gravel, and any other soil cover. There should be at least 3 to 4 inches of clear concrete showing between the bottom of your siding and any soil or soil cover below it.

Make sure that your flower beds do not direct water back against your home when it rains – especially not into your sub area.

One thing that many home owners do in the winter, but shouldn’t, is closing off their exterior vents.

Even with a really good vapor barrier under a home, hundreds to thousands of gallons of water will evaporate under a home every day. Good ventilation under your home keeps that moisture from accumulating and causing rot. Good ventilation also keeps the area under your home cooler. Cooler means less chance of rot growth.

Rot is a living organism, think mushroom, which needs air, moisture, and heat to grow and consume the wood of your home. Closing off your vents traps moisture and raises the temperature – the perfect thing to promote rot growth.

Closing off your vents in the winter may save you some money in the short term, but it may costs you thousands in the long term.

At Safeguard we can only recommend closing off vents if we were looking at a really severe cold snap, and then for only as long as the cold snap is here.

A much better bet for people concerned with high heat bills is better insulation. Especially when many utility companies are offering cash incentives and low interests loans for weatherization:

Finally, make sure that your drier exhaust ducts and exhaust flaps are working properly. The last thing you want is a loose or disconnected drier duct pumping hot moist air into your sub area or walls. It also makes sense to check the drier flap while you’re at it. Drier flaps are a major entry point for rodents, and if they aren’t cleaned once in a while they won’t close properly, letting in birds, rodents, and also cold winter air.

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Keeping Rodents Out of Your Home: Part Four

Sub Areas and Basements.

We inspect every sub area paying special attention to any area we couldn’t inspect from the exterior – especially under porches and decks. We look at many of the same areas we looked at from the outside (see our last blog post) and some you just cannot see unless you crawl underneath.

We look at every vent, and every foundation jog, and where different concrete pours meet, like around the area where the foundations for brick fireplaces meet the foundation of the rest of the house. Vents are typically re-screened with heavy duty wire mesh and gaps in the foundation are usually filled with concrete patch – never with expanding foam. Rats like to chew on expanding foam and its no match for their sharp and super hard teeth.

We look at how the structural wood of your home joins with the concrete foundation that supports it. Are their gaps above or below – or gap in areas where these items meet? We look at the structural members for areas where someone may have thought about installing drier vents or regular sub area vents but stopped for some reason as there can be hidden gaps which allow rodent access.

We look at the foundation for areas where the water supply coming in or the sanitary line going our penetrate – there are  often gaps around the pipes which could let in rodents. Sometimes these utilities pass under the foundation in trenches. These low spots can allow easy access for rodents to get in and out – they should be filled with mounded pea gravel.

Sub area drain.

Sub area drain.

We also look for sub area drains. Sometimes these drains penetrate the foundation wall like the utilities noted above. However, we make a point of rolling back the vapor barrier underneath every home and inspecting the outer couple feet around the sub area perimeter, because the drain lines are quite often hidden underneath.

We look for droppings and foot prints. Droppings are pretty easy to see if present, but foot prints are harder. Look at the top of black plastic drain lines and in any dust which might have accumulated on the black plastic vapor barrier.

While we are crawling around underneath, we are looking for signs that something, anything, might be burrowing under the home. Moles, rats, and other creatures will burrow under a foundation. Rats are opportunistic if tunnels exist – they will find and use them. If you have tunnels running under your home, a shallow foundation, or no foundation at all, there are some options you should consider, but it may be much tougher to keep rats out from underneath, and you might want to have us drop by for a consultation.

If you don’t have a sub area but you do have a basement:

Check  your basement to make sure that the drains have metal drain covers or grates on your installed. Check the back of your drier to make sure there are no droppings or chewed up materials.  Check that any exposed plumbing clean-outs are tightly closed, and make sure you keep your toilet seats down. Many parts of Seattle have a high population of rodents living in the sewers – its very easy for them to come up through your toilet.

And that’s it. If you have read all four parts of this post and checked out everything you should be and stay rodent free. Not only will taking care of these items help prevent rodents, if you have rodents, they may be necessary to get rid of them.

