LICENSED TO KILL: They may be small, but a raft of pests will wreak havoc with your home – and your finances… From moths to mice, wasps to weeds, we call in the experts
We all know that running a home is a costly business, but it’s not just bills that can take a chunk out of family finances. A range of pests seek shelter in our homes, causing chaos by chewing through electric wires and even gas pipes. The damage – surprise, surprise – is rarely covered by home insurance. We go hunting with the pest control experts in search of cost-effective ways to fight these foes…before they wreak havoc in your home.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Moths lay eggs in dark undisturbed areas where there are clothes. They look like tiny rice grains. When larvae hatch they eat garments. Clothes storage areas – spare bedroom wardrobes – tend to be most at risk. Moths prefer to eat natural fibres such as wool and target items that are unclean.
BATTLE PLAN: Throw out affected clothes and treat others – through dry cleaning or professional heat blasting. Clean storage space. Prevention can include freezing new clothes and resorting to chemical warfare that can get moths confused about their sex.
Moths enjoy nibbling on the finer things in life – cashmere jumpers, silk, sheepskin and Persian rugs. They are not interested in synthetic fabrics.
Mothballs and lavender bags don’t seem to bother moths any more – they are becoming immune to these traditional treatments. To get rid of moths I set up a portable tent in the infected home – known as a diathermic castle – and bake the clothes inside it up to a temperature of 75 degrees centigrade. That kills off all the eggs.’
Such radical moth treatment typically costs a minimum £300. Pest controllers will charge from £100 to fumigate a room.
Among the chemical treatments used to tackle moths are pheromone traps that confuse moths over their sexuality – the result being that male moths mistake other males for females, stopping procreation.
moth strips, anti-moth bags and moth-repelling chemicals naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene can also deter moths from attacking clothes.
There are about 2,500 species of moths in Britain but only two of them eat clothes.’
The silvery-brown Tinea pellionella and orange-red head, golden-winged Tineola bisselliella are the two moths that will nibble away at your garments.
A thorough spring clean with a vacuum may be enough to stop them.
When purchasing second-hand clothes always ensure they are boil washed or dry cleaned before storage. You can even put them in the freezer for 12 hours to kill any eggs and then store them in plastic bags.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Mice leave small dark droppings with an ammonia-like smell. Droppings are usually found in floor corners or in enclosed areas such as sinks. Rats leave larger pellets and like to gnaw wood, plastic, cables and food. They can often be heard scratching at night.
BATTLE PLAN: Block any entry points into the home with wire wool – mice only need a 6 millimetre gap to get inside. Keep your house clean and free of food debris. Lay traps – cage or instant death – and poison. If there is a rat in the kitchen call a professional catcher.
The number of rodent infestations has risen sharply over the past decade – as much as 40 per cent – largely due to food being left out, poor disposal of rubbish, composting and wild bird feeding, according to the National Pest Technicians Association.
Insurer LV= says one in five homes has been damaged by rodents or other animals – with the biggest problem being vermin chewing through electric cables or damaging loft insulation.
Rat catcher Natalie Bruff, 23, from Waltham Abbey in Essex, works for Rentokil in central London, and joined as part of a university graduate scheme.
She says: ‘I love animals and I am hoping to get a couple of pet rats for Christmas, but vermin control is essential work. The number of rodents increases at this time of year as they come in from the cold. Poor housekeeping is often to blame.’
She adds: ‘I have a pet cat called Cat who does the mouse catching at home but for work my favourite is a trap called the radar box – once inside carbon dioxide is released and the rodent dies in seconds.’
She says rats are different – and are wary of box traps so poison or ‘snap traps’ are often used. Poison can take three to five days to kill a rat.
Rentokil charges a minimum £200 to get rid of a rat infestation – with at least three treatments done seven days apart. This includes plugging holes, laying down poison and traps.
Local councils may offer a pest control service so check before calling in a private professional.You can help prevent further infestations by covering up holes in walls and roof spaces with fine wire mesh or steel wool – which rats do not like. A rat’s teeth never stop growing and if not constantly used the incisors get too long and can puncture the roof of their mouths and pierce their brain.
There are more than 80 million rats in Britain – more than humans – but the ‘fact’ that you are only ever six feet away from a rat is an urban myth. It is more like 100 feet.
Grey squirrels can be killed if no ‘unnecessary suffering’ is caused, according to the Animal Welfare Act 2006. A window cleaner that drowned a squirrel was given a £1,500 fine four years ago.
Bats are a protected species and you risk a £5,000 fine for every bat you kill – even if by accident.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Wears a yellow and black striped top – as does his hornet big brother. Usually found at picnics and in pub gardens on late summer days.
BATTLE PLAN: Ignore rather than swat to avoid a sting. If you discover a nest in your attic it is better to pay a professional to destroy it rather than risk a wasp attack.
Wasps have had a difficult 2014 due to the unusually wet weather earlier in the year but that won’t stop them nesting or hibernating in your roof.
