Do Septic Tank Additives Really Work?

Residential Septic Pumping
© kaliantye / Adobe Stock

Because your septic system is such a critical part of your home, it’s natural to want to do whatever you can to keep it running reliably. Manufacturers of septic tank additives know this and offer products that promise to reduce the need for pumping, dissolve clogs or otherwise improve your septic system. 

In reality, though, these additives aren’t necessary and often do more harm than good. Before you decide to add anything to your septic tank, get to know how these systems and the most common additives work.

How Septic Systems Work Without Additives

The biggest reason so many people use unnecessary or harmful septic tank additives is that they don’t really understand how a septic system does its job. Septic systems work by taking advantage of a completely natural biological process that doesn’t need any human intervention. They’re designed to work without additives.

Your septic tank receives all the wastewater and waste solids from your home’s plumbing system. This waste contains bacteria that, once in the septic tank, separate the waste into layers. Solids fall to the bottom creating a layer known as sludge, while fats rise to the top to create a scum layer.

In the middle is a layer of clear wastewater called effluent. In most systems, the effluent flows through devices that further purify it and gradually release it into the soil.

The natural bacteria in the tank get all the nutrients they need from the waste that’s already there with them. You don’t need to add more, feed them or support them at all. If you add more bacteria without more waste, the bacteria will only eat each other. The bacteria are anaerobic, so they don’t even need air.

All your tank needs to stay in shape is regular inspection and pumping to remove the solid sludge layer. No additive can break down this layer to delay or replace pumping.

Inspect the system or have it professionally inspected every one to three years, depending on the system type. Have the tank pumped to remove solid waste every two to five years depending on your household size, how often you use the tank, and your climate.

The False Promise of Septic Tank Additives

Manufacturers of septic tank additives typically claim their products help break down the solid waste layer or the scum layer so you won’t need to have your tank pumped as often. Other products promised to restore a clogged soil absorption system.

Additives come in two types:

Biological additives – These are bacteria, yeast, and enzyme products manufacturers sell as a way to start a new septic system or support an overworked system. Because the system gets all the bacteria it needs from the incoming waste, though, biological additives are unnecessary. They won’t harm your system, but they don’t help, either.

If your system really is overworked, you either need to cut back on your water use or have the tank pumped more often. In some cases, the system might have been designed or installed incorrectly and will have to be overhauled.

Chemical additives – This group includes organic and inorganic products formulated to break down the sludge or scum layer, control odor or restore a clogged drainfield. Household drain cleaners and degreasers fall into this category. These are more dangerous than biological additives because they often upset the pH balance in the tank enough to kill the bacteria the tank needs to run properly.

The ones that actually do what they promise interfere with the waste separation process. For example, by dissolving the scum layer, they can cause scum to seep into your soil and groundwater. At worst, they can damage the system’s pipes and other components.

Gentler household products, such as hydrogen peroxide, won’t harm the bacteria much, but can still contaminate the drainfield’s soil, reducing its ability to purify wastewater.

If you notice a foul odor or pooling water around the drainfield or your drains are running slowly, your septic tank needs to be pumped. No additive will solve these problems.  

Managing Special Situations

Some septic tank additives are marketed for use in unusual situations, but even in these cases, there’s little an additive can do.

In a vacation home where the septic system goes unused for months at a time, the bacteria load can drop so low the system isn’t as efficient as it would normally be. To solve this problem, save any heavy water-use activities, such as running the dishwasher or doing laundry, for after the toilet has been used a few times to add more bacteria.

Some septic service providers include bacterial treatments for infrequently used systems as part of their cleaning and inspection services, but beware of anyone pushing you to buy separate additive products.

If your septic system hasn’t been used for several years, have it professionally inspected before you start using it. As long as the tank isn’t damaged and the pipes haven’t accumulated dirt, though, the system should be just fine. If there is damage or dirt, you’ll need professional repair work or cleaning. Additives won’t help.

Hosting a full house of guests for a few weeks can strain your septic system. To protect the system, you can ask your guests to limit their water use, but you don’t need to add a bacteria product.

