15 Tools Every Homeowner Should Own

The following items are essential tools, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next inspection about other tools that you might find useful.

  1. Plunger
    A clogged sink or toilet is one of the most inconvenient household problems that you will face. With a plunger on hand, however, you can usually remedy these plumbing issues relatively quickly. It is best to have two plungers—one for the sink and one for the toilet.
  2. Combination Wrench Set
    One end of a combination wrench set is open and the other end is a closed loop. Nuts and bolts are manufactured in standard and metric sizes, and because both varieties are widely used, you’ll need both sets of wrenches. For the most control and leverage, always pull the wrench toward you, instead of pushing on it. Also, avoid over-tightening.
  3. Slip-Joint Pliers
    Use slip-joint pliers to grab hold of a nail, a nut, a bolt, and much more. These types of pliers are versatile because of the jaws, which feature both flat and curved areas for gripping many types of objects. There is also a built-in slip-joint, which allows the user to quickly adjust the jaw size to suit most tasks.
  4. Adjustable Wrench
    Adjustable wrenches are somewhat awkward to use and can damage a bolt or nut if they are not handled properly. However, adjustable wrenches are ideal for situations where you need two wrenches of the same size. Screw the jaws all the way closed to avoid damaging the bolt or nut.
  5. Caulking Gun
    Caulking is the process of sealing up cracks and gaps in various structures and certain types of piping. Caulking can provide noise mitigation and thermal insulation, and control water penetration. Caulk should be applied only to areas that are clean and dry.
  6. Flashlight
    None of the tools in this list is of any use if you cannot visually inspect the situation. The problem, and solution, are apparent only with a good flashlight. A traditional two-battery flashlight is usually sufficient, as larger flashlights may be too unwieldy.
  7. Tape Measure
    Measuring house projects requires a tape measure—not a ruler or a yardstick. Tape measures come in many lengths, although 25 feet is best. Measure everything at least twice to ensure accuracy.
  8. Hacksaw
    A hacksaw is useful for cutting metal objects, such as pipes, bolts and brackets. Hacksaws look thin and flimsy, but they’ll easily cut through even the hardest of metals. Blades are replaceable, so focus your purchase on a quality hacksaw frame.
  9. Torpedo Level
    Only a level can be used to determine if something, such as a shelf, appliance or picture, is correctly oriented. The torpedo-style level is unique because it not only shows when an object is perfectly horizontal or vertical, but it also has a gauge that shows when an object is at a 45-degree angle. The bubble in the viewfinder must be exactly in the middle—not merely close.
  10. Safety Glasses / Goggles
    For all tasks involving a hammer or a power tool, you should always wear safety glasses or goggles. They should also be worn while you mix chemicals.
  11. Claw Hammer
    A good hammer is one of the most important tools you can own. Use it to drive and remove nails, to pry wood loose from the house, and in combination with other tools. They come in a variety of sizes, although a 16-ounce hammer is the best all-purpose choice.
  12. Screwdriver Set
    It is best to have four screwdrivers: a small and large version of both a flathead and a Phillips-head screwdriver. Electrical screwdrivers are sometimes convenient, but they’re no substitute. Manual screwdrivers can reach into more places and they are less likely to damage the screw.
  13. Wire Cutters
    Wire cutters are pliers designed to cut wires and small nails. The side-cutting style (unlike the stronger end-cutting style) is handy, but not strong enough to cut small nails.
  14. Respirator / Safety Mask
    While paints and other coatings are now manufactured to be less toxic (and lead-free) than in previous decades, most still contain dangerous chemicals, which is why you should wear a mask to avoid accidentally inhaling. A mask should also be worn when working in dusty and dirty environments. Disposable masks usually come in packs of 10 and should be thrown away after use. Full and half-face respirators can be used to prevent the inhalation of very fine particles that ordinary face masks will not stop.
  15. Duct Tape
    This tape is extremely strong and adaptable. Originally, it was widely used to make temporary repairs to many types of military equipment. Today, it’s one of the key items specified for home emergency kits because it is water-resistant and extremely sticky.

