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War on ants: Don't give 'em path to victory

Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

Occasionally, I take my own advice about the timing of regular household chores. I discovered this week why I should do that more often: I won a small skirmish in the war against ants.

When you're battling ants, you should celebrate even the tiniest victory – because they keep marching relentlessly against you.

Anyway, in my annual month-by-month chore calendar, I suggested cutting trees and shrubs back from the house at midsummer. You want to be sure bushes aren't crowding the heat pump and tree limbs aren't rubbing the roof. You can find the calendar at www.charlotte.com/home. Then click “WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?”

I trimmed back some vines and bushes that were against the house, and discovered that one trumpet vine was a sort of interstate for ants. The vine was I-77 – and our house was Exit 25. I trimmed that vine and closed that off ramp to the house.

If you're battling ants, check the greenery around your house to make sure you're not giving the ants easy access.

Let's discuss pliers, then we'll talk about filters

Her phone message said she was a single woman and a new, first-time homeowner, living alone in a condo bought with the help of her grandmother. She had read last week's column about grit from municipal water-line work possibly gunking up home plumbing. Specifically, she spotted the line about cleaning the little water filters on washing machines.

Her questions were basic.

“Where are they, and what do they look like?” she asked. “And remember, you're talking to someone who doesn't own a pair of pliers.”

First things first: A new homeowner really should own pliers.

I'd recommend pliers with a tongue-and-groove joint, often referred to by the brand name Channellock. They're the ones with the jaws set at a slight angle to the handles. They're a bit easier to use than regular slip-joint pliers. The jaw width adjusts to more positions, and they grip tighter.

Don't buy them off the bargain table, but you don't need to spend a fortune. You can find a good pair for about $10.

While at the hardware store, pick up a multi-bit screwdriver. It should have at least four bits: large and small straight bits, and two sizes of Phillips (X-shaped) bits. You'll use the No. 2 Phillips most, but will need the others by and by.

Multi-bit screwdrivers are widely available – they're often on hardware store checkout aisles, like celebrity mags at the supermarket – and you can buy one for $5.

Buy a hammer, too. (Pliers and screwdriver handles don't make good hammers. Ask anyone who has tried to drive a picture-hanging nail with either.) A 16-ounce claw hammer will cost about as much as the pliers.

Now, back to those screens or filters.

They're built into the water valves on the washing machine, where the hoses attach to the machine.

To get to them, first TURN OFF THE WATER to the hoses. Have a small bucket – or a pot from the kitchen – ready to catch any water that drips from the hoses, then detach the hoses from the back of the machine.

Clean any grit from the screen. A small brush, even an old toothbrush, will help.

Debris is most likely to clog the cold water side, but it's worth checking on the hot water side. Replace hoses securely.

Many hoses have built-in screens, too. Detach the hoses from the spigots on the wall. You should see the screens near the end of the hoses. You probably can remove those screens to clean them. Replace screens, then reattach hoses securely.

Turn water on slowly and watch for leaks. If you see a drip, tighten hose a bit – gently! – with new pliers.

Allen Norwood: homeinfo@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5035.

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