With all the septic tank additives on the market, it’s tempting to think at least a few of them might help your system run more efficiently. In reality, biological additives are largely a waste of money, and chemical additives can harm the system.

The best thing you can do for your septic system is to let it work as designed with only natural bacteria. Beyond that, have it pumped and inspected regularly, and it will perform well for decades.

Posted on Categories Plumbing

Lead Paint Removal and Encapsulation

Hazard Tape Warning of Lead Work Area
© Jamie Hooper / Adobe Stock

Lead gives paint greater durability and a more attractive finish, so this metal was once a common component in paints. As manufacturers eventually realized, though, lead-based paint poses a serious health hazard, particularly to children.

If your home has lead paint, taking steps to remove or encapsulate it as soon as possible will protect your family’s health. Which option is better for you depends on the condition of the paint, where it’s located, and your budget.

Beautiful on Your Wall, Hard on Your Health

Health Check Up
© tumsasedgars / Adobe Stock

With fast drying times and a fresh, glossy finish that resists scratches and moisture, lead-based paint once seemed like a no-fail option. These paints were so popular, in fact, that they were used in almost 75 percent of homes built before 1978 and an even higher percentage of pre-1945 homes.

Over time, though, lead paint revealed its powerfully damaging effects. If inhaled or ingested, lead from paint can cause a wide range of health issues in adults, including digestive problems, mood disturbances, and high blood pressure.

In addition, children younger than six are at risk of learning disabilities, growth delays, and behavioral problems. Growing children absorb more lead than adults, their nervous systems are more sensitive, and they’re more likely to put their fingers in their mouths or even eat lead paint for its sweet taste.

A pregnant woman can also pass lead to her unborn baby, leading to brain and nervous system damage.

In 1978, the federal government banned household use of lead paint, but it’s still present in millions of homes.

Know Your Options for Staying Safe

Peeling Lead Paint on Old Wood Siding
© tab62 / Adobe Stock

Lead paint in good condition isn’t immediately dangerous. It’s when the paint starts to chip, peel or otherwise deteriorate that the problems start. Tiny flakes accumulate on your floors, furniture, and other surfaces, eventually finding their way into your food and drink.

That doesn’t mean you can safely ignore undamaged lead paint, though. If you have children or you’re planning to, for their safety, either encapsulate or remove the paint even if it’s in perfect condition.

If you ever rent the property out, by federal law, you’re obligated to at least encapsulate any lead paint and disclose its presence to your tenants. You’ll then need to inspect the paint every year and whenever a new tenant moves in.

Encapsulation and removal are the two basic options for dealing with the lead paint.

Encapsulation – This method involves sealing off the lead paint with a specially formulated encapsulation paint or primer, or with a structure such as a wall.

It’s usually the simpler, cheaper way to go, and it’s often safer because there’s no risk of spreading lead dust while you work. Even so, it’s not an option for paint that’s damaged in any way or for surfaces subject to friction, such as floors and doors.

Keep in mind that different surfaces require different encapsulation methods. You’ll also need to maintain the surface regularly to prevent it from deteriorating and spreading lead.

Removal – This usually means scraping or sanding the paint from the surface and disposing of it in a safe way so that no lead paint remains.

While removal eliminates the risk completely and permanently, it’s also an involved and potentially expensive process that carries the risk of contaminating the house with lead dust. If done incorrectly, it will make your problem worse.

For damaged paint, though, it’s the only safe option. If the painted surface is something that’s easy to remove, such as a door or a window frame, you’re better off replacing it with a new one.

Encapsulation: Quick and Easy Protection

Paint Rollers and Brush in Roller Tray
© Tomasz Zajda / Adobe Stock

The easiest approach to encapsulation is to apply a lead encapsulation paint or primer over the lead paint. This paint bonds to the lead paint and forms a protective barrier. Some also include a bitter-tasting substance to discourage children from chewing the paint.

Once the encapsulation layer is dry, you can apply any topcoat paint you want over it. Before you buy, makes sure the encapsulation paint you want is right for the material you plan to seal.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely to ensure an effective barrier. In most cases, it’s a simple matter of cleaning the surface and painting it.

