Pest Treatment: Do You Need It?

While our most well-known company, Hill Property Inspections LLC, performs frequent pest inspections for wood-destroying insects, our partner company, Hill Pest Control LLC, also performs pest inspections for all types of pests and provides treatment. Countless homeowners are on contract with a pest control company to prevent unwanted invaders, but many are on the fence and question whether professional pest treatments are really necessary. For those who do recognize its importance, the question is how often treatments should be done and whether calling out (and paying for) a pro is really necessary. In this post, I’d like to take some time to go over the importance of professional pest control and answer some basic questions.

In reality, every property owner should have a concrete plan to manage unwanted pest intrusion; and that’s true whether you attempt to do it yourself or hire a professional who is trained in identifying and properly treating the myriad of insects, rodents, mites and other pests that plague countless homes and businesses nearly every day. Even if you feel confident you don’t have an active problem with pest intrusion, the chances are pretty high that you do.

We share our environment with an untold number of species, and in comparison we humans are unbelievably low in number. This is generally a good thing, as nature has a way of properly managing levels through predator-prey relationships, environmental influences and several other factors, but unacceptable levels of detrimental pests can quickly become a problem – even for those who normally aren’t too bothered by the occasional spider, stink bug, centipede or other “creepy critter.”

Many potential pests are of major benefit to us and are often taken for granted. Bees are perhaps the best and most obvious example, as they play a crucial role in pollinating and (in the case of honey bees) producing honey. Bats are another undervalued species and eat many insects to help keep population levels at bay. No one wants bats roosting in their attic, but those who recognize their importance sometimes place bat houses nearby to intentionally provide a suitable shelter. Again, it’s only when pests pose a threat to health, safety or structural integrity that they become problematic. And high pest levels can pose other threats, even outside our homes or businesses, like destruction of plants and being a constant nuisance when we’re trying to enjoy some relaxing time outdoors.

Unfortunately, problematic pest invasion happens all too often – especially at rural properties where insects, rodents, snakes and wildlife are naturally more plentiful. You may be tempted to try and treat these problems on your own with over-the-counter remedies or old-fashioned “tricks,” but these measures rarely prove effective – especially in the long run. Your expense, time and effort may result in a temporary and mild improvement, but it will almost certainly never compete with professional pest control that employs the most effective products, a wealth of knowledge, the best equipment, and a customized approach. We in the industry refer to this approach as integrated pest management (IPM), and it’s one of the main factors that separates a DIY-er from a true pro.

So, what are some of the most common problems resulting from unacceptable levels of pests? For one, wood-destroying insects (especially termites) can cause structural damage to wooden structural members that could lead to thousands of dollars in repair work, and this type of damage is usually not covered by homeowners insurance. Termites, alone, account for billions of dollars worth of damage every year in the U.S., and they eat at wood continually while often going largely unnoticed. Rodents are unsanitary, often carry disease, and can lurk in walls and other hidden spaces where they’re known to chew wiring and other components that could lead to a hazard. They also multiply quickly and can survive with very minimal amounts of food and water. Bed bugs, which have been on the rise in recent years, also multiply quickly and can live a very long time off one feeding, and their bites cause small, irritating bumps on the skin of people they feed off of. Mosquitos, likewise, leave itchy red bumps (as everyone knows), and they are known to carry pathogens that can be very harmful. Ticks are similar, as are fleas, and each is plentiful in certain areas. Roaches, which are among the oldest species on earth, are incredibly resilient and can survive through hardships that would easily kill many other insects, and they eat nearly everything (including other dead roaches). They’re also incredibly good at hiding – usually in kitchens – and you may have them now without even knowing and even if your home is kept fairly clean.

With so much at stake, attempting to go it alone for treatment is almost always a recipe for disaster. Proper and effective pest control involves so much more than purchasing a generic chemical and some traps or baits from a local store and then hoping you apply them correctly. It involves extensive knowledge, proper identification, formulation of a situation-specific plan, use of quality equipment, correct timing, and appropriate application along with ongoing monitoring. Exclusion work (especially sealing of cracks and crevices) is also very important and usually requires an experienced professional to do the work correctly and in all areas that could serve as common entry points. These areas can be very small, and most invaders – even mice and bats – can squeeze through tiny holes that seem too small for them to fit through.

When it comes down to it, playing the role of pest control technician on your own is rarely ever a good idea. Certain tasks are simply best left to the pros; and you’ll find that in the long run, paying a professional to do it right the first time (and thereafter) will ultimately save you money… and a great deal of stress.

