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The Basics

How to fend off a plague on your house

Your insurer probably won't cover damage stemming from what it sees as neglect. Here's how to avoid a costly infestation of ants, termites, rats and other pests.


Insurance companies consider pest infestations to be a home-maintenance issue. That means your standard homeowners policy usually doesn't cover pest-related damage.

Most policies include an exclusion for damage caused by birds, vermin, rodents, insects or animals owned or kept by the policyholder.

Why? Because it falls upon the homeowner to maintain the property. For example, an annual termite inspection and treatment would head off an infestation and resulting damage.

A few exceptions

There are a few situations in which a homeowners policy will cover damage involving animals. For example, if an animal causes a fire in your house, the fire damage is covered.

Standard homeowners policies cover the collapse of a home if hidden insect or vermin damage caused it, says David Thompson of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. ("Hidden" means the homeowner can't see the damage.)

However, the actual damage done by the insects or vermin is not covered. For example, say termites eat a support beam under a home, and the home collapses. The cost to replace the beam is $2,000. The damage to walls, floors and roof trusses is about $25,000. The $2,000 beam is not covered, but the other damage is, Thompson says.

Termites cause between about $2.5 billion and $5 billion in damage to American homes annually.

Battle of the bugs, bats and birds

Now that you know it's your job to protect your home from pests, do you know how to battle bugs, bats and birds?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a Virginia trade association representing more than 4,000 professional pest-control companies, suggest that homeowners prevent infestation by using an approach called "integrated pest management." It combines several methods, such as proper waste management, maintenance and pesticides. (The EPA Citizen's Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety is available as a .pdf file.)

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Here are some pest-prevention tips from the EPA and the NPMA:

Outside your home

  • Remove piles of wood from under or around your home to avoid attracting termites and carpenter ants.

  • Destroy diseased plants and fallen fruit that might harbor pests.

  • Rake fallen leaves.

  • Keep vegetation, trees, shrubs and wood mulch at least 18 inches away from your home.

  • Remove tree branches that touch your home.

  • Clean up pet droppings from your yard. They attract flies that can spread bacteria.

  • Do not let litter or garbage accumulate. It draws mice, rats and other rodents.

  • Drain off or sweep away standing puddles of water, which are breeding places for mosquitoes and other pests.

Continued: Protect the inside of your home

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