Wipe down the surface with a trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner or an alternative. Wear thick gloves, goggles, and a long-sleeved shirt when working with TSP. Then apply the encapsulation paint at the recommended thickness. It might take two or three coats. Measure carefully because a layer that’s too thin won’t be effective.

The next option for encapsulation is to cover the painted surface with other material. You can cover a wall with drywall or wood paneling or a floor with tile.

Finish all the joints and seams carefully to create a dust-tight seal. Regularly inspect the material because if it gets damaged, the risk of lead exposure returns.

Removal: Hard Work for Permanent Protection

Lead Paint Removal on Exterior Siding
© Christian Delbert / Adobe Stock

All removal methods produce some lead dust, so if possible, call a certified lead remediation professional to handle the job. A professional is also more likely to have a power sander with a HEPA-filter vacuum attachment or a heat gun they’re skilled in using to get the work done quickly and safely.

Your local regulations might even require professional removal.

If you do it yourself, wet scraping is the simplest approach. This involves misting the painted surface with water to hold down the dust, then scraping the paint off with a hand scraper. Finish up by using a sanding sponge to remove the remaining paint residue. As you work, wipe up any mess frequently to control dust.

If the whole exterior of your house is painted in lead paint, you might not be able to remove it completely by scraping. In this case, you can get an extra layer of protection by applying lead encapsulation paint after you scrape off what you can.

Never dry scrape, dry sand, use a power sander without a HEPA-filter vacuum or use any high-temperature tool to remove lead paint. These methods all pose a dangerously high risk of lead exposure.

Staying Safe During a Removal Job

Putting on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
© Jamie Hooper / Adobe Stock

Children, pregnant women, and pets should stay clear of the work area until it’s been cleaned. If the job will take more than a day and you won’t be able to clean up every day, spend the night somewhere else until the whole project is done.

Work with one room at a time. Remove everything from the room, including curtains and rugs. Anything left in the room can become dangerously contaminated, and ordinary cleaning can’t always remove lead dust.

Start sealing off the room by taping a piece of 6-mil poly plastic sheeting around the entire perimeter of the door. Cut a slit for entry. Tape another plastic sheet to the top of the door to stop any escaping dust.

Then, if you’re removing paint from a small area in the room, such as a window frame, it’s enough to cover the floor with plastic sheeting 5 ft. out from your work area. Then tape plastic sheeting securely over your HVAC air ducts and turn off your HVAC system to prevent any airflow that can spread dust.

If you’re cleaning a wall, though, spread plastic sheeting over the whole floor and seal the entire perimeter by taping it to the baseboards or the wall above them.

For an exterior paint removal job, lay a 6-mil poly plastic sheet at least 5 ft. out from your work area. Either roll up the edges or use cardboard to create a raised barrier that keeps the debris contained.

Wear a disposable coverall designed for lead abatement work, along with goggles, heavy rubber gloves, and disposable coverings for your shoes and hair. You’ll also need a half facepiece respirator with P100 HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters.

To avoid getting lead in your mouth, don’t eat, drink or smoke while you work and wash your hands and face thoroughly before consuming anything on breaks.  

When you’re done for the day, but you’ll be continuing the next day, you still need to clean your work area thoroughly. It might sound like a hassle, but it’s critical to preventing the spread of lead dust around your house. It’s even more important if you’re going to be around children or a pregnant woman.

Mist the debris with water and collect it in heavy plastic bags. Place all your disposable protective clothing in the bag and close the bag securely. In most areas, you can throw small bags of lead paint debris out with your regular trash, but check your local regulations first.

After you leave the room, use a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner to remove lingering dust from your clothes. Put your work clothes aside to be washed separately and take a shower.

Once the whole paint-removal job is done, clean all surfaces including the walls, window sills, cabinetry, and ceiling, with a HEPA-filtered vacuum. Then mop or wipe down these surfaces with water. Finish up by going over every surface with the HEPA-filtered vacuum a final time.

