WHEN IT COMES to home improvement, there seem to be two types of people in the world: those who can replace a sash cord, spackle a wall patch and hang a chandelier and those who can't tell an orbital sander from a velociraptor.
If you're one of the latter who would like to be more of the former, Gene and Katie Hamilton want to help. The Annapolis-based couple, who run a popular Web site on home improvement called HouseNet (www.housenet.com and housenet on America Online) have written a book about the subject, part of the "Dummies" series of books, offering self-help on topics from Windows to wine to -- now -- windows.
"Home Improvement for Dummies" (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998, $19.99) offers how-to advice on all sorts of home projects from painting and wallpapering, to plumbing and electricity, to maintaining electrical appliances. There's also a section called "The Part of Tens," which offers, among other things, "Ten Ways to Avoid Common Painting Mistakes," "Ten Great Ways to Save Energy," and "Ten Ways to Make Your Home Safer and More Accessible." Throughout the book, there are tips, lists and safety information.
The Hamiltons have renovated 14 homes, written 12 books and have appeared on network television.
They also write a syndicated newspaper column.
Keeping termites away
Keeping landscaping looking neat is always a chore for homeowners. Bark mulch looks good, keeps down weeds and helps retain soil moisture -- but it can't be used next to the house, because it attracts pests such as termites. Here's an alternative: Lava rock from Mountain West Colorado Aggregate.
It's mined from deep volcanic cones in the West, has no artificial dyes or chemicals, and it doesn't float or fade, manufacturers say, so it never needs replacing.
It occurs naturally in three colors: black, earthy red and gold. It helps retain moisture in the soil and it doesn't attract any pests.
It comes in pebble and nugget sizes, and although it's a third the weight of regular rock, it won't wash or blow away. (A lot of people use rock as a biological filter for ponds.)
A 2-cubic-foot bag costs about $10.
Lava rock can be found at Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Hechinger stores, and it's also available at garden centers such as Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, Greenspring Inc. in Jarrettsville, Dick's Lawn & Garden of Eldersburg and Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville.
Or call 800-727-9959 for more information.
Speaking of termites, there's a new way to battle them that doesn't involve drilling into a structure or injecting large amounts of toxic material into the soil. It's called termite baiting, and it works basically by enlisting termites to help exterminate themselves. It's a two-step process. In the first stage, technicians install a plastic bait station that is initially baited with plain wood. The station is monitored regularly, and when termite activity is spotted, the plain wood is replaced with bait -- the second step -- which the termites carry back to their colonies. Eventually, enough of the termites will be killed to cause the colony to collapse.
The system was developed by Dow AgroScience and submitted to research at several universities.
"It's the first new thing in termite treatment in 50 years," said Lynn Gerlach, public relations manager at Ehrlich Termite and Pest Control, based in Reading, Pa. "It's a huge departure from our regular treatment program."
Gerlach said that although termite baiting is more environmentally friendly than traditional methods of eradicating the pests, it is also more expensive.
Standard termite treatment is typically a one-shot deal, she said, with technicians coming back perhaps a year later to make sure the termites are still in check. Termite baiting, on the other hand, requires monitoring every month.
"This is something very new," she said. "We're offering it as an option."
It's so new the company has only anecdotal evidence that it is effective. "It's working," Gerlach said. "We're seeing activity."
Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator, Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at henovator.net or Karol at karol.menzialtsun.com. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.
Pub Date: 7/26/98