Carpeted Bathrooms

Carpeted bathrooms are bathrooms that have carpeted floors instead of traditional floor surfaces, such as tile or vinyl. Despite their tendency to foster mold and bacteria, carpets are sometimes installed in residential bathrooms for aesthetic purposes. Carpets should never be installed in bathrooms in commercial buildings.

Advantages of Carpets in Bathrooms

  • They make bathrooms appear more warm and inviting.
  • They are softer than tile and many people find them comfortable on bare feet.
  • Bathroom slip hazards are reduced. It is easier to slip on hard bathroom surfaces, such as tile, than on carpet. Installation is generally quick and inexpensive.

Disadvantages of Carpets in Bathrooms

The pad beneath the carpet may soak up large amounts of moisture. Some of the common ways that carpets may come into contact with moisture in bathrooms include:

  • Steam from the shower will condense on the carpet.
  • Water splashes from the tub or shower.
  • Water sheds from shower/tub occupants as they step onto the carpet.
  • Water splashes out of the sink.
  • Water drips from the vanity.
  • Water leaks from the toilet.

The presence of moisture in the pad will lead to the growth of decay fungi on the wood or oriented strand board (OSB) sub-floor. The sub-floor will be decayed and weakened by mold. Mold also releases spores that can cause respiratory ailments, especially for those with certain health problems. Inspectors can use moisture meters to determine if there is excess moisture beneath a carpet.

In addition to potential mold growth beneath the carpet, bacteria can accumulate in carpeting that surrounds the toilet. Bacteria are contained in urine, which can be accidentally deflected onto the carpet.

Carpeted Bathrooms in Commercial Buildings

It is against code to install carpet in commercial bathrooms. The 2007 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) states the following concerning carpeted bathrooms in commercial buildings: In other than dwelling units, toilet, bathing and shower room floor finish materials shall have a smooth, hard, nonabsorbent surface. The intersections of such floors with walls shall have a smooth, hard, nonabsorbent vertical base that extends upward onto the walls at least 4 inches (102 mm).

Recommendations for Clients

  • Clean the carpet regularly to remove any mold or urine that may be present.
  • Keep the carpet as dry as possible. Various devices exist that prevent water from bypassing the shower curtain.
  • Install a bathroom fan, if one is not installed already. If a fan is installed, operate it more often.
  • Inspectors can inform their clients about why they are experiencing problems.

In summary, carpets installed in bathrooms can trap moisture and urine, substances that can cause structural damage and health problems.

Wildlife Control at Home

Whether you are a home gardener, enjoy landscaping around your home, or just own your own home, there are times when certain species of wildlife can become a nuisance and cause damage to plants, and even greater economic losses. Wildlife damage can occur throughout the year, but the fall and winter months are times when food supplies and cover may become more limited for many wildlife species, causing them to find your home or landscape an attractive place to call home. Solving wildlife damage problems may seem out of your control. But most often, you have more control over the problem than you think. It might not be easy, but if you think through the problem and put forth some effort, you can often cut your losses and maybe even eliminate them. If you have concerns or questions about wildlife, you can ask your InterNACHI inspector about them during your next scheduled inspection. InterNACHI members are the best-trained inspectors in the industry.

Many different species of wildlife can become a nuisance and cause problems, under certain conditions. Raccoons, skunks, snakes, woodchucks and other rodents, such as moles, house mice, and tree squirrels can often cause problems. In addition, whitetail deer populations have increased in many urban environments to the point where they are becoming a nuisance by grazing on landscape plantings. Other problem wildlife can include starlings, pigeons, sparrows, or the woodpecker damaging the wood siding on your home, just to name a few.