If your home is one of the many with lead paint, doing something about it now will protect your family’s health in the future. If the paint is deteriorating even slightly, removal is the best option. Have the job done professionally or take the right precautions before you do it yourself, and you can get rid of the problem permanently.

For paint that’s still in good condition, though, encapsulation is often the more practical route. Not sure which approach to take? Contact a certified lead abatement contractor for guidance.

Vermiculite Ceilings 101

Macro Shot of Popcorn Ceiling
Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

The textured popcorn ceilings common in mid-century homes have a lot of benefits, which is how they became so popular. They’re fire-resistant, insulate well against heat transfer and sound, and last for decades with little maintenance.

There’s one big problem with them, though. Most older textured ceilings were made with a mineral called vermiculite, which often contains harmful asbestos. If your home has a vermiculite ceiling, it’s important to know how to care for it safely.

How Vermiculite Ceilings are Made

A vermiculite ceiling is made by spraying a textured finish onto the ceiling after construction. Although this finish was used between the 1950s and the early 1980s, it rose to the height of its popularity in the 1970s. At the time, there were good reasons for its widespread use.

The vermiculite it contains is a great insulator and doesn’t burn. The finish’s bumpy texture was also a cheap and easy way to hide imperfections in the ceiling.

What wasn’t known then, though, is that vermiculite is often contaminated with a cancer-causing substance known as asbestos. Thanks to mounting evidence of the health damage asbestos causes, spray-on asbestos ceiling products were finally banned with the Clean Air Act amendments of 1978.

So if your popcorn ceiling was installed before 1979, there’s a good chance it contains asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Because existing stocks of spray-on material were exempt from the ban, it’s also possible a ceiling installed any time in the 1980s could contain asbestos.

Modern popcorn and other textured ceilings installed after this time are made with Styrofoam, cardboard or another harmless material.

Health Risks Overhead

Pure vermiculite is perfectly harmless, but this mineral is often mined from areas where it picked up asbestos. Asbestos is a natural, fibrous material that releases microscopic fibers into the air. When you breath anywhere around unsealed asbestos, those fibers can find their way into your lungs, causing damage and eventually cancer.

Textured vermiculite ceilings are highly friable and easily damaged, so they’re more likely to release any asbestos they might contain than, for example, asbestos floor tiles. An even bigger risk comes when the ceiling starts to deteriorate, or you remove it for remodeling.

Keeping it Clean

The texture of a vermiculite ceiling makes it prone to collecting dust and cobwebs. This ceiling finish crumbles easily and doesn’t stand up to water, though, so cleaning it requires a delicate touch.

More importantly, even minor crumbling can release asbestos. Before you clean, it’s a good idea to have an asbestos test done by a professional. The asbestos testing service you choose should come to your home to take a sample of the ceiling. Doing this yourself could be dangerous to your health.

If your ceiling tests negative for asbestos, it’s safe to clean it yourself. Before you start work, cover you floor and furniture to keep off any dust and debris that gets knocked down. To get your ceiling clean, the simplest method is to use your vacuum with the brush attachment and gently vacuum the ceiling.

Alternatively, use a thick-napped paint roller or a paint roller wrapped in heavy tape with the sticky side out. Run this gently over the surface of the ceiling.

Stains are more stubborn and usually require some type of cleaning solution to remove. For cooking grease and cigarette smoke stains, a solution of 1 tbsp. vinegar or dish soap in 1qt. water is enough. To clean up mold spots and yellow water stains, use a solution of 1 tsp. bleach in 1 qt. water.

First patch test the solution on an inconspicuous part of the ceiling to make sure liquid won’t damage it. If the solution doesn’t cause damage, dip a cloth into the solution, wring it mostly dry, and carefully dab the stains away.

If the stains won’t come off this way, don’t scrub harder or you’ll damage the ceiling. If you want a spotlessly clean ceiling, consider repainting or removing the ceiling.

Upgrading and Remodeling

As if harboring a potential health hazard weren’t bad enough, a vermiculite ceiling can also make your home look dated. If you’re tired of your grey, old popcorn ceiling, there are three main ways to update it.

