The Case for DIY

There is a vicious battle being waged on my street. Every single house is under assault, and most of them are losing. Badly.

Moles have invaded our lawns, and it looks like they’re here to stay.

We’ve had issues with moles before, but they were always resolved quickly and free. We’d see a couple of breakout holes, and within days our cat Snufkin would deposit the offender’s limp body at our backdoor. Snufkin hates most living things, but that can be a force for good. The enemy of my mole is my friend.

Snufkin dispatching a rat. We asked him to stop eating the heads off before delivery, but he declined.

So when this season’s assault began, I just waited for Snufkin to punch the clock and get to work.

We’re still waiting. Snufkin has apparently given up hunting and now just sleeps in the sun all day. We’ll have to seriously reconsider keeping him around.

Meanwhile, our street looks like a lunar landscape with all of the mole breakout holes. Every other homeowner is worried about their lawn dying, while my 6 y.o. is worried the moles will eat all of our earthworms.

The Case for DIY Pest Control

Most homeowners on our street have contacted their pest control guy for help. I can’t because we don’t have one. I’ve been doing it myself for the last year or so.

We used to hire pest control to the tune of $100 per quarter. That seemed ridiculous for a 30 minute visit (but there were free follow ups!) for them to spray the perimeter of the house, but I assumed they were laying down some awesome, expensive, and dangerous-to-handle combination of sarin, plutonium, and lava. As long as it worked, I had better things to do.

Then it stopped working. We kept having to schedule follow up calls, and it was finally time for action.

I checked with the internet to see if DIY Pest Control was doable (the answer? YESSSSSSSS!!!!).

There are a number of factors I consider in a DIY decision. They looked favorable for pest control.

Key Factors to consider for DIY:

1. Requires low level of skill / expertise

Check. Basic pest control is just not that hard. An infestation is a different matter, but preventative pest control is pretty straightforward.

2. You can match the contractor’s tools and equipment

I was worried that the over-the-counter pesticides available to me would be much weaker than the commercial grade stuff the pros use.

I bought some “Ortho Home Defense” and checked out the ingredients. I compared them to those listed on a previous pest control invoice.

I’m not sure how I was going to compare the efficacy of two totally different 30-letter active ingredients, but I didn’t have to.

They were identical.

3. You have advantages over the contractor

We once had a rat in our attic (yes, it was unnerving). The pest control guy said he would be happy to poison it for us. It’d eat the poison, crawl into the wall somewhere, and die. After “only” 2-3 months of terrible stink, his decomposition / mummification would be complete. Problem solved!

I asked about traps and he said they couldn’t do it because they’d need to keep coming back out to check and reset them – it’d be prohibitively expensive for “just” a rat.

I, on the other hand, have unlimited free access to my attic. I bought some traps and 2 days later our one rat (apparently a loner / social outcast) was dead.

4. Cost of failure is low

 If my little DIY experiment failed, it’d be really easy to re-engage a pro with no added cost

 (Subterranean termites are a risk in Texas. They can be caught early by a pest control company, but I already have unwanted experience with them and know what to look for.)

5. Easy to become an expert

There are thousands of people who have devoted their lives to properly educating me on pest control. They have written exhaustive articles and produced incredibly helpful videos. Their Amazon reviews of pest-control products could be published and sold as stand-alone reference manuals. They are amazing.

I don’t want to meet these people socially, but I’m very thankful for the expertise they have shared.

6. Savings are meaningful

I used to change my car oil when I was young. That would be silly now, because I can barely buy the oil and filter for the full cost at an oil service center. Outsourcing makes sense there.

Pest control is a different matter. I bought my identical pesticide for ~$15, and it’s lasted for a year. While the ~$400 in savings is nice, the most important thing is I’m actually getting better service.

7. There are side benefits to DIY

Every time I walk around my house to spray pesticide, it’s a voyage of discovery. I almost always discover something else that needs attention. Hooray for the joys of home ownership, but I’d rather find problems early than late.

8. Contractor has perverse incentives

Some contractors are out to screw you (a subset of HVAC cos. come to mind).

Others may not be out to screw you, but their interests aren’t perfectly aligned with yours (my pest control co.’s weren’t). Any time that happens, it builds the case for DIY.

Cut to the Chase – What About the Moles?

The moles have the upper hand right now, but an army of pest control contractors is rallying.

I’ve spoken with my neighbors to understand what the pros are doing. Some are using insecticides (to kill grubs the moles eat), some are using sonic repellers, and some are putting out poison. Each pest control service seems to have tiered levels of increasing price points that end with traps.

