Get green: natural pest control and a new use for old bags

By Mary Beth Breckenridge / Akron Beacon Journal

Published Dec 31, 2013 at 12:01AM

What is that hum in my home?

My home improvement column received a letter some time back about a “strange humming noise” that was driving a reader and her family batty.

The problem: “For at least eight months, there has been a subtle, rhythmic hum that is constantly audible throughout my house that everyone hears. The noise is always the same, with no change in the pitch or pattern. We turned off the main breaker to the house to determine if it might be from one of our home systems, and it was still audible.”

Let’s first assume no one’s going crazy. So I sought help from readers across the country; I received more emails offering solutions than I could count. Here are some likely culprits you might not have considered, suggested by people like you:

• Chuck Coburn: “I have several battery-operated devices in my house; foremost is my smoke/CO/flammable gas detectors. When one of these devices’ battery gives out, a sound is made. Perhaps one is malfunctioning.”

• Rich Madara: “I’d be willing to bet the noise is louder in the room where the lines are attached to the house. Have been on trouble calls for exactly the same symptoms, found that the phone or cable lines were strung too tight with wind vibrating them harmonically, or there could be a small tree limb on the lines moving like a bow on a violin making the hum.”

• Pat Drago: “Many years ago we had a similar humming noise, which after much investigation turned out to be the result of hornets making their way into the wall of my living room through a small hole in the caulking between the siding and chimney. They had built an enormous nest inside the wall.”

• Mary Dudar: “We had the same scenario that was the motor on the neighbor’s radon system. The motor created a vibration that traveled underground to our house.”

• Ruth Speary: “A humming sound was waking me up and driving me crazy. I contacted our electric company and asked if it could be a transformer near our property. They traced the source to the pollution control device on the roof of a plant a few miles away.”

— Alan J. Heavens, The Philadelphia Inquirer, aheavens@phillynews.com

Most people want insects out of their gardens and yards. Jessica Walliser invites them in.

Walliser, an organic gardening advocate, touts natural pest management in her book “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden.” She favors an approach that lets nature take its course, with a little human oversight.

Nature, Walliser says, works best when it’s allowed to stay in balance. Even bad bugs aren’t entirely bad in the garden, she argues. After all, they attract the beneficial bugs that prey on them.

The key is achieving a diverse, complex landscape that allows the pests and the beneficial insects to remain in check so little human intervention is needed.

Walliser introduces her readers to some common beneficial bugs and the plants that are best at attracting them. She also guides readers in creating insectary borders and companion plantings designed to encourage natural enemies to do battle in a way that’s healthy for the garden.

Plastic bags as dustpans

The Bagup lets you reuse your plastic grocery bags as a dustpan or pet cleanup tool.

The tool holds a bag open, so you can sweep dirt and other debris into it. Its long handle keeps you from having to bend down when you’re using the Bagup with a broom or rake, but the handle can be removed when you want to use the tool to clean higher surfaces such as countertops and work benches.

It can be used with various types of bags, including biodegradable bags and kitchen garbage bags.

The Bagup sells for $14.99 at Amazon.com and is also available in a set with either a broom or rake for $24.99.

When to replace vinyl siding

Q: My house was built in 1995 and has vinyl siding. My wife and I see no current problems or adverse conditions with our siding, but what signs should we look for to indicate it’s time to install new siding? I don’t want to spend money replacing our siding any sooner than necessary, but, also, I don’t want the value of my residence to fall below what I could get if I had to sell it now.

A: David Damery, an associate professor of building and construction technology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, suggested looking for these signs:

• Cracked, split or broken siding.

• Excessive color fading.

• Presence of mold, mildew or fungus associated with the siding.

• Moisture on the inside walls of the house due to failure of the siding.

Keep in mind that individual panels of damaged siding can be replaced, although fading can make it difficult to make a good match. In an article on the website for the PBS series “This Old House,” the show’s general contractor, Tom Silva, suggests replacing the damaged piece with one from a less conspicuous part of the house. Then install new siding in the spot from which you took the replacement piece.

Good-quality siding may never need replacing in your lifetime, said Jery Huntley, president and chief executive officer of the Vinyl Siding Institute. Manufacturers of siding that’s certified by the institute typically offer a lifetime warranty for the original homeowner and often guarantee the product for 50 years to subsequent owners. You shouldn’t need to replace it unless you want to change the color or upgrade to insulated siding, Huntley said.