Shop local At your Midtown Mobile hardware store, or order online.

GOT (Game of Termites)

I write to you in fear as there is an irrefutable threat to our homes and way of life. The Queen is capable of such destruction that I can only hope heeding my warning will minimize the damage ahead. I am NOT referring to Queen Cersei or Queen Daenerys. My fear is of Queen Isoptera of House Rotting, First of Her Name, Ruler of Formosa, Destroyer of Homes, Breaker of Joists. Her reign is tyrannical and her only objective is to destroy every home in Westeros. Her ancestors have wreaked havoc across the world for millions of years. They have vanished more wood than fire. This Queen does not attack with the fire of three full grown dragons. Her army consists of billions of tiny dragons most of us will never see. They will destroy far more homes than high flying dragons that you can see coming from miles away. By the time you realize they have attacked, the damage will have already been done. The invasion is imminent.

Disclaimer: Readers whom are not familiar with Game of Thrones may not understand some of the references in this article. However they may still enjoy reading for informational purposes. I have put all GOT references in italics so as not to confuse you.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Termites aren’t quite little dragons. They look like little white ants, some having wings. The way they feast on wood will make you wish your house was ironborn. Studies suggest that termites have been around for somewhere between 47 and 60 million years. They live in colonies much like the people of The Seven Kingdoms. They have kings, queens, workers, and soldiers. The only difference being that in the termite kingdom, all the workers and soldiers are Unsullied or sterile. The royal termites capable of reproduction have wings. They mingle on their nuptial flights, or swarms, and pair up with their mate. This is what we experience every year in the spring when termites are swarming around our lights and coming in our windows. Don’t fear yet. These termites are not going to eat through your wood. Once they find a mate, they burrow into moist soil establishing their new chambers and crowning themselves king and queen. Now it’s time to worry. They begin to mate creating workers whose job is to feed the king and queen. These are the ones you will find in your wood. They do not have wings and their responsibilities include gathering food and maintaining the nest. The workers can later moult into soldiers or even royalty. Termite queens have the longest life span of any insect in the world living up to 50 years. All together, they are arguably the most successful reigning insect group on Earth, occupying six of the seven kingdoms (continents).

How do I know if I am under attack?

This is what makes termites so dangerous. There is no way of knowing you are under attack until after the damage is done. You will never see the worker termites that stay in the wood and near the nest in the ground. The termites that moult into royalty will grow wings and try to leave the nest to find a mate. So if you see termites with wings outside of swarming, it could be the sign of a colony. But if royal termites have moulted, then many workers have previously moulted and have been feeding the nest for some time. Other signs of termite damage are hollow wood or mud tubes.

What do I do if Queen Isoptera (Termites) has attacked?

If the Queen’s army has attacked, you know she is nearby. She must be destroyed. There are three main weapons that have proven useful in defeating the Queen’s army. You can use bait traps that provide poison disguised as food which the workers will take back to the nest. You simply stake these into the ground around the infected area. You can buy liquid chemicals to spray and saturate the ground around an infected area. These chemicals kill by contact. There are aerosol poisons for use inside if the invasion has reached inside your home.

There are a few natural options. Wet cardboard can be used as a trap. Place the wet cardboard near an infected area. When you see the termites starting to eat the cardboard, remove it and burn it. But this will not kill the Queen, only her soldiers which she will quickly replace.

The sun will also kill termites. This is useful if they have gotten into furniture. Simply take the furniture outside and place it in the sun. UV lights may work when sunlight is not an option.

Parasitic nematodes are a great natural option if you can find them. They are worms that find termites as tasty as termites find wood.

How do I prepare for the Queen’s invasion?

Remove all wood from around the outside of your house such as firewood, yard debris, or mulch. If possible, make sure there is no wood that connects the ground to your house such as lattice. Put a barrier of sand around your home. Termites struggle to move through sand. Do anything you can to prevent moisture from building up under your home. This is big problem with midtown houses. Make sure your gutters are draining rain water away from your house. Check under your house for plumbing leaks. Regularly inspect all wood in your home. The sooner you are aware of an invasion, the sooner you can stop it and minimize the damage. The weapons used to defeat the Queen can also be used as a line of defense. Place bait traps around the outside of your home. If a colony is formed around a trap, it won’t last long. Spray chemicals approved for termite control under and around your home at least once a year. Be thorough as termites are good at hiding.

I don’t want to fight. Is there an army for hire?

If you choose to go the route of The Golden Company, there are many options. I’m sure you see pest control commercials all the time. Just realize that you will probably pay double for something you could do yourself.

Is there any way to ensure protection from the Queen?

This is a hard question to answer. You can get a termite bond on your home. A pest control company will inspect your home to determine whether there are any infestations and whether they think your home is a safe bet for them to insure. If you past inspection, they will treat your home once a year and replace any damage in the event of an invasion. The only problem is that many bond holders have had a hard time getting the insuring pest control companies to pay. Be sure you use a pest control company who always pays his debt.