My socially awkward internet pest control advisors say traps are the only thing that really works for moles. I’m sure it’s complete coincidence that is the last and highest price point for the pest control cos.

I was worried about how humane traps would be (I believe the answer is “not much”). But if you’re a small animal near our house, you’re already in harm’s way and Snufkin is likely to eat your head. Plus, my son reminded me that moles were eating half their body weight in our beloved earthworms every day, making the ethics more shades of gray.

I ordered a $10 trap on Amazon (recommended by my advisors) and set it in our yard (to their instructions). When I got home with my boys 2 hours later, I showed them so they’d stay away.

The trap was already sprung!

I was prepared to deliver a sad lesson on dying and stuff, but when I pulled up the trap, the mole was still alive! He was certainly stuck but didn’t look mortally wounded.

With a living animal I could relocate, the ethics seemed more clear. I ignored my internet advisors (who said to kill it with a shovel) and put it in a cardboard box.

The boys and I started a march toward the creek. Lots of neighbors were out in their yards, and my 6 y.o. Town Crier spread the news. Everyone wanted to see our mole, and all of them seemed pretty annoyed with the ease of our catch.

We put the mole into a little crevasse near a tree by the creek, and it quickly dug down and was gone. My internet advisors tell me moles are highly territorial, so we may be mole-free for a while.

Score one for DIY!

 

 

No moles were killed in the making of this post. One mole was a bit squashed but is believed to be OK.

One rat lost its life as documented in this post, but the action is attributed to Snufkin the cat, an independent third party unassociated with Asset-Based Life.

Another rat was killed by me. Sorry about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “The Case for DIY

    • I remember the dynamic growing up of trying to find a neighbor who had done something my dad wanted to do or needed help with – he was lucky to find one, and even luckier if the person had amassed more than a tiny bit of expertise.

      Nowadays it’s like we have the most incredibly capable neighbors available at a moment’s notice who have collectively mastered every skill known to man. And we don’t even need to give them a beer. It’s a golden age indeed – I’m right there with you!

  1. Good job Paul! I have same issues from time to time. Just at our parts of the world people don’t pay anyone to do the dirty job (or at least I do not know anyone). Until now I did not managed to catch the little invaders (however my dog managed to kill one). I would be very curious about the trap you bought, please give us a link.

    • Hi Peter – thanks for the note and apologies for the delay in responding – I’ve been away from a keyboard for a few days (though that is always a good thing!).

      I bought the “Victor Out O’Sight Mole Trap 0631” from Amazon. It got mixed reviews, but it appears that all of the folks who had bad experiences made the mistake of following the included instructions for setting the trap. There was a top review who said to chuck those and gave advice that led to my (and other’s) immediate capture. With so many pest control issues being a matter of patience, I was shocked.

      Thanks again for the note!

  2. Very interesting – my toddler has pictures of moles in her book and they’re so cute. I never knew they were destructive. I’m curious how many moles you get in one area? Does catching one mean the job is done? Speaking of learning things off YouTube, did you know you can move a heavy cupboard on a raw potato? I don’t know what we’d do without Google!

    • I didn’t know they were very destructive either, but some patches of our grass are looking sickly – apparently the tunneling does some damage, and then there are secondary invaders like voles who use mole holes to attack plants directly. If it were up to me, I’d let the moles take over since they were here first, but our homeowner’s association would force me to plant new grass, and my son is a fierce advocate for our earthworm population.

      My internet mole experts say that 1 acre can support 2-3 moles. We’re on a .25 acre lot, and I haven’t seen any breakout holes in our or our neighbor’s yards since our relocation. I think my neighbors should owe me a bounty because this one fellow may have been the scourge of several houses.

      Re: raw potato – I had never heard that, but I’m headed to youtube now to check it out 🙂 Ancient wisdom that sometimes took a life to acquire is now a click away!

      Thanks for the note

  3. Never seen a mole in real life. Like Eliza, I didn’t realize they were destructive. I guess in my mind I thought they somehow would help the soil with the air pockets and such.
    Guess that shows the amount of knowledge I have about yardwork…

    • I didn’t realize they were bad either. They look kinda cute in a weird way (at least until my cat chews their heads off), but they are regarded as a terrible scourge by my internet pest control buddies. In another time, when I am freed from the pristine grass requirements of our HOA Pleasantville Police, I’d like to think they and I can be friends.

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