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Keeping Rodents Out Of Your Home: Part Three

The exterior of your home.

Below the roof line of your house, the single most often used access point for rodents is the sub area access door itself. Most access doors and covers do not fit tightly enough to keep rats or mice out. Additionally, some sub area access points have access wells, openings in the ground in front of the doors that either impede the door closing tightly, or are constructed in such a way that rodents can either go around them or under them. If you aren’t sure if rats can get through, crawl underneath and have someone put the lid down – if you can see more than 1/4 of daylight – mice can get in, more than and rats can get in.

If you can’s see light but you can get the first half inch of your finger in any crack, mice can get in.

Typical Cantilever

Typical Cantilever

Common rodent access points include cantilevers. Especially if these extensions happen at the foundation level. A cantilever is an area where your home extends out beyond your foundation. There areas are most common under picture windows or gas fireplaces. It is quite common for builders to either improperly close off the underside, or to not close them off at all. In the picture to the left, a 3/4 wide gap runs the entire length of the cantilever just above the mudsill (the mudsill sits right on top of the foundation.) The C in Control is positioned right in this gap.

Most homes have several concrete features that adjoin each other but were poured at different times and represent different stages of construction. There are slabs and footings, and porches and patios. Sometimes there are gaps between these different features. The two most common of these gaps occur between the foundation of a brick fireplace and the foundation of the rest of the structure, and the gap between a brick facade and the foundation. Both can have gaps that allow rodent access.

The gap at the fireplace can sometimes be found by sticking a screwdriver up under the siding at the sides of the fireplace – sometimes it can only be seen by crawling underneath. The gap behind the brick facade can be tricky and may need a professional to locate. It can sometimes be found at the end and bottom of the facade, it may be buried below ground level.

Exterior vents through, brick, concrete, or wood often allow rodent access, either because they have been damaged, or because they were improperly installed. Vents in brick usually appear as 1/2 to 1 inch wide slits, 3 to 5 inches tall. You may need a flashlight to see inside them to tell if they are screened, although to know for sure that there are no tears or openings in the screen you may have to go underneath.

On some homes, the areas where the utilities attach to your home provide ready access points. Some of these utilities will come up out of the ground at the foundation level, especially the electrical. Look at any area where water, electrical, heat pumps, air conditioning, etc… attach to or penetrate your home.

On our last post we wrote in-depth about the roof and the eaves, but the areas below the eaves are just as important, eave screens and gaps just below the eave line are quite common.


Side framing for overhead door.

Side framing for overhead door.

The last common area to check is the exterior garage doors. The framing at the sides of the overhead garage door often does not extend all the way down to the concrete. On some of these overhead doors, the door itself does not close completely. This may be due to age, settling, damage to the door, and it may be by design. Finally, the other garage door, the side or back passage door to the outside may have a gap at the base, under the swinging door.

Great, now that you know where many of the common the gaps and access points are, what to do about it? Our newly updated web page has some great pointers, as well as some visual guides to the items listed here. Need a professional opinion? We perform an industry leading 5 point inspection and present each customer with a graph detailing what we found and where. Our next post will feature the fourth area – the sub area.

If you are intent on doing your own rodent proofing, please follow the link above, a lot of our work involves redoing rodent proofing done by others, including other rodent control professionals.

If you have rodents, the single most important control aspect is rodent proofing, rodents will always re-infest an area the have infested previously, there is nothing more attractive to rodents than the smell of other rodents. While you may smell nothing – their nose is hundreds of times more acute.




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Keeping Rodents Out Of Your Home: Part Two

Too much vegetation!

Too much vegetation!

One of the major entry areas for rats is via the roof. A roof is built to be light and airy, it is not built to the same kind of heavy duty specifications as a foundation or the structural support members that rest on it.

If a rat can get to your roof, chances are it can get in. Almost all roofs have gaps in them.

Common areas for gaps include:

Areas where different roof angles meet. This can be dormers, out croppings, additions, and changes in roof angles, among others. At the point where these areas meet together, there are often small openings in the framing. Rats only need a gap of half an inch, it’s not unusual for these areas to have gaps of 4 inches or more. These gaps usually occur in areas that are hard for the homeowner to see. 

