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If I were to be asked, “What’s the nastiest thing you’ve encountered from working on your house?”  I would have always thought my answer would be about the press-on fingernails we found in the fridge (and in the closet, and in the garage, and in the carpet) when I moved in. Or that the kitchen was so dirty, oven cleaner had to be used on the countertops and the ceiling was orange (likely from years of chain smoking by the previous owner). Or the disgusting and caked-on dirt found behind the stove on the linoleum floor. Take your pick; any one of these are winners. But, no. Imma have to go with frass.

Yes, frass. I now (unfortunately) know the appropriate vocabulary word for insect feces. Bug poo. Mite manure. Dragonfly dung. Entomological excrement. Gross, nasty, creepy-crawly things we wish in life that we could somehow unlearn or unsee. Before you move on to the story below, there are a few things that I recommend not doing before reading:

  • eating
  • drinking
  • thinking about eating or drinking
  • changing diapers (or anything else gross where this story might push you over the edge)
  • having a cold, flu, or any other illness that might make you queasy
  • gearing up to be offended at my overuse of references to poo. And cursing.

Being the sole owner of my house, most of the time, I decide which room I feel like working on. That changes as I see fit, and I call it “project A.D.D.”  But when it comes to getting a helping hand when the big things need doing, I don’t always get to control the timeline. You see, Dad sometimes gets a free weekend and suggests that we work on something that isn’t really on the current to-do list.

For example, I don’t really have the time or ability to work on the primary bathroom. The entire lower level of the house is trashed thanks to shoving all of the furniture into the living room while I work on the dining room. But when Dad has free time to help me on a project I can’t possibly get to for three months, I still say yes. Because that’s just what you do when someone offers to help you on a house.

Over the weekend, that’s exactly what happened. Dad suggested coming over Sunday morning with Tony. For those of you that are new, Tony is my Dad’s handy fixer friend who lives in my old neighborhood. He helped paint my house, add a gate to my back yard, and all sorts of other things that I would otherwise be lost at doing by myself. This time, Dad and Tony planned to help me rip out my primary bath (the one that I originally began working on over a year ago until they came over while I was in class one weekend and ripped out the guest bath instead). It didn’t take too long before the toilet with the scalloped shell lid was on its way out.

Most of the screws that held the vanity in place were stripped. And the builders seemed to have had a hard time finding a stud. Ya think?

So, we just ripped it out, piece by piece. I was on the other side of the room (gently) ripping out the baseboard (so I could use it again). And by “other side of the room,” I mean approximately six inches from Tony’s feet. Dad usually takes a more supervisory/hauling away role when we can’t all fit. And I showed him how to take pictures on my iPhone.

Next, we peeled up the linoleum. It pretty much came up in one solid (nasty) sheet.

AND THEN… (warning, warning)

I just had to ask Tony, “what the frick is that?” – pointing to the pile of dirt in the corner where the vanity used to be.

“Oh, that’s just bug crap.”

“What? Um, bugs poop?”

“Yep. [he says as he sweeps it with his bare hand] That’s been there a while though. I didn’t see any bugs, so they’re probably long gone by now.”

“Oh. Wait… Huh?”

And inside my head, horror. Disgust. Fear of breathing the air that is likely filled with bug poo particles. The desperate need to wash my hands and take a scalding hot shower. Tony and Dad left shortly after – enough work done for the day. But I had to get that shit (literally) out of my house. I put on a breathing mask and swept, vac’d, and cleaned until I felt satisfied I could be in the same house as that room.

After a little bit of research on something I never thought I’d ever have to know, I read a few online forums to make sense of it. What I learned is that bug poo has a name – frass (sounds like such a friendly word, doesn’t it?). And most online articles about frass are related to bed bugs. But it’s location in my house wasn’t near the bed, and didn’t seem like a logical source. Then I put two and two together: termites. When I moved in, I had to get a termite inspection. My house has cedar siding. And there was a fair amount of termite damage just outside of that bathroom window, only about a foot from the corner where I found the frass (we repaired the exterior prior to painting the house). There have been no new signs of termite activity since moving in (and just had the inspector come by for a check in December, so was confident this was not new), so that means that this pile of shit must have been in my walls for years.

The things we learn about our houses, eh?

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  1. Yuck. At least it was old and not something that would need to be fixed; those are not pleasant renovation surprises.

  2. Yuck! So glad you don't have termites again. I don't know about you, but the idea of a bug eating my biggest investment isn't something that makes me smile.

    1. Right! I'm glad it's just what they left behind, but it's also something I had no idea existed on the planet. I kinda wish I still didn't.

  3. Oh my gosh. That's disgusting. Also- I would've had to vacuum/scrub/vacuum/sanitize to stay in the house, too. Bug infestations are the worst. We had bees in our house this summer, living in the walls. It was terrifying. This post has now made me glad they didn't poop. :)

    1. I was CONVINCED I was breathing it in. And I share a similar pain with bees in the summer – the carpenter ones love to drill holes into my siding. And then they attract woodpeckers. It's fun.

  4. Pretty gross, but I handled the frass while eating breakfast – go me! Thanks for my new vocab word of the day, too. The nastiest thing I have had to clean is the floor after a mouse trap grabbed it's prey. If it's left for a while, (if the trap snapped while we were away, in this example) when you go to remove the trap & mouse, part of the skin/fur/blood is stuck to the floor. Yuck. I had to repeat, “I love my old house, I love my old house, I love my old house” while cleaning. Thankfully, we haven't had a repeat!

