In a recent paper, researchers from North Carolina State University tried to estimate how many species of insect-like critters (arthropods) could be found in homes. They intensively searched 50 North Carolina houses and looked for as many different kinds of living and dead arthropods as they could find. Altogether they identified 579 different species from 304 different families. In fact, out of the 554 rooms scoured for the research, only 5 rooms had no detectable arthropods at all (I bet they didn’t look hard enough).
It shouldn’t come as much surprise to any biologist that insects and their relatives are so successful at invading our homes. After all, arthropods are the most diverse and successful organisms on the planet. Indeed, some animals have evolved along with humans, actually becoming specialists at living off our cast off treasures. What should be surprising is that we still know so little about our roommates.
So in the spirit of getting to know our “roomies” better, I thought it might be fun to gather a Top Ten list of insects (and others) that can affect the value of our homes. Yes, I said affect the value of your home! In fact, I think this list should be required reading for any new home owner. Here we go:
- Termites cause over $5 billion of damage to property in the U.S. each year, according to the National Pest Management Association. And damage by termites is typically not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Termite control is not for amateurs. A professional can help you identify the species you are fighting and use an effective control to protect your home. Luckily, tools for termite control have improved and gotten safer over the years. So if you find termites in your home, there’s no good excuse to not call a termite expert.
- Powderpost beetles in the subfamily Lyctinae can be a major headache, especially for new homeowners in Texas and throughout the South. Lyctid beetles attack hardwood only, so will not destroy a home; but they can infest molding, flooring, cabinets, doors, and other hardwood furniture. Look for small (1/32 to 1/16 inch diameter) round holes in wood. Active infestations are recognized by the presence of very fine sawdust coming from the holes. Powderpost beetles can affect the sale-ability and price of your home and they are reportable on state wood destroying insect reports required for home loans in most states. Most lyctid beetle infestations occur in new homes (1-5 years old) that have been built with infested wood. Removing infested wood is usually the most economical solution.
- Carpenter ants are major structural pests in some parts of the country, especially the Pacific Northwest. While they don’t eat wood, the well-muscled jaws of carpenter ants are fully capable of hollowing out solid pine or fir lumber to make nest galleries. This is not so true in Texas, where our species tend to avoid the hard work of boring into wood, and content themselves living in void areas inside hollow doors, behind insulation and in softer styrofoam insulation panels. Nevertheless, carpenter ants are considered wood destroyers in most states and are reportable on real estate transactions. And even our mild, southern carpenter ants can be quite a nuisance when they forage indoors looking for water and sweets.
- Rats and mice. Yes, I know they’re not insects, but rats and mice in your home are some of the most unhealthy and damaging pests around. Ignore these little critters at your own peril. It’s estimated that a single cute little house mouse leaves behind 3,000 microdroplets of urine a day. This urine, which contains a host of bacteria and viruses, ends up wherever the mice travel: kitchen counters, floors, silverware drawers and food cupboards. Their larger rat cousins, the roof and Norway rats, also leave behind feces and urine with pathogens capable of spreading salmonella, murine typhus and other maladies. Even worse for your home, rats will damage and contaminate insulation and chew on attic wiring. They may have been cute in Ratatouillee, and you have to admire their resourcefulness, but believe me when I say you don’t want these guys in your home. While rodenticides can be effective, they often result in animals dying in the attic or walls or other undesirable location. Use snap traps for limited infestations.
- Squirrels can also be incredibly destructive to your home. They chew holes in siding and soffits, they start families in your attic, they even damage trees in your yard. And together with rats and mice, these rodents are thought to be the cause of up to 25% of all mystery fires–fires for which the cause cannot be determined with certainty. If you hear the rapid pitter-patter of footsteps in your attic, especially during the day, chances are you have squirrels. Exclusion and one-way doors installed by a professional are effective ways of dealing with squirrels that make their way indoors.
- Honey bees are great outdoors, in a hive, kept by a beekeeper; but they become an expensive house wrecker when allowed indoors. Within a few days of finding their way indoors, a bee colony of 30,000 bees can build a several pound hive. As the hive continues to grow, it becomes a sizeable mass of wax, honey, and propolis. If killed by insecticide, a dead hive will leak fermenting honey and melted wax (the bees normally keep wax from melting in hot environments), and dead bees. It will also attract insect scavengers, moths, and rodents. A significant part of the cost of bee extermination is removal of the nest. Make sure whoever you hire has experience and knows what they are doing. BTW, you may be able to get someone to extract the bees alive; but this isn’t always practical and it usually costs you more. Wild honey bees are not endangered in any way, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about exterminating a wild bee nest where it’s not wanted.
- Indoor ants may not physically damage your home, but they reduce the pleasure of living there. Knowing what kind of ant you have is an important step in control. Some ants live mostly outside, and some ants are finicky about what baits they will feed on. So find someone who can identify your ants, or use this online guide for Texas ants. It’s generally a good idea to avoid the use of sprays against ants, at least indoors. Baits are a safer and more effective option for most ants. Liquid ant baits are more effective than solid bait pellets inside plastic stations. Place bait containers out of reach of children and wherever ants are seen. Don’t spray around the bait stations because sprays are often repellent. You want the ants to come to the bait and carry it home to share with their sisters.
- Fire ants are a major pest in the southern U.S. Besides reducing the aesthetic and recreational value of your home, fire ants can damage transformer boxes, air conditioning and other electrical relay switches, causing power outages. The good news is that fire ants are not that difficult to control. Use the Texas Two-Step method outside your home to reduce fire ant colonies and reduce the risk of damage.
- German cockroaches in the home are both repugnant and unhealthy. Research has shown that children growing up in homes with German cockroaches are more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma. Their feces and shed skins are allergenic and can carry pathogens. German cockroaches require a vigorous cleanup effort, and careful use of baits. If you do these two things right, sprays are not usually needed for good cockroach control. For more information, see our free publication on cockroaches.
- Bed bugs reduce the attractiveness and livability of any home. While bed bugs are not known to carry disease, their presence is highly undesirable and causes soiling of bedding, home and furniture. I recently spoke to a prospective buyer of a very expensive home who was considering backing out of the deal because she found out the previous owner had had bed bugs. Fortunately, the owner had hired a good company with experienced staff who did all the right things, and had records showing that the problem had been taken care of. If you are unfortunate enough to have bed bugs, I encourage you to hire a good professional. Additional suggestions and information about control can be found here.