Think Through the Problem

People experiencing a problem caused by critters usually want an easy, quick solution and often ask, “Is there something I can spray to get rid of this pest?” It is never quite that easy. Preventing and controlling wildlife damage requires a thought process, and often includes using integrated pest-management techniques. A successful wildlife damage program often makes use of a combination of control options, and usually begins with an accurate assessment of the damage and identification of the desired outcome. Wildlife damage management is the opposite of managing property to attract wildlife. To manage for wildlife, you must make sure that animals have sufficient food, water, and cover throughout the year. If you have unwanted animals around your home, it is a sure bet that there is food, water and cover in the area. The solution is to remove at least one of these elements. And if you can remove two, that’s even better.

Try this sequence in thinking through a wildlife damage problem:

  • Identify the wildlife species causing the problem. This is the most important step. Correctly identifying the species of wildlife causing damage may seem simple, but it can be challenging, under certain circumstances. Learn about the life history and habitat requirements for the wildlife species that may be a potential problem in your area.
  • Are there cultural techniques which you could use to modify the habitat and reduce the chances of having a wildlife damage problem? For instance, there may be certain plants which could be used in your home landscape that might not be an attractive food source for deer. Would more frequent mowing or herbicide use reduce the amount of weedy cover needed for a buildup of rodent populations?
  • Is there some way you can keep the animal causing damage from getting into the site?
  • If you can’t build them out, can you repel them from the area? Sometimes, you can use chemical, home-made, visual or sound repellents to solve and control a problem.
  • If you can’t put up an effective barrier or repel the animals from the problem site, the last step may involve removing from the area the animals that are causing the damage. It may be necessary to trap, shoot, use gas cartridges in dens, or use poison baits to control a wildlife damage problem. Of course, when considering these alternatives for controlling most wildlife species, you should check with a wildlife conservation agent or local animal control agent to get approval. Often, these persons will also provide some assistance.
  • Remember that no entire species of wild animal is a nuisance or pest all the time. The trick is to deal only with the animal(s) causing damage, not try to eradicate the entire population.

A final consideration: Is it worth the effort? It takes quite a bit of time and money to solve and control a wildlife damage problem. Can you tolerate some damage or losses caused by wildlife? Remember that the aesthetic benefits derived from viewing wildlife, and the importance of managing habitats for those wildlife species you wish to attract to your property. Ask yourself if the economic loss is greater than the control cost. If it is, then it is worthwhile to develop and implement a wildlife damage control program.

Living With Wildlife

Wild animals contribute to our enjoyment of nature and outdoor recreation, but they can also damage property, agriculture, and natural resources, and threaten human health and safety. Equipped with the right information and tools, most homeowners can solve their own problems and learn to live with wildlife. For example, trimming trees and shrubbery are ways of changing a habitat to make it less attractive to unwanted flocks of birds or even snakes.

The following information may assist homeowners in keeping that curious raccoon out of the garbage can, that persistent rabbit or deer out of the garden, that goose or duck out of the backyard pool, that woodpecker off the siding, and that swooping bat out of the attic. Caution should always be taken to avoid overly aggressive animals.

Squirrels and Other Rodents

To keep these animals from becoming a permanent part of the family home and yard: use screens on vents and fan openings; keep doors and windows in good repair; tighten eaves; replace rotten boards; cap the chimney; trim overhanging trees; remove bird feeders or use squirrel-proof feeders; and remove acorns and other nuts from the yard. Chipmunks can be deterred by removing denning habitat, which includes logs, rock walls, and stones.


Also known as groundhogs, these animals sometimes burrow near buildings, browse in gardens, and damage fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. Fencing can help reduce woodchuck damage. The lower edge of the fence should be buried at least 10 inches into the ground to prevent burrowing. The fence should be 3 to 4 feet high, with a surrounding electric hot-shot wire placed 4 to 5 inches off the ground.

Opossums and Skunks

Opossums and skunks become a problem to homeowners by raiding garbage cans and bird feeders; eating pet foods; and living under porches, low decks, open sheds, and any other areas that provide shelter. Skunks also dig holes in lawns, golf courses and gardens. Both animals sometimes kill poultry and eat eggs. To keep opossums and skunks from denning under buildings, seal off all foundation openings with wire mesh, sheet metal, or concrete. Chicken coops can be protected by sealing all ground-level openings into the buildings and by closing the doors at night. Foraging in garbage cans may be eliminated by providing tight-fitting lids and straps.


