Helter Shelter

11 Symptoms you dare not ignore

I just can't resist those, "Ten Symptoms You Dare Not Ignore" articles. You know the ones: If you go suddenly go blind in one eye; if you don't pee for six days; if you wake up one morning with a new mole the size of an Oreo, see your doctor.

Since I enjoy these articles so much, I though y'all might enjoy one, too. So, here are eleven things you'd best not ignore around your house.

1. When you fire up your gas logs, the part of the house near the fireplace starts to smell like a burning kerosene lamp. This means the toxic funk from the gas logs isn't getting out of the chimney. You could be poisoning yourself. Shut off the gas logs, and call a chimney sweep. You might have to get the chimney rebuilt; or, you could just get a nice set of electric logs.

2. When something with a big motor comes on-say your refrigerator or A/C system-the lights in your house go dim. These little brownouts are bad for your motors, and they're particularly bad for computers. (There's a fair chance that computer glitches you've been blaming on Bill Gates were really caused by an unstable electrical supply.) Sometimes, mini-brownouts are caused by undersized or obsolete wiring in your house. Often, though, the problem is the power company's antiquated equipment. If you get brownouts, call the power company first. If they can't fix the problem, call an electrician.

3. When you turn on something-say your toaster-the lights in your house temporarily go bright. This is a worrisome thing. Those bright lights usually mean a loose neutral wire in the electrical system. This can cause heat buildup, and maybe even a fire. If your lights go bright for no good reason, call an electrician immediately.

4. A circuit breaker trips. Then, after you reset it, it trips again. It's amazing how many people don't know that if a breaker trips twice in a row, you should leave it tripped, and call an electrician. I have been in houses where reasonably intelligent people have taped or shimmed breakers so they won't trip anymore. You people stop taping the breakers on. That's crazy. You could burn your house down.

5. Rotten-egg smell generally floating through your house. That's the stink agent they put in natural gas, so you'll know there's a gas leak. If you smell gas, don't turn any lights on or off (that can make a spark). Walk away from the house, and call the gas company.

6. Rotten-egg smell when you turn on a hot water faucet. That means there's bacterial funk growing in your water heater. Call a plumber. He might be able to flush out the tank; or, you might just need a new water heater.

7. Little black bugs flying or walking around in your house, leaving their wings all over the place. Most likely, those are swarming termites. Swarmers are a pretty good indication that termites are eating your house. Sometimes, the swarm will happen while you're gone, and you'll just find thousands of disembodied bug wings in the windowsills. In our part of the world, termite swarms usually happen in April. Don't worry about swarmers flying out of an old tree stump out in your yard. That's what termites do. If you see swarming termites in your house, or very near your house, call a bug company. (Hint: For best results, call a local, independently-owned bug company.)

8. Pigeons roosting on your house. Some people think I'm mean when I tell 'em that I shoot pigeons that land on my house. Well, I might be mean, but that's not why I shoot the pigeons. I shoot 'em so they won't create man-size piles of disease-carrying dung around my house. Pigeons, like basset hounds, somehow manage to crap more than they eat. If pigeons get into your attic, they'll crap up there, too. Pigeon crap can give you histoplasmosis. Histoplasmosis can kill you. I say get the pigeons before they get you.

9. Mold growing on your walls. Let a house get too hot and humid, and mold will start to grow. Some molds can make you sick or kill you. If you see mold growing in your house, contact a company that does environmental cleanup.

10. Leaky gutters. Over time, leaky gutters can cause major damage. I've seen leaky gutters cause cracks in foundation walls, and rot out floor framing. I've seen houses where leaky gutters have made a big chunk of brick veneer fall off. In rainy parts of the world, gutters ought to be cleaned out at least once a year. Twice a year is better.

11. No cap on the chimney. About half the chimneys we see are just standing there wide open, just waiting for damage from rain water. If there's no cap on the chimney, water will damage the fireplace and flue, and rust out the damper. Worse yet, chimney swifts will build nests in the chimney. Nobody needs a houseful of chimney birds, or, worse yet, a bunch of dead baby birds stuck about halfway up the chimney, where you can smell 'em, but not reach 'em.