We all know the obvious reasons to shop local. Keep the profits in your community. Support your neighbors. When you shop at a big box store, your money goes to a corporation’s shareholders all over the world. But the general consensus is that prices are higher if you shop local. So when it comes time to check out at a local retail store, you think, “Great! I’m doing my part.” But a part of you would like to walk away with the extra jingle in your pocket. You ask yourself, “Will I really see the extra money I spent come back to me?” Why must it cost more to shop local?

Popular opinion would say that local stores have less buying power. They have to pay more for their products. Thus, they must charge more. While this is true to an extent, the bigger truth is that big box stores came to market with a more sophisticated pricing strategy. Traditionally, stores doubled cost on their products. This allowed breathing room for overhead and profits, and a simple way to know how much is made on each item sold. Big box stores realized that consumers only pay attention to what they spend on big ticket items. They sell those items at low prices while increasing their prices on small ticket items. Consumers ignore the prices of these small ticket items which they buy in greater quantities.

A traditional hardware store would pay $100 for a lawn mower and sell it for $200, while a big box store would sell it for $100 at no profit. The same hardware store would pay 50¢ for a box of screws and sell it for $1, while the big box store would sell the same box for $3. You don’t call the neighbors to brag about the $2 you saved on a small box of screws. Truth be told, you probably didn’t even notice. But if you save $100 on a lawn mower, you may invite the neighbors over to celebrate. You only buy a lawn mower every decade or so, God willing. How many times a year do you need screws or other small hardware? The big box stores easily made up for smaller profits on big ticket items with big profits on small ticket items that you buy every day. The consumer will always remember the $100 they saved on their lawn mower, but may never notice the hundreds of dollars extra they are paying on many small purchases throughout the year.

Small, local retailers obtained a negative price imagine as a result of the big box pricing strategy, and many perished. Some were able to survive with their superior customer service. But as shopping options continued to grow with online shopping, superior customer service was not enough to get customers to pay more. The independent retailers that have survived did so by becoming wise to modern pricing strategies. With the help of national distributors that service independent stores all over the country, they have gained intel similar to that which you would find in a national home office of Lowe’s or Home Depot. These distributors gain buying power by buying in bulk and supplying small stores. They do pricing research to help small stores stay competitive on big ticket items, while making sure they are getting their extra $2 on a box of screws.

The big box stores were very successful in developing a positive price image, but the small stores have conformed. They no longer have inferior pricing and they still have superior customer service. So before you assume you are saving money at a big box store, check prices. Many small stores now have their prices online.

–By: Mick Blankenship

A Comparison of Beer and Paint

While painting your home can be fun, it can also be very tedious. The fun parts include picking out the colors and seeing the finished product. Unfortunately, those activities only make up about 1% of the time spent on the project. The other 99% is spent on the grueling labor of sanding, tedious brush strokes, and constant clean-up. Since no one will pay me to paint my own home, I have to do it in my free time which I prefer to enjoy as much as possible. That’s why it’s important that I always have two additional supplies on hand; music and beer. I’m not talking about drinking and jamming out while up on a ladder painting my second story window frames. I’m also not talking about throwing a keg party where I offer free beer to any friends willing to help me paint. I’m talking about a few beers and good music making the tedious parts of painting feel more like relaxing on the porch on a spring afternoon. But if drinking on the job isn’t your thing, I’ll tell you another way in which beer can help you paint. You should shop them the same.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.

Most of your big name beer companies have a light beer, a regular beer, and a premium beer. What’s the difference? Many would say calories. If you want to stay skinny, stick to light beer. Some would say alcohol content. Lighter beers have less alcohol. If you give up the calories, you give up the alcohol. You may get fewer calories per beer but you have to drink twice as many to get the job done. Others would say taste. Premium beers have more taste than their lighter counter parts. It would be hard to argue that an Imperial Pale Ale has less taste than a Miller High Life… though if you’d like to see someone argue that point, come to the store and ask for Tommy Blankenship. However, the general conclusion is that premium beers are higher in calories, alcohol, and taste. The liquid volume of a light beer fills up the same 12oz can as a premium beer; but with less calories, alcohol, and taste. So what makes up the rest of its contents? The answer is water and the same is true with paint.

Most paint manufacturers offer various grades of paint at different price points; cheap, not so cheap, and expensive. But they don’t want to market their products as cheap, not so cheap, and expensive. So they call them “Good, Better, and Best.” In reality, these products are Bad, Better, and Good. The premium paints are the good paints. Whereas premium beers have the most calories, alcohol, and taste; premium paints have the most pigment, resin, and additives. The pigment provides the color. The resin bonds the pigments to each other and the painted surface. The additives enhance certain properties such as ease of brushing, mold resistance, scuff resistance, drying, and sag resistance. These elements are added to a solvent which acts as a carrier. This solvent is water. Just as the calories, alcohol, and taste of a beer can be diluted with water; so can the pigment, resin, and additives of paint. While beer manufacturers market their watered down beer to those looking to lose weight, paint manufacturers market their watered down paint to those looking to save money. The beer manufacturer hopes the weight conscious beer drinker will not consider the amount of additional beers they have to drink to get the same effect. The paint manufacturer hopes the price conscious painter will not consider how many more gallons of paint it will take to paint the same room.