The fascia (the backing board behind your gutter) where it meets the sheathing (the wood beneath your roof surface) is another problem area for many homes – but only if you have boxed in eaves. If you can see rafters under your eaves, you’re probably OK.

Gaps between slats. Sometimes roofs are built with slats that run horizontal across the roof. Roofing materiel is then later added on top of these slats. The gaps between these slats is notorious for allowing rat access.

Another frequent culprit are roof vents, especially the small square looking vents that fit close to the roof. The underside of these vents are often screened with super light fiberglass screen that rats can chew through in seconds.

Even if your roof doesn’t have any gaps currently, it’s only a matter of minutes for them to make one in many roof types.

How do you keep rats out of your roof? You can hire a professional to inspect and install flashing or heavy duty hardware cloth where necessary. This may solve the problem for a while. This is especially useful if you currently have a rodent infestation. But the long term solution should always include making your roof difficult, if not impossible to get to.

This will involve:

Cutting back all vegetation so that none of it comes within 3 feet of your roof. Plan your pruning carefully so that you don’t have to do it every few months, if you’re like me, you’ll forget about it at some point and the vegetation will grow back. (If you need to remove a tree check with your local city or county first, some of them frown on cutting down trees.)

Making sure you don’t store items around your home that rats can use to climb up on to your roof. Nothing should come within 3 feet of the eave, gutter, or roof.

Why 3 feet? Rats can jump more than 3 feet, but they don’t like to. They are vulnerable to airborne predators and it is almost impossible to change your trajectory in flight. A sharp eyed hawk or a cat on the prowl would make quick work of rats that regularly had to jump 3 feet or more.

This might mean you need to trim or alter fences, gates, trellises and other landscape features around your home.

Finally, if you live in an area where rats are common, or if you’ve had rats, ask your utility providers to bury the cables that bring you your phone and or cable. It is quite common for rats and squirrels to use these as access points.

If you would like to schedule an inspection of your roof system, or your entire home- Give Safeguard a call, we’re here to help.




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Keeping rodents out of your home: A four part series.


Rattus rattus

Part 1.  Make the environment around your home less attractive to rodents.


Rats and mice will live outside structures in blackberry bushes, brambles, ivy, and other dense vegetation during the warmer months.  The thick vegetation shields rodents from flying predators and provides an early warning system for ground based predators. Consider thinning thick vegetation and removing blackberry bushes.

In the same way, piles of debris, stacks of building materials, and other stored items outside a structure provide shelter. A quick trip to the dump can help you keep rodent free. That old car you never drive? Rats will quickly move into unused autos sitting idle.

When the weather turns colder, rodents will move into nearby structures to survive the winter. As rodents go about their nightly routines, they are always scoping for places to hide should they find themselves in danger from predators. Rodents living many houses a way will check out your yard and home, not only for shelter, but for food sources.

Speaking of food sources, dog food, left out in dog dishes all day – is a huge draw for rats. Rats will attack dogs in groups and train dogs to leave them alone as they eat the pet’s food. Pet food should never be stored outside. It should be stored in your garage in a metal container with a tight fitting metal lid. Dog feces are also a huge draw. All dog owners know that some dogs will occasionally eat dog feces. Rodents prefer fresher food than humans – but when it’s all you can get…

Make sure to store your trash in containers that have tight fitting undamaged lids. If your trash can has holes chewed in it – request a new one from your collection company. If you don’t use a collection service, then get new lids. Consider metal cans – rats can’t chew through them.

Bird feeders a huge draw too. Consider planting plants that attract humming birds and installing bird baths instead of feeders. If you must have a feeder, try to get rodent resistant feeders and understand that you make be drawing rats to your home – you should defiantly have your home inspected for rats every few years of you feed birds.

Keeping ground fall fruits picked up can help keep rat populations down too. What to do with the ground falls? Composting great, but understand that composting can draw rats. These steps may help: Add screens or hardware cloth to areas where rats and other burrowing animals can get through. If your bin is placed on the soil, lay a piece of screen between the soil and the bottom of the bin. Turn material regularly to prevent nesting. In especially tough cases, add a vertical screen (6 to 8 inches into the ground) around the perimeter of the bin. Avoid adding materials that attract pests (meat, dairy, oils) and ensure food scraps are well concealed beneath a 2-3 inch layer of “browns” such as fall leaves.

