By Missy Henriksen
Self-storage operators generally invest a great deal of time and money in protecting their units from obvious threats such as fire, flooding, theft and vandalism. But a threat that may be less evident is that posed by pests. Self-storage can be especially susceptible to pest infestations, and the damage caused can be extensive and costly. Fortunately, there are simple steps operators and customers can take to protect their units and the items inside from damage.
Examining the Risks
Self-storage facilities face a unique set of circumstances that can make them especially attractive to pests. For one, unlike homes and businesses, storage units can go long periods of time without being checked by their renter or the facility owner, allowing an infestation to grow without disturbance.
By their nature, pests are experts at stowing away in items and infesting new locations. The fact that storage facilities house a lot of stuff and new items are always being brought in makes them particularly susceptible. A few pests that find their way into a stored box can quickly reproduce and lead to a major problem in a short time. Once a pest has found its way into one storage unit, it needs only a tiny entry point to get into nearby units, too. Many insects can fit through an opening as thin as a credit card, and mice can squeeze through holes as small as a nickel.
Of course, one of the main reasons self-storage units are at risk for pest infestation is because operators usually have little control over whats brought into the units. Be aware of items that are attractive to pests, such as food, live plants and even bags or boxes of paper goods.
Specific Threats for Self-Storage
Certain types of pests are more likely to infest self-storage units and should be given special consideration.
Rodents and mice are a leading concern in this type of environment because theyre great stowaways, reproduce quickly and can fit through extremely tiny openings. In fact, a female house mouseone of the most common rodent invaderscan give birth to up to a dozen babies every three weeks.
Once inside a unit, rodents can cause severe damage in a short amount of time. These pests will eat and gnaw at just about anything including cardboard, furniture, bedding, wiring and even decaying material. In addition, one mouse produces between 40 and 100 fecal droppings per day, which can accumulate quickly and become a health concern.
Cockroaches are also great stowaways, especially in cardboard boxes. They can squeeze through cracks as thin as a quarter, and they reproduce quickly. Cockroaches are extremely hardy, making it easy for them to survive for long stretches. In fact, they can live for a month without food.
Cockroaches also spread disease and can contaminate the items they touch or travel across. They are reported to spread at least 33 kinds of bacteria, six types of parasitic worms and at least seven other kinds of human pathogens. They pick up germs on the spines of their legs and bodies as they crawl through decaying matter or sewage, and then carry these onto other items. Studies suggest that cockroach droppings and skins can trigger asthma and allergies, especially in children, so infested items that are returned from storage to homes could pose a risk.
Gypsy moths are another potential issue for self-storage. In nature, they live in hardwood trees like oaks, maples and elms. Homes, businesses and even storage facilities near these trees tend to see the most infestations, because gypsy moths will often lay their egg masses near or directly on buildings. When the eggs hatch in the summer months, the larvae (caterpillars) find their way indoors, where they can be a major nuisance because of their tendency to leave debris from their feeding on everything they crawl over.
The bed bug is another pest that can be devastating for self-storage units. This pest was all but eradicated until the late 1990s, when it began to make an astounding resurgence worldwide. Today, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) reports that one in five Americans has had a bed bug infestation or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or at a hotel.
Bed bugs prefer to live in close contact with humans, as they feed on their blood at night. However, bed bugs are also excellent hitchhikers, so if a customer brings an infested item, such as a mattress, bedding, furniture or clothing, into a storage unit, this pest can easily spread into adjacent units as it searches for food. Bed bugs can live for more than a year without a blood meal and can survive in temperatures from nearly freezing to 122 degrees, making storage units a great breeding ground.
Despite the unique risks faced by storage operators, there are ways to protect your units and prevent pest infestations. First, work with a licensed professional to develop a comprehensive prevention plan. Next, implement these pest-proofing tips from the NPMA:
- Ensure all units have a water- and air-tight seal. Some pests can squeeze through cracks as thin as a credit card, so sealing cracks and holes on the outside of units can reduce entry points. Use silicone caulk to seal around utilities and pipes, filling in any holes.
- Keep shrubbery, bushes and other landscaping trimmed and away from storage units.
- Eliminate areas of moisture in and around units, as moisture attracts pests. Ensure gutters and downspouts are properly functioning and flow away from units. Reduce areas where water may collect and stand near units after a heavy rainfall. If the property has any water features such as ponds or birdbaths, install a drip system to keep water from becoming stagnant.
- Store garbage in sealed containers and dispose of it regularly.
- Partner with a licensed pest professional who has experience in commercial facilities to routinely inspect and treat the property. Routine inspection will help ensure pest problems are caught before they become major issues for you and your customers.
Missy Henriksen is the vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a non-profit organization with more than 7, 000 members. NPMA was established in 1933 to support the pest-management industrys commitment to the protection of public health, food and property. For more information on pests and pest-related topics or to find a pest professional, visit www.pestworld.org
Pest-Proofing Tips to Share With Customers
- Store items in plastic, sealed containers rather than cardboard boxes to prevent pests like rodents from nesting inside.
- Clean all items you plan on storing prior to packing. Remove any residue from clothing and furniture, and do not leave crumbs or food remnants inside kitchen appliances.
- Wash items like clothing and linens at a hot temperature before storing to eliminate pests or pest eggs.
- Dont store perishable food items or live plants inside storage units, as these items attract pests.
- Before placing items into your unit, thoroughly inspect them to ensure pests are not hiding in any boxes or items.
- Store boxes on a raised pallet to prevent smaller pests from finding refuge underneath.
- Regularly clean of your storage and check for signs of pests.
- If you notice signs of an infestation, contact the facility manager immediately and work with him to eliminate the invasion promptly.