Unless you prefer polishing off large quantities of beer to sipping a couple delicious pints, you should always go with a premium beer. You may enjoy the surplus of empty beer cans to stack in a pyramid on the hood of your truck. The premium beer sipper can’t do that with just a couple empty bottles. But if you don’t want to work so hard for the same calories, alcohol, and taste; buy premium beer.

The same goes for paint. If you don’t want to paint a room twice and have to buy two gallons of paint for the price of one premium gallon, go with the premium paint. Maybe you are trying to collect paint cans for an art project and you really love long, drawn-out painting projects. If this is you, sure, buy the cheap stuff. But if you don’t want to work so hard for the same color and coverage on your walls, buy premium paint.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.


The hardware store can be a great resource for arts and crafts supplies. Our store is frequently visited around Mardi Gras by the guys who design stages for Mardi Gras balls. We have helped our local celebrity drag queens design props for their performances. But we are not just a resource for these high profile artists. We have a lot of supplies that you can use at home. Supplies you may already know we have include; glue, glue guns, staple guns, wooden and metal rods, tie wire, and paint. However my favorite medium for craft projects is one that may not occur to you in your creative brainstorming; galvanized pipe and fittings.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Galvanized pipe is normally used to transport water or gas through your home. It is a waterproof, metal pipe that comes in diameters ranging from ¼ inch to 2 inchs. Lengths of pipe can be as long as 21 feet, and we can cut them to any size you want. The ends of each pipe are threaded to allow the fastening of fittings. There are a variety of fittings; elbows, couplings, bushings, flanges, and tees. These allow you to connect pipes of different sizes at different angles.

I have personally created a medieval candelabra lamp and a bicycle trailer. There are many possibilities for designing lamps with galvanized pipe. Go the hardware store and sit in front of all the galvanized pipe and fittings like a kid who just poured a box of Legos on the floor. Start playing around with them and see what you come up with. Once you have your design, place light bulbs sockets in the desired spaces and run lamp wire through the pipe. On the other end, connect a plug and wah lah.The electrical work is not difficult and does not require an electrician. If you need help, your hardware store salesperson will be glad to assist.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.I get around Midtown by bicycle, and I love landscaping. But it is tough to transport garden soil and lawn equipment on a bike. I went shopping for bicycle trailers, but the ones I found on the market could only haul up to 70 pounds. That’s only one and a half bags of potting soil and a lot of trips to the hardware store. I needed to design a bicycle trailer that could haul a few hundred pounds. I had never designed anything like this before but I thought it was worth a shot. Even if I failed, I knew I would have fun trying. I went to the hardware store and started to construct a frame. As I did, the ideas began flowing. I even came up with a shock absorbing system. By the end of the day, I had a new custom bicycle trailer. With a few tweaks over the next week, it was ready for a test ride. It successfully carried over 300 pounds.

You are not limited to lamps and bike trailers. People have made tables, chairs, curtain rods, shelves, towel bars, and even alcohol dispensers. I suggest Googling “galvanized pipe crafts” to get some ideas. The possibilities are endless. Here are just a few of other peoples’ creations.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.
Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.

Getting to Know Blankenships

Have you ever found yourself in need of a specific item to fix an issue around your house? Maybe it’s a specialty bolt, a hand tool, or an AC filter. The next thing you know, you find yourself wandering the aisles of a large hardware warehouse, scanning row after row of items that aren’t your specialty bolt, hand tool, or AC filter. After you finally give up searching on your own, you spend the next ten minutes hunting down an employee, searching aisle by aisle, hoping someone can direct you to your item.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.That frustration and disappointment is a waste of time when you have the convenience and superior customer service that is offered at your neighborhood hardware store, Blankenships’ Universal Supply, Inc. in the Midtown community on Springhill Avenue. If you’ve ever walked into Blankenships, you know the welcome feeling you have as you enter the door. If it’s not Mike or Tommy greeting you at the counter, ready to help, then it may just be the friendly, store cat.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply, Inc. opened in 1949 through the hard work of Thomas Blankenship of Little Rock, Arkansas. In the early 1940s, Thomas worked for Pittsburgh Glass and was transferred from his home in Little Rock to Mobile, Alabama. When the building at 1305 Springhill Avenue became available to rent, Thomas chose to open a hardware store and glass company, leaving his job with Pittsburgh Glass. Thomas later purchased the building at a time when there were seven hardware stores within a two-mile radius. Today, Blankenships’ is the only one of those seven stores that still remains.

Today, Blankenships’ Universal Supply is a retail store providing products that include hardware, household goods, lawn and garden supplies, pet food and supplies, building materials, and more. It is owned by two of Thomas Blankenshps’ sons, Mike and Tommy. Both sons grew up in the hardware store working alongside their father and have continued to work there their entire lives. Ten years ago, Mike’s son, Mick Blankenship, left his career in accounting, joining his dad and uncle at the store.

