into the spider hole
Thursday, June 4 2009
I was down in the basement guest bedroom suite this morning separating myself from some of the entropy I generate and I heard one of the critters that live in the basement ceiling. Critters have been living there for years, but recently there seems to have been an increase in their population and the amount of commotion they create. The sound I heard this morning was particularly disturbing, because it was the sound of chewing. What was being chewed? I was hoping it wasn't electrical wire, but there was no way to be sure. I decided that a crackdown against these critters needed to commence.
For months I'd been suspicious that these creatures were getting into the house from the west (uphill) side, where the floor they live in nearly coincides with the grade. There are still barriers to entry, mostly in the form of a foot-deep chasm between the foundation wall and a retaining wall, though there is a place under the front door where a small part of the house actually sits above a tiny crawl space and the sordid details of how house and landscape come together are obscured. With some difficulty, I'd peaked under there and seen that the four inch aluminum ducts coming from the two exhaust fans in the basement bathrooms were hanging out of the ceiling of this crawlspace and just lying on the ground, where a squirrel or chipmunk could come along and climb up inside and there would be nothing to stop them until they got to the fan itself. Theoretically a squirrel could then chew a hole through the side of the duct and venture out into a floorscape of some 1500 square feet (it's easy to get from one inter-joist bay to the next through the many holes drilled for pipes and wires).
I took the exhaust fan of one of the bathrooms apart and found the one-way flaps where the duct met up with the unit were jammed with a black powdery stuff mixed with at least one ancient chewed-up hickory nutshell. I took the black stuff to be rodent feces and the nutshell to indicate the visit or extended stay of a member of the squirrel family.
If squirrels and chipmunks were entering the house through those ventilation ducts, it seemed like a quick way to get rid of them would be to cut the ducts off well before they reached the ground. Then, if any critters departed through those truncated ducts they'd drop to the ground and be unable to reenter the house. Of course, to cut off those ducts I'd have to crawl into that crawl space, a cramped place full of moist dirt, jagged rocks, and spiders. This delivery As a first step, I cleared out the entrance to the crawl space, which was blocked by dirt and a sheet of bluestone set up as a thin wall.
As I was doing this, a delivery of fuel oil arrived for the distant winter season (we only get one such delivery each year). It was just under 200 gallons and came to just under $400. Since we don't heat with oil from April to November (or December), we can pick any time during the warm months to refill our tank. We'd decided to fill it sooner rather than later, as oil prices will probably creep upward if an economic recovery gets underway.
After I had the entrance to the "crawl space" cleared out, I put down a padded tarp (the kind used when moving furniture) as a carpet for when I would actually attempt to enter that cramped spider hole. And then, armed with a flashlight and a pair of scissors, I entered the hole. I went headfirst and face up, which accommodated the bending of my knees better for the steep initial slope of the entrance. Once inside, it wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared, although some of the spiders looked like they might have been Black Widows. I was able to wriggle the ten feet or so necessary to get to the ventilation pipes, where I to cut cut them off flush with the ceiling. Looking around, I also found another possible entrance into the house, a place where moisture from poor drainage in the past had allowed a corner of the particleboard ceiling to rot. It looked like some critter had taken the opportunity to open up an entrance hole there. I'd have to nail a board over that, maybe after spraying in a little spray foam. But that would have to wait for a time when Gretchen was around and I could call on her to fetch me things.
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