Rat, liner, drain, extension, pest, council, Thames, London, mouse,

Dear UK

I’m a homeowner living in South West London.  

I plan to put this message up on every forum I can find that has anything to do with rat infestation with the sole intent of helping those who have homes that have been ravaged by rats.  No one should have to jump through the millions of hoops I had to go through in this country to fight vermin.

We live in SW London and moved into our home back in 2013.  By all rights it looked amazing when we got it and everything from a full building survey point of view checked out.  The house had a ground floor extension built in 1987 and all the regs documents checked out to.  This extension was built over the top of a sewer that served four houses including mine which these days is the sole responsibility of the water board.  Thames in our case.

The first time I became aware of rats was when I could hear some really loud scratching/banging come from under the kitchen counter.  Very concerning to say the least when you have never experienced anything like that.  I did not initially identify it was a rodent and thought at first it was a plumbing issue from the type of banging.  To add to the issue we had some kitchen lighting under the cabinets which did not work at first.  The sparky showed me the cables he pulled out from under the cabinets and you could clearly see the cables had been chewed to bits and this had happened some time ago.  Certainly before we moved in.  Clearly, though, the many people who would have lived here prior to us were quite happy to live with rats in their kitchen.

In the beginning this was an extremely stressful situation because we lived in fear of these things as this type of evidence suggested the rat was coming up from under the sub-floor to the main floor in the kitchen where we eat.  These creatures are sewer rats and carry untold diseases that are fatal to humans.  So here is what I did on the long road to recovery.

Initially, I invested in some traps and rentokill grain bait and put them right next to the area where I could hear them under the kitchen cabinet.  Sure enough it was not long before we could hear the screams of rats in the night.  It was not a pleasure to start my working day by removing the dead rats from under my kitchen counter.  It was starting to become a regular thing.  I would catch a number for a while and the problem would go for a few weeks then it starts all over again.  In the end I bought three massive cans of expanding foam and emptied the lot down a small square opening that sat between the main floor and subfloor.  Really painful shifting a large fridge to do this. Rats never got back through that hole anymore.  What we found after this was that we were routinely plagued by flies.  These rats were dying from eating the poison and rotting under the house.  It constantly stunk like a farm in our living room/kitchen as it’s all open plan.  The smell of their urine did not help either.  These creatures are totally incontinent.  I knew they were pissing all over the kitchen floor and daily scrubbing involved to eventually get rid of it.

Anyway once I did the foam I thought that was the end of the nightmare but this was far from it.  Sure enough we started hearing noises from under our living room floor and mostly near the party wall side.  Thankfully our house has no carpets and just varnished floor boards.  This made it dead easy to lift up a board.  When I did this the smell was horrendous under there.  Loads of rat droppings and this was the air we’re breathing in.  I had to go around with decorator’s filler around all the skirting boards to stop the flies from escaping which equally can carry disease.  Really great lugging heavy furniture around several times to do this.  How many weeks did we spend chasing flies in our living room with fly spray!  

I had to invest in two foscam cameras which I mounted to the underside of the floor board that monitored the area of traps otherwise I never had a clear idea if anything was dead until flies appeared. My daily routine always involved checking the video logs for rat movement.  No surprises that the solution worked and could see the vermin checking the ring of death I made for them.

It was then that at this point I could see we have a major rat problem that no amount of traps or bait are ever going to fix this.  I was totally lost as to where these sods were getting in.  Was it from the neighbour’s house? Were they digging under the decking next to the back of the house? Were they getting in on the side of the extension next to the neighbour’s extension?  A side of which is so narrow no access is possible?  No idea at the time.

I did the next thing and tried a few pest control companies after seeing examples on TV of others with rat issues.  Wow, is this country full of useless pest controllers.  These guys just turn up and say “I’ll put bait down” and charge you more than what you can get it for from a shop online. I thought they might try and smoke bomb the subfloors through the access hatch to the sub-floor but no.  I suggested the idea and they looked at me like I was crazy. “Dah, what’s a smoke machine?” I’d seen this example on TV from a decent pest control.  There are none in my view where we live.  

