The Cost of Pests

This past Sunday, my wife and I awoke to the pitter patter of little feet in our home. It was not our children, because long ago they left gentle footsteps behind them in favor of the thundering stomp-stomp-stomp of teenage boys. It was not our grandchildren because we do not have any. It was not our pet because our fish has not evolved feet yet. I dismissed the problem as squirrels on the roof.

A few moments after we heard the footsteps, we heard a steady crunching from above our heads. I could not live in denial any longer. Something – squirrels I assumed – was in our attic. Left with the choice of calling a pest removal service or venturing into the attic on my own, I chose the rather unmanly alternative and called a pest removal service. I know, I should not be so quick to spend money but, what else could I do when faced with the possibility of being in a tight, incredibly hot space with potentially rabid squirrels?

My wife was dubious of my reasoning too.

Nevertheless, Jim, from a local wildlife and pest control company, was quick to answer his phone on a Sunday morning and was at my home by 1pm the same day. He investigated our attic and found (and photographed) fecal matter, evidence of burrowing and other signs that pointed to…rats! I grew up in a suburb and I live in a suburb now. I had always thought that rats were only for city buildings. I was wrong and my attic showed the signs of it.

Jim then went up on to my roof and photographed signs of animal activity on the roof – chewed shingles and chewed vent pipes for the most part. When Jim got to the back of my house, however, he found that I had more than rats. Jim’s words said it best (especially when accompanied by photos of the damage): “When I told you that you had rats in your attic, I was only partially right. You have a raccoon up there. It’s coming in to feed on the baby rats.”

I was stunned. I had a menagerie living upstairs and it was playing out a daily Animal Planet horror show! “Yep,” Jim continued, “you’ve got your pinkies and your fuzzies. Raccoons – or maybe it’s a big possum – just love to feed on them because they are defenseless.”

Completely disgusted but feeling justified that I called in experts, I asked Jim how much it would cost to remove the pests from my home and to seal all of the openings. Jim did a quick calculation and told me that the damage would be about $1300. I did not bother to negotiate. I wanted the critters out of my attic and I wanted them out fast. I also knew that Jim was reliable because several of my neighbors have used him and I trust their judgment.

I asked Jim what I could have done differently to have avoided this cost and he told me that there really was not much that I could have done. He pointed out that houses in Florida are built to withstand hurricanes but not assaults by squirrels, rats, raccoons and other animals. Any opening in a roof that builders leave unfilled is either big enough to allow entry or to allow an animal to create a big enough entry. The only way to avoid animals in the attic, at least in Florida, is to inspect your house for openings regularly. He also reminded me that most homeowners do not even know where to look for openings

I also learned that animals cause a significant percentage of house fires in the USA because they chew through wires, thus exposing them. According to Jim, more than 1 in 10 fires start because of animal activity. Accordingly, when you hear the pitter patter of little feat in the attic, you should not ignore it. If you are brave enough to deal with the problem, here are the steps that Jim and his team are taking to rid my house of mammalian pests:

Repair All Entry Points into the Attic: All entry points – holes no matter how small – must be repaired to prevent more animals from entering your attic. As long as you have holes in the roof or soffits, animals will be able to continue to come and go as they please into your home, and that they will do so because the animals that live in your attic will already have left a urine trail marking the way to get in.

Set Traps in The Attic: You can use humane traps or lethal traps, but do not use poisons as they can leach into your home and cause problems for residents and pets, especially if the homeowner ever wants to go into the attic again. The animals will not start visiting the traps for a few days because they will have stored up food in the attic already. When they do spring the traps, empty them quickly, especially in hot climates. Rats decompose quickly and both maggots and blood flies are quick to find their rotting bodies. That is not a trauma you want to experience.

Neutralize the Animal Scents: Animals follow the scent of the urine of other animals. You need to eliminate that scent in order to discourage future animal visitors. I have never purchased neutralizer so I cannot give a personal recommendation here. Instead, I encourage you to check out the neutralizers available at hunting stores or pet stores.

Watch for Pest Removal Trucks on Your Street: Jim explained that when all of the entries to my attic are closed, the animals will move to the next house on my street. If you see a neighbor is having pests removed, it is probably time to have your attic inspected so that you can at least know whether the entry points are there for invasion.