Since the store’s opening as a hardware and glass company, the inventory has grown steadily to include pet food and supplies, and more recently, building supplies. While their goal at Blankenships is to supply their customers any goods that they desire at competitive prices, they do so with the superior customer service that makes you feel like a friend rather than a customer.

Some of the biggest inspirations that the Blankenship family have are their customers, and they cherish the relationships that they have built over the years with their customers and neighbors. It’s having those relationships that brings them the most joy. Besides loving their role as a part of the historic midtown community, they are also proud to be a part of its history and to add to the character that charms so many. And it’s the character of the store that draws you back. More times than they could suggest, people have told the Blankenship family that a reality show should be filmed in the store. With a vast array of characters who come in on a daily basis, and the store cat that gets chuckles by sneaking up and scaring unsuspecting customers, laughs are a part of daily life. Like Floyd’s barber shop on the Andy Griffth Show, there are many locals who will drop in just to say hi or gossip.

In addition, animal rescue has become an important part of Blankenships as well. Mike’s wife, Valerie, is Save a Stray’s director in charge of rescuing cats. Her son is the treasurer for the New Beginnings Animal Rescue. Some people like to stop in just to visit the cats that are being fostered or are up for adoption.

Blankenships has been making changes to expand their brick and mortar store, but in addition, they are expanding their sales onto the online market. Now, you can shop locally online at The inventory that is available online is much more than they can keep in the Springhill Avenue store.

The next time you have a hardware need, a DYI or fix-it question, or just want to stop in and say hello, take the time to stop into your neighborhood hardware store, Blankenships’ Universal Supply, Inc. and see the expansions they have made, in addition to all the inventory that they are able to offer the Midtown community and its customers.

Now Taking The Field: The Mobile Mosquitoes

I can remember as a teenager when my family first heard that a minor league baseball team was coming to Mobile. We began to discuss what the mascot should be. I said, “It should be something intimidating that Mobile is known for.” It didn’t take long for the brainstorming to start. My mom said, “The Mobile Mosquitoes.” My sister chimed in with a mascot that to her was, and probably still is, the most intimidating creature on Earth, “The Mobile Cockroaches.” I’m sure if the family dog Gretal could have had a say, she would have argued for, “The Mobile Fleas.” Why were all of our suggestions insects? When you think about it though, insects really are the most prevalent terror in our city. As we enter into our hottest and most humid months, the environment becomes so inviting to these prehistoric creatures that we begin to wonder whether we humans actually belong here. Until we are ready to surrender this Earth to the insects, here are some useful tips to keeping their population to a minimum around your home.

If money is not an object and you like the warm fuzzy feeling you get when a uniformed, almost officer-like, man arrives at your home in a truck that looks like it could belong to law enforcement; then you should call a pest control service. He will pull equipment out of his truck that could have belonged to the Ghostbusters. He will size up your yard and home as if he is using his education from years at Arachnid University to determine exactly where he should spray his ectoplasm. In an official manner, he will administer the answer to your fears before tipping his hat, handing you a bill, and wishing you good day. This is a perfectly effective option that only ranks low when it comes to the level of necessity.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.If you prefer stretching your dollar, and are a little skeptical of how Officer Pest Control earned the stars on his uniform, there are options for you at your local do-it-yourself hardware store. Extermination techniques vary slightly from insect to insect, but you can execute any of them yourself. In this article, I will focus on the most prevalent and annoying insects in our area: Mosquitoes, Fleas, Roaches, and Flies.

Mosquitoes are the most difficult to control for a significant length of time. They are attracted to standing water because that is where they breed. Anything that catches and holds water during and after a rain is going to attract mosquitoes. An old pond without running water, the spare tires your hoarding neighbor keeps in their back yard, or a depression in your yard that holds water for days after a rain; these are all guaranteed breeding grounds. Even though you can reduce the amount of standing water in your own yard, you can’t control the standing water in your neighbors’ yards and in nearby marsh lands. Because mosquitoes can travel for miles, it is impossible to keep them out of your yard.

There are effective remedies for short term mosquito deterrent within a given area. These are most popular before a lawn party or barbeque and work well for keeping mosquitoes out of your yard for a day or two. It is a mix of oils that you can buy in granulated, liquid, or aerosol form. Simply spread or spray the product in the area you want clear of mosquitoes a couple hours before your party and you should be good for a day or two.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.As far as long term control, the only effective remedy of which I am aware is to buy a fogger and spray your bushes at least once a week during the day. A fogger is a sprayer that blows mosquito killing chemicals in a mist. Bushes are where mosquitoes lay dormant during the hottest parts of the day. Spraying the bushes during the day will catch them in their sleep and destroy a large part of their population.

