Illustration By Britt Spencer

Nozzle Nolen services vacation homes and condos along the Atlantic Coast of Florida from Miami up to Sebastian (just north of Vero Beach), as well as inland. Technical Director Paul Sugrue says that servicing these properties isn’t much different from other homes, as long as the owners or property managers sign on for annual service. When they don’t, technicians can face extraordinary infestations.

“When people close up their winter homes for several months, they often rationalize that, since they’re not going to be here, they can save some money by dropping their pest control service,” Sugrue explains. “So they are leaving their houses unprotected during the summer months, when pest pressure is at its worst. In addition, many of them turn the water off to prevent their pipes from bursting; when that water dries up, pests have a clear path from the sewers or septic tanks into these homes. Rats, peridomestic roaches and various species of sewer flies can come right in through the commode or other drains to infest the house.”

Swarming termites are often an issue in Florida vacation homes, too, as are fleas, when pets have stayed in the homes, Sugrue adds. “If a pet has even a small flea problem, the population can explode once the eggs left behind start hatching. It’s not unusual to encounter horrible flea infestations in vacation homes.”

On the Gulf Coast of Florida, John Newman of Davis Exterminators says his team has seen it all when it comes to empty vacation homes. “Fire ants, crazy ants, Argentine ants, bed bugs, roaches and other pests waste no time infesting untreated homes. But pests aren’t the only issue when people close up their homes for weeks or months at a time: We also often find air conditioner leaks, buckling floors and other structural damage to the home, caused by weather or wear that hasn’t been reported to property managers by tenants.” When technicians are providing monthly or quarterly service, they can report these issues right away, Newman says, so that they don’t continue to worsen.

Education is critical to helping homeowners and property managers understand the need for year-round pest control and the benefits of having someone periodically check in on their unoccupied home.

“Many of the people who own these homes live up north, and they don’t realize that down here where it’s hot, humid and rainy, they need constant pest protection,” says Newman. “We typically get our first call from them when they have a pest issue. At the time of service, we explain the importance of an annual contract, encouraging monthly or quarterly service.”

Nozzle Nolen strongly recommends monthly or bi-monthly service, because the pest pressure in this region is too intense to be well-managed quarterly, Sugrue says, adding, “The majority — probably 75 percent — of our home contracts are external perimeter treatments with inside service only as needed. Some people give us keys so that we can check the house monthly and reach out to the homeowner if there are any issues. As part of that, we flush the toilets and run some water in the sinks to keep them from drying out, clean up any dead bugs and check the pantry for any pests.”

Sugrue says it’s also important to educate homeowners and property managers about conducive conditions — making sure there are no branches touching the roof, for example, when the house is unoccupied. In multi-unit residences, he suggests leaving seasonal instructions with service tickets to let tenants and the property manager know what preventive measures they can take to minimize infestations.

SEASONAL APPROACH. Vacation homes aren’t just a hot-climate phenomenon. The plentiful mountains and lakes of temperate Tennessee, for instance, have given rise to an abundance of vacation homes and cabins, where pests are plentiful as well. That brings a lot of opportunity for business to Dayton’s Pest Control in Knoxville. “We keep doing more and more business in this segment,” says co-owner Dayton Hylton.

“We treat a broad range of seasonal pests — carpenter bees in the spring, and ladybugs and stink bugs in fall, for example — plus mountain pests such as scorpions, which can be alarming to people who come here from other areas and aren’t used to them,” he continues. This constantly changing pest pressure makes quarterly service a logical sell, Hylton says, sharing, “Our No. 1 service of choice is quarterly perimeter treatments.”

In fact, Dayton’s Pest Control’s marketing — for all customers, not just vacation cabin audiences — focuses on the seasonal nature of pests in the region. “In addition to strong marketing on our website and through social media, we drum up work by running a heck of a lot of radio ads focused on pests of the season or the moment,” he says. “Termites, carpenter bees, mosquitoes, fall invaders — we have close to 80 radio spots that we run heavily during sports and news talk shows.”

UNIQUE CHALLENGES. Hylton says that the mountain properties can be truly challenging to service technicians as a result of simple logistics. “These homes typically have two or three levels, and are often situated on the side of a mountain, so our technicians are sometimes trying to spray for carpenter bees hanging off a ladder or balcony. It can be very difficult to get to certain spots.”

Bears and other animals can be a concern as well, Hylton says, but his team leaves such issues to a wildlife expert he recommends to customers. “My wife, Sheila [co-owner of the business], was worried we might be approached by bears when we went up to cover some outdoor furniture with plastic for a re-spray of a mountain cabin. You have to be careful.”

No bear trouble in Florida, say Sugrue and Newman. Their primary challenge with vacation homes is nailing those all-important annual contracts. Says Sugrue, “Some customers still insist on just a six-month contract, and we will accommodate them, but we continue to encourage them to protect their homes year-round. It really is the smart way to go.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine.