Home Inspections: Avoiding a snaky situation
By Gabe Semenza
March 27, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated March 26, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.
Tired from working his 135-acre homestead, Clem Weber pulled off his dirty work boots, stood them just outside the back door and settled inside for an early spring lunch.
When he later slipped his right foot back into the 12-inch tall boot, he felt something squishy, something wrong. Before Weber could recoil, a 2-foot-long copperhead snake sank a venom-packed fang into his foot.
Weber, a 68-year-old DeWitt County rancher, is living proof that failing to follow the rules regarding snakes can literally come back to bite you.
With snake season almost upon us, I hope his story motivates you to take simple steps to limit venomous snakes inside and outside your home.
Snake season - or the period in which snakes are most active - usually begins in early spring and lasts until late summer.
Because my job takes me to the nooks and crannies of homes and properties all across the region, I've seen and heard firsthand snakes will occupy any decent hiding spot.
"We're going to see snakes start to move here again really soon," Peter McGuill, Victoria County extension agent, said. "And we do see snakes in town, no doubt about it."
Venomous snakes aren't limited to the country. I recently inspected a property for a man who found a rattlesnake inside his home, located just off John Stockbauer Drive.
In town, undeveloped fields, ditches and culverts present prime snake settings. With new development pushing critters out of once-untouched land inside city limits, it's possible for increased snake-human encounters.
With some regularity, I find snake moltings - or the skin they shed - in attics, between exposed ceiling and floor joists, in pier and beam crawlspaces and under decks.
Weber, the rancher, and I recently walked a property near Rockport. We swapped snake stories and stared at woodpiles, thick brush and other ground debris.
Snakes love clutter - both natural and manmade. At his homestead, Weber often finds copperheads among the leaves, weathered barns and brush.
Snakes also find comfort in overgrown flowerbeds, dense gardens and other common landscaping elements.
Like any animal, they seek food, shelter and water. They can travel vertical surfaces, such as a home's exterior wall, if they feel it's worth the trip.
Despite the fear venomous snakes invoke, they kill on average very few Texans - about one to two per year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
If you are bitten, experts say to keep calm and seek immediate medical attention.
The best strategy, of course, is to avoid a snake bite altogether.
To help limit snakes outside your home, keep grass cut short. Maintain flowerbeds, gardens and other landscaping elements. Trim shrub canopies so you can easily see underneath them.
And don't forget to remove clutter, clear brush and elevate woodpiles.
"The biggest thing, though, is food source," McGuill, the extension agent, said. "If you have a rodent problem, you're fixin' to have a snake problem."
By maintaining exterior landscapes, rodents have fewer places to hide. By better sealing your home, those same rodents are less likely to enter it.
Install screens inside brick weep holes and over attic vents. Fix sagging soffits. Ensure doors have proper sweeps and weather stripping. Ensure your clothes dryer vent cap properly closes.
Cats are also a great asset for limiting rodents and snakes.
After being bitten in April 2009, Weber's wife drove him to a Cuero emergency room.
"It happened so quickly," Weber said. "It feels like a little razor cut - sharp, and then the real pain sets in."
Within an hour, Weber received multiple vials of antivenin. His toes, foot and ankle swelled. His skin felt tight. At the slightest touch, even the hospital bed sheet sent searing pain into his lower leg.
Within a week, however, most symptoms of the run-in vanished.
"I don't leave my boots sitting by the back door. They come inside now," Weber said. "I'm more careful when moving hay bales in the barn. I just take more care digging around in any places where snakes might be."
Gabe Semenza is Texas Licensed Professional Inspector No. 20326 and owner of Semenza Inspections. Contact him at 361-676-1480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.