Fleas and Roaches
The methods for treating your home for fleas and roaches are similar. The main difference is that fleas are attracted to and live on your pet, whereas roaches like trees and areas concentrated in organic debris. For either insect, the best place to start is your yard. If you kill all the bugs inside your house first, the bugs outside will quickly replace them. Invest in your own Ghostbuster proton pack (aka plastic pump-up sprayer for $11.99) and a bottle of the appropriate chemical. It is important to periodically change the chemical you use as insects can grow a tolerance to the same chemical. Your local hardware store should be able to tell you which chemical is working best for people at the moment. Mix the chemical in the correct proportion with water in your sprayer and administer to your yard. For fleas, focus on the grass. For roaches, focus on flower beds, under and around your house, and any other areas of heavy yard debris such as dead leaves, fallen tree branches, and yard clippings. It will usually take a few applications of the chemical to get the insect population under control. For fleas, adding an insect growth regulator to your chemical mix can speed up the process. While the flea killing chemical kills all living fleas, it can leave eggs and larvae unharmed to hatch weeks or even months later. An insect growth regulator will destroy the eggs and larvae during the initial spray.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Now that you have cut off the supply of insects coming into your home, it’s time to eliminate the population that is already inside. The chemicals used outside can be used inside, but I don’t recommend it unless the home is vacant. Instead, purchase chemicals that are made for indoor use in spray or aerosol form. If you have a bad infestation, vacate the house for a few hours after setting off insecticide foggers in each room. Then apply the spray to areas that bugs frequent but people do not; behind major appliances, under and behind cabinets, and along floor boards. The foggers destroy most of the population while the spray continues to kill any survivors who come in contact with the poison.

You should rid your pet of fleas simultaneously with ridding your home. There are many options for your pet. First, kill the fleas that are on your pet now. Give them a flea bath or a Capstar pill. Then use a monthly flea preventative. There are many options that can be purchased from a local hardware/pet supply store or your vet. Effectiveness varies so find what works best for you. Don’t stay with the same one too long as the fleas may develop a tolerance to it.

Attention Environmentalist
There are natural solutions for treating your home for fleas and roaches. Diatomaceous earth, sulfur, and hydrated lime are known to affect insect populations. They are powders that you simply spread in your yard. You could use them inside but it would be messy; and smelly if you use sulfur. Inside, try natural insecticide sprays. They are made with a mix of oils such as clove, lemongrass, cedarwood, and cinnamon. They smell good and are safe to use on your pet.

For a long time, people have enjoyed killing flies with a fly swatter or an electric fly trap hanging on the porch. They even make electric fly swatters now. Though these methods may be more fun, they are less effective.

Fly baits are the best way to extinguish a large population of flies outside of the home. They are made with an attractant and a poison. You can buy them in a granulated spread, liquid spray, or trap form. They are very effective, but be careful using them around areas where people spend a lot of time. Do not place in the middle of a barbeque or directly on your porch. The reason flies seem to come from miles around to die at the hand of this poison is the attractant smells like a dead animal. You’ll want to place it off to the side of where everyone is eating or hanging out. The bait will attract the flies away from you.

Blankenships’ Universal Supply Inc.Because of the smell, you will not want to use fly baits inside. Use fly tape or fly ribbons. They use a non-fragrant attractant and adhesive so the flies are permanently stuck to the tape or ribbon once they land on it.

I was trying to decide how I should end this article when divine intervention decided for me. A salesman from a pest control company dropped a quote and service contract on my desk for the hardware store; literally while I was writing this article (I am not making this up). The proposal: $2,110 installation fee with a $652 annual renewal to treat for all rodents and insects AS NEEDED. I cannot testify as to the quality of these services, but I can say for that price, I’m going give doing it myself a try.

The Price of Fear: Plumbing 101

Plumbers can smell your fear, and they charge you for it. Whether it’s a running toilet or a clogged drain, a plumber is going to charge you $80 – $100 just for the trip; and another $80 – $100 for each additional hour. Plumbing parts don’t cost nearly that much, and $80 an hour is a steep labor fee (I know I don’t make nearly that much). So what are you being charged for? The answer is your fear. Often times the fix is easier than putting together Legos. But plumbing is intimidating. And what if you make a mistake? A water leak can cost thousands in repairing damage to flooring and walls. Well I’m going to let you in on a little secret that might cost me a few of my plumber customers. Plumbing is easy. Sometimes a little nasty, but it’s not rocket science. It can be as easy as screwing a hose to a water faucet. And if you have a helpful, local hardware store; a sales person will tell you what you need and how to fix it. If you exercise that option, you may get out of your plumbing bind for less than $10.

In this article, I’m going to go over a few common plumbing issues and how to fix them. But all you really need to know is how to get to your local hardware store. Take a picture of your issue with your cell phone. Be sure to include a ruler or tape measure in the picture to help determine the size of plumbing parts. If your sales person is worth their salt, they will sell you the parts you need and walk you through the repair.

Leaky Faucets
Faucets include kitchen and bathroom sinks, bathtubs and showers, and outdoor garden hose faucets. There are two ways they can leak; through the spout, or out the handle. The handles are connected by a screw to a valve called the stem. The stem either blocks or allows the flow of water by being turned by the handle. It has a rubber washer that is screwed on to the opposite end from the handle. This washer seals the water blockage. Eventually it wears out, allowing a little water to pass through the valve and drip out of the faucet. You only need a screwdriver to disconnect the handle and washer from the stem. With a dollar for a new washer and gas money, you can save the $80 plumbers fee with a trip to the hardware store. If the water is leaking out of the handle of the faucet, the packing in the stem has worn out. With a dollar and some change you can buy new packing. You simply apply it around the stem just before re-attaching the handle. I always suggest replacing both the washer and packing anytime you remove the stem.