Bats prefer to avoid human contact; however, they are known to establish roosts in attics and abandoned buildings. Building and attic roosts can be eliminated by sealing entry and exit holes (after the bats have left) with such materials as 1/4-inch hardware cloth, caulking or wire mesh. If a bat makes its way into the house, you can usually encourage it to leave after dark by turning on lights and opening windows and doors.


Rabbits can be kept out of the garden and away from ornamental plants and small trees by using products containing repellents, such as Hinder, or by placing a 2-foot poultry fence around the area. It is important to bury the fence at least 6 inches beneath the surface of the ground. For information about taste repellents, check your local farm and garden center. Before using any chemical repellents, read the label carefully, and check with your state pesticide regulatory agency for application guidelines.


Raccoons are attracted to easy food sources, such as garden produce, garbage, and pet food. To help prevent scavenging, use metal trash cans that are fastened to a pole or other solid object. A strap or latch that secures the lid of the garbage can is also helpful. To keep raccoons out of the garden, use two strands of electric livestock fence. The strands should be placed atn 4 and 8 inches, respectively, off the ground and surround the entire garden. Exercise caution when implementing this exclusionary method in urban areas. Raccoons will also readily inhabit attics, chimneys and sheds. Use metal flashing and 1-inch mesh hardware cloth to block entrances.


The best way to keep snakes out of your house and yard is to seal cracks and openings around doors, windows, water pipes, attics and foundations. Removing logs, wood piles, and high grass, and controlling insects and rodents are also helpful. Remove non-poisonous snakes from inside buildings by placing piles of damp burlap bags in areas where snakes have been seen. After the snakes have curled up beneath the bags, remove the bags and snakes from the building. To remove dangerous snakes, call a professional pest control company.


These birds damage buildings by drilling holes into wooden siding, eaves and trim boards, especially those made of cedar and redwood. If the pecking creates a suitable cavity, the bird may use it for nesting. Effective methods of excluding woodpeckers include placing lightweight mesh nylon or plastic netting on the wooden siding beneath the eaves, covering pecked areas with metal sheathing, and using visual repellents, such as “eye-spot” balloons.


Deer feed on row crops, vegetables, fruit trees, nursery stock, stacked hay, and ornamental plants and trees. Deer can be discouraged by removing supplemental food sources, and by using scare devices and repellents. The only sure way to eliminate deer damage is to fence the deer out. A wire-mesh fence is effective if it is solidly constructed and at least 8 feet high. Electric fencing also helps reduce damage.

Coyotes and Foxes

These animals may carry rabies and sometimes prey on domestic pets, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, young pigs and lambs. Coyotes also kill calves, goats and deer. Net-wire and electric fencing will help exclude foxes and coyotes; however, because they are good climbers, a roof of net wire on livestock pens may also be necessary. For more information about fencing, contact your local county extension office.

The protection of livestock and poultry is most important during the spring denning period. Foxes and coyotes will often den close to farm buildings, under haystacks, and inside hog lots and small pastures used for lambing. Shed lambing and farrowing in protected enclosures can be useful in preventing predation on young livestock. Additionally, noise- and light-making devices, such as the Electronic Guard, may keep these predators away. Guard dogs are also useful in preventing predation on sheep. Regrettably, dispersal methods are not effective in all situations, so other methods, including trapping or snaring, may have to be used.

Mountain Lions and Bears

As bear and lion habitats continue to be encroached upon by housing expansion, interactions between these animals and humans continues to increase. Bears are noted for destroying cornfields and trees, scavenging in garbage cans, demolishing the interiors of cabins and campers, and killing livestock. Lions are serious predators of sheep, goats, domestic pets, large livestock, poultry, bighorn sheep, and deer. Typical bear and lion predation on sheep leaves 10 or more killed in a single attack, and both species have been known to attack humans.

