Q. Last year I had my house given a preventive treatment for termites. This year I received a bill for several hundred dollars for follow-up preventive treatments. Do I really need these treatments? I have the house regularly inspected and treated for other types of pests and my house isn’t damp or near wooded areas.
A. Termites are more prevalent in some areas of the country than in others, and it pays to be especially alert if you live in the deep South or far West where the climate is warm and humid much of the year. These regions are considered at high risk for termites, while the northern U.S. and Midwest have only moderate or low risk. In general, the farther north the area, the less risk.
Actually, termites usually leave some rather easily recognizable calling cards, but you will have to decide for yourself whether you need frequent preventive inspections by a specialist. So-called subterranean termites are especially destructive. Signs of their presence include sudden swarms of flying insects in spring and sometimes in fall, mud tunnels on the walls of foundations and crawl spaces that lead from the ground to sources of wood, and soft or hollow wood in a structure.
A simple test for insect-infested or rotted wood is to jab it with an icepick, awl, or sharp screwdriver; if the point sinks easily into the wood, it should be examined by an expert. Simply looking at a piece of wood might not reveal the presence of termites, since they usually eat out the interior and leave a thin shell – sometimes just a paint film.
Termites use mud tunnels as conduits from ground to food source – the cellulose in wood. They must have moisture and will die if exposed to the sun. Termites can also tunnel through foam insulation and many building codes require that foundation insulation be kept off the ground.
Various sprays, dusts and baits are available for do-it-yourself termite control. Those who want to try this route can visit www.domyownpestcontrol.com. Click on Household Pests, then on Termites.
Q. When I flush my toilet, there is a loud gurgling noise that seems to come mostly from the bathtub drain. This has been going on for some time and is quite annoying. My plumber hasn’t been any help. Any suggestions?
A. My guess is that the vent connected to your bathroom fixtures is clogged or partially clogged. This vent is a pipe that extends up through the roof of your house. It is connected to the drain-waste pipe that carries waste and used water to the sewer system, and also has a connection to each of the fixtures in the bathroom.
Each of the fixtures has a trap that is normally full of water, which prevents sewer gas from seeping into the house. If the vent pipe is clogged, it can cause unequal pressure in the traps, pulling out some or all of the water. Thus, when you flush your toilet, the sudden change in pressure pulls water out of the bathtub trap and you hear the gurgling noise. Gurgling or bubbling might sometimes occur in the toilet bowl itself, when it is flushed.
Assuming that this is the cause of your problem, the probable solution is to remove the clog from the vent pipe. Some vents have a screen on top that helps prevent clogging, but many are open. Leaves, twigs and other debris can collect in the pipe. Sometimes the vent can be cleared by running a plumber’s snake (a flexible cable), down the pipe to catch the clog and pull it out.
I don’t recommend that do-it-yourselfers climb on roofs to try and open vent pipes. It is a job for an experienced plumber with the proper equipment. It is also possible that a clogged vent isn’t the cause of the problem and an experienced plumber can help diagnose it.