Running Toilets
A running toilet can be caused by one of three things. It is very difficult to figure out which one of the three is the cause of your leak. Since the cheapest of these fixes is also the easiest, I suggest starting there. Replace your flapper. Your flapper is a piece of rubber that lifts when you push the handle and slowly falls and blocks the hole once your tank fills with water. These wear out regularly and need to be replaced. Cut the water off to the toilet by turning the valve on the wall located behind the toilet all the way clockwise. Open your tank and simply unhook the flapper from the flush valve. Take it to the hardware store so they can match it up. If that doesn’t stop your leak, I would next try replacing the fill valve. This is the contraption with a float that moves up and down with the water level. It cuts off the water when the water level reaches the desired level in the tank. It can malfunction causing the toilet to run. These are fairly universal but it never hurts to take your old one to the hardware store. It’s a little more labor intensive to disassemble than the flapper, but it is still fairly easy. After you cut the water off and flush the toilet, place a bucket under the toilet tank to catch the water that will leak. Disconnect the water supply line and the nut under the tank and the fill valve will come right out. If replacing the fill valve doesn’t work, then there must be some obstruction to the surface where the flapper lies. This is a part of the flush valve and can be replaced similarly to the fill valve.

Clogged Drains
This is the most common plumbing issue. Fortunately it is often the easiest to fix. We sell many devices for unclogging drains, but I’m going to tell you about the most popular ones. The number one selling item in our store is Liquid Fire. It is a sulfuric acid based liquid that you poor down the drain. It will dissolve any organic matter such as hair but not plastics or metal which make up your drain plumbing. Be careful using it on finely polished sink drains as it can discolor the metal.

An even cheaper fix is an item we sell for $3.49. It’s called a Mini Snake. It is a long, thin, hard, but flexible piece of plastic with a handle on one end and barbs on the other. Every home should have one of these on hand, especially if you have or live with someone who has long hair. You stick it down the drain until you feel resistance. Work it in as far as you can then pull it back out of the drain. The barbs will grab and retract whatever is obstructing the flow of water.

If neither of these solutions work, consider removing the drain and cleaning it out. Kitchen and bathroom sink drains are very easy to remove. The clog is likely in the trap which is the curvy pipe under the sink. It removes and connects by loosening or tightening the plastic nut by hand. These nuts have washers in them which I suggest replacing each time you dissemble the drain. They can wear out and cause leaks.

When our midtown homes were built, plumbers used terracotta pipes made of clay to run from the house to the street. If you have never had this pipe replaced, I guarantee it is full of roots and you are destined for a clog. They connected the clay pipes with cement which by now would have worn out allowing space for roots to enter the pipe. For larger drain clogs such as these, I recommend something called a Drain King. I had a house on Fulton St which had terracotta pipes full of roots. I was very young and poor at the time, so I couldn’t afford to have the pipes replaced. I was able to buy myself a year using a Drain King once a week before finally having to replace the pipe. A Drain King is a bladder that you screw on to the end of the hose. You shove the hose down the drain, towards the clog and turn on the water. The bladder expands creating pressure in the pipe and shoots water at the clog.

All of these fixes are at or under $10. So instead of calling a plumber next time, I encourage you to try and fix it yourself. You may be surprised how easy it is. And if your neighbor is a plumber, please go to their mailbox right now and remove this publication from their mailbox. Thanks!

— By: Mick Blankenship

No Shame in the Rat Game

You’re a clean person. You have a beautiful, immaculate home. You always clean your kitchen floors and counter tops after dinner. You never leave food open. The dog food containers and garbage cans all have tight lids. Then one night while going for a drink of water, you walk up on an intruder. It scampers away in a flash and you are not even sure what you just saw. Your thoughts are in denial, “Was it a rat? It couldn’t be. Not in my house.” Well you shouldn’t be ashamed. Rats and mice are everywhere. They live in our trees, our yards, our sewers, and our homes. We don’t realize they are there because they only come out at night. While your cleanliness definitely helps keep them away, the litter bugs of our city who throw food trash on our streets keep these creatures well fed. A mouse can have a litter of up to 14, and one female can have up to 10 litters a year. Her babies have babies, and their babies have babies, and so on goes the exponential growth of the mouse population. Unless we douse our city with environmentally harmful pesticides, these creatures are here to stay, and we will all be victims.

When it begins getting cold outside, mice are prone to do more of their hunting inside. Our beautiful, old Midtown homes generally have a number of VIP entrances for our scavenger friends. Rats and mice can fit through holes and cracks that are a fraction of their own size. So don’t be ashamed, be prepared.