I started doing my research and discovered on the net there are loads of cases like this as a result of past building work.  I was starting to build a picture in my head and it made sense these sods are sewer rats.  They’re not coming from the garden or anything above ground.  God knows I tried to look at every inch around my property to rule that out.  

I ordered a basic drain survey from a so called drainage specialist off checkatrade and we had a look together. Sure enough we saw two abandoned pipes.  One which used to carry the the previous toilet waste exit.  The other closer to the present manhole at the side of the extension which was a former guttering pipe exit.  I knew when comparing the other houses with no ground floor extension.  The 80’s builders had not bothered to seal off the old pipes.  It’s amazing how they got away with this but I am sure they get away with shortcuts all the time.  The drain guy suggested installing a metal rat flap.  A Vermead I think from memory.  That model costs an eye watering £300-£400!

In my research I discovered that some people had installed rat flaps in the manhole of the sewer like the one he suggested.  Now a few points on this.  They are not 100% effective.  There are two types on the market.  One is the plastic type which is blue and red in colour and has a flap secured by a spring.  The pest control calls these rat flaps but they’re actually called non-return valves used by water companies.  These are total rubbish.  The rat can chew these, although that never happened in my case.  Any mass that gets logged between the flap and floor leaves it open so the rat can just slip by and it happened in my case.  After a year the spring gave up.  It gets choked up with paper and wipes and the door will not fully shut tight anymore and the rat just lifts up the flap with their noses.  Sure enough the rats were in the old pipe work again and up in the sub-floor.  So that was £80 down the drain, as they say.  

I was totally frustrated by this stage and so I thought I will make this a Thames water issue.  When I first called Thames I got through to a lady whose attitude was ‘why on earth are you calling us about this’?  I was persistent. I described the problem and they sent out Thames operations, a young bloke in a small van trying to convince you that it’s not Thame’s problem.  Their system is loaded with rats which he denied at first but eventually I got it out of him.  I spent a good hour pushing this guy to take action and had to show him pictures of dead rats I had killed from under the house.  To add one of the photos near the toilet feed exit even had a dead rat in the picture.  This guy just sort of looked at the photo squinting to see it scratching his head.  Amazing!  Is that a rat?  

So after seeing the evidence he had a look at the visible man holes in the neighbour’s garden. My neighbour at the start of the row of 4 had a rotten manhole.  The guy had just been covering it with timber.  It must have stunk in the summer and it’s right next to his patio door.  Amazing! Anyway this kind of thing provides excellent access for a rat to go up and down.  Thames replaced his cover free charge a few weeks later.  A few more weeks went by and there were more rats under the house.  I called Thames again and they sent out the same bloke.  This guy had the same attitude and showed up at my front door saying ‘What do want me to do about it’?  He started saying you have a rat flap facing the public sewer.  The other end of the pipe to you has no sewer access.  I did not believe it and insisted he do more.  

So what he did was send out Lanes Plc, who did a full end to end CCTV survey and they also put bait in the manhole next to my extension.  Lanes said there are no rats in the pipework running over the four houses to the start of the access chamber at the opposite end to me.  However they did not tell me one thing.  At a random occurrence I called out Sutton water early on that week as I had a contract with them and explained the rodent issue.  On a random chance Sutton turned up at the same time with Lanes. Great! Now the Lanes group whispered in the ear of the Sutton water man and said “his issue they have just cut the pipes and that’s why he’s getting rats.” Lanes however did not tell me that!  They just jumped in the van and drove off.

More weeks went by and more rats appeared again. Now, I had sat back down started researching the web for any kind of case study to assist.  The primary suggestion I had come back was to excavate down.  However one cannot do this for a few reasons.  It would make your home uninhabitable drilling down throw that much concrete.  You’ll also have an exposed sewer in your house. Also if I had started drilling down I risked a cave in on the sewer the floor is built on top.  

I decided at this stage to try the legal route to fight this.  I was going to escalate this with the council and contact a lawyer to see how to make Thames liable to deal with the issue.  I figured the rats are coming from the sewer and Thames own the sewer.  Let’s start with the council.

