Self-storage operators often have their hands full when it comes to facility maintenance, and pest management can sometimes get overlooked. However, an infestation won’t only damage your property and tenants’ stored goods, it’ll wreak havoc on your business reputation, all of which is costly.
Storage facilities are susceptible to pests for many reasons, including the types of materials stored, the sheer volume of items packed inside units, and the length of time between tenant visits. It’s easy for an invasion to go unnoticed and quickly spread, and there are many types of threats. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and problematic, as well as tips for prevention and resolution.
Not only are rodents among the greatest pest threats to health and homes, they’re a major danger to self-storage facilities due to the significant property damage they can inflict. Rodents aren’t just a nuisance. They’re known to spread more than 35 dangerous diseases, including tularemia, plague and hantavirus, among others. These diseases can spread to humans by directly handling live or dead rodents; contact with rodent feces, urine or saliva; and through bites. If your facility has a problem, it’s crucial to take care of it as soon as possible.
Rats and mice can fit through holes and cracks as small as a quarter and dime, respectively, so it’s easy for them to slip into self-storage units. They can also chew through wallboards, cardboard and wood, causing severe damage to structures and belongings. They’ve even been known to spark fires by chewing through electrical wiring. In addition, mice defecate an average of 70 times per day. Their droppings can trigger allergies and transmit pathogens of food-borne illnesses, like salmonella.
Storage units are attractive nesting sites for rodents because they sit undisturbed most of the time, with tenants sometimes checking on their belongings only rarely. This means an infestation can grow and spread with little to no disturbance if proper care isn’t taken.
Cockroaches are perhaps the most detested of all pests, and with good reason. In addition to being an annoyance, they’re extremely dirty, and an infestation can have serious health consequences. Cockroaches are a trigger for asthma and allergies. They spread 33 kinds of bacteria (including E. coli and salmonella), six types of parasitic worms, and seven kinds of human pathogens. They’re attracted to moist areas, where they pick up germs on the spines of their legs and transfer them onto food and surfaces.
Cockroaches are also one of the most resilient pests in the world, with the ability to live for a week without their heads, making them extremely difficult to get rid of in storage facilities. They’re also good at hiding and reproduce at high rates, so an infestation can quickly become a big problem.
Bed bugs are a major pest issue in homes and hotels, but they can invade virtually anywhere humans exist. They’re excellent hitchhikers, meaning they’ll stow away in suitcases, boxes, bags, furniture, etc., making storage facilities a perfect environment for this traveling pest to inhabit and spread. Although bed bugs would prefer to be near humans, they can survive in a wide range of temperatures, from nearly freezing to 122 degrees, and can live for months without a blood meal.
Once inside one storage unit, bed bugs can easily move into others. Adults can spread rapidly through pipes, on clothing and attached to other items. According to research, 76 percent of pest professionals say that bed bugs are the most difficult to treat—more than cockroaches, ants and termites.
More than 20 different species of ants are known to invade homes, schools and businesses, and there are more than 700 different species throughout the country. Ants are social insects, which means they almost always occur in large populations, making them difficult to eradicate.
Although ants rarely pose a health threat to humans, some, like carpenter ants, can cause damage to structures. Odorous house ants, on the other hand, do not cause structural damage but are a major nuisance, since they have colonies with multiple queens and many homes. Ants can invade storage facilities through the tiniest holes and cracks, including door seals and any gaps in the structure and foundation. They can quickly become an overwhelming problem.
When pest-proofing, it’s important to consider areas of overgrown vegetation, such as grass, leaves and mulch. Butted against the foundation of a building, this provides ideal conditions for ants to forage and find entry. To keep them out, seal all cracks and holes and pull back any vegetation from your buildings.
Though there are many pests that can plague storage facilities, there are ways to control and prevent infestations. Before one occurs, there are measures you can take. Consider the following:
- Perform regular inspections of storage areas, equipment, drop ceilings, office areas, windows and ventilation for signs of insect or rodent infestations.
- Encourage customers to use plastic/reusable boxes to limit the presence of cardboard and paper.
- Have an effective sanitation program in place.
- Ensure the facility has adequate waste-management systems inside and out. Improper garbage disposal and overflowing, dirty dumpsters are sure ways to attract and breed pests.
- Seal all pest-entry points around pipes, foundations, doors and other areas. Ensure there are no roof leaks.
- Install a gravel or rock perimeter to discourage vegetation growth that could invite and harbor pests, especially ants.
- Eliminate clutter in which pests can hide and nest, and clearly communicate with tenants about which types of items can and cannot be stored. Have a strict policy against storing food and perishable goods.
- Assess the type of outdoor lighting used. Consider using sodium vapor lights to discourage pests that are attracted to light.
Working with a licensed pest-control provider that has strong commercial experience can help eliminate infestations. A qualified company can help you implement an integrated pest-management (IPM) program, a multi-faceted approach focusing on exclusion techniques and the removal of food sources and moisture. It should work with your staff to develop an plan tailored to your property. For example, it can send a trained technician to perform an assessment. An IPM program for self-storage might include:
- Placing insect and rodent sticky boards and insect light traps
- Caulking around utility lines and sealing possible entry points
- Scheduling routine facility inspections by a licensed professional
- Maintaining comprehensive records of any pest sightings and inspections
Proper pest management for commercial businesses requires significantly more work than pest-proofing the average home. In self-storage, various factors can quickly accelerate potential problems, including foot traffic, the types of items being stored, structural faults and more. By taking precautionary measures and partnering with a licensed pest-control company you can operate efficiently without pests getting in the way.
Dr. Jim Fredericks is the chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a nonprofit organization with more than 5,500 members. Established in 1933, NPMA supports the pest-management industry’s commitment to the protection of public health, food and property. For more information, visit www.pestworld.org.