Risk of asbestos exposure is even greater during remodeling than cleaning, so professional testing is critical. If your ceiling contains asbestos, leave any work up to a professional trained in handling asbestos. These specialists can upgrade the ceiling without spreading asbestos around your house. If the ceiling is asbestos free, you might be able to do the work yourself.

Paint the ceiling – Painting the ceiling smooths out the surface and gives it a more contemporary look, but the job is far from easy. It takes more time and paint than painting an ordinary ceiling. Using a paint specially formulated to cover up dirty, old popcorn ceilings will make the work easier. Just keep in mind that painting a vermiculite ceiling makes it harder to remove later.

Install a false ceiling – By covering your vermiculite ceiling with a false plasterboard ceiling, you’ll get a smooth surface that’s easy to paint. You’ll also have a lot of options for modern 3D designs and recessed lighting. On the downside, a false ceiling reduces the height of a low ceiling even further.

Remove the vermiculite finish – Because a vermiculite ceiling is just a sprayed on coating, it’s fairly easy to remove. Get the finish off, and you can repaint the ceiling to your tastes.

You can remove an asbestos-free vermiculite ceiling with a solution of half water and half vinegar. Use a cloth to apply enough of the solution to soak the ceiling, then scrape the soaked finish off.

To protect your lungs from dust, wear an N95 dust mask while you work. If asbestos is involved, though, leave the job to a licensed asbestos removal contractor only.

Vermiculite ceilings have a lot to offer, and as long as yours doesn’t contain asbestos, it poses no danger to your health. You can keep it clean with an annual light vacuuming or a sweep with a paint roller.

If your ceiling is showing signs of deterioration or you’re just tired of the look, have a professional test it for asbestos before you touch it. If it tests positive, consider having it removed or at least covered for your family’s safety.

Posted on Categories Interior

Are Chimney Cleaning Logs Effective?

Lit Fireplace
© Atlantis / Adobe Stock

A chimney caked in creosote is a fire hazard and should never be ignored, but removing all that gunk takes more than soap and water. Chimney cleaning logs, also known as creosote sweeping logs, are marketed as an easy way to deal with this sticky problem.

There’s a fair amount of misconception about how these logs work, though. They really can make your chimney easier to maintain, but they can’t replace regular, professional cleaning and they’ll only help if you use them correctly.

How Chimney Cleaning Logs Clear Out Creosote

When the byproducts produced by burning wood hit the relatively cool chimney walls, they condense into a substance known as creosote. It happens in all fireplaces, but poor chimney draft and burning improperly seasoned wood, or worse, wet wood makes the problem worse.

Over the season, creosote builds up on the inside of your chimney. Because it’s highly flammable and a common cause of chimney fires, it must be cleaned out every year.

Sometimes that job is easier said than done. Creosote usually starts off light and soft or crusty, but it can turn into a thick, oily, tar-like substance that will take a chimney sweep considerable time and effort to remove. The harder your chimney is to clean, the more that cleaning will cost you.

Chimney cleaning logs make the creosote easier to remove. They contain chemical additives that rise up through your chimney and stick to the creosote deposits. These chemicals dry out the creosote, turning it into a flaky substance that’s less flammable and easier to remove.

After you burn a fireplace cleaning log and then continue to burn regular firewood, the chemicals work on the creosote for around two weeks. Some of the dry creosote will fall down into the fireplace where you can sweep it away.

The whole process can reduce the buildup in your chimney by as much as 60 percent. That means a faster, easier job for your chimney sweep and a lower price for you.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

How much a chimney cleaning log will help you depends in part on the type of creosote in your chimney. Creosote forms in three stages:

  • First stage – Light and puffy with a high soot content. Easily removed with a chimney brush.
  • Second stage – Somewhat sticky, but flaky. Can be removed with a chimney brush and some effort.
  • Third stage – Also known as glaze, these hard, tarry deposits can’t be removed with an ordinary chimney brush.

The first two stages are the most common, the easiest to clean, and the least affected by chimney sweeping logs. If your chimney has only a small amount of light creosote, you might not get much benefit out of these logs.