So, be sure to get in touch with a reputable pest control company in your area for ongoing treatment. Whether you do or don’t have a current pest problem, scheduling an initial inspection and treatment, along with quarterly maintenance service, is a no-brainer and will help you rest at ease knowing your property and family are protected against the many unwanted pests that could cause you multiple problems. And be sure to opt for a quarterly plan as opposed to an annual or semi-annual treatment, as even the best products only last a few months on average, and you’ll almost certainly save money by getting on a plan. If you happen to be located in or around Cambria and Somerset Counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation, or check us out at

Radon Testing – No Basement

I’m writing this article in the hopes of clearing up what I’ve come to realize is one of the most common misconceptions among homeowners, home buyers and even realtors pertaining to the many services we provide. In fact, this misconception is so commonplace that if I had to choose only one topic to teach on to clarify something we do, this would probably be it. For some reason, this misconception has been so widely accepted and frequently regurgitated over time that it is now considered basic truth in the minds of many people, and that’s no small issue when the subject at hand deals with health.

I can’t even begin to count how many times we’ve heard clients or agents tell us that a home doesn’t need to be tested for radon because there is no basement. Some people believe that testing for radon is still important if there is a crawlspace, but hardly anyone views it as necessary when a home is on a slab. How this notion ever became so widely accepted is a bit of a mystery, but it probably stems mostly from the fact that many radon tests are conducted in basements and that certain areas of the country that have higher average radon levels (like here in Pennsylvania) are in climate zones that tend to have homes with basements.

So, let me take a moment to set the record straight, and I hope the following information will shed some valuable light on this very misunderstood issue. Here are a few facts that debunk the “only houses with basements need tested for radon” myth…

1. The EPA does not distinguish between foundation types when it comes to radon testing. According to A Citizen’s Guide to Radon, which is an informational EPA publication, “Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements” (pg. 4);

2. Some of the highest average radon levels we have obtained from short-term testing for real estate transactions have come from homes on slabs (please read this fact again);

3. While radon comes from uranium in soil and soil exists around and below basements, a home on a slab is located directly above soil and may still be very prone to a high average radon level;

4. Although testing is frequently done in basements of homes that have them, the rule is simply that testing should be conducted on the lowest livable level. For a home on a slab, this would simply be the first floor which, like a basement slab, is located directly above soil.

I noted earlier that this topic is important because it pertains to health. To put that in proper perspective, you should know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, next to smoking, and it is invisible, odorless, colorless and tasteless. The only way to know your home’s radon level is to have it tested. Naturally, if your home has a slab or crawlspace foundation and you have bought into the myth that no basement means no need for testing, you’ll likely neglect to have your home tested, will never find out whether or not you have an elevated level, and may unknowingly be at risk.

If you’ve neglected to have your home’s radon level tested, I strongly encourage you to do so. If you’re a realtor who has assumed that testing is only necessary for homes with basements, please commit these facts to memory to help better educate your clients. It’s easy to assume something is true when it is widely accepted, but this issue is important enough that it warrants a course correction if you’ve accepted the “no basement means no test” rule – especially when that myth should never have evolved in the first place.

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Solid Aluminum Wiring

At our afternoon inspection today, we came across a pretty rare find – solid aluminum branch circuit wiring. The term “branch circuit wiring” refers to the wiring that runs from breakers in the electrical panel to electrical devices throughout the home, such as outlets, switches, fixtures, etc. Solid aluminum branch circuit wiring has a known history of posing a potential fire hazard in homes, and we’ll review the primary issues here in case your home is a rare house that was wired with it.

Solid aluminum wiring was installed in a number of homes over the course of about a decade from the mid-1960s to the mid 70s. Some builders and electricians opted for aluminum over copper during this time period because of its lower cost, and the issues that are now known with solid aluminum were obviously not so well known then. But what, exactly, are those issues?

Aluminum wiring expands and contracts at a much higher rate than copper, and that slight movement causes pushing and loosening forces at connection points that can lead to loose connections. Once a connection is loose between a wire and screw, arcing and excess heat can occur that could ultimately lead to an unexpected fire hazard. Furthermore, since copper branch circuit wiring is far more common than aluminum, someone could join the two dissimilar metals and cause a reaction that leads to increased electrical resistance. In short, solid aluminum branch circuit wiring has “possible fire hazard” written all over it.

The term possible here is key, though. A home with solid aluminum wiring is not guaranteed to have a fire or other electrical defect at all, and the wiring in the home we inspected today has been present for over 50 years with tight connections (of those we checked) and no signs of overheating or other prior damage. Prior condition is not a sure indication of future performance, however, and the wiring in the home we inspected today could cause a hazard at any point in the future.

If you aren’t sure what type of branch circuit wiring exists in your home and you aren’t comfortable removing your electrical panel’s cover to check the wire ends at breaker connections, you can look at the wire sheathing right outside your panel or quickly pull an outlet (with caution, of course). The wire sheathing should contain writing that indicates it is aluminum, and the aluminum wire ends at outlet screws are easily identified by their silver color.