Prevention is the best method of controlling bear and lion damage. Heavy woven and electric fencing can effectively deter bears and lions from attacking livestock and damaging property. Loud music, barking dogs, exploder cannons, fireworks, gunfire, nightlights, scarecrows, and changes in the position of objects in the depredation area often provide temporary relief. The best way to protect pets is to keep them inside an enclosed kennel or shelter. Using guard dogs, removing garbage and dead carcasses, and placing crops and beehives at considerable distances away from timber and brush may reduce damage by bears. Mountain lions also prefer to hunt where escape cover is close by; removal of brush and trees within a quarter of a mile of buildings and livestock may reduce lion predation.

Professional relocation of damaging mountain lions and bears is sometimes necessary. For more information about state laws and regulations concerning relocation or lethal control of mountain lions and bears, contact your state wildlife agency.

Remember, think through your problem before attempting to invest in a control program. What is the easiest, cheapest, most practical way to control the problem? What will be the least hazardous to pets, people, and non-target wildlife? Are you losing enough money to justify a control expense? Your goal should be to reduce damage to a level you can live with.

Venomous Pests: Inspectors Beware!

Venomous pests are found virtually everywhere, and inspectors risk encountering one while visiting a property. For their safety, as well as the safety of their clients, inspectors learn how to identify venomous insects and reptiles.

Bees and Wasps

Bees and wasps are flying, stinging insects commonly found in and around homes throughout much of the world. Stings from these insects are normally not serious, except in people who are allergic to the venom or when large numbers of the insects attack at once. Even when they are not a serious threat, bees and wasps can be a nuisance and a source of fear, especially during the summer months when people gather outside the home.

A few facts about bees and wasps:

  • More than half of all fruit and vegetable crops are pollinated by honey bees.
  • Wasps contribute to the ecological cycle by preying on many insect-pests that are harmful to crops.

Bees vs. Wasps

While many homeowners refer to bees and wasps interchangeably, inspectors should know the ways that they differ. Differentiation between these insects is important because different methods may be necessary to remove them if they become a nuisance. Bees and wasps differ in the following ways:

  • Bees have robust, hairy bodies with flat rear legs and feed solely on pollen. Some common bees include honeybees, carpenter bees and bumblebees.
  • Wasps are smooth, shiny and slender with narrow waists connecting the thorax and abdomen. Wasps are predatory and feed mostly on insects. Some common wasps are yellowjackets, hornets and paper wasps. Yellowjackets and hornets can appear virtually identical, although hornets usually have larger heads.
  • Wasps, especially yellowjackets, are generally more aggressive than bees and they are more likely to come into contact with humans while in search of food. Wasps can become a nuisance in the warmer months because they often disrupt outdoor activities where meats and sweet liquids are present. A flying insect that repeatedly lands on a hot dog at a picnic or circles a dumpster is almost certainly not a bee.
  • Stinging wasps can sting repeatedly, while honeybees will die shortly after stinging once. Other bees, however, can sting repeatedly.

Where do bees and wasps nest?

Bees and wasps prefer attics because they are warm and protected. They will find it easier to enter and infest an attic that is covered by slate or wood roofing as opposed to metal or asphalt shingles. Poor flashing may also allow easy insect entry. Inspectors entering attics with open (unscreened) gable vents will be on the lookout for bee or wasp infestation.

Yellowjackets typically nest underground using existing hollows. Occasionally, nests can be found in dark, enclosed areas in a building, such as crawlspaces, wall voids and attics. Nests are enclosed in a paper-like envelope, but they are rarely exposed or observed unless excavated. The nest entrance is small and inconspicuous. Colonies are readily defended because Yellowjackets will sting when the nest area is disturbed.

Hornets produce large, conspicuous grayish paper-like nests in trees, shrubs and beneath building eaves. Paper wasps will nest in small cavities in the sides of buildings, within metal gutters and poles, outdoor grills, and similar items.
Honeybees, unlike wasps and other types of bees, produce a persistent, perennial colony. These hives can grow very large, containing tens of thousands of bees, and are usually found outdoors, especially on trees. Hives that are discovered inside buildings must be eliminated as soon as possible. If allowed to develop, large amounts of wax and honey will be produced which may damage the building when the hive dies out or when the combs melt due to excessive heat. Rodents and insects will also be attracted to such sites.
Bumblebee nests are commonly constructed in abandoned rodent burrows, and they may also be found indoors in small hollow spaces, particularly if insulating debris is available.

