Dear Ken: Help, we have a mouse in the house! We believe it’s only one, but he does damage and creeps us out. Please tell us how to snare him before we consider more lethal methods. — Debbie
Answer: Just snaring and releasing might allow it to come back into your house or a neighbor’s. The traditional spring traps you buy at the grocery store are the most humane, in that they are instantaneous in their effect. Most folks spread a little peanut butter, sticky cheese or bacon — or a combination of all three — on the trigger. That can work, but sometimes these little guys will steal the bait and not spring the trap.
A listener swears that wrapping a piece of cotton tightly around the actuator works every time. Her theory is that mice want the fibers as a nesting material. When they tug on the cotton — bam! — it’s all over. Another listener said he wraps a walnut piece around the trigger with dental floss, of all things. Again, they tug at it and spring the trap.
Your compassion is laudable, but needs to be directed someplace else, as these critters spread disease. In fact they are associated with the hantavirus, which can sometimes be fatal to humans.
Mice sneak into the house in two ways: through cracks and holes between the siding and foundation near the ground, and into the garage when you raise the door to come and go. So it’s a good idea to seal up intrusion points with caulking or foam, and also to leave a couple of traps set along the edges of the garage foundation.
Dear Ken: Do you have any idea why our toilet seems to get low on water? It seems to happen most when it’s windy. — Michelle
Answer: It’s Mr. Bernoulli’s fault. He was the guy who discovered that when you run a fluid (in this case air) over something you lower the pressure. When the wind blows across that 3-inch vent on your roof, the toilet water responds to the lower pressure by trying to move out of the bowl and up the stack. Once it moves up and over the trap in the base, it can’t get back, so the water level is lower. In many parts of the country, this “low tide” effect is little known, but thanks to our nearly constant Front Range breeze, it’s quite common here.
There’s another, but less likely, reason for lower toilet water. If some material — like dental floss — hangs up in the throat inside the base, it can slowly siphon water out of the bowl. In that case, you will need to unhook it from the floor, turn it over and see what’s going on.
Dear Ken: I feel I’m a pretty handy guy, and I’m considering either putting up vinyl siding or painting. Can you tell me the total cost difference between the two? I’d provide the labor. — Brad
Answer: The new siding will cost four of five times what you’ll spend on paint. The trade-off can be worth it, though, if you’re going to stay in the house awhile. That’s because vinyl is usually installed over 1/2-inch foam board, so it not only spiffs up the outside, but it lowers winter heat loss. The trouble is, installing vinyl on an older house is pretty specialized work. It requires unique tools and techniques to install it around doors, windows, faucets, meters, soffits and vents. Its’ one of those jobs that you’ll get really good at just as you’re finishing — that is, you’ll probably be disappointed. So hire an actual siding company to do the work. The bids will vary a lot, so shop around very carefully.
Painting, on the other hand, is much less problematic. If you scrape, wire brush, caulk and prime assiduously, you’ll end up with a great-looking house. That is unless your siding is “wicking.” That’s what happens to hard board that isn’t painted soon enough. The edges of the boards start absorbing ambient moisture from the air, and they swell up and blister. The only cure is to replace the worst boards and then prime the rest under those exposed, beveled edges.
Dear Ken: We moved into a new house several months ago and after a few weeks a quarter-size piece of the porcelain flaked off from our bathtub. Since then, it has been patched twice with a glaze and this latest one is cracking again. What can be going on? — Dee
Answer: The tub must be under some sort of stress. There are nailing straps on the wall studs, and one may have been nailed higher than the other, creating an unequal force along one side; or perhaps the floor was out of level and so the tub base was shimmed. In either case, the tub is flexing when you stand or sit in it. Your patch must be in a specific spot that is vulnerable to this movement. Probably the only reliable remedy at this point is to completely reglaze the tub or remove some tile and relieve the stress.
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com