When your house becomes home to uninvited guests, such as mice, moths or Japanese knotweed, it can feel like a disaster. Luckily, there are solutions.
At some point in every homeowner’s life, there will be a moment when they are struck by a feeling that something’s amiss. Maybe the clue will be a gnawed skirting board; perhaps it will be a strange noise coming from the attic.
The best thing to do when this happens is to stay calm, assess the situation and work out a plan of attack. Quietly hoping for the best is rarely an option, but things aren’t usually as bad as they might first appear.
“Mice, like rats, are associated with the spread of diseases,” says David Cross, head of the technical training academy at Rentokil Pest Control. “This explains why they evoke a strong reaction among some people. While they may be small, their constant need to gnaw – on insulation, pipes, doors, furniture or floorboards – means they can cause serious damage. They’ve even been known to chew electrical wiring, which can lead to fire risks.” Telltale signs that mice have moved in include ammonia-like smells (they urinate frequently), small, dark droppings and greasy marks on walls or skirting boards.
How to get rid of them: In the old days, says Cross, cats were thought to be your best defence – today’s well-fed cats, however, would rather curl up on the sofa than hunt rodents. Golden oldies like peppermint, camomile, lavender and cloves may be a deterrent but are unlikely to solve the problem. A far better bet, says the expert, is to block potential entry points and put down mouse traps – choose from humane traps, modern electric ones that can zap the creatures quickly and require no poison, and ultrasonic pest repellers that emit a high-frequency sound that mice find intolerable. If you do choose the humane trap, ensure you release your rodent captive far away from your home, or it might find its way back in.
When to call in the experts: If your initial efforts don’t fix the problem, it makes good sense to call in the pros as mice can breed rapidly and transmit diseases.
“If you can count five to six clothes moths or carpet moths in a room, it’s likely you are experiencing a serious infestation,” says Cross. “Telltale signs include damage to natural fibres around the home, such as clothes, curtains, carpets and even leather items.”
Moths tend to proliferate in warmer months as higher temperatures accelerate their reproductive cycles – they can simply flutter in through an open window, or their caterpillars can enter on your clothes or on second-hand furniture. “If clothes moths are left untreated, moth larvae will eat protein found in natural materials such as wool, silk and fur,” says Cross.
How to get rid of them: One way to help remove moth larvae from clothing is to wash at high temperatures or have them dry cleaned. Natural repellents, such as cucumber peel, are also worth a try.
When to call in the experts: If your DIY solutions aren’t working, Rentokil has a treatment called Entotherm Connect, which uses infrared heat to kill moth larvae. In extreme cases, fumigation is another option.
These multi-legged beasties like to move indoors when their usual habitat becomes flooded or dries up: they’ll typically seek out somewhere damp, says Cross, and in sufficient numbers can cause superficial damage to your home.
“Woodlice feed on mould growth, leaves and rotting wood,” he says, “and have been known to damage wallpaper.”
How to get rid of them: Avoid letting them indoors in the first place – Cross advises moving freestanding plant pots and tubs away from the property and sealing any cracks in mortar joints on external walls, as well as window and door frames. If the woodlice are already in, try a powder or spray from a DIY store.
When to call in the experts: If the number of woodlice spotted in the house begins to approach what you would consider a heavy infestation, professional solutions include industrial chemical sprays and fumigation.
Squirrels and birds
Squirrels love cosy attics for bringing up their offspring – pigeons like them, too, and need an opening of just 25mm to get in. Other birds like balconies, chimney stacks, gutters and ledges for nesting, and the main clue that something is amiss will be scratching sounds and other noises, and visual clues such as droppings. “This does need your attention,” says Cross, “as there can be health risks as well as serious damage to your property.”
How to get rid of them: First identify the pest – then check Google to see if the animal is protected. Peppermint oil, mothballs and apple cider vinegar all help deter squirrels.
When to call in the experts: You will likely need professional advice when it comes to getting rid of any unwanted rooftop-dwellers, especially if the problem needs to be addressed from your home’s exterior. Options may include ultrasonic devices, or the installation of bird-proofing measures, such as netting.
“While dry rot spores are present in most properties, they only become problematic if they are given sufficient moisture as this allows a large, fluffy, cotton wool-like fungus to form,” says Peter Ross, branch manager at Wise Property Care. “Moisture could come from many sources, such as a drip from a leaky pipe, rainwater from the roof, damaged gutters or downpipes.” Signs to look out for include damaged/brittle timber, spore dust and mushroom-like growth on wood. If left to its own devices, dry rot can erode the structural integrity of your home.
How to get rid of it: Call in the pros, as dry rot can easily spread. The experts should be able to identify the source of the moisture – and fix it – and can use fungicide to stop a minor outbreak. “In cases where it is more developed,” says Ross, “it may require the removal of plaster and replacement of damaged timber as well.”
This is now the most invasive plant species in the UK, says Ross, and is able to establish itself easily because it has no natural enemies. Japanese knotweed can grow 10cm a day and will squeeze through any nooks and crannies it can find – little wonder it is feared by homeowners and is reported to have knocked £20bn off the value of the UK property market.
“As knotweed grows through structural weak points, such as cracks, it can cause serious damage to building foundations, wall structures and paving,” Ross says. “If you allow Japanese knotweed to grow on to neighbouring properties, you could face a sizeable fine.”
How to get rid of it: Once again, expert help is recommended as soon as Japanese knotweed is detected: there are rules and regulations governing its lawful disposal. “It’s notoriously hard to treat,” says Ross, “but it’s not an impossible task, and herbicide treatments can be administered via spray, stem injection or with a sponge.”