Be sure to not confuse any silver colored wiring with older tin cladded copper wiring that is typical of knob and tube in old houses. Distinguishing between the two is fortunately pretty easy, as solid aluminum will contain rubber sheathing that looks newer, whereas knob and tube will have more brittle, cloth based sheathing that is obviously old. Aluminum wire sheathing will likely also be lighter in color, and tin cladded copper sheathing will be dark.

If you do discover solid aluminum branch circuit wiring in your home, consult a qualified electrician to have it thoroughly evaluated – especially at connections. For complete peace of mind, strongly consider having it replaced with modern and safer non-metallic (NM) sheathed copper.

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Thinking of Waiving the Home Inspection?

In recent months, the real estate market has experienced an unprecedented, nationwide surge in sales as an apparent result of pandemic related economic changes causing more homeowners to sell, more people to buy and more workers to work from home. Even here in the Northeast where houses have historically sold for under their asking price, the new norm has been multiple offers, subsequent bidding wars, and sale amounts above the asking price. To say the real estate market has been “hot” is an understatement, to be sure.

If you’re placing an offer on a home and going up against multiple other buyers, one of the most tempting options to make your offer more appealing is to waive the home inspection and agree to purchase the home “as is.” After all, what seller would happily accept your offer over another that is equally enticing but doesn’t require an inspection that could uncover defects that would then have to be disclosed? In fact, even your realtor may advise you that waiving the inspection is one of a few things you can do to have a greater chance of your offer being accepted; and guess what… he or she would likely be right!

BUT, you have to ask yourself an important question: Is waiving the home inspection ultimately in your best interest, long-term? Or you might ask, “Is making this large investment over many years still worth it even if major, costly problems may exist that I have no way of knowing about without having the home first thoroughly evaluated by a qualified professional?”

If you’re confident that it’s still worth it and that your apparent dream home won’t actually turn out to be a nightmare in disguise, then you’ll likely opt to take your chances. As an inspector who finds major defects in even the most seemingly nice houses, though, I want to warn you that waiving the home inspection is never a good idea – period. As the old adage goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. And some of the most significant problems we’ve found have surprisingly been in some of the most high-end and expensive houses we’ve inspected, which are often not immediately apparent to the typical client (or realtor for that matter).

You don’t get to test drive a new home like you do a vehicle, despite the fact that for most people a home is a far bigger investment. You probably wouldn’t agree to buy a car without at least having it first thoroughly looked over by a qualified mechanic, and you certainly shouldn’t buy a home for far more money without first having it inspected by a certified professional inspector. Yes, you may miss out on a home you were hoping for, but you’ll also have peace in the knowledge that you were wise and didn’t commit to a major investment with incomplete information. View the home inspection as an absolute must, and don’t back down from that commitment under any circumstances.

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Smart Thermostats: A No-brainer

Nowadays, just about anything in a home can be controlled remotely or hands-free with “smart” devices, from lights to outlets, garage doors, doorbells, and beyond. While smart devices offer obvious advantages, few are as advantageous as smart thermostats – at least in terms of saving money.

For houses we inspect that have an older mechanical thermostat, we often include a “tip” comment in our report and encourage the client to consider upgrading to a smart thermostat, such as the popular Google Nest (although many manufacturers now make similar models). With an older, mechanical thermostat, the stat has to be physically changed, in the home, as desired. With a smart thermostat, however, the device can be set to automatically adjust the temperature setting at predetermined times, eliminating the need for in-person operation, or remembering to actually do it for that matter. The thermostat adjusts on its own, allowing for a true “set it and forget it” experience.

Programmable thermostats, which have been around for quite a while, offer this feature; but unlike a modern smart thermostat, they do not allow you to adjust settings remotely with a cell phone, tablet or computer from nearly anywhere. Maybe you’re gone on vacation, hours from home, and realize the thermostat is still programmed to normal temperatures that aren’t needed while you’re away. With a standard programmable thermostat, you’re stuck with some wasted energy and a higher heating/cooling bill while you’re gone; but if you have a newer smart thermostat, you can simply alter the settings right from where you are with a few clicks on a screen.

You may assume that this type of convenience and potential cost savings comes with an initially high and cost-prohibitive price tag, but the cost is surprisingly low – especially when compared to the payback time relative to your initial investment. On average, purchasing a smart thermostat and having it installed will set you back about $400-$500 in most areas, but you’ll quickly earn that money back in energy cost savings – often in less than a year. This is especially true for systems that run on fuel that tends to be expensive or that fluctuates somewhat dramatically in price, like fuel oil for example. Not only that, but a smart thermostat actually learns your temperature setting habits and tracks data related to your energy usage to provide at-a-glance feedback you can monitor to make the most of your system’s efficiency.

If you don’t already have a smart thermostat (or at least a programmable model), do yourself a favor and get one installed as soon as possible. Regardless of the specific type and model you choose, be sure to actually program it and track your cost to make the most of its cost saving benefits. You’ll earn your money back quickly and will enjoy savings long into the future.

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