Third-stage (glazed) creosote forms most often when the fireplace wasn’t built well, or you haven’t been using it correctly. Maybe your chimney is too short and lacks sufficient draft, your flue is too big, your home doesn’t have much airflow, or you’ve been burning unseasoned wood.

Glazed creosote is relatively rare, but it’s where chimney cleaning logs really shine. In fact, only chemical treatment can completely remove glaze. The log does a lot to break down the glaze, making the cleaning job easier for your chimney sweep.

Get the Most from Your Logs

Before you buy a chimney cleaning log, make sure it will work with your fireplace. They don’t work with pellet stoves, for instance.

If you burn one or two fires a week, it’s enough to burn one chimney cleaning log either at the beginning or middle of the season. If you burn a fire a day, you’ll need two logs: one at the beginning of the season and one in the middle.

Don’t use the log the first time you make a fire for the season. First, burn fires with regular firewood for two or three days to make sure there are no issues with the fireplace or chimney.

Before you use the creosote sweeping log, inspect your chimney for leaves, animal nests, and other debris and obstructions, and make sure your fireplace damper is open.

If you have a wood stove with a catalytic combustor, close the device using the bypass mechanism. Leave it this way for the next week or two as the chemicals in the chimney cleaning log do their work.

Read the instructions before you remove the log’s packaging. Some logs are designed to be burned with the packaging, although you’ll need to loosen the packaging a little to allow airflow for burning.

To minimize risk of downdrafts, burn a fire with regular wood, then after this fire has died down, place the chimney cleaning log on the hot embers. If the room has poor airflow, open a window to get more air in.

Never put a creosote sweeping log in a burning fire. Once the log is burning, leave it alone. Poking it or adding wood to the fire can cause it to burn too hot. After the flames die down, the log will keep smoking, so keep the damper open.

Over the next few days, you should notice dry creosote, which looks like ash, falling down from your chimney into the fireplace. If you’re due for a professional chimney sweeping, wait a week or two after burning the chimney cleaning log before you have the chimney sweep come in.

Even if you use chimney cleaning logs correctly, you’ll still need to schedule an annual professional cleaning and inspection of your chimney and fireplace. More than just brushing out your chimney, chimney sweeps also inspect for damage and other problems that pose safety issues.

If you have sticky or glazed creosote, though, using a chimney cleaning log can help your chimney sweep get the job done faster.

Posted on Categories HVAC

Gorilla Hair Mulch 101

Macro Shot of Gorilla Hair Mulch
Photo Credit: Eric Martin

Gorilla hair mulch might sound like someone’s idea for recycling debris from the zoo’s primate exhibit, but it has no connection to actual gorillas. This plant-based mulch is made from redwood or red cedar bark finely shredded to resemble the thick hair of a gorilla.

The bark used is a byproduct of lumber production that would otherwise go to waste, and as a natural, non-toxic material, it’s an environmentally friendly choice.

Valued for its longevity and ability to stay where it’s put, gorilla hair mulch is popular for use on uneven ground and in well manicured, formal landscapes. Its unusual color and tendency to mat together means it’s not ideal for every style of garden or climate, though.

Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of this common wood mulch will help you decide if it’s right for you.

Stays in Place

Gorilla hair mulch is one of the best choices for windy areas and slopes because it stays put better than small wood chips, straw, and other light material. As this mulch gradually breaks down, it forms a dense mat that won’t shift around in the wind or rain. As an added benefit, it also helps hold the soil in place, reducing soil runoff on low slopes.

While it’s more stable than other wood mulches, before gorilla hair mulch mats, it can still blow around in locations with constant winds, such as near the seacoast, and gradually slide down very steep grades. Laying a jute mat on the soil before mulching helps the mulch mat faster, but it can also create fertile ground for weeds.

If you’re dealing with a windy area or steep slope, consult a landscaper before you mulch.

Keeps the Soil Moist

A mat of gorilla hair mulch keeps the soil cool and forms a barrier that slows down water evaporation. Its ability to protect your plants’ roots from the sun make this mulch a good choice for dry climates. It’s especially helpful if you use drip irrigation.