When planning future landscaping projects, keep in mind that rodents like to nest in rockery. It’s full of all kinds of perfectly sized gaps for them to burrow into or behind. Well built walls made of concrete products, such as blocks or pavers, can eliminate harborage areas.

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Safeguard is having it’s best year ever. To celebrate, we want to help more people than ever.

Last year you helped us donate a couple hundred dollars to Northwest Harvest, That amount was matched by other donors, doubling our efforts to feed the needy in our area.

This year, we want to do more. For every like AND share of our posts through Christmas, we will increase our donation to this very worthy cause. Our twice weekly posts often reach 500 people or more each. We post every Monday and Friday.

Want to help? No doubt there will be another local giving event where big name corporations offer to step up and match donations to Northwest harvest, you can give and have your gift matched too! But you can also help us give, by liking and sharing this post with your friends :)

- Gary, Susan, Tim, Don, Andrew, and Nate


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Dampwood Termites – more winged insects you will see flying around soon.

Every year at the end of summer / beginning of fall, winged termite reproductives swarm. The swarmers are terrible fliers and they pose little risk to most homes, but they can still be worrisome.

They are large insects, about the size of Carpenter Ant swarmers, and they are a dark reddish brown color. They have two sets of equal length wings, while ants have two sets of wings that are of unequal length. Once the winged termites land and start walking around they typically lose their wings.

Dampwood Termite

Dampwood Termite

See the picture of a dampwood termite swarmer for reference.

We have two types of termites in our area: Subterranean Termites and Dampwood Termites. I will address Subs, in a later post.

Dampwood Termites are considered a wood destroying organism. Like moisture ants, they are a secondary damage producer and as their name suggests they occur in areas where there is damp wood. An insect’s idea of damp is different than what you and I might consider damp.

A missing vapor barrier under your home can allow gallons of water to evaporate into the structural wood under your home every day. Closing off your sub area vents can do the same. This is enough moisture to encourage termite activity. A drier venting underneath or a plumbing leak can lead to termites too. Any where there is wood in contact with soil or ground covers is an area where there is enough moisture. Missing or damaged moisture seals in bathrooms or damaged or leaking gutter and downspouts are major culprits.

Another common problem area is around porches and patios. Often exterior concrete features are poured up against the siding of the structure. Even if the siding isn’t made of wood this traps moisture against a structure in three ways, moisture condensing up from below, moisture wicking over from porous concrete which absorbs water when it rains, and in some areas, rain water will seep down into the crack between the concrete and the structure – where it can take months to dissipate.

A home should be inspected every few for conditions which create excessive moisture conditions. Not only do these conditions attract termites, and ants of various species, they create the same exact conditions needed by wood rot – a set of living organisms that destroy more wood than all the wood damaging insects combined. The repair costs for all types of wood destroying organisms is often cited as exceeding the costs of all natural disasters combined.

The usual treatment recommendation for Dampwood termites involves moisture remediation and rot repair, although like moisture ants a treatment may be recommended if it is the best interests of the home.

Treatments usually involve the use of boric acid type materials such Bora-Care and Tim-Bor, both of which are considered to be Green Pest Control alternatives that kill all  types of rot and have some light, but effective insecticidal properties.






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Love is in the air

It’s also under your sofa, beneath your appliances, and in your coat closet. It’s in that crack by the front door. No silly, the one under the baseboard.

House spider mating season is here. “They got a thing… goin’ on.”

There are three local species of house spiders: Tegenaria agrestis, also known as the Hobo Spider, Eratigena atrica, the Giant House Spider, and Tegenaria domestica, the Domestic House Spider.

These closely related spiders are a breeze to tell apart, all you have to do is catch them, turn them over, and using a magnifying glass, compare their reproductive parts to a handy chart that YOU WILL NEVER USE IN THIS LIFETIME – STOP KIDDING YOURSELF.

