Don't worry about mulching your garden this spring. But don't let Al Gore move in with you, and make sure to avoid all flame-retardant rodents.
Q: I recently received an e-mail that said American homeowners should not purchase garden mulch this year because much of the wood comes from termite-infested trees that were blown down by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The e-mail says that buying mulch is like "giving an open invitation to termites to invade your home" because they'll quickly move from the yard into the house. Is this true?
A: No, it's not true. With April Fools' Day approaching, I'm devoting this entire column to debunking some of the myths - and confirming some other stories - about homes and real estate that have made the news recently.
The "don't buy mulch" story appears to have grown out of an October 2005 report from Louisiana State University's agriculture department, which raised concerns that the population of the area's highly destructive Formosan termites could spread quickly through the reuse of wooden building materials taken from homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and reused elsewhere.
About the same time, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry imposed a quarantine against transporting wood and wood products (including mulch) out of most hurricane-damaged areas. And even if a limited amount of wood from the state made it into mulch bags, experts say any termites probably wouldn't survive because the mulching process involves shredding, packaging and then transporting the stuff in shrink-wrapped bags that have a limited amount of air and moisture - meaning the termites likely would be dead long before they made it to your local nursery or home-improvement store.
Q: Is it true that former vice president Al Gore, now a leader in the war against global warming, lives in a house that uses more than 20 times the energy of a typical home?
A: Apparently so. According to the nonprofit Tennessee Center for Policy Research, Gore's mansion in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatts of power last year. The average U.S. home uses about 10,650 watts annually, the U.S. Department of Energy says.
Gore's global-warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," calls on Americans to begin using less energy at home. It won an Academy Award in February.
Q: Is it true that Doug Colligan, the Reader's Digest reporter who wrote an article on how to crook-proof your home, got arrested for breaking into his own home?
A: An embarrassed Colligan indeed had to break into his own home after somehow locking his keys inside, but he didn't get arrested.
Last year, the affable Colligan rode along on the "It Takes a Thief" program for the Discovery Channel, a show in which professional burglars find ways to break into people's houses. All the property owners had signed up for the program, figuring that their houses were impenetrable.
"If I learned anything," Colligan recently wrote in "Reader's Digest," "it was how careless people are about home security - windows left open, doors that didn't close tight, two-dollar locks protecting thousands of dollars of property. I thought, 'What a bunch of dimwits.'
"Then I remembered the time I locked myself out of my own house a few years ago. I decided to try to break in. So I found an open window 'protected' by a locked window screen. I took a penknife, made two tiny cuts in the corners, poked my fingers through, unfastened the locks and in a matter of seconds was inside.
"My first thought was, 'Cool, that was easy,' " Colligan wrote. "That was immediately followed by, 'That's right - you broke into your house, and it took all of 10 seconds and a pocketknife, dimwit."
Q: Is it true that some guy's home was destroyed by a burning mouse?
A: Yes, it's true. Or, at least partly true.
I wrote about the incident nearly a year ago, not long after homeowner Luciano Mares decided to burn some weeds in the backyard of his house in Fort Sumner, N.M. Mares apparently retrieved a mouse he had caught with a glue trap inside his home and tossed the little critter - still trying to wiggle out of the trap - into the fire outside.
Heat from the blaze melted the glue, and the freed-but-burning rodent made a beeline back to the house. It shot through a window and, according to both Mares and the local fire chief, the entire home was ablaze about 90 seconds later.
No one was hurt, but the house and everything in it was destroyed.