Back several years ago, I was discussing work related to wildlife services with another pest management professional at our state’s winter technicians’ school. During our discussion he described the types of wildlife remediation work that their firm was involved in.
The pest management professional went on to say that when dealing with customers that required any exclusion work, he typically referred them to a home repair company he worked with that would come in and provide all the sealing work that needed to be done after his company had finished its trapping services.
At the time, I listened and didn’t comment on these practices; however, I was amazed to think that these folks were missing the bulk of potential revenue opportunities on those jobs by essentially giving the work away to someone else.
In today’s market, where we’re facing increasing operational costs and challenges, I think that we should always look at maximizing potential revenue opportunities. When a firm is involved in general pest control and/or wildlife remediation, providing exclusion services can definitely contribute to the company’s bottom line.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the techniques and situations where providing exclusion services can be a valuable service for your clients.
OPPORTUNITIES EXIST. As pest management professionals, we deal with a wide variety of pest issues each and every day. Most of us would say it is just plain common sense to look for points of rodent entry when a mouse shows up in a commercial or residential account.
To illustrate the importance of this type of inspection, I often will tell our clients about the “plumber’s and HVAC installer’s rule” (no offense intended to plumbers and HVAC folks). The rule goes: “Always make a 3-inch hole for every inch of line that needs to be run through a wall.” Of course, we know that this isn’t always how it’s done, but I bet every one of us has been to a home and found either a condensation line or an air-handling unit line extending through a foundation that had an opening sufficiently large enough to allow rodent entry into the structure. In these cases, the question becomes “What do you do about it?”
In today’s society, where most folks are working more than ever before, there is a premium placed on free time. It’s commonplace to read about how our country has shifted from a “manufacturing-based society” to a “service-based society.” Often, folks may not have the knowledge, tools, time or just don’t want to bother with sealing even the simplest of openings to exclude pests. So basically this is where we have the opportunity to step in and offer the expertise and willingness to fulfill this need.
In order to be prepared to deal with exclusion services, in my opinion, there are a few basic requirements. These include having the knowledge about potential pests and exclusion techniques, as well as having the right tools and materials to work with. From there, the biggest factors you’ll need to determine are the length of time, difficulty and material costs, so that you can charge a fair price for both the client and your company.
SITE EVALUATION. Before you get started sealing holes, gaps and openings at all of your accounts, it is important to be extremely familiar with the pests that may be present and be able to determine if current activity is present.
One of the first things that I look for when observing a potential point of pest entry into a structure is whether or not an opening appears to be actively used. Sealing in a squirrel, opossum, groundhog or skunk can cause more problems than you want to start dealing with. If I’m out on site at an account and see a missing foundation vent that is full of spider webs and leaves, I would normally say this is a pretty good indication that the opening is not being actively used at that time.
On the other hand, if I am investigating a call about a noise under a home and see this same vent opening but it is free of debris, I know it is very likely to be one of the points of entry that the critter making the noise under the home is using. Keep in mind that it is always critical to make a complete inspection and to attempt to determine the type of critter(s) that is/are present or has/have been present.
It is also important to determine the reason why it is present, attempt to identify all contributing factors and locate all of the potential points of entry. In the case of addressing the vent opening as a point of pest entry, it may be determined that placing a one-way door trap over the opening, or a cage trap directly in front of the opening, would be the first course of action.
After making sure that there are no animals present, or that all have been removed, then it would be appropriate to provide all applicable sealing and exclusion services that may be needed. As a general rule, I typically do not seal openings until I am absolutely certain that there are no animals utilizing the openings. In lieu of trapping, simply filling an opening with a sheet of crumpled newspaper or even taping a paper towel over an opening that will be inspected the next day can serve as an aid in confirming if an opening is presently being used. (Note that this technique should never be used around attic spaces if bat activity is suspected since bats will not normally “force their way out” of an opening.)
In order to provide exclusion services, having the proper tools and equipment to work with can make a major difference in the ease or difficulty in getting the work done.
