The Planet of the Skunks

Peace reigns once more at Schloss Bodissey. But it sure took a pile o’ money to secure the borders and enforce The Peace.

Our readers may remember that our crawl space was breached by various wild critters. It could have been worse — at least our invaders were small. They also simply holed up for a bit, rather than hibernated.

We posted about all this foofaraw last November, as you may recall. That was when we became aware of the extent and seriousness of our skunk problem.

This mess began earlier than we knew: a woodchuck (a.k.a. groundhog, and known in the local dialect as a “whistle pig”) dug the hole under the footer, running from under the side porch into the crawl space. Had a skunk not come in through the hole made by the woodchuck, we might have gone on for quite a while without knowing about that hole underneath the foundation. But once the skunk joined the party and started feeling a little anxious, the upper part of the house began to fill with noxious fumes.

The B was upstairs in his office when the odor hit, while I was directly above the skunk spray. Suddenly awakened from a sound sleep, my first incoherent thought was that there was a fire in the kitchen, that somehow rotten garlic bulbs, dirty gym socks, and coffee grounds were blazing away on the gas range. But the kitchen was quiet and empty. Evidently the smell had yet to make its way to the stairs leading to the B’s study, so I did what I customarily do in such situations: I went to the bottom of his stairs and yelled “Nnneeeddd!”, which always sends him hurtling down the steps. At that moment he could smell it he identified it: skunks in the crawl space.

Our question at that point was whether the skunk’s residence was temporary, or whether this was momma skunk who had a den of babies to care for under our house. The second question was how to make sure she left and didn’t return.

So began our saga of animal-proofing our underneath. We called an exterminator, but found out he only did post-damage clean-up; the fellows who could capture whatever was under there had to be registered. Wouldn’t you know it: another government regulation! But he referred us to the man who came out to make sure he captured any stray wildlife under our house. If it was a momma, he had a trap. And if there were babies, he’d be going in to get them. He and his mean came and set up the trap, showing the Baron how to check it, and also came by every morning to check the trap themselves.

The skunk must have lit out for Dodge that first night, because the only critter he caught was a feral cat, one so hungry it ate the whole peanut butter sandwich in the trap — three or four nights in a row. The final trap — a “cage trap” — caught the poor creature. That morning the man opened the trap door and the feline made a beeline for our woods.

Thus concluded the job of the skunk-trappers. Enter the Crawl Space Wizard.

The contractor we had called first returned to the scene of the crime. He and his crew inspected the area underneath the house and declared it empty, though they said the woodchuck hole had been there under the steps for a good while, since there was much evident damage to insulation and our HVAC ductwork. The latter had been torn in various places. Plus a lot of urine and feces — but the less said about that, the better.

The contractor, who specializes in sealing crawl spaces, suggested that we opt for a full encapsulation. That meant:

1.   Cleaning out the old plastic liners and removing roots and various detritus before leveling the ground surface.
2.   Removing the insulation, both the skunk-compromised parts and the undamaged parts.
3.   Cleaning the mold that had formed on the wood above the insulation.
4.   Treating the joists and the floor to prevent new mold from forming.
5.   Replacing the damaged ductwork.
6.   Repairing and improving the shoddy, makeshift parts of the cinderblock walls that enclose the old part of the house.
7.   Lining all of the walls with thick foam insulating panels, with no gaps.
8.   Sealing the floor and the support pillars with two-mil vinyl sheets, and burying animal-proof wire baffles underground along the walls.
9.   Installing lighting, new crawl space doors, and a new dehumidifier.

We signed the contract. Work got underway in mid-January. During the worst weather of the year, which delayed everything.

Then, when they got to the front part of the house, they discovered that the part that had been jacked up 25 years ago needed to be jacked up again — the old cinderblocks had settled into the dirt, and in some places they no longer made contact with the joist they ostensibly supported. So we had to agree to an amendment, which meant additional expense.

However, as you can see from the photos below, the final result (completed in late February) sure was worth it:

In the “after” photo you can see the new permanent jacks they put in to support the new, more robust joist. Those jacks are set on concrete pads, but if they ever settle, they can be adjusted upwards, as required.

There is a climate-control sensor down there, and it communicates with both a monitor upstairs, and with our wifi. It notifies the contractor over the Internet if the temperature or humidity falls outside the prescribed range, and then he calls us up. In other words, if we have another one of those ghastly plumbing leaks, the crawl space man will know it before we do.

The Baron and I really like that feature.

And, yes, the job cost us a lot of money. But one of the reasons I needed to tell y’all about this is that we were able to cover the expense — just barely — with the proceeds of our Early Winter Fundraiser back in December.

We’ll be holding the Spring Fundraiser shortly, and I just want to let everybody know that the problem we talked about last quarter has been taken care of. No more skunk stench — in fact, the house smells better all around, because no other nasty vapors waft up from underneath. And the new insulation is a better design than the old stuff, so that our electricity bills have dropped.

The only downside is that there’s a homeless skunk out there in the woods somewhere, crying about the wonderful warm hidey-hole she used to have.

Well, tough! She’ll just have to deal with it.

22 thoughts on “The Planet of the Skunks

  1. It reminds me of a song I once saw Loudon Wainwright perform entitled “Dead Skunk.”

  2. God, I love America. My uncle lived in the sticks by a lake in Pennsylvania, where as a child I spent many summers – being sent there from Europe. I remember the first time I happened upon a skunk – I love them btw – and my uncle’s trusty old lab got sprayed. Oh the poor old dog. We washed her with gallons of tomato juice but she wasn’t allowed in the house or couch for ages. The smell was something else entirely. Oh the summers in the woods there spent as child sustain me for life. You are lucky, indeed. Much love. Happy Easter.