All three of these spiders look the same to the naked eye, except that a full grown Giant House Spider can be 20 to 25% bigger in the body with much longer legs. When it is fully grown. Otherwise it presents exactly like the rest of them. Go ahead and wait to see if it gets bigger. No, really we can be patient if you can…

Hobo Spiders leave their nests every night in search of food. Films have documented the spider wars that happen in the average home while it's owners sleep.

Hobo Spiders leave their nests every night in search of food. Films have documented the spider wars that happen in the average home while it’s owners sleep.

House spiders are awesome if you like superfast icky crawling things racing around your home, especially at night, attacking and eating each other. Even during mating season there is a good chance of being on the menu. There has to be another joke in there somewhere.

Anyway, the Giant House Spider is in the Guinness Book Of World Records for being the fastest true spider. Remember that when you try to catch them to let them go in the wild. Just remember to take them far far away, or they will just chuckle as they make their way back inside your home from your yard—I mean, they got into your house in the first place, right?

It is important to know that none of these spiders are poisonous. Yes, although the Hobo Spider gets a bad rap, and there are plenty of people writing articles about it,  it’s just not true. Their reputation for being poisonous comes mainly from a common misdiagnosis from doctors and from folk lore.

The Brown Recluse Spider does not live in our area. Exhaustive studies involving many tens of thousands of spiders have proven this. They cannot survive here. In 30 years of killing millions of spiders, I have never seen one or had one presented to me by a customer. however, it is common for doctors to look at a patient where bacteria has caused an open, weeping wound and diagnose it as a Brown Recluse Spider bite.

There are dozens of causes for these types of wounds that do not involve spiders.

A percentage of Hobo Spiders in those same exhaustive studies did test positive for traces of a bacteria that can cause tissue necrosis, open weeping wounds. It is possible that other types of spiders may also carry this or other similar bacteria, but venom from the spiders did not cause open wounds and wasn’t particularly toxic to humans.

Also, this is the time of year when spiders spin webs all over the darn place – from your eaves and gutters  - across every single square inch of your property that you want to walk—sometimes multiple times as day. It’s too early to tell if we’re going to have the out of control spider season like we did last year.

Last year the population was so high that we could barely keep up, so I hope so :).





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Flying Ants II – The Sequel, Flying Now In a Home Near You.

Moisture Ants come in three different colors and sizes. The female is large and reddish brown - as big as a carpenter ant, the makes are small, almost like a gnat, the workers are small and red.

Moisture Ants come in three different colors and sizes. The female is large and reddish brown – as big as a carpenter ant, the males are small and black, almost like a gnat, the workers are small and red.

All over Seattle the ants are taking wing.

Moisture ants are at home under the ground. The live in the base of trees, fence posts, and in any other type buried wood. They like buried wood because it is moist. They need a 25% or better moisture content to nest in wood.

Sometimes our homes will have moisture conditions above the ground: leaky flashing in a roof or cracks in a roof membrane, gutters or downspouts that leak back against your home, cracked tile, grout, or caulking in the bathroom, old aluminum windows that sweat, earth to wood contact where the siding of the home meets the exterior landscaping, or buried wood under a house – all these are common home conditions which invite moisture ant infestations.

Moisture ants damage wood but the moisture which attracts them also damages wood because it is the same moisture level which allow wood rot to flourish. Wood rot and moisture ants aren’t always present in the same home, but they are quite common.

Taking care of the moisture problem is really important, but so is eliminating the ants. If you plan to have home repairs done to take care of rot it is important for you or your contractor to understand how rot works.

Rot is a living organism. It’s tendrils extend deep into the wood, well beyond the areas that look soft or are discolored, think several feet. Repair work should extend well beyond what is soft or discolored as well.

All nearby wood should be treated while the reconstruction area is opened. Boric acid solutions, especially ones that contain ethylene glycol are especially effective – and low in toxicity, if pets are not in the area and the materials is applied properly.

Because reconstruction may take weeks, months or years before homeowners get to it, and because we can never be sure how much replacement will take place – we do recommend treatments for this pest.

We can treat with an insecticide for quick knockdown, or with a boric acid solution that helps kill rot as well.








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