NECESSARY EQUIPMENT. Years ago, back when I was beginning to think I was pretty much an expert on bat exclusion, I had been working on a number of bat jobs one particular week and I looked down at my hand and arms. I had been using tin snips to cut hardware cloth, and as a result my arms looked like I had been trying to grab rabbits in a briar thicket. Thank goodness the “tool man” at Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse told me about DeWalt’s battery-operated tin shears. I swallowed hard at the $350-plus price tag, but can honestly say that the shears paid for themselves quickly in terms of time saved on the job site and “scratch reduction.” Since then, I think we have purchased at least one or more of just about all of DeWalt’s battery-operated tools for our wildlife service trucks.
Another major tool that we use literally every day in providing exclusion services is a foam gun. There are several brands available that will disperse the expanding foam products. If you have ever used, or still use, the “foam-in-the-can” style of products, once you switch to a foam gun you will never look back.
Another piece of equipment that is normally used on a daily basis is a ladder. Being a “big ole boy” I like to know that when I’m literally trusting my life on the proper function of a piece of equipment, using cheap under-rated ladders is not the way to go. This past year we purchased several Werner brand ladders that have the adjustable legs factory installed. These ladders are a great asset in both safety and time savings when working around structures with uneven terrain.
We also routinely use ladder stoppers when “setting up” ladders. Ladder stoppers are a great aid to help stabilize ladders at the bases, plus they significantly reduce the possibility of ladder slip or “kick out.” I was surprised one day to learn from our Univar sales representative that our firm was the only customer who had ever purchased ladder stoppers from him.
NECESSARY MATERIALS. In addition to having the proper tools and equipment to work with, you must also have the right materials on hand to get the job done effectively and efficiently.
I am also a major fan of hardware cloth. It is common to go on a job site and see where someone has attempted to seal an opening with screen wire only to have failures. It seems to me that ¼-inch mesh is much easier to work with than ½-inch mesh and we occasionally will even use 1/8-inch mesh. If insect entry is a concern we will double-screen with hardware cloth over screen wire.
Another area where I have a very strong opinion is how to go about securing hardware cloth over openings. It seems that a lot of folks in our industry love staple guns. Staple guns are inexpensive and they do the job quickly; however, for a professional, long-term exclusion solution I always prefer the use of hex head screws secured using a battery-operated drill and driver.
At our firm we also purchase a lot of the Stuf-Fit copper exclusion material. Once again, this material is a classic “you-get-what-you-pay-for” product. Use steel wool and let it leave a big ole rust spot later on down the road, or buy a quality product and provide quality work and charge accordingly for it!
I’m sure many of us “older fellas” that still get out and exclude a critter every now and then can remember drilling into concrete and then hammering in the good ole lead sinkers prior to screwing in a piece of hardware cloth over masonry. All I can think to say about that technique now is: I only wish they had invented Tapcon screws and Hilti pins earlier.
FINAL THOUGHTS. Today there are many tools, products and pieces of equipment readily available that make providing exclusion services much more efficient, effective and safer than in the past.
In determining how involved you and your company becomes in providing wildlife exclusion services you should first honestly evaluate your abilities and knowledge base. You must develop a thorough understanding of the biology and habits of the animals that you intend to work with.
You may also want to closely evaluate and even limit the type and extent of certain types of work that you are willing to take on. Keeping these factors in mind should position you and your company to better meet the service needs of your clients.
The author is owner of McNeely Pest Control, Winston-Salem, N.C., and a member of the Copesan Services Technical Committee.
18-volt tin shears
Hilti gun with fasteners
Hex head screws
Ladders, lifts, fall protection
Ladder end protectors
Ladders with leg equalizers
Hear more from McNeely
In addition to the tips provided in this article, Scott McNeely recently was interviewed for a PCT podcast. McNeely provides additional insights and talks about some of his experiences in 20-plus years of providing wildlife management services.