Studies show that the average American home has over 100 types of bugs living in it, so it should come as no surprise that many new homes are unfortunately already infested with pests upon move-in.
Perhaps you’re about to move into a new home and are looking to prevent a potentially sticky situation with pest problems when you arrive. Luckily, there are signs to look for before you sign your lease, and if a pest infestation is hidden from you, you may be entitled to compensation.
Described as looking like “white ants,” termites are a deceptively deadly pest. These insects feed on decaying plant materials like wood and soil. Emerging from mud tubes and tunnels, a colony of termites can quickly take over a home and cause severe structural damage.
By chewing and feeding on support beams, ceiling joists, and door frames, termites can slowly destroy your home (and it’s tough to catch them before it’s too late). That’s why it’s crucial to look out for telltale signs of these common household pests when you move into a new space.
One major sign of a termite infestation is wood damage. Wood may look blistered, have visible holes, or sound hollow when tapped (hollow-sounding wood indicates that most of the wall has been eaten from the inside).
You might find discarded wings, particularly near doors and windows (termites often shed their wings before digging into wood). If your wood is easy to poke into, and especially if there are tunnels beneath the surface, you might have termites.
You may also notice mud shelter tubes, constructed from dirt and wood debris, running up your walls. Brown termite droppings are another clear sign, as is bubbling paint or even tapping noises heard from inside the walls.
One of the best ways to keep termites away is to prevent moisture in wood. This might mean building in ample ventilation and sealing off cracks that may serve as entrances in advance (if you’re building a new home).
If you’re moving into a pre-existing home, fix any leaks and seal any cracks or holes with caulk or spackle. Move plants away from vents, keep trees and plants a distance away from potential entrances to the home, and avoid piling firewood too close to the entrance.
Probe any exposed wood regularly (as termites rarely emerge from their nests), and look for swarms of light-colored, ant-like bugs with wings of equal length and straight, possibly drooping antennae.
The most common treatment options for termites include soil and barrier treatments (using termiticides and other chemicals), fumigation, and baiting stations.
Often confused with termites, carpenter ants are another common pest that feeds on wood. The key difference though is that carpenter ants are a different type of wood-destroying insect—they excavate wood to build their tunnels rather than eating the wood themselves.
Larger than your typical ant, oval-shaped, and black in color with six legs, these critters create smooth tunnels through wood that can diminish the structural soundness of wood over time (so although they’re not literally eating your home like termites, carpenter ants can be just as destructive).
Carpenter ants are hard to spot. The most common sign is an actual bug near a hole or opening in wood. You may also notice wood debris, pieces of insulation, or even insect body parts near such openings.
You might hear a rustling or scratching noise (different from the tapping produced by termites), notice “ant trails” in your house or yard (ants often forage for food and leave a path of pheromones for other ants to find the same food source, which is why you’ll often see ants “marching” in a line), or find wood-based droppings.
Some carpenter ants have wings, so you might see winged ants in your home or find discarded wings.
In order to prevent a carpenter ant infestation, it’s crucial to patch up any holes or cracks in your walls that may serve as entrance paths. Make sure exposed wood is well ventilated to prevent moisture, which can attract these pests.
Soap is toxic to carpenter ants, so you can spray any potentially affected areas with a solution of two parts dish soap and one part water. Essential oils like tea tree, lemon, orange, or cedarwood can sometimes serve as a natural solution. Rub down the affected area with a cotton ball soaked in the oil.
The most well-known and effective solution is insecticide spray containing pyrethroids (a compound found in the pyrethrum flower that kills insects).
Tiny but menacing, bed bugs are only about the size of an apple seed. These pests burrow in mattresses or elsewhere in or around furniture (i.e., headboards, crevices in chairs, etc.) and feed on their host at night, leaving bite marks behind in the morning.
The most obvious sign of a bed bug infestation is live or dead insects, larvae, or eggs (be sure to inspect your own furniture regularly, as well as check every new bed you sleep in).
Watch out for dark spots on sheets, which may be bed bug droppings or the remains of crushed bed bugs. Blood may be left behind on your sheets (larger bed bugs sometimes expel some of the blood they’ve consumed in order to make room for their next meal).
Bed bugs don’t only live in beds but also in cracks and crevices around the bedroom (they’ll travel up to 20 feet from their hiding spots to feed). Be sure to look in drawers, behind wall art, near electrical outlets, and along door and window frames.
The best way to prevent a bed bug infestation is to purchase an encasement to zip around your mattress and keep bugs out. You can also purchase “bed bug interceptors,” which wrap around the legs of your bed and act as traps.
In the event of an infestation, you’ll need to treat or dispose of furniture and seal any affected belongings in plastic bags until the bed bugs are dead. Extreme heat, extreme cold, or steam may be used to treat your affected personal items as well. In most cases, it’s best to hire a pest control service if possible to ensure the infestation doesn’t come back.
In most states, sellers are required to disclose any active pest infestations to potential home buyers or renters. This includes all major pests such as bats, mice, cockroaches, and the aforementioned termites, carpenter ants, and bed bugs.
Depending on your state, sellers may also be required to disclose information to new homeowners that may serve as signs of a potential future infestation (i.e., leaks, dampness, or standing water).
You can ask your realtor or seller for pest reports and other related documentation (certain apartment buildings may also be required to display a recent pest report). If you suspect a pest infestation was knowingly hidden from you by a seller, you may be entitled to take legal action. In the potential subsequent lawsuit, you may be entitled to financial compensation from your landlord.