Monday, June 28, 2004

Free your homes of pests

Eileen Ng
If only we could all be like Joe, the title character of the movie Joe’s Apartment.

In the comedy released in 1996, Joe, who’s from Iowa, arrives in New York City with hardly any money. Nevertheless, he manages to talk his way into renting an apartment in the East Village, which as it turns out is also home to a couple of thousand of singing and dancing cockroaches.

Joe and the cockroaches somehow manage to get along, although their presence did put a damper on his romance with his girlfriend, Lily. Now, if only real life could be like this - that we could somehow get along with the other occupants that live with us.

As most house owners know, our encounters with household pests are far from congenial. In most cases, they happen when we open a kitchen drawer to get a spoon to stir our morning cuppa and are greeted by the telltale roach droppings among the cutlery. Elsewhere, we may notice that some rodent had used the broom closet as its toilet and while replacing a glass pane in a louvre window, we may realise that parts of the wooden frame has become the termite’s version of a McDonald’s drive-in.

No doubt, these pests can be eliminated but such infestations can be a problem, especially if you are planning to sell your house. Besides being health hazards, if left unchecked, such pests can wreak havoc on your home and drive down its value. Think about it. Would you buy a house infested with rats, cockroaches or termites?

Having said that, not all pests have the same impact on a property’s value. The presence of certain types has greater impact on real estate values than others. Take, for instance, termites.

According to Raine & Horne International Zaki + Partners associate director James Tan, owners can expect a reduction of between RM5,000 and RM10,000 if their houses are infested with termites.

“Termite infestation in houses is a major issue as we can’t see the extent of the damage until it is at a serious stage. Other pest infestations are easily treated and they do not cause as much damage as termites,” he pointed out.

Devastating termites
Termites, or white ants as they are more commonly known, are pests that can cause the greatest degree of physical damage. Despite their devastating effects, house owners still have many misconceptions about them.

NLC General Pest Control Sdn Bhd managing director Richard Ng said contrary to popular belief, termites are found in all types of land.

“While it is true that they are mostly found in former plantation land due to the large amount of dead wood, nowadays they are also found in sandy areas and former mining land,” he said.

His views are supported by Ridpest Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Stephen Liu, who explained why former plantation land isn’t the only type that is vulnerable.

“Termites can fly and in a swarm which numbers about 10,000, 50 pairs normally survive the journey to build new colonies.

“If your neighbourhood has a history of termite infestation, then chances are your house could be affected as well,” Liu said.

He pointed out that a hotspot for termite infestation is the under-the-stairs storeroom as it is dark, damp, lacks proper ventilation and has minimal disturbance. Other areas include kitchen cabinets and window and toilet doorframes.

“If you are planning to buy a house, check these places to ensure there are no signs of infestation,” he said, adding that signs of termite presence are mud trails and hollow-sounding wood.

He said there are three methods of termite control: Pre-construction soil treatment, post-construction soil treatment and termite baiting.

Pre-construction treatment involves creating a uniform chemical barrier under the building structure as protection against termites during construction. A chemical called termiticide is sprayed on the concrete ground beams, joints and compacted hardcore areas.

Post-construction treatment entails drilling holes on the floor along the perimeter of the premises. About five litres of anti-termite solution are then injected into each hole, thus forming a chemical barrier underneath the whole building, after which, the holes are patched up with matching colour cement.

The termite baiting system targets the termite colony. Once successfully baited, the colony is slowly eliminated. This is accomplished with a small amount of a toxic substance delivered to the colony by worker termites.

This system is considered more effective as it eliminates the entire colony compared to the other two measures which are only preventative.

Rodent woes
Potentially, rats are the most deadly pest a home can have. Due to the dirty environment they live in, rats are capable of spreading deadly diseases. In fact, the great bubonic plague or Black Death which killed 25 million people in Europe in the mid-1300s was spread by rats.

NLC’s Ng said there are three main species of rats in Malaysia: Norway rats or brown sewer rats (which can grow to be as big as cats), roof rats and house mice.

Although they are much larger than other household pests, rodents can go through gaps of 1cm square with ease, and with their chisel-like front teeth, can easily gnaw through plastic, insulation and electrical wiring.

