There’s something in the walls...
December 5, 2017 4:41 AM   Subscribe

This isn’t a Charlotte Perkins Gibman story, I fear it might be a little more hairy. What do?

I live in a big old building. It’s under historical protection or something of the like. Sort of limits what you can do with it. In August, I started hearing scratching and scuffling in my bedroom walls. I told my landlord, and they said they wouldn’t be able to cut into the walls, but they would send pest control. Someone came out and didn’t find any major evidence of creepy crawlers in the attic, but they can only go so far because a supporting wall blocks the way to the bedroom walls. It’s a big building and difficult to see at the top, but he concluded it was birds (they hang around the top floor a lot, where I live.) I have never heard chirping in the walls though.

A few weeks later, I discovered mice in the apartment! I wasn’t sure if they were correlated. Pest control came back, set traps, and sealed two big cracks with expanding foam in the floor in my closet and behind the stove where he found mouse droppings. He said they’ve only been there for a few days. He said they probably wouldn’t return and chew through because they hadn’t established themselves. I haven’t seen anymore evidence and I check weekly. The noises in the wall disappeared.

Cue two days ago, the scratching and scurrying in the wall returned. Now I am paranoid that mice are back in the apartment and will find their way to those cracks. Or maybe fall through my vents? Is that possible? My landlord apologizes but says they can’t do anything more with the building code, unless something dies and is a hazard that way.

What could be in my wall? Is it truly birds? Why don’t they chirp??
I knock on the walls in hopes of scaring the critter off, but is there something I can buy that will scurry them out? I’ve seen those ultra sonic plug ins. Has anyone used those?
Is there some danger in having critters live in my wall? Will they make it through the seals?They seem to come and go. I get anxious when I hear the scratching late at night, but now I play music to drown it out and sleep.
Am I freaking out over nothing?

posted by buttonedup to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
I have been dealing with this for years in my apartment in an 1880's house. In my case it has been flying squirrels and mice. It's doubtful that it's birds, they wouldn't be moving around in the walls, especially at night. The ultrasonic plug-in devices are useless - my landlord bought me one without my asking. I tried it even though I was highly skeptical, and found that it had no effect. The flying squirrels and mice have never actually entered my apartment, they're just in the walls. I have dispatched a bunch of them using traps, placed inside the wall through a small door that enables access to the bathroom pipes. I will get rid of all of them and have periods of several months of quiet, then more move in. I find it impossible to sleep with critters making noise in the wall a foot away from my head. They are a lot louder than you'd think.
posted by jkent at 4:55 AM on December 5, 2017

I once stayed at a vacation house that had squirrels or mice in the ceiling above the lower floor bedroom. They got in through the garage and then found their way through the insulation into the ceiling/floor cavity. The damage I noticed was an icky, molding stain from where they were defecating. It was gross and smelled and I was afraid the ceiling would collapse on us in the night.

So, yeah, there's damage that they could be doing in the walls and it's also annoying to you. Can you record the sounds in the night for your landlord and pinpoint where in the walls they are? They are gaining access somewhere. We had some mice occasionally in an old house with radiator heat - they would climb along the pipes and squeeze through. So it could be a very tiny access point.

Is it an exterior wall? I don't think historic protections would prevent pest control and opening walls.

Just keep calling and be persistent. Call your tenant rights organization so you understand what is required in your area.
posted by amanda at 5:27 AM on December 5, 2017

why would you think it's birds? It sounds like it's the mice (or something like that.) It takes a very careful examination of a building's exterior to spot all the tiny (tiny!!!) spots where rodents can be getting into the walls, attic, crawlspace etc (and of course those spaces are usually contiguous.) Your building is big, I doubt the one guy who came out did a comprehensive inspection of the exterior.

I don't understand why they're talking about opening walls, usually if there are mice you can see their droppings in the attic and/or the crawlspace as well, and trap them there too.

I don't know how to convince your landlord to take it seriously except maybe if your town has a vector control body like mine does who can help him solve the problem without running afoul of whatever regs. There's no way marking something as historic absolves him of the need to do pest control. If anything it would do the opposite.

In the meantime do another examination of your apartment for tiny cracks, holes etc that could lead them into your space. Especially in your bathroom cabinets and kitchen.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:14 AM on December 5, 2017

I live in an 1880's house and mice are just a thing you deal with especially this time of year when the weather gets cold and they move indoors. My goal usually is trying to keep them out of the house. The big aspects to this are

- closing up mouse holes (anything larger than the size of a dime) with steel wool or solid foam)
- putting away and sealing up ALL food

There are not birds in your walls, this is not a thing unless there are big holes and birds roosting in there. If the mice stay in your walls it's okay. It's not optimal because they can pee and poop in there and maybe chew through cords and burrow into insulation, but it's not an immediate OMG level danger. Squirrels in the wall is a bigger deal, they are more destructive, chew on your house, etc. However you want mice out of the inside of the house because of various diseases they can carry. I have used the sonic plug-ins and found them not that useful. I've put out poison (not proud, honestly, but that's only when things have gotten bad) and that is super effective though you can often wind up with a dead mouse in the wall.

So I'd keep the pressure on the landlord, not in a "I am freaking out" way but in a "there are still mice" way. No one has to open the walls. This should be stuff they can deal with at an attic-level.
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Good luck finding every hole that a mouse can get through. Not a likely solution. Get some mouse poison, like D-Con or something. It really works in my very old house.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 9:58 AM on December 5, 2017

I have had a bird in my wall before. It was definitely not chirping, because it was NOT happy. It was scratching really hard, and the beating of its wings made it sound far larger than it was. When I called the pest control company, I fully expected they were going to pull out a raccoon. It was that loud.

It's more likely the mice. Mice are a thing in old homes.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:13 PM on December 5, 2017

+ mice or squirrels. My parents had a squirrel living in the wall near their bedroom. They tried traps, bait, everything. Finally my dad found a Youtube video of a dog barking, rigged up some sort of speaker system right next to where the scratching was coming from, and blasted Angry Dog for about 10 minutes.

No more squirrel. I'm pretty sure it died of fright.
posted by basalganglia at 4:54 PM on December 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm dealing with mice in my walls now and I've had some success with basically making my place smell like the inside of a toothpaste tube. I'm liberal with peppermint-oil-doused sachets (and even added some while mopping the floor) and it seems to move them along for a bit.
posted by TwoStride at 8:26 PM on December 5, 2017

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