It’s gratifying to learn there are homeowners who are as incompetent as I am. It’s even better when they make the exact same mistake I made. I’m referring to Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, who resorted to pouring mothballs into his wall to get rid of a critter.

His critter was a chipmunk; ours were squirrels. It all started when we had a gap in our siding and a flock of birds moved in. We didn’t mind the birds but our neighbor was irritated about living next door to an “airport.” 

When the birds flew south for the winter, they apparently sublet to a gang of squirrels. We were not as tolerant of the squirrels. They have a bad habit of gnawing the wood and we were worried about structural damage.

Someone suggested that squirrels could not tolerate the odor of mothballs and suggested we pour some into the wall to evict them. Like Neil, I poured in way too many. Suddenly, our house reeked of mothballs from top to bottom.

Our kids were not happy about it. They already considered us old people and now our house smelled like it was occupied by old people. Meanwhile, the squirrels were unfazed by the aroma of mothballs. They stayed busy eating our beams.

I thought of another way to make the squirrels move. My piano rested against the wall and whenever I played, the squirrels became very agitated. When I looked down into the wall, they were covering their ears. Sometimes, they pounded on the wall with their tiny paws to beg me to stop.

I couldn’t play a set long enough to make them leave, so I hired a contractor to erect a squirrel-proof fence to protect the wall. It had a one-way exit for the squirrels which would not allow them to re-enter. Unfortunately, neither the mothballs nor the piano-playing forced them to exit.

So one day I sat and watched how the squirrels were getting in. I saw them climb a tree in front of the house and jump the short distance to the roof. From there, it was an easy task to climb down the gutter and re-enter the wall. 

That night, I had a revelation. Why don’t we saw off the branches the squirrels were using to reach the roof? My son did the honors. I later watched the squirrels climb the tree but the jump to the roof looked too risky, even for a squirrel.

Now that we had stopped the influx of squirrels, they abandoned the space. I made sure to close the gap in the siding before the birds could move back. The house was now secure but I wondered how much damage the squirrels had done. 

It so happened that a public adjuster stopped by and claimed our house had hail damage. We quickly signed with him and he made a claim against our homeowner’s insurance. The insurance company agreed to have the siding and roof replaced on our house and garage.

The work wasn’t going to cost us a dime, until they tore off the siding on the former squirrel nest. They had eaten the beams so thoroughly, the wall collapsed and suddenly I was looking at the great outdoors. It cost us to replace the wall but the rest of the upgrade was free.

Besides learning to trust public adjusters, we also learned to never pour mothballs into a wall. The “old people” smell finally went away. We decided on a new course of action for incompetent homeowners.

Rent a two-flat where the squirrels can only torment us in the backyard.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.