HOME INFESTATION Don't go batty
The only way to get rid of bats is to seal off their entrance to the house.By REBECCA SLOAN
What's worse than a termite colony or a couple of mice scampering across the kitchen floor?
How about a home that's infested with bats.
Anyone who's ever been startled from their slumber by the dark flutter of bat wings knows how terrifying it is to live in close quarters with these eerie, nocturnal creatures.
Anthony Farrell, of Expert Service Exterminating, with offices in Boardman and New Castle, said bats like to cozy up in attics, and lots of people have bats living in their attics and don't know it.
"If you don't go into your attic regularly and you don't stand outside at dusk and watch for bats to fly out of your attic, chances are you won't know there are bats up there," Farrell said.
Well, not until a bat happens to somehow get out of the attic and make its way into your living space.
"Then you'll definitely know you have a bat problem. That's when people usually call -- after they've seen a bat or two flying around in their house," Farrell said.
Having a few bats swooping and diving through the living room easily breeds terror, hysteria and visions of Dracula and rabies shots, but Tim Adkins, of Mountain Man Trapping in Johnston, Pa., said bats aren't vicious or aggressive.
"People have a lot of misconceptions about bats. They are really very docile creatures and are an important part of the environment and the food chain. Bats can eat as many as 500 to 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour," Adkins said.
Contrary to popular belief, Adkins said that bats will not: Purposely swoop into your hair and bite you; suck your blood; or (necessarily) give you rabies.
"Bats do carry rabies, but maybe one out of 100 bats has rabies, not every single bat that you see," Adkins said.
Getting rid of them
But even if bats aren't so bad, nobody wants them in their house, so if you have bats, how do you get rid of them?
Adkins said there are many methods of bat removal that do not work.
"Bat traps don't work because you can trap the bats and relocate them, but they will fly right back to your house. Even if you relocate them 500 miles away, they will return eventually because bats always return to the place they were born," Adkins explained.
High frequency devices that emit annoying sounds don't work either, Adkins said, and neither do mothballs or bright lights.
"To get rid of bats, you have to seal off their exit and entry holes," Adkins said.
Adkins uses special netting material to accomplish this task.
During the day, he places nets over the places the bats are entering and exiting the home.
At dusk, when it's time for the bats to fly into the open air to feed, the bats are able to squeeze out through the nets, but at dawn, when it's time for them to return to roost, they can't get back in.
"The nets are designed so that the bat can get out but can't get back in," Adkins said.
So what does this cost?
Adkins said prices vary depending on the size of the house and the level of infestation.
"I charge a $50 fee to come to the home, access the problem and give an estimate. This $50 is included in the total cost of the job if the customer decides to have me do the work," Adkins explained.
Adkins charges an extra fee to seal off holes after bats have relocated and to clean up bat droppings. He gives a six-month guarantee on his work.
Farrell said his company also believes in sealing exit and entry holes, although he was not permitted to be as specific about the details of the products they use.
"We use a check valve system where we basically seal off the entry and exit points so that the bats can get out but can't get back in," Farrell said.
Farrell could not give a ballpark figure on what his company charges to remove bats because costs vary depending on the size of the job and the level of bat infestation.
"We give a three-year warranty on a home with asphalt shingles, and a limited three-year warranty on a home with a slate or shake-shingle roof," Farrell said. "The cost of cleaning up the bat droppings is included in the overall price of the work."
Both Adkins and Farrell said bat droppings are toxic.
"If the droppings are disturbed and you breathe in the dust, it can lead to a disease called histoplasmosis, which can be fatal. The disease has symptoms that are similar to tuberculosis," Adkins said.
Adkins said that if you never go into your home's attic, you are not at a risk of getting sick.
"As long as the droppings are not disturbed, they cannot make you sick," he said.
Adkins said bats often excrete droppings at the places where they enter and exit the home.
"This can lead to more bats in your house because other bats smell the droppings and are attracted to that place," Adkins said.
Adkins recommended hosing down the areas where bats enter and exit to get rid of droppings and the odor.
Farrell said well-established bat colonies can leave behind enormous proportions of droppings in attics.
"If a bat colony has lived in an attic for several years, there might be a few feet of accumulated bat droppings," Farrell said. "I have been in attics with bat droppings up to my knees."
Adkins said he has had to use a snow shovel to remove bat droppings from attics where large colonies of bats have lived for several years.
"A large bat colony might include a couple thousand bats," Adkins said. "A small colony might include 100, and a medium colony might include about 400."
Both Adkins and Farrell said that pest companies used to spray poisons to kill bats, but Farrell said this is now illegal because bats are a protected species.