On the downside, the mat this mulch forms can turn into a watertight barrier that prevents rainwater from reaching the soil surface. If you’re in a dry climate, you’ll need to periodically inspect the soil after it rains or water your garden to ensure enough water is finding its way through the mulch.

Deters Weeds and Insects

Unlike coarser mulch, such as wood chips, a dense mat of gorilla hair mulch lets little light through, inhibiting the growth of weeds. In a wet climate, however, you might find weeds growing on top of the mulch. This problem is even more likely if you make the mistake of putting non-biodegradable landscaping fabric under the mulch.

The natural oils in redwood and cedar bark deter plant-damaging insects, such as beetles, moths, and ants. With cedar gorilla hair, these oils also emit a distinct cedar scent most people find pleasant. What’s more, the texture is difficult for slugs and snails to navigate, so they’re less likely to reach your plants.

Keeps Working for Years

As a coarse, fibrous material, gorilla hair mulch decomposes more slowly than finer mulches. Redwood and cedar also resist rot well. These properties combined give you a mulch that will stay on your garden longer than other types of wood-based mulches.

Although the color will fade, this mulch performs well for three or four years, depending on your climate. That means less mulching work for you. Its durability is one big reason gorilla hair mulch is popular for use around commercial properties.

Your plants also benefit from the relatively slow release of nitrogen and other nutrients. Because the mulch stays in place as it decomposes, it will also hold valuable nutrients in the soil, keeping them from washing away in the rain.

On the other hand, because it provides nutrients so slowly, it’s not as effective for use as a supplemental fertilizer as grass clippings, leaf compost, and other rapidly decomposing mulches.

The mulch works well in garden beds with shrubs and larger perennial plants. For an annual bed, it’s less than ideal. Gorilla hair mulch won’t break down for several years, so you’ll need to move it aside to replant the bed each year.

Offers a Distinctive Appearance

The rich color and fluffy texture of gorilla hair mulch make it an eye-catching addition to the garden. It’s available in both natural light brownish-red and naturally dyed black varieties, so you can choose a color that either blends in with your local soil or contrasts with it, depending on your preference.

Not everyone is a fan of this mulch’s looks, though. Some find the color too unnatural and conspicuous. Because gorilla hair mulch is so often used around office buildings and businesses, it can give a home something of a cold, commercial feel.

Poses a Potential Hazard to Pets

Although gorilla hair mulch is natural and non-toxic, it can pose a choking hazard to dogs, small livestock such as goats, and other animals that might chew on the fibers. If you have a curious dog that likes to chew, you’ll be better off with something other than gorilla hair mulch, such as leaf compost or very finely shredded cedar.

Easy to Use

If gorilla hair mulch sounds like something your garden beds could benefit from, late spring or early autumn are the best times to get started. Apply a layer of 2 to 3 inches, or up to 4 inches to prevent soil compaction in areas with high foot traffic. Leave 3 inches of open ground around your plants to let air reach the stems.

Once the mulch begins to mat, occasionally inspect the soil under it to be sure it’s getting enough water and not harboring weeds.

With its ability to stay put, gorilla hair mulch is the perfect solution for landscaping a slope or a wind-blown garden bed. Its longevity also makes it a smart choice if you’d rather not apply new mulch every year. If you’re looking for something that blends in or breaks down fast, though, this isn’t the best mulch for you.

Posted on Categories Yard

The Pros and Cons of Tigerwood Flooring

Macro Shot of Tigerwood
Photo Credit: Philipp Zinger

If you’re looking for a wood that will turn your floor into the focal point of the room, tigerwood is it. Also known as African walnut, goncalo alves, and Brazilian koa, tigerwood is endowed with bold splashes of color that set it apart from plainer hardwoods.

The durability and water-resistance of this wood add to its value as a flooring material. Due to environmental concerns and installation difficulties, though, you’ll need to do some planning if you want this wood in your home.

Pros: Remarkable Coloring and Exceptional Durability

Striking Color Patterns

Tigerwood takes its name from its vibrant tiger-like stripes, which range from light orange and golden tan to a deep russet brown, varying in thickness from broad strokes to delicate lines. There are few knots to interfere with the flow of colors. No other wood used for flooring looks quite like it.