  5. The worst is cockroach “frass” – we found tons of it when we started renovating our “new” house. We'd bang a wall and tons of tiny little pellets would fall out. I think I'd prefer mouse excrement to cockroach “frass”

    1. Ew. I really hope these droppings are my last encounter of any kind.

        1. No, no odor, thankfully. It was basically like dirt. Old houses can just be gross sometimes!

  6. How fun is that? Learning something new every day, I mean… not the “frass” LOL

  7. Blech! Can't stand “droppings”! Though at home it's not an issue, boy, at work I'd had some crazy mice trolling my desk after hours…they are now dead and hole in floor has been blocked :) Sterilizing my work area and keyboard daily there for a while. I, too, hope you are done with frass and thank you for a new vocab word!

    1. Wow, I think my company would see me working from home permanently if I saw droppings at my desk! Yuck! I'm sorry you had to experience that.

  8. Not fun, not fun, not fun!! Oh yuck – I'm so sorry! I totally wouldn't have been ok with that either! Ugh. Hopefully you won't have to run into any “frass” again. Blegh.

  9. I totally agree with you! My husband and I bought our second house in September, another fixer upper – and this one was in way worse shape than our first house. Much like yours – even down to the orange ceilings from 40 years of smoking by the previous owners. We have been furiously working on it the last few months (not quite done), but one thing that continually grosses me out is bug poo. I had no idea it was called frass. I learned something today! Anyway, we removed and replaced all of the flooring in our house, and I was afraid to peel it away every time. Also, we have cockroaches in Texas, so I just assume the frass means that a bajillion cockroaches used to use our house for their bathroom. That was gross – sorry. The only thing that really creeped me out was when we pulled out the old bathtubs and found nut shells and such – not as gross as poop, but I don't even want to know what critter was living there! Love your blog :)

    1. Frass – because nothing brings DIYers together like shared horror stories.

  10. I'm sorry you had to go through that, but “What The Frass” is now part of my vocabulary.

    The grossest thing ever? We had THOUSANDS (slight exaggeration) of dead cockroaches in the kitchen cabinets when we moved in. I mean, they were stacked on the shelves! Someone bombed the house but didn't bother with dealing with the resulting corpses.

    I've had something similar happen (not to the amount in that picture) and i almost lost myself.
    When my brother told me that roaches will sometimes CRAWL UNDER YOUR CARPET i hate walking on my carpet now, i basically sprint afraid i will crush one.
    UGH chills just thinking about it.

    1. Wow. I guess I really asked for it when I shared something gross. And now I'm afraid of my carpet too.

  12. Nothing like bonding over a scalloped shell toilet seat lid to get me to comment. My house had a matching shell sink too. I'm happy to say that I'm about 80% done in my bathroom reno and that shell lid is long gone!

  13. I, too, am going to start saying “What the frass?!” because it is fabulous. And I will be one of the few that probably knows it means “What the bug shit?!” and therefore I win at life.

    1. Love it. And winning at life is what this blog is all about. And also, apparently, bug shit.

  14. Eewwwww! I'm more disgusted that your friend touched it!! Glad you found the source otherwise you'd be looking at every corner every day wondering what was going on under your flooring!!!

  15. Oh frass!!! That's no fun. I think we've all seen that stuff we don't want people to know lives inside our homes (thank God I've been spared from Frass up to this point) :) I don't know why..and I'm sure I'm among the VERY VERY few…but the press on nails still kind of creep me out more. Weird right!?!

  16. At least “frass” sounds like “ass”, which is funny in itself… shocked that no one mentioned this first. Hilarious, totally gross and yes, I've seen this “crap” in person and it's awful dusty doo doo. Heh heh. POOP.

  17. While I've now added “what the frass?” to my ever-expanding vocabulary, I nearly tinkled my pants looking at the attempts to find a stud! I think we might have had the same builder, because I found the same thing in the last bathroom I took the cabinets out of!

  18. We have roof rats here in Oregon– according to our pest control guy every house here either currently has or once had them– and when we ripped out a useless soffit in our bathroom we were showered with sixty-odd years of old fossilized rodent crap that had been hiding out in the ceiling. Worst part? The soffit was directly under our only shower. So no immediate decontamination for us. Ugh.

  19. It could be worse. I spent most of 2012 getting rid of rats.

    I'mma let you marinate on that for a while.

  20. We removed all the light switch plates and outlet plates to replace them, and inside one of the light switches was a fried/electrocuted mouse. You could see it's little hands. So gross.

  21. My husband and I bought our house on Sept 4, and EVERY SINGLE DAY, we say some (sometimes colourful) variation on “Dirty man!” or “Thanks, John [previous owner]!” with great sarcasm. I have been covered in frass, and can now 100% say it’s not the worst thing I’ve encountered in this house. This week, we have achieved our second complete room, and we have a working toilet, too! Still no rest-of-the-bathroom, but I’m confident it will be done within a month! I just love your blog (I just found it today!), and I’m following it now, so I don’t feel so crazy as this project progresses.

    Oh, and in what part of Atlanta are you? I lived in Duluth, Norcross, and good ole’ Midtown before trucking it across the Atlantic.

  22. Just found your site today ,, will begin a major kitchen renovation soon so I will come back often for all the help. No frass!

  23. You have my sympathies. Insects can be a royal pain in the backside!

    I already have to contend with cockroaches (Asia based) and with my new house (second hand) I just discovered that my roof has been undermined by termites… so… a new roof. Grrrr!!!