Brightly coloured clothing, perfume and scented soaps attract wasps – and swatting them away is more likely to make them attack than leave you alone.
Unlike bees, which die once they have stung, a wasp can sting again. A dying wasp releases a pheromone to alert others.
An angry wasp can be scary but discover a nest in the attic, which can be a colony of more than 3,000, and you are better off calling in an expert who may charge as little as £50 to destroy it.
Iain Turner, chairman of the National Pest Technicians Association, says: ‘Just occasionally, a wasp nest can trigger a collective attack – and that is really not fun in a confined space.’
Wasps should not be confused with honey bees that eat pollen and nectar. For bee control, contact the British Beekeepers Association.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Found around mattress seams and behind headboards. They are a tiny rust-coloured parasite that can grow to five millimetres in length. They often leave black and purple droppings on bed sheets. They cause bite marks similar to mosquitoes and often in lines.
BATTLE PLAN: Use a steam machine on your mattress, launder sheets on a boil wash and then vacuum. Specialist insecticides may require repeat treatments. Call in experts if the situation becomes critical. At night time consider zapping bedding with ultraviolet rays from a hand-held gun.
The summer holidays may be over but the fun is only beginning for bed bugs that hitched a ride home in your suitcase. The number of bed bugs has increased threefold over the past decade with holidaymakers blamed for bringing many of them back after sharing a bed with the parasites in a hotel room.
Why insurance does not cover peril of pests
Damage caused by pests – even if the family home burns down because a mouse has chewed through electric wires or gas pipes – is rarely covered by insurance.
Bournemouth-based insurer LV= is one of only a few insurers that offers optional accidental damage cover of up to £500 to cover destruction caused by vermin – rats, mice and wasps. Others offering similar cover include Aviva, Endsleigh and Esure.
Based on a three-bedroom house in Sussex, a couple paying £225 a year for home insurance contents up to £50,000 might pay a further £50 to LV= for cover against vermin attacks – as well as accidental damages such as spilling a glass of red wine on the carpet.
John O’Roarke, managing director of home insurance for LV=, says: ‘Pests are small but powerful and can wreak havoc – from bees blocking chimneys to rodents chewing cables.
‘The dangers of ignoring a pest problem can be devastating.’
Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, says: ‘Damage caused by vermin is normally not included as standard as insurers believe pest problems are not one-off incidents.’
Contact the National Pest Technicians Association for qualified help on 01773 717716 or visit npta.org.uk.
Increased resistance to chemicals used to kill them has fuelled the surge in the microscopic blood-suckers.
It is not just seedy backpacker hostels where bed bugs lurk. They can get picked up at five-star resorts where hundreds of occupants will share the same bed over one year.
Turner says: ‘If you don’t use insecticides properly they can merely disperse the bed bugs rather than kill them – doing more harm than good.
‘It is usually best to seek professional help but you should budget £300 as it may require several visits before they are eliminated.’
You can spot bed bug bites because they tend to come in lines – typically in twos or threes.
Treatment is usually with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream while antihistamine tablets can help.
Dust mites may also share your bed. They have powerful allergens in their droppings, causing itchy eyes, headaches and colds.
These can be treated – as with bed bugs – using ultraviolet rays that make them infertile.
One of the best ways to kill bed bugs is through heat treatment – raising temperatures to more than 45 degrees centigrade (115 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill them and destroy any eggs.
You can also try soaking a bar of soap and stamping this down on them.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: This is an aggressive plant with creeping roots and bamboo-like shoots that can grow seven feet high with shovel-shaped leaves and creamy-white flower tassels. It can soon overwhelm a garden and dig into your home’s foundations.
BATTLE PLAN: Resort to a mix of chemicals and excavation. Professional help will cost £1,500 for treatment over at least five years.
Not all vermin crawls around on little legs – Japanese knotweed can move at up to a foot a week using its tentacles rooted in the ground.
This aggressive perennial – Fallopia Japonica – damages through a network of roots that is hard to remove by hand or chemical treatment.
Introduced into Britain in 1825 as an ornamental plant it can take over other garden plants.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to allow Japanese Knotweed to grow in the wild. It is often spread by topsoil movement.
Mortgage lenders usually refuse a home loan if a property has a garden containing Japanese Knotweed as it damages drains, walls, paths and digs into the foundations of buildings. Some lenders will even refuse if it is on a neighbouring property. It can make a home virtually unsellable.
Simon Wreford, who runs nationwide weed-clearer Japanese Knotweed Limited, says: ‘Do not panic. There are a lot of scare stories about Japanese Knotweed but it can be treated.’
He adds: ‘You can do it yourself by digging and using chemicals but even if you think the plant is no longer there the soil is still deemed contaminated.
‘A professional can offer an insurance-backed guarantee. This way when you come to buy or sell a property you have legal documentation that shows the problem is treated.’
Wreford admits treatment does not come cheap – between £1,500 and £3,000 – but a company such as his will return to a property for several years to ensure the weed has not returned. It will also remove contaminated soil.
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