  3. Wildlife is a wonderful thing… in theory, haha.
    Happy Easter to you both and everyone else.

  4. My wife nearly had a nervous breakdown after a skunk sprayed through an open bedroom screen door at our dog.

    Furious search of internet as to cleaning materials. Peroxide and detergent were best. Tomato juice not good enough.

    Some cloths and linens needed repeat washings.

    Fellow employees noted her the next day and she had to leave work.

    Anything with silver developed darksilver sulfide
    coating. Jewelry and silverware.

    Several months of extra washings of everything: linen, clothes, walls, self.

    Wife thinks it would cause suicide if repeated.


    • That happened to me once, many years ago. I had been running (back then I did three miles a day) and reached the front porch (more of a landing than a porch). Just as I ran up the stairs, the skunk hit me. My reflex action was to strip right there in front of God and everybody before going inside for a long, long detox. Peppermint oil in pine soap helped, as did vinegar. I used other stuff, too, but those frantic ‘repairs’ are lost in the mists of time…

      Needless to say, I threw out my clothing, including a new pair of running shoes.

      • BTW,you just solved a mystery I didn’t know I had. A few days or so before that incident with the skunk I’d cleaned our silver napkin rings by using baking soda and aluminum foil in boiling water. They came out free of tarnish…and subsequently began to get very yellow. I thought it was the fault of the You Tube suggestion.

        But it was the sulfur in the air from the skunk fumes! Growing up in Florida, I knew what everyone else did: silver turned black due to the sulfur springs that supplied our water.

        Mystery solved!

  5. Dymphna, you need to write a book! This episode reads like Mr. Smith Builds His Dream House, as narrated by Chevy Chase.

    • And we could make it into a movie complete with realistic odors…including all those scented candles I burned for a fortnight or more. The crawl space people excavated a whole lot of earth, plus a stump or two in order to get the dirt smelling better – and to reposition various pieces of the foundation we didn’t know were as precarious as they were, maybe a result of small earthquakes…

      We didn’t mention the half-grown mulberry tree we’d never been able to eradicate from the north side. I do remember that in cutting it back one year (it muddled on behind the rhododendrons), we cut the phone line leading into the house. IIRC, we had satellite internet at the time. Anyway, they extracted all the roots. And the contractor, at no extra cost, stuccoed the foundation. Sure looks better.

      Thus does our house inch incrementally toward being middle class. I like it when workers come in and call it “quaint”…

      • That stucco work was a pleasant bonus but I hope they ended the stucco a bit above grade with a flashing. Stucco that’s in contact with the soil will pull moisture and crumble and the damage creeps because the moisture migrates via capillary action.

  6. My family has a cabin in the Rockies. We have mice which aren’t too terrible, but when squirrels get inside they do a lot of damage. The chew holes in the wall paneling and doors, they destroy upholstery. And doubtless there is the urine and feces, although they could never compete with the colony of bats in our attic for shear volume. I have a fairly lethal scoped pellet gun and some folks are inclined to shoot anything that moves just for the challenge but my feeling is that it’s their forest and a forest would be dead without critters – so I mostly shoot cans. That is until the critters take up residence in my cabin, then they become vermin and I aim to kill them. You have to get them all though otherwise you will have generations of them to deal with. Once the cycle is broken they go back to living in trees or burrows or wherever they belong.

    I remember one summer we had a squirrel living in the attic and one evening as I was sitting in front of the fire reading it returned from its daily routine. The little sucker popped up from the crawl space at a place where the floor doesn’t meet the wall too well and trotted right across the hearth. And it stopped in the middle of the hearth, stood on its hind legs and stared at me. I put my book down and tried to remember his face. Not to be racist, but all squirrels pretty much look the same. He made his way back upstairs and I kept reading, but the next day I shot him dead out a tree by the front porch. At least I was pretty sure it was him, but they all look the same. There didn’t seem to be a squirrel in the attic after that so I was happy.

    The bats aren’t at all destructive but the guano does pile up and they are a vector for rabies. There are so many of them and they roost in hidden places it would be nearly impossible to get rid of them all. We’ve been told that one strategy would be to come in the dead of winter and build fires to warm the place up, the notion being that they would wake from hibernating go out to forage and die. Whether that’s true I really don’t know but I would like to be bat-free. However the only way to get to the place in the winter is with a snow machine or cross country skis or snowshoes and the cabin isn’t winterized.

    My friend’s golden retriever got sprayed by a skunk once. They got the dog a really close full body crew cut to cut down the impact. It was like the dog turned into a velour plush toy – so much fun to pet!

    • People down from our road had bats. Some company came out and put plastic over the whole house and fumigated it. I never did ask the owners if they had to clean up bat carcasses.

      We see bats outside in the summer. They eat A LOT of mosquitoes. Years ago, one got into the house and was trapped in a curtain. My usual trick – always seems to work – was to yell “Neeeedddd” until he arrived and the bat went away.

      I am looking forward to no more mice. Those traps under the furniture were pesky things.

      • My brother in Somerset saw a bat chased by a swallow- competition over insects, I guess.

  7. I have been told (not my own experience) that skunks make excellent house pets. Similar to a cat, but they do not climb, scratch, or bite.

    • but what if they do not like the cans you buy for them at your local supermarket?
      My cat ruined my 7 k sofa, but it smelled good when not in its litterbox.

      • Our cats loved to claw our sofa…and chairs, and curtains and pantyhose. That’s what cats do.

        But I’m trying to get my head around the image of a seven thousand dollar sofa…never mind leaving a cat alone with one.

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