Bats ruin dream home

Matthew Dewan and Katrina Arcand are waist-deep in a bat guano problem.

Bat droppings discovered in the attic of their farmhouse threaten to drain the couple’s savings, bring down their ceilings and destroy their dream of a quiet country life for their family of six.  
The couple’s nightmare began two years ago when they learned that the grey farmhouse near Arcand’s childhood home was for sale. It seemed the answer to their need for more space for their four children. The Kemptville-area farmhouse on an acre-and-a-half of land near the Rideau River had enough space for everyone and even had a separate playroom.
They put all their savings into the house in November 2015, moved in on Dec. 3, and started ripping out wallpaper and layers of old linoleum to expose the pine floors. It was last August (2017) when the real problem started to emerge. 
Bats, dozens of them, appeared to be crawling out of a space behind an unused chimney.
Intrigued, they wondered if they had a “nest” of bats behind a decommissioned chimney. Closer inspection revealed a mound of bat excrement, known as guano. They removed the chimney, but the number of bats emerging from the fascia, the vents and the siding seemed to grow. Watching the bats emerge and fly on summer nights was like watching a movie, said Arcand.
“We counted 63 one night.”
Dewan, an Ottawa firefighter, and Arcand, a homemaker, needed professional help. It turns out, the bats they could see were only the tip of the iceberg. There was bat guano in the attic and it was piled 1.5 metres deep inside the walls of the old balloon-framed house.
“We thought it was just old-house smell. It turns out it was bat guano,” said Arcand.
The house was inspected when they bought it. But the attic, accessible only through a small door, had been sealed. Their insurance company said they weren’t covered for bat damage. (Most insurance policies have wording that excludes settlements for damage caused by animals, including birds, raccoons, insects, rodents and bats, said Pete Karageorgos, the director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.)
Stephane Boucher, the owner of Canadian Pest Control Service in Perth, looked into the problem, cutting a hole though the ceiling to reach the attic. He believes there are two bat species in the attic colony — little brown bats and big brown bats.
Boucher worked in animal control for 23 years and says this case was one of his “top five” bat cases in recent years. 
“Obviously, the bats had been there for decades. You just know when they’ve been there for a long time. The bats have been there for so long that the guano has seeped into the wood. It attracts more bats. The bats know there’s a roost there.”
Some species of bats are protected animals in Ontario and can’t be killed. So, evicting bats means sealing every hole, leaving a few exits with one-way doors, a process known as “excluding.” Once the bats leave, they can’t get back in, although they may simply move to a nearby barn or another attic.
The cost merely to exclude the bats from their attic? Best-case scenario is $15,000, said Dewan. “And they’ll be back, even if we seal up every crack and hole.”
It would cost thousands more to remove the guano from the attic and between the walls. The guano has done permanent damage to the wood, and the couple fears the ceiling will eventually collapse under the weight of guano. There is seepage in some spots of the second-floor ceiling, he said.
Even if they did manage to exclude the bats, it would be hard to make the house bat-proof because the old structure is so porous. The old tin roof has hundreds of crevices the bats could use as entry and exit points. And bats will return to their roost and try, very determinedly, to get back in to their home roost. Bats can squeeze themselves — their bone structure is very pliable — into a hole the size of a fingertip.
The news on other options was just as bad. It would be impossible to tear the house down to the frame, remove the guano, then rebuild the house using the original frame because that wouldn’t meet the building code.
Besides, exposure to bat guano means a risk of histoplasmosis, an infection caused by a fungus found in the droppings of birds and bats.
“Every once in a while, we would get a glimmer of hope,” said Dewan. “Then, any time we think something great was going to happen ... no. It’s just one thing after another.”
The only viable option is to demolish the house and start from scratch, say Dewan and Arcand. But the estimate for rebuilding a house of the same size is $475,000, plus taxes. Dewan and Arcand would be left with their original mortgage, plus the cost of building a new house. Earlier this week, Arcand’s sister, Kristel, posted a GoFundMe page for the rebuild, which attracted more than $1,400 in donations by Wednesday afternoon.
“The bottom line is that we’ve bought a house that’s worth nothing,” said Dewan, who jokes that the only solution is to win a lottery. “We’re in a lose-lose situation.”
Many conservationists believe that it’s not just possible, but necessary for humans to coexist with bats, which perform an invaluable ecological service in consuming insects, including agricultural pests. Bats living in an attic can be “excluded” to a limited area, making it possible to collect the guano in one spot, where it can be easily removed.
It’s common for people to have bats and not even know it, said Brock Fenton, a bat biologist at Western University who has studied the winged mammals for more than 50 years.
He doesn’t think it’s necessary for Arcand and Dewan to demolish their house because it’s home to a colony of bats. Unlike rodents, bats don’t chew or make holes, and they don’t cause damage. Guano, he points out, is an excellent fertilizer.
“I would just fix it so they can’t get in so easily, and say, ‘Thank goodness they’re eating all those bugs.’ “
Arcand and Dewan have learned a lot about bats in the past few months. “They’re amazing creatures. Really, we’re squatting on their place.” said Dewan.
“I didn’t know anything about bats before,” said Arcand. “Not that I like them now, but they’re fascinating creatures.”
Bat facts
• There are eight species of bats found in Ontario, but only little brown bats and big brown bats are commonly found in human-made structures like attics. Little brown bats, whose population has been decimated by a disease called white-nose syndrome, are considered endangered in Ontario, while big brown bats are not.
• A mother little brown bat consumes up to twice her own body weight in insects to provide milk for her baby, or “pup.” A colony of 300 bats will consume three kilograms of insects a night.
• The little brown bat has one pup a year, with the baby weighing 25 to 30 per cent of the weight of its mother. A mother bat can fly with her pup, with the pup clinging to her with its teeth and claws.
• Bats can fly up to 35 km/h.

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