I suppose I could save a substantial part of the $1300 that I spent to rid my home of pests by doing the work myself. Truth be told, I don’t care. I don’t want to retrieve dead animals from my attic and I really do not want to be attacked by angry animals on my roof while I try to fix the openings. I just don’t want the animals there. Besides, Jim told me that the last house he visited did not just have rats in the attic. There was also a five foot long snake in there, feeding on the rats. Call me a wimp or call me a coward, but I know that if I encounter a five foot long snake in my attic, I will be coming down in a body bag. I hate the cost, but I am pleased that I probably could not have avoided most of it.

What pests have you had to evict from your home? How have you handled it? Do you hire help or do you take care of it yourself? What tricks do you have to keep pests out of your house?

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13 Responses to The Cost of Pests

  1. Luke says:

    I had squirrel problems at my house in Tennessee. I got rid of them myself because I caught the problem early and my landlords grandson was a contractor so he came and sealed off my problem areas after I had gotten the rodents out. I’d say with the infestations you had going on, it was money well spent!

  2. Eleanor says:

    We found out recently that we have rats in our attic, also. No sign of raccoons or snakes! We are currently taking bids, as this is a two part process in our 28 yo GA home. First, getting rid of the rodents and sealing points of entry, and second, having the current insulation removed, the attic commercially vacuumed and sanitized, new insulation placed with a rodent barrier. We decided part 2 is very necessary after doing some internet research- you do NOT even want to know how many times a day one rat urinates! UGH! If you live in GA, have ivy on your property, and you or your neighbors feed birds, you have rats. You just don’t know it. Yet.

  3. justme says:

    when we bought our house our neighbor told us we had rats
    so we set out poison and traps ,never saw a rat

    a couple years later someone bought neighbors house and tore it down they knocked down the guys outbuilding and the rats scurried out from under it like you would not believe! and under our house they went we saw them go there!

    the neighbor had a outside dog and the rats had stored food under the floorboards of the shed it was full of dogfood

    we poisoned and sealed up our house and got rid of them before they got too comfy

  4. Joan says:

    My cousin had to hire someone like that and a neighbor called the Hmane Society to report her! H.S. inspector said everything was being done legally, properly. If the animals really did move to someone else’s house….

  5. Ann says:

    My prior home was a 100 yo victorian. It sat high enough that the basement windows were at ground level, was 2 (high) stories high with 2 intersecting very high-pitched roofs on top… in other words, at the highest roof point you were about 4-5 stories off the ground!

    There’s a point to that info, honest! LOL

    Hornets built a huge nest right up under the highest eaves. Neighbors told me I should go on the porch roof and shoot the nest with that stuff that shoots 30 feet, but, having bad knees, I called an exterminator and, boy, was I glad!

    It cost me around $400, but the exterminator told me 1.) to stay indoors with all the doors and windows closed until he told me it was okay to come out and 2.) 3 STINGS FROM THESE BEASTIES WERE EQUAL TO ONE SNAKEBITE! YIKES!!!

    When he told me to come out, he had already washed all the mature and maggoty young off the porch roof and my front yard was covered with bodies… and I do mean covered! He had knocked down the nest (which was even bigger than I’d thought) and cleaned up all the carcasses before he left.

    He recommended that I have my siding “tuned up” (guys come and make sure all the joints are tight and caulked and it wasn’t something he did) so that bees and wasps and hornets couldn’t get between the siding and the inner walls. I had it done the next week but thought it sounded weird until I read a story about a house where they had to tear out walls because honey bees had gotten between the walls and the honey was actually oozing through the wall… which was how they found out. Yuck.

    Now I live on the edge of cornfields and near a big park, so I have a constant battle going with deer, mice, gophers, squirrels, raccoons, possums, chipmunks, groundhogs, etc. On a regular basis, I buy a big bucket (farm-sized) of mouse/rat poison and scatter it around the house, garage, workshop and back yard. (I obviously don’t have any pets or kids and everyone around here keeps their animals inside or on leashes.) Another regular expenditure is for deterrents — have you ever seen what some of these critters can do to plants, shrubs and trees???