Nest Control: Nests should be destroyed if they are close enough to humans to pose a stinging threat. They should always be approached with caution, preferably at night when most of the “workers” are present but reluctant to fly. A few additional tips:

  • Hornets have larger heads than yellow jackets
  • Be aware that bees and wasps are attracted to lights, especially flashlights carried by inspectors as they enter dark attics or crawlspaces.
  • Use extreme caution when performing bee or wasp control from a ladder.
  • If a nest is not discovered until fall, control may be unnecessary, as imminent freezing temperatures will kill the colony.
  • If there is direct access to the nest, a fast-acting dust or wettable powder formulation can be applied. If the nest must be removed during the daytime, a can of aerosol insect killer can be used to keep the bees or wasps at bay. Heavy clothing should be worn for added protection.


Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and other snakes often reside in crawlspaces with dirt floors and in a home’s landscaping and drainage. Snakes are easily startled and may react aggressively toward intruders. The following snakes may be encountered during inspections:

Bull snakes are large, non-venomous snakes common in the central parts of the U.S., northern Mexico and southern Canada. They are usually yellow in color, with brown, black or reddish- colored blotching. Due to its patterns and semi-keeled scalation, the bull snake is often mistaken for the Western Diamondback rattlesnake. The bull snake capitalizes on this similarity by performing an impressive rattlesnake impression when threatened; the snake can produce a convincing “rattle” sound, and flatten its head to appear more characteristically triangular. Their mimicry is so impressive that it is frequently the bull snake’s undoing when discovered by humans.Copperhead snake. Notice the triangular head and vertically-oriented pupils, both characteristic of pit vipers. Also, the yellow-tipped tail indicates this is a juvenile.

Copperheads are fairly large, venomous snakes with broad, triangular heads, vertically elliptical pupils, and heat-sensitive pits between each eye and nostril. The body is tan to brown, with dark “hourglass”-shaped crossbands down the length of the body. Small dark spots are common between crossbands on the back. The unpatterned head is dull orange, copper or rusty-red. When young, a copperhead has a yellow-tipped tail. The head is solid brown, and there are two tiny dots in the center of the top of the head. Copperheads are quite tolerant of habitat alteration and remain common in suburban areas of many large cities. They can be found throughout the eastern and central United States but are absent from most of Florida and south-central Georgia. Copperhead bites can be painful, although the symptoms are generally not as severe as bites from rattlesnakes.

Coral snakes possess the most potent venom of any North American snakes, and they can be found in a number of southern states from North Carolina to Texas, although they account for less than 1% of venomous snake bites in the U.S. There are several Coral snake and milk snake comparedreasons they don’t claim more human victims—they have short fangs that have difficulty penetrating clothing, they are more reclusive than most other snakes, and they typically inject only a relatively small quantity of venom when they bite. Any skin penetration, however, is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Coral snakes have a powerful neurotoxic venom that paralyzes the breathing muscles. The following symptoms are characteristic of coral snake envenomation:

  • nausea;
  • drowsiness;
  • vomiting;
  • excessive salivation;
  • difficulty breathing; and
  • paralysis.

It is important to note that coral snake bites do not result in significant swelling, discoloration or pain, and effects of the venom may take hours to develop.

Identification: Physically, coral snakes are anomalies among North American venomous snakes. Unlike rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads, coral snakes are not pit vipers. Thus, they lack the characteristic pit viper’s triangular head and vertically-oriented eyes, and they are quite small, shy and may appear harmless. Fortunately, they can be easily identified by their distinctive red, yellow and black color pattern. The sequence of these colors—red-yellow-black—is critical for identification, as other snakes perform a successful mimicry except in this one aspect. The harmless milk snake, for instance, would appear almost identical if its color pattern were not red-black-yellow. A useful way to remember this distinction is: “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow. Red touch black, poison lack.”