Whereas the relatively plain coloration of oak, maple, and birch quietly recedes to create an unobtrusive backdrop for your furniture and decor, tigerwood turns your floor into a focal point in and of itself. It’s ideal if you prefer simple furniture, but still want to give the room some personality.

Unlike most woods, tigerwood is graded primarily based on its coloring. It’s most often available in clear grade and common grade. Clear grade offers brown and black stripes against an overall deep rosy-orange base. Common grade has less pronounced color variation and might include minor defects such as planer grooves or ripples.

Exceptional Hardness and Durability

With a 1850 Janka scale rating, tigerwood is harder than most flooring hardwoods, including maple and pecan hickory. Its tough surface resists dents and dings, so it stays looking new longer.

It’s a great choice for families with young children or large dogs. On the other hand, it’s somewhat softer and more resilient than ipe or cumaru wood, making it more comfortable underfoot.

Resistance to Water Damage

Tigerwood’s high density and abundance of natural oils give it a strong advantage in water-resistance. Once a finish is applied, tigerwood is unlikely to warp, crack or rot even in a relatively damp environment.

Like famously weather-resistant teakwood, it’s often used for decking and outdoor furniture. While wood flooring generally isn’t recommended for bathrooms, if you have your heart set on a hardwood bathroom floor, tigerwood is one of the best choices.


As an exotic hardwood, tigerwood isn’t the cheapest thing you could put on your floor, but it is less expensive than ipe, teak, and ebony. Typically, you’ll find the price comparable to mahogany and cumaru. It’s an economical option if you’re looking for a highly durable, moisture-resistant wood with distinct coloring.

Easy Maintenance

To keep your tigerwood floor clean, it’s enough to damp mop it once a week with a solution of 1/4 cup white vinegar in a quart of water. A solution of 1/4 cup liquid Castile soap and 2 gallons of water also works well. These mild cleaners break down grime without harming the floor’s finish or causing discoloration.

If you need to clean up the floor more often, use a dust mop. Avoid harsh cleaners not designed for exotic hardwoods and never leave standing water on the floor.

Cons: Color Changes and Difficult Installation

Darkening Colors

The rich color variations tigerwood is so loved for don’t always stay as prominent as they are when the floor is new. The lighter colors of the sapwood tend to deepen over time into a reddish or dark brown, so they contrast less with the darker heartwood. It’s a problem common to many richly hued hardwoods, but it can take the drama out of a tigerwood floor.

That said, noticeable color changes usually take at least 10 years, and you can slow the process by using UV-filtering window shades or film to limit the amount of sunlight that hits the floor.

Environmental Concerns

While the tigerwood tree itself isn’t an endangered species, the rainforests where it grows are often endangered by over-logging. Thanks to the growing interest in this wood, many of the African and South American countries where it grows have established export restrictions to prevent over-harvesting and resulting environmental damage.

Brazil, where much of the tigerwood in the US comes from, has particularly tight controls.

On the plus side, tigerwood is a fast-growing species, making it a more sustainable alternative to the slower growing ipe wood. If you decide you want tigerwood in your home, choose wood that carries Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which ensures the wood was sustainably harvested.

Not Ideal for DIY Projects

Tigerwood’s hardness makes it difficult to install without professional grade tools. Cutting it requires carbon-tipped saw blades. To use screws or nails, you’ll need to pre-drill holes, which requires a drill with a carbide bit. Gluing the wood is possible, but not easy thanks to the natural oils that inhibit the glue from setting. Sanding is a challenge because tigerwood dust can irritate your skin and eyes.

Just as it resists water penetration, tigerwood also resists stains and preservatives. Only very low viscosity products will do the job.

For a floor that steals the show, it’s hard to do better than tigerwood. The wood’s bold, variegated coloring will add warmth to a living room or bedroom and a little extra flair to a game room or home bar. Its hardness means you won’t have to worry about it getting scratched up by your kids and pets.

It’s a challenge for a DIY-er to work with, though, so budget for professional installation when planning your new floor.

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