    I’ve seen all kinds of critters in my yard and have definitely heard some really big critters running across the roof. It still surprised me, when the electricity went out one time ’cause a raccoon fried himself on the power pole right behind my house. Even the guy from the electric company was a bit startled by that one!

    To me, exterminators are well worth the money… and so are any measures necessary to make sure that critters stay outside where they belong!

  6. Leslie says:

    We had a family of Opposum’s move into our crawl space. They squeezed in by the air conditioning unit. It was a momma and her babies. I nearly had a heart attack when the critter control guy told me that Opposum’s can have up to 20 babies in one litter (at $75 a pop to remove them). He sealed up their entrance and removed the one that they found in the crawlspace. Fortunately, most of them got sealed outside when they fixed the hole they were getting through so there was only one more that had to be removed when it went in the trap a few days later. The worst part was cleaning up the mess they made (the pooping and peeing).

  7. Sandy says:

    So Dave, I guess you are telling me that our house is next eh? They are just working their way down the street? :) We’re wondering, do you have trees with limbs touching your house, did they climb the trees to get on the roof and gain entry? Our other nieghbors, between you and us, have spotted a rather long snake in their bushes, was it yours? LOL

  8. Viewsfromtheloft says:

    Last summer it was bats and this spring it appears to be squirrels. One thing I learned is that even if you think your house is sealed up as tight as a drum some pests only need an opening as wide as a number 2 pencil to get into wherever they may want to go (at least that’s the case for bats). It took most of the summer for them to find another home-apparently they are pretty territorial- and hopefully they will remain in their new place this summer as well.

    It’s amazing how many new ‘roommates’ can squeeze into an extrememly small area. Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is how jumpy I still am whenever I hear something a bit out of the ordinary at home even if it’s on t.v.

  9. David G. Mitchell says:

    Sandy — No branches touching the house but we regularly see squirrels climbing the screened area at the back of our house. Now I see the squirrels acting very confused on our roof and then running next door!

  10. spicoli says:

    I watched an episode of Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel that focused on catching critters in attics and under houses. I agree that it is better to leave it to professionals. A friend of mine does this for a living and he has told me of some scary encounters in very tight places with very angry raccoons!

  11. persephone says:

    While living in Cambridge, MA, I had a problem with bats. If the front door was left open and unattended for even a moment after dusk, a bat would often fly in. It took a while to figure out how the bats were getting in, but several hundred dollars later we did (we finally found a pest control person who solved the mystery).

  12. fern says:

    That’s quite a story.

    Did you do your own investigation into whether that feces was really from a rat and not something else? Because i imagine an unscrupulous exterminator would say “rat” to inspire much greter terror than, say, “squirrel”

    In response to what another poster said, I would not advise randomly spreading poison around your yard. Even if you don’t have pets, you could kill your neighbor’s pets or other critters. Surely you don’t intend to kill every living creature that crosses your property lines?

    When i was living in Vermont years ago, there were 2 very friendly stray cats i regularly interacted with. When i wondered aloud about their disappearance to a neighbor, he told me someone else had put out rat poison and the cats ate it and died.

    One night last year i heard an awful lot of loud scratching coming from behind the cabinet in my downstairs bathroom. I keep the door to that bathroom closed. I went to work the next day, my mother stopped by my house to drop something off and went to use the bathroom. She found a chipmunk floating in the toilet. She wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive. She put the lid down, then called to tell me not to be shocked by what was in the bathroom. (Nice, mom, thanks for warning me). I guess there’s no need to say here i was in fact very shocked, and flushed it down the toilet. (Luckily, it didn’t get stuck.) Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to plug up whatever crack or crevice the chipmunk got through without dismantling my entire bathroom cabinet.

  13. David G. Mitchell says:

    Fern — Yes, I did what diligence I could do. In a cowardly way, I poked my head into the attic and saw the signs of burrowing and fecal matter but I could not determine whether it was squirrels or rats.

    Whatever it is, they are aggressive beasts. After 3 weeks, we thought we were without pests, until this morning, when we heard them overhead.

    The pest company came out and found that whatever animal it may be, it had chewed a NEW 4 inch square hole into my attic in order to get back in! Now my fear is that slowly but surely the beasts will eat my entire house!

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