Common, harmless garter snake

Garter snakes are harmless, and can be found everywhere from Canada to Central America. Most garter snakes are striped or banded lengthwise, and some are spotted between the stripes. They are found in moist environments, and most varieties are roughly 2 feet long.


Rattlesnakes are the most dangerous venomous snakes in North America. They bite thousands of people annually, although very few bites are fatal. The rattlesnake is easily distinguished by a rattle at the end of its tail, which is composed of a series of dried, hollow segments of skin which, when shaken, make a rattling sound. When the snake is alarmed, it shakes its tail, and the noise serves as a warning to the attacker. While most rattlesnakes are concentrated in the southwestern United States, they extend north, east and south in diminishing numbers and varieties. Every contiguous state has one or more varieties of rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes can be identified in the following ways:

  • broad, triangular head;
  • eyes have vertical “cat-like” pupils;
  • scales are keeled (raised center ridge);
  • body appears heavy or fat in the middle;
  • large tubular fangs that fold out when the mouth opens;
  • blunt tail with rattle, although baby rattlesnakes don’t have Western Diamondback rattlesnake rattles, and some adult snakes may break or lose their rattles; and
  • typically, rattlesnakes range from 3 to 4 feet in length. Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes can be significantly longer, however—sometimes in excess of 7 feet.

Symptoms of Rattlesnake Bites:

  • pain and swelling in the area surrounding the bite (swelling may take several hours to develop);
  • rapid pulse and labored breathing;
  • progressive, general weakness;
  • visual impairment;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • seizures; and
  • drowsiness or unconsciousness.

Differentiating Bull snakes from Rattlesnakes

The following tips can help prevent any confusion between these two snakes:

  • Bull snakes have no rattler. When threatened, they will often forcefully vibrate their tails which serves as a warning to potential predators. In dry leaves or grass, this will produce a sound that is quite similar to one emitted by a rattlesnake. Another related indicator is that bull snakes will keep their tails low to the ground while producing ther rattling sound, while most rattlesnakes will elevate their tail while rattling.
  • Although the two often have similar patterns, bull snakes are generally cream or pale yellow in color with brown or black markings; rattlesnakes, on the other hand, are typically much darker, depending upon the subspecies.
  • The body of a bull snake is more streamlined than that of a rattlesnake. A bull snake will be noticeably thinner and its body will become proportionately narrower down to its tail, Bull snake. Often mistaken for rattlesnakes, bull snakes are not as fat and lack the triangular head of a rattler, which ends at a defined point. A rattlesnake will appear thicker, particularly in its mid-section, with a more rounded tail due to its rattle.
  • The head of a bull snake is nearly identical in size to the upper portion of its body. The head of a rattlesnake, however, is more triangular in shape and is perceptibly wider than its upper body.
  • Bull snakes’ pupils are circular, while those of rattlesnakes are vertically-oriented. All venomous snakes in North America have vertically-oriented pupils, except for the coral snake.
  • Bull snakes lay eggs, while rattlesnakes give birth to live offspring.


Most spiders pose no threat to humans. In fact, of the 20,000 species of spiders that inhabit the Americas, only 60 are capable of biting humans. Within that small group, only a handful of species are known to be dangerous to humans. Of these, only the brown recluse and the black widow have ever been associated with significant harm and rare reports of death. Tarantula bites, despite common fears, are not significantly more dangerous to humans than wasp stings.

Black widow spiders are perhaps the most venomous spiders in North America.