FYI: Rats are the larger ones, usually 6 – 10 inches in length, not counting tail. Mice are much smaller, usually 2 – 4 inches.

What to do
It is virtually impossible to seal off all entrances that mice could use to enter your home, especially in an older home. Start by focusing on sealing any obvious entrances. The dryer vent is often the most common entrance. Also, look for any holes that have been created to accommodate plumbing or electrical pipes. Rats can chew through wood and plastics, and often will in order to access food or water. So you also will need to look for entrances they may have created for themselves. A great way to plug these holes is with steel wool. Because of the sharp fibers, mice find it offensive and painful to chew through. The versatility of steel wool makes it easy to apply and remove from openings.

Second, you will need to find any food sources. The primary motivation for rats and mice to come into your home is food. Make sure your trash cans have lids. Check your pantry for plastic containers that may have been left open or chewed through. Do not leave pet food sitting out over night or leave it in the bag in which it was purchased. Store it in a hard, preferably metal, container with a lid.

In our hardware store, we roast peanuts and store the raw nuts in the back, in a large, trash can made of ¼ inch thick fiberglass. One Monday morning we came to work and a rat had chewed a hole right through the thick fiberglass.

Next, you will need to look into repellant and/or extermination options. The best repellant and exterminator is a house cat. We started selling dog food at our hardware store about fifteen years ago, and it didn’t take long for the mice to move in. They were building nests in the shelving and in the walls, not to mention pre-opening bags of our premium pet food. We brought in a store cat and the problem was solved. Not everyone can have a cat though, so let’s explore some other options.

There are audial and olfactory repellants. These are non-toxic, pet-friendly options commonly used by people that don’t want to harm rodents or the environment with inhumane traps and poisons. An audial repellent plugs into an electrical outlet and produces constantly changing, high frequency ultrasonic waves to which rodents cannot acclimate, and humans cannot hear. The drawback is that the sound loses effectiveness when it hits soft surfaces. It would work best in a room with hard wood floors and little furniture.

Olfactory repellants come in liquid sprays or granules. They are made of a variety of ingredients such as; putrescent egg solids, garlic oil, cedar oil, castor oil, peppermint oil, cloves, and capsaicinoids such as red cayenne pepper, piperine, and black pepper oil. The downside to these repellents is that humans can detect the smell, and they’re messy. They are for the most part only suitable for outside use.

Both audial and olfactory repellents are great to try in an effort to protect animals and our environment. But as with most green alternatives, the drawback is their lack of effectiveness.

The most common traps are glue traps and snap traps. Glue traps are simply a pad of glue in the middle of which you can place bait. These are great for detecting a rat problem or catching multiple mice. The larger glue traps can catch three or four mice at a time. Only expect to catch one large rat at a time with a glue trap, and sometimes larger rats get away. Disposal is often an issue with these traps and is not for the compassionate or faint at heart. The mouse does not die a quick and peaceful death, and the rodent will likely still be alive when you find it. You will need to make sure these traps are placed out of reach of children and pets such as under and behind large appliances.

Snap traps have been around the longest. They are simply a wooden plank with a spring rigged metal bar that snaps down on the rodent when it tries to take the bait. Rats sometimes get away from these traps, and they can go off accidentally. However, they do have more success with larger rats and provide a quick, less painful death. As with glue traps, you will need to place these traps out of reach of children and pets.

There is an animal friendly option in this category. Humane traps catch the rodent without harming it. They work by bait being placed inside a cage with a trap door. Once caught, the rodent can be taken to a new location and released unharmed. Humane traps are often necessary to catch the largest of rodents which can be illusive to glue and snap traps. The downside is that they are expensive, and don’t be surprised if you catch the neighbor’s cat a time or two.

There are a number of different chemicals used in poisons and they are relatively equally effective. They take about a day or two to kill the rodent, but they are the most effective way to kill the largest quantity of rats and mice. They come in many different forms from small pellets to large chunks. Smaller pellets are more effective and easier to use inside. Large chunks last longer outside where the poison is subject to the elements of the outdoors. It is important to make sure the rodents don’t have access to human food otherwise they will eat it instead of the poison.

While poison is the most effective extermination tool, it warrants a lot of concerns. The poison must be carefully placed as it can be harmful to children and pets. Environmentalists are concerned that the poison goes into our ecosystem after the rodent dies and decomposes. Pet owners are concerned that their pet will catch the poisoned rat and ingest some of the poison itself. The most common complaint about poisons is that the animal may die in your walls or attic and you are stuck with the smell of decomposing rat until the decomposition process is complete. There is a popular misconception that certain rat poisons embalm the rodent after it dies. This is a hoax. There is a rat poison sold in Louisiana called M-BALM-R. The packaging is designed to target those who want to believe this is possible. But if you look at the ingredients, it is the same as RAMIK brand rat poison, just different packaging and four times the cost. Your hope is that the poison makes the rat thirsty, and it will go outside looking for water and die. Though this is often the case, there are no guarantees.

