How to identify – and get rid of – pests in your home

How to keep rats, mice and insects away

Pests are an unfortunate part of life – but you don’t have to live with them. We interviewed Sam Devereux, a pest control expert who works for JG Pest control.

By Remy Maisel

If you’re a homeowner, you may eventually have to deal with some unsavoury problems – like an infestation of pests. But how do you know you’ve got a problem, and what should you do when you’ve spotted one? Sam explains how to identify common infestations like mice, rats, wasps, and hornets.

Fortunately, getting rid of these may also be covered by your home insurance if you’ve opted for the home emergency cover add-on Footnote [1]

Wasp and hornet infestations

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to prevent a hornet or wasp infestation. Hornets are larger than wasps, and that’s the main difference between the two. Customers tend to discover wasp and hornet nests all around their property, like on garages and garden sheds, not necessarily just on their homes. Luckily, even if you don’t see a nest, it’s relatively easy to spot an infestation. 

  • Entry points: “Wasps and hornets always use an entry point to fly into a customer’s property – more often than not you get wasps flying into worn-away mortar in the bricks, in between the tiles, or underneath the gutter line, so normally they’re around the perimeter of the property and they’re just flying in and out of that property constantly,” says Sam.
  • Internal nests: Inside cavity walls or lofts, the queen will be in the centre of the nest and the rest will be going out to gather materials to build the nest and breed. “More often than not, when a customer rings us, they can’t see the nest itself – but we ask them to look at the house and they can see where they’re flying in and out from pretty consistently.”

Getting rid of wasps and hornets

The dangers of a wasp and hornet infestation are that you can get stung, and some people have potentially dangerous allergic reactions to a sting. Children and pets are normally more affected by stings than adults, so parents or pet owners are usually more concerned with dealing with these infestations. 

Sam recommends that you call the experts to help with these, because there’s a special tool that can inject a chemical powder into wasp nests that isn’t available commercially. While there is wasp spray you can buy, it’s only effective if you can see the whole nest – but the professionals have full protective clothing and experience, so he doesn’t recommend a DIY approach. Professional removal costs roughly £85-150 plus VAT depending on speed, urgency, and whether roof ladders or scaffolds are required.

Mouse infestations

Here’s how you’ll know you have a mouse in your house: 

  • Droppings: Mouse droppings are easy to identify. “The droppings themselves are about the size of a grain of rice. Sometimes they’re a bit thicker, but they’re definitely that length.” Sam says you can also tell whether you have a current or historic infestation by putting on some gloves and picking them up. If the droppings crumble to dust, they’re old. If they’re soft, they’re new, and there’s more likely an active problem. 
  • Odour: The smell of mouse urine is quite distinctive. “The only smell I’ve smelled similar to it in my life is my sister’s pet hamster – that sort of ammonia-type smell,” says Sam. Also, mice don’t stop moving to urinate, so they’ll leave a trail. 
  • Damage: You might spot chewed-up nesting materials (like cardboard) and bitten food containers. 
  • Noise: You may also hear scurrying sounds in the walls or on the floorboards. 

Why it could be a problem

If you do have an active infestation, there are a few concerns you should have. “Mice will chew through the backs of kitchen cupboards, chew through the kickboards, they’ll chew through electrical wires.” Damage is one reason it’s important to address a rodent problem straightaway.

Another reason is hygiene – rodents are attracted to food and could leave droppings or urine in your food or where you prepare it. Those are the two biggest reasons Sam says people call his company when they have an infestation. 

What to do

When you think you’ve identified a mouse infestation, there are a few steps you can take to resolve the problem:

  • Find the entry point: “If you were to get on your hands and knees in the kitchen and take off the kickboards underneath the units and you could see a couple of holes at the back of them, chances are that’s where the rodents gain access into the living quarters of your house. So you want to make sure your property is secure,” says Sam. You’ll also need to have a look at the exterior of your home.
  • Keep clean: It’s very important not to leave food where mice can get it, so you’ll need to deep clean every time you cook and not leave any food in the lower cupboards of your kitchen.
  • DIY: The only way you can make a mouse problem worse is by leaving it completely unattended because mice can breed very quickly. You can buy mouse bait and traps from your local hardware store, says Sam, but he suggests giving yourself a maximum of a week to attempt any DIY remedies before calling a pest control company.
  • Call the professionals: The cost of a professional mouse removal can vary. With JG Pest Control, prices vary based on urgency and the size of your property, for example, but for a residential property, it’s in the region of £200-500 plus VAT. Sam also notes that very few of the jobs JG Pest control carries out are covered by insurance, and nine out of ten times people call him they don’t know if they’re insured. You can also try contacting your council as some treat mice, rats, wasps, and bedbugs for free.
  • Prevent a re-infestation: Once you’ve got rid of an infestation, the tips for preventing a re-infestation are similar: don’t leave any food sources, ensure there aren’t entry points to your property, secure your bins, don’t feed birds, and make sure there’s no litter around your property.

Rat infestations

Mice vs rats

The advice for rats is similar to the advice for mice, according to Sam. However, rats are far bigger, and they can be more dangerous and cause more damage because rats’ front teeth never stop growing. That’s why they’re constantly gnawing – otherwise, they’re in pain. 

“They’re also a lot more gluttonous and carry higher health risks than mice,” says Sam. Rats will often have lived in the sewers, so their urine can carry Weil's disease (leptospirosis).

Getting rid of rats

Getting rid of rats can be slightly different than mice:

  • Drainage and sewage: To avoid a rat problem, you can also focus on drainage and sewage pipes. There may be no obvious entry points when you have rats, so experts will advise a drain survey – you’ll need to contact the local water board who will come and test your sewers, because pest control companies can’t access that area. 
  • External jobs: Sam also notes he tends to get more external rat jobs – you’ll see them travelling from garden to garden – and that they’re also attracted to litter. 
  • Lockdown problems: JG Pest Control had a 42% increase in rat call outs during lockdown. This was probably due to council pest control closures, infrequent bin collections, people being home more frequently (and therefore more likely to see pests), and pests being forced to find alternate sources of food because pubs and restaurants had been closed.

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