Identification: The female black widow is normally shiny black, with a red “hourglass” marking on the underside of the abdomen. The abdominal marking may range in color from yellowish-orange to red, and its shape may range from an hourglass to a dot. In a few widow spiders, however, no pattern is obvious on the abdomen. The body of an adult black widow female is about 1/2-inch long, while the male widow spiders are smaller. They usually are not black in overall color, and instead appear light brown or gray and banded. Male widows may have an hourglass pattern, but coloration often is more orange and sometimes yellow. Widow spiders build loose and irregular mesh-type webs, often on plants, in loose stone and wood piles, and in the corners of rooms, garages and outbuildings. They do not produce the symmetrical web typical of orb-weaving spiders or the distinctive “funnel” pattern of funnel weaver Black widow spider. Notice the red hourglass patternspiders.

Symptoms of Bite: While the area around the bite may result in swelling, the venom is primarily a neurotoxin which does not cause significant localized tissue death. Rather, the venom, as well as other neurotoxins, affect the nervous system of the afflicted animal. Without medical attention, the symptoms of a black widow bite can last for days, and a complete recovery may take weeks.

Black widow bites commonly cause the following symptoms:

  • painful rigidity in the muscles of the abdomen;
  • tightness in the chest accompanied by labored breathing;
  • elevated blood pressure;
  • elevated body temperature;
  • nausea; and
  • sweating.

Death is uncommon (less than 1% of the reported cases), but in the elderly or very young, death may occur from asphyxia. Seek medical attention if you suspect you have been bitten.

Habitat: Black widow spiders and their relatives can be found almost anywhere in the Western hemisphere in damp and dark places. The spider prefers the following exterior environments: woodpiles, rubble piles, under stones, in hollow stumps, and in rodent burrows, sheds and garages. Indoors, they are found in undisturbed, cluttered areas in basements and crawlspaces.
Brown Recluse: Along with the black widow, the brown recluse is potentially the most dangerous spider in North America. Despite their reclusive habits, they do occasionally bite humans. Recluses typically bite when they are trapped between flesh and another surface, as when a sleeping human rolls over on a prowling spider, or when a person is putting on clothing or shoes containing the spider.

Brown recluse spider

Identification: The brown recluse is usually between 1/4-inch to 3/4-inch (6mm to 20mm) but may grow larger. They are notable for their characteristic “violin” pattern on the back of their cephalothorax—the body part to which the legs attach. These spiders are not aggressive and bite only when threatened, usually when pressed up against the victim’s skin. They seek out dark, warm, dry environments such as attics, closets, porches, barns, basements, woodpiles and old tires.

Symptoms of Bite:

  • severe pain at bite site after about four hours;
  • severe itching;
  • nausea;
  • vomiting;
  • fever;
  • muscle pain; and
  • potentially severe localized tissue damage.

Hobo Spider

This spider is not native to the U.S., but by the mid-1960s, it had become established in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. Current distribution places it also in Montana, northern Utah, and western Wyoming. Although the bite of the hobo spider is initially painless, it can be serious. Hobo spiders are often confused with wolf spiders, which produce a painful but relatively harmless bite. If serious symptoms develop, the victim should seek medical attention.

Symptoms of bite: Hobo Spider

  • immediate redness, which develops around the bite;
  • after 24 hours, the bite develops into a blister, and after 24 to 36 hours, the blister breaks open, leaving an open, oozing ulceration;
  • severe headache;
  • temporary memory loss;
  • impairment of vision;
  • nausea; and
  • weakness.

Preventing Spider Infestation

InterNACHI believes that spiders can be discouraged from entering the home by increasing lighting of darkened corners, such as by appropriate furniture arrangement and use of artificial lighting. Insecticides should be applied in dark, undisturbed areas where spiders are likely to produce webs. Insecticides also can be used to prevent spider migrations into homes by spraying around the exterior foundation and lower-story windows. Preventative spraying should be performed before temperatures get low since, by this point, spiders and other insects may have already entered the house. The insecticide chlorpyrifos (DursbanÒ) is the most widely available product for control of spiders around a home. Chlorpyrifos has a residual effectiveness of several weeks, particularly if not exposed to light and moisture. However, it is moderately toxic to humans.

In summary, there are many kinds of venomous pests that inspectors may encounter in and around the homes they inspect, and knowing what they are and the hazards they pose can help inspectors act with appropriate caution.