by Marcus Pickett
One of the situations most dreaded by homeowners is an attack of pests on the home. Left unchecked, extermination of advanced infestations can be as costly as it is necessary, and few homeowners can afford this expense. The following is a list of the most common and most despised household pests out there, and what you should do when you first find them in your home.
Have you found pencil-sized channels, called mud tubes, running along your wall? Have you found a dead termite or broken termite wing? Have you seen a live termite in your home? The first thing to do is to take a deep breath: Termites are a huge problem, but not nearly as urgent as most people believe. A subterranean termite colony, by far the most common termite in the U.S., will eat only a small 2x4 stud each year at most. Even more aggressive termites generally take months to do serious damage. Of course, it doesn't matter how long the damage takes if you can't get rid of the termites.
No other pest control problem involves bigger pros and cons than termites. Generally speaking, small, independent companies offer better prices than the large chains (Orkin, Terminix), but many of these smaller companies don't offer the same level of warranties and guarantees. Complicating matters, exterminating the termites that enter your home is a fairly simple process; making sure they don't come back is a different pest altogether. A good rule of thumb is to find out what the termite-swarming season is for your location and choose an exterminator who offers guarantees through the following swarm season. In southern climates, termite season can begin as early as February and run through the beginning of summer. Thus, if you're treating termites in April, you need a warranty that lasts for 14+ months.
Although there are quite a few termite species, only a few are commonly identified as household pests. Unfortunately with ants, the possibilities are much greater. Argentine ants, Carpenter ants, Fire ants, Pharaoh ants, and Sugar ants are all relatively common household pests, and this list is far from exhaustive in terms of possible ant infestations. Your first act should be to locate and remove access to nearby food sources, pantries, cabinets, etc. Ideally, you'll be able to trap an ant or recover a dead ant and match its appearance to some type of ant guide. If you're able to confidently identify the exact species of ant, you may be able to treat the infestation with ant-baits, but permanent solutions may require a professional to locate and destroy the ant nest with insecticides.
You wake up to discover small bites, usually three itchy, swollen bites in a row. Maybe you recently did some traveling or stayed in a hotel? The first thing to do is to isolate the problem. Wash all your clothes and bedding in hot water. Extensively vacuum your bedroom, including all fabrics like drapes, and put the collection bag in the freezer (extreme hot and cold temperatures will kill bed bugs). Next, spray your bed and baseboards with a Clorox and water mixture or high concentration rubbing alcohol. Wrap your bed in a vinyl cover to trap any remaining bed bugs inside. Even then, some bed bugs may survive. You can sleep on your bed in the meantime, but you should talk to a pest control professional about further treatments that offer a more permanent and trustworthy method of extermination.
Whether it's mice, rats, or a less common problem, like squirrels, too many homeowners underestimate the potential dangers associated with rodent infestations. Besides the obvious nuisance, rodents frequently carry diseases ranging from hanta virus to salmonella. If homeowners too frequently panic with termites, they may not take common household rodents seriously enough. If you watch the hit TV show, House, you should know that it's not a coincidence that the doctor frequently wants to inspect the patient's home. Dozens of home remedies are out there with varying degrees of success. Live traps can make the final extermination tricky. Poison is a dicey idea, especially if you have pets or kids in the house. High-frequency sound waves are said to drive the rodents away, but there is some question about the efficiency of these devices and methods. Persistence is key, and if the rodents continue to survive your treatments or the infestation has reached an advanced state, you may need to call in the pros.
-- Marcus Pickett is a senior home improvement writer with ServiceMagic.com. He has written more than 1200 articles on managing your home and home improvement trends.