As you have learned, there is no perfect solution to our living amongst rat and mice populations. But now that you know all the options and their pros and cons, you can decide what measurements are best suited for your home. Just remember, no matter what actions you take, you will likely see these rodents again, and you shouldn’t be ashamed.

— By: Mick Blankenship

The High Cost of Cheap Dog Food

Working at Blankenships’ Universal Supply, I have sold dog food to Mobile residents in the midtown and downtown area for nine years. I obtained my expertise in dog food through research and years of customer feedback. It is very difficult to find accurate and unbiased information. Only through speaking with my customers over the years have I been able to identify information I can trust.

Most of my customers come to me looking for a better dog food because their pet is having issues. But what about those of you with pets who seem to be doing fine on inexpensive, low quality food? Or those of you who think it’s silly to spend money on premium food for your pet.

“Do I really need to feed my dog better food?”

Pet owners who are health conscience in their own food choices are generally health conscience in how they feed their pets. But what if you are not a “health nut?” Do you have anything to gain from feeding your dog better food?

How about Money? Poor nutrition can result in more trips to the vet. Many pets are allergic to the inexpensive fillers commonly used in pet foods and you never know when the symptoms will start to show. Poor nutrition not only causes a number of diseases and ailments on its own, but also makes it difficult for your animal to fight off external threats. Since you probably don’t have health insurance for your animal, you will be paying all these vet bills out of pocket. A healthy pet, barring any hereditary issues, should only need to go to the vet for accident related illnesses.

Paying a little more for better food can actually cost you less. Better foods have less fillers and more nutrients, meaning you can feed your animal much less. Where you may have to feed a 40 pound dog 5 cups per day of subpar food to get sufficient nutrition, you would feed the same dog 2 ½ cups per day of a nutrient rich food with minimal fillers. While the better food may cost $10 more, it’s worth it if the bag lasts twice as long.

You can also save by buying quality foods that do not advertise. The price of the manufacturer’s advertising is built in to the price you pay for the food, and profit margins are often maintained by sacrificing quality.

What about your pet’s Appearance? I almost always see a change in an animal’s coat and body mass after switching to a better food. A healthier coat will make your animal shine and its fur will be much softer for petting and snuggling. A more athletic build will have a positive effect on how your pet feels resulting in improved behavior.

And finally, what about Clean-Up? This one is extra important to me. I have a gravel courtyard where my girls go to potty. If clean-up wasn’t easy, I would have to walk them every time they need to go number 2 and use doggy bags (messy stool is not easy to clean from gravel). Your dog’s stool should be tight, clean, and relatively dry. Better foods will give you this consistency. There will also be less poop because your dog is not having to pass all those fillers. Every one of the breeders for whom I buy food judges the quality of their dog’s food by examining their stool.

There will also be less poop because your dog is not having to pass all those fillers. Every one of the breeders for whom I buy food judges the quality of their dog’s food by examining their stool.

“How do I find a good food and what information can I trust?”

I would love to tell you that in order to get a good food you have to come to Blankenships’ and let me sell you a dog food. But the truth is, you don’t need me. There is a great website, I urge you to look up whatever food you are using now. This is an unbiased web site which rates dog foods based on the AAFCO approved label. These labels aren’t perfect and can certainly be misleading. But without inspecting a pet food manufacturing facility yourself, this is the best indication available of what’s in your pet’s food. After reading a few of the reviews on, you will know how to review the labels yourself. Some criticize the site’s designer for not being a vet. But you don’t need a doctorate in veterinary medicine to know about nutrition.

Ignore all information about a dog food except what’s on the AAFCO approved label. Everything else is garbage. I can’t tell you how many customers have come to me convinced that they are feeding the best food to their dogs based on a commercial, or because they bought it at a vet’s office. Many pet food manufacturers are owned by large parent corporations and use extensive marketing strategies to persuade consumers. For example, Colgate owns Hill’s who makes Science Diet. They sell it in vet offices and have a “Prescription” line. Have you ever asked whether this food really requires a prescription? This is an over-priced food with mediocre ingredients. There is a specific formulation of each “Prescription” diet designed to treat a condition, but this formulation can usually be found in other foods that use better ingredients and are much more reasonably priced.

Ignore statements on the bag like, “Puppy Formula,” “Active Dog,” or “Senior / Diet.” Unless your dog has a specific condition, a quality food is good for your dog at any age. Feed more when they are young, less when they are old, and always watch their weight. The food manufacturers simply add more grain to a food and market it for less active or senior dogs. More grain only lowers the effective calorie count and creates more poop. Bags marked “Puppy” or “Small Breed” simply use smaller kibble. Smaller kibble is actually better for dogs of any size because it helps with digestion since dogs don’t chew. I sold a grain-free dog food for years that marketed itself as an “all life stages diet.” Customers with puppies were so determined to buy a bag labeled “Puppy Formula” that the manufacturer finally gave in. They changed a couple insignificant ingredients and repackaged practically the same food, labeled it Puppy Formula, and increased sales.

If you are interested in trying a better food but are hesitant about the financial investment, come by Blankenships’. I offer free samples of a five star rated grain free food that I use for my own dogs.