Co-op linemen will routinely tell you their biggest source of job security is squirrels.
Squirrels are infamous for causing outages and taking out transformers. They gnaw through shielded cables or they make contact with live electrical wires, and—zap!—it’s lights out for the squirrel and, sometimes, the entire neighborhood.
Power outages and “blinks” that take place without an obvious weather event are usually the result of animals or motor vehicles getting a bit too close to the electrical grid and shorting out a transformer or taking out a pole. While the dollars-and-cents cost of replacing damaged equipment can be steep, the animal at fault in a blown transformer pays a bigger price.
Blown transformers are not the only wildlife challenges facing today’s cooperative employees and members. One out of four South Carolina co-op members lives in a manufactured home. Critter problems aren’t unique to these dwellings, but they certainly bring unique challenges.
In the course of conducting energy audits across the state, we routinely find heating and cooling systems in double-wide mobile homes damaged by animals. The ventilation system on each side of a double wide is connected by a crossover duct that usually runs underneath the home. When we perform an audit or respond to a high-bill complaint, this connection is the first thing we inspect.
Animals seeking warmth in winter or a cool place to curl up in summer manage to find the crossover duct and, over time, may shift it such that they can crawl inside. They sometimes disconnect the duct altogether. With the heating and cooling system now open to the great outdoors, homeowners are usually shocked to find their utility bills suddenly skyrocketing— or they may be even more surprised to find an opossum, raccoon or feral cat sharing a bedroom with them.
Beyond the crossover duct, manufactured houses also present a challenge in that their belly boards—the plastic webbing that secures the insulation underneath the flooring—offer an open invitation to animals, including cats and raccoons, to take up residence.
While it is disturbing to have living creatures make their home beneath your living room floor, the most unfortunate case I’ve heard of occurred when an opossum burrowed deep inside a mobile home’s belly band and breathed its last—leading the homeowner on a weeks-long investigation to find out just what was causing that horrible odor.
As you make adjustments to your home’s heating and air-conditioning systems for the season, whether cooling in the summer or heating in the fall, please take the following suggestions into account to avoid problems with uninvited houseguests and unexpectedly high power bills.
- Don’t let critters get into the attic or underneath your home. Air vents, access doors and barriers to exclude animals need to be maintained or replaced from time to time.
- If HVAC ductwork is underneath the house, keep it off the ground. This makes access more difficult for animals, especially smaller rodents. It also keeps moisture away from the ductwork, which extends the life of your system.
- Have your HVAC unit and ductwork inspected at least once a year by a licensed technician. As the system ages, ductwork can become more susceptible to animals and leaks.