“They can cause fires by gnawing through electrical wires. Besides, they have weak bladders and while feeding, tend to urinate, thus contaminating food, utensils and other surfaces,” Ng said.

Telltale signs of the presence of rats include droppings, urine odour, damage to food packages or containers and bite marks.

He said baits are commonly used to lure rats. These are placed on trays around the house and, upon consumption, will cause internal bleeding in the rodents, causing them to die in a few days to a week.

Loathsome roaches
There are three main species of cockroaches in Malaysia - namely American (usually found in homes or sewerage infrastructure), German (found in restaurants and hard to control as they breed very fast) and Oriental.

Like rodents, they are capable of spreading diseases such as hepatitis and typhoid. Signs of cockroaches in homes are roach droppings, egg capsules (a capsule can contain up to 42 eggs), moulted skins, offensive telltale odour and damage to food packaging.

As roaches are very adaptable and hardy, they can quickly become resistant to conventional insecticide, hence pest control specialists need to come up with new chemicals periodically to keep their population in check.

To get rid of roaches, Liu said pest control specialists usually squirt a type of gel into areas that cockroaches are usually found, such as kitchen cabinets, food preparation surfaces and kitchen appliances.

Once the roaches pick up the bait, they will contaminate the rest of the colony via food exchanges and later, through the cannibalisation of dead roaches.

Ants: Army of contamination
Common species of ants include fire ants, garden ants and sugar ants. Most owners will have come across one if not all of these species. But what many do not realise is despite their inoffensive nature - compared to roaches and rats - they still pose a high health risk due to their indiscriminate diet that sees them consume anything from soiled linen to excrement.

Due to their small size, they are harder to keep out. Being able to penetrate the smallest gaps in food packaging and containers, they can contaminate food without our knowing about it.

“Unfortunately,” said Ng, “it is rather difficult to prevent ants from coming into the house.”

He explained that pest control specialists usually spray the ants with chemicals or use glucose-based gel baits, as some species of ants are more attracted to sugar.

“If we could treat it at the source, we will do so, but normally we do selective spraying, meaning we would spray at areas prone to ant infestations,” he said.

Role of specialists
Ridpest’s Liu said with higher standards of living, people are now hiring pest control specialists to get rid of vermin, especially termites and ants.

Such specialists offer weekly to bi-weekly treatments to ensure a home is free from pests, and these treatments can cost from RM100 to RM4,000.

Ng pointed out that there still are people who prefer to treat the problem on their own.

“They are at a disadvantage as they are not trained in pest control or the correct method of handling pest-busting chemicals.”

Ng advised owners who want to engage the services of pest control specialists to select those able to explain the type of work to be carried out and why it needs to be executed in a particular way.

“They also need to conduct a proper survey of your property and give you a quotation on how much the treatment would cost,” he said.

On fears that the chemicals used are harmful to humans, Ng said most of them are classified as Class IV - chemicals that have little impact on humans or the environment, as they are the equivalent of household aerosol-based insecticides. Additionally, the chemicals used must be approved by the Pesticide Board of Malaysia.

Cleanliness strategy
Both Liu and Ng agreed that the basic way to prevent pests from infesting a home is to ensure that it is neat and clean.

“Times have changed. While people in the past had some degree of tolerance for rats and roaches, people now are more health conscious and would not stand their presence,” said Liu.

He said pests have the same basic needs as humans - food, water and shelter - and by denying them these, the population of pests in a home can be drastically reduced.

For example, ensure that rubbish is properly disposed of and the lids of bins secured. Storerooms should be tidy and well ventilated. Other steps that can be taken to keep them out include installing door seals to keep roaches and rodents out as well as regularly trimming tree branches to ensure they do not come into contact with the house. This would cut off one of the paths of entry for ants. Drains must also not be clogged and gully traps should be placed over drainpipes to prevent the entry of roaches.

“Pest control specialists can do their best in preventing pests from entering a home, but they cannot be successful if owners do not play their part,” said Ng.

- Property Times 29 May 2004 issue -

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