Dear Doug and Annie,
Can you suggest any
non-toxic, non-lethal methods for discouraging mice? I don't want to
harm them, just eliminate them from my home. —Jaime, Brattleboro, Vermont
I have a solution for you that I recently discovered myself. It's a new herbal product blend called Fresh Cab. The following story will give you a sense of how well it worked for me.
We have two screen doors in our downstairs. They are pulled closed and the doors to the outside left open for most of the summer. We've used this system to cool the house at night every summer for years. The night I put Fresh Cab herbal mouse repellent in our house, mice chewed holes in both screen doors, desperate to escape outdoors, away from the smell. They left a pile of mouse droppings inside the house by the screens, showing us it was indeed mice who did the chewing, and that it took them some time to complete the job.
Country mice never bothered me much until I read about the first cases of Hanta virus (carried by rodents), and about mice eating electrical wires and causing a fire hazard. We've worked hard to rid our house of mice ever since.
But getting rid of mice without poisoning or killing them is far from easy. We've used every trick in the book, including two Havahart Traps from which we collect and drop off live mice miles from our house every morning, mint (mice hate mint), and turning off the lights in the basement and then plugging up every place where we see light shining through from outside. Plugging up the holes helped the most until we discovered Fresh Cab.
Fresh Cab is made of essential oils and spices mixed into corncob chips. The final blend of scents has been proven effective in chasing away mice, flies, moths, and mosquitoes. The blend comes in 2.5 oz. pouches, which are sold four to a box. These pouches are designed to put in camper cabs, cabins, under hoods, and in trunks.
If you can tolerate the strong smell in the main part of your house, you are lucky, and you will not have mice! You might be able to tolerate a pouch under your kitchen sink, or in a closet. I found I couldn't have the pouches in our living area, but I have eight pouches in the basement and eight in the attic. I am hopeful that the squirrels will stay out of the attic and the mice out of the basement. What a peaceful winter I will have, if this turns out to be true.
box of four pouches costs $10 plus shipping and handling. To order
Fresh Cab, contact Crane Creek Gardens, or call 800/583-2921.
Dear Doug and Annie,
I often get emails asking me to sign a petition and send it on to all the people on my email list. Recently, I found out that one of the petitions I had sent on to others was a hoax and another was several years out of date. How can I figure out which email activism is helpful and which is just recycling urban legends? —Alan, Dubuque, Iowa
Isn't it amazing how irresistible technology is to pranksters? Fax machines produce endless terribly important cartoons. The telephone brought us “Is your refrigerator running?” Now we have the Internet, with its easy access, anonymity, and rapid replication. What could be more tempting? Nothing, judging from the number of hoaxes flitting about cyberspace.
Fortunately, most Net debris does nothing worse than waste time and bandwidth, although, as the folks at hoaxbusters.ciac.org point out, a million users wasting a minute each on a hoax letter adds up to some real time. So it's worth spending a moment to verify an email before you send it along.
Usually, “send this to everybody” emails arrive with a long list of prior recipients/senders. Rather than looking at the last sender, who is someone you know, look for the first sender on the list. If the first sender is “anonymous,” you're probably looking at a fake. If the email purports to originate with an organization, check its website for information (if the organization doesn't have a website, it's rather unlikely to be circulating a petition on the Web). Check with the person who sent it to you.
The Hoaxbusters website has a long list of Net hoaxes. One other site also offers useful information on net hoaxes: www.nonprofit.net/hoax/default.htm. Sure,
it's a time-waster to verify an item before you send it along. But it's
even more of a time-waster to send a fake to everybody on your mailing
Dear Doug and Annie,
What is the most environmentally sensitive building material a person can use to build a new house? Take into consideration fire hazards and fire insurance, utility costs (both short and long-term), durability, maintenance, occupant health, and lowest cost. I'm planning passive solar heating and cooling as well as a solar hot water heating system, so house “mass” is important; the more the better. House size is around 1,200 square feet. —Gary, Boise, Idaho
A simple answer is: the stuff that's nearby. Which is not a flip answer.
An underappreciated fact is that “stick” framing with wooden 2x4s or 2x6s—what Americans think of as the right way (almost the only way) to build a house—is only about 150 years old. This means that, for all but the last second of the history of humankind, people have been making their houses out of other stuff. Ingenious though it may be, stick framing is a reflection of a perceived surfeit of wood rather than a response to the issue of how to build the best house.
For every consideration except cost, the answer to your question is, “Anything but wood.” For an owner-builder, the same answer probably applies as to cost. But if you're going to contract the building, you may have trouble finding a contractor who's ever built with anything but 2x lumber.
For fire considerations, occupant health, and thermal mass, it's hard to beat dirt. It won't burn, it won't off-gas, and it's massive. People have been making houses out of dirt for a very long time. Although Americans think first of adobe and, hence, dry climate, that's not the only option for dirt building. Cob, a clay-straw mixture, has a venerable history in the damp climate of the British Isles. Rammed earth is a wet-climate solution to adobe's need for a reliable drying period. Dirt in all its forms has relatively low insulative value. But since the building material is pretty much free, you can compensate by making very thick walls.
Grasses are another popular homebuilding material. Again, the first image may be huts in tropical climes, but remember that those charming thatched roofs in Europe are nothing but big bundles of grass (reeds, to be precise). Even more practical is an American development: straw bale construction. Straw bales match dirt for addressing most of your considerations. They yield less mass than dirt, but their superior insulating characteristics may compensate. Surprisingly, when coated inside and out with stucco or plaster, baled straw doesn't burn worth a darn. Straw bale walls are rated as equivalent to standard construction for fire resistance.
These alternatives to wood frame construction have some specialized maintenance requirements. Cob is traditionally finished with a lime wash, which is renewed annually as part of spring cleaning. Straw bale requires close attention to finish detail and maintenance to keep moisture out of the straw. Dry straw is very durable, and wet straw deteriorates rapidly. But stick-frame houses are not exactly maintenance-free either.
Properly maintained, dirt or straw houses will last as long as framed ones, or longer. There are plenty of old cob and adobe houses around. Straw bale dates only to the invention of the baler, but the oldest known straw bale house remains standing in Nebraska after nearly 100 years.
There are other alternatives to wood-framed houses. Concrete works but requires much fuel in the manufacture of cement. Earthships are structures of discarded tires filled with rammed earth. Though recycling old tires is attractive, there may be questions about their suitability for people with chemical sensitivities.
There's no perfect solution for housing. But if sustainability is your goal, less wood is a good place to start. The Internet is a good place to find information on green housing materials. For starters, try www.greenbuilder.com/sourcebook and www.hollowtop.com.
Annie Berthold-Bondis Green Living Channels Producer for www.Care2.com and author of Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press) and The Green Kitchen Handbook (Harper Collins, 1997).
Doug Pibel is a freelance writer living the simple life in Snohomish, Washington.