I called them and explained the situation on where and how rats are getting into my property.  I explained there is an act which requires homeowners to keep their homes in sufficient condition as to not cause a public health hazard to others.  I forget the name now but it exists.  I thought I am going to keep badgering the council indicating what a problem Thames’s sewers are for me. They would only send one visit out which was another useless pest controller from Sutton Council.  I told him where they’re getting in and he just scratched his head.  His advice was to pour cement down into the sewer and then plead total ignorance when Thames get a call from my neighbours saying their sewer does not work when the toilet doesn’t flush away.  This a waste of time! Next, I was talking to the lawyer trying to go for Thames under the water act.  Totally bulletproof.

Meanwhile, I ended up upgrading to a marine steel rat flap which can cost up to £400.  These things have dual flaps mounted inside a casing as so not prone as to getting wedged open but again not 100% effective.  They do have serrated sharp edge on the flaps which is great for catching tampons.  Really pleasant to look at. Objects like this can leave the flap open and the rat will get by.  Even under normal conditions a small baby rat can get past as the flaps cannot sit fully flush on the floor of the sewer pipe.  That’s why they are never 100% effective.  I had mine installed 9 months from having no issues until one day I heard the sound of screaming under the living room floor.  I had caught the biggest rat I had ever seen.  This sod had gotten past the flap and clearly had been living on all the food waste from the sinks the houses feed into. So the flap had been open by an obstruction I think. Before you think what about the other end of the sewer, well, the start of the pipe has no access to the public sewer.  It’s just a brick chamber.  So one way in and one way out.

So the final option I had discovered was to go through drain lining.  Basically, this is a pipe within a pipe. Now this was not going to be straightforward.  First, you need to find a reputable tradesmen to do this.  They screw this up and anything above the sewer and that being my kitchen in this case is getting dug up. I contacted several of these guys.  Some of them would not touch it.  Some of them were ready and willing to go at short notice after a quote is issued.  However, only one of them pointed out something I did not know.  If you’re going to be lining a sewer shared by two or more houses you need permission. None of the other so called drain lining firms pointed this little fact out.  Anyway, I got a price and plan for that.

The next issue I has was that I had to get the toilet waste re-routed.  After all I am going to seal up the redundant toilet waste hole the new one runs parallel to.  Got a few quotes from general builders and also approached Sutton water for a quote.  I went with Sutton water.  Less likely to disappear into the night like many rogues out there.  Plus the surveyor clearly understood the issue better then the general builders. The re-routing was going to be gamble for the toilet waste as I was going from an internal route to an external one.  So the new pipe would run inside the house across the kitchen ceiling, core drill through the wall, and down into the sewer on the other side.  The boys did something else.  Instead they re-routed the pipe to go across the extension roof and then down.  Now this I wanted to avoid as the gradient is not 80:1.  I did not know they were doing this until I saw it towards the end of the day.  The other issue was that they had to open up a box on the extension roof that hid the present pipework to take it out.  I again had no idea they would have to open this up.  They had to in order to get the legacy pipework out and I had no warning this was coming.  Great!   I had to get my roofing contractor out as I had an EPDM roof and the box was covered in the rubber material.  Thankfully he was able to come out at a day’s notice and work on the box with Sutton at the same time.  Very stressful as I had no guarantee of getting the roofer out and Sutton had already started ripping into the house so it was part done.  Anyway, they sorted the new roof box, and got the piping in and working.  No pipe blocks from the new work!

Sutton installed new boxing in the kitchen where they had to break open the ceiling to get to the old pipework.  So this meant having to get a plasterer out to plaster the new box in and paint.  No big deal but had to get 3 quotes which varied massively.  

Last step now and the most nerve wracking was the drain lining.  So first step was to get approval from developer services at Thames water.  Now keep it short and sweet with this lot.  Send them a mail describing what you need to do in minimal terms.  You will have to ring up and chase approval.  In my case they were okay to approve.  A few of the decent drain specialists advised Thames can be really difficult about this but they were okay in my case.  Got the approval mail and ready to send to lining contractor.  I got the lining firm out and they did a survey before touching anything.  You can have a patch or lining.  In my case it was lining given the size.  These guys from UKDN were pros and work with Lanes part of Thames group.  I explained the issue to the two chaps working on it and they got the picture.  Within 2 mins of putting their cam down they could see the issue faster than any of the others.  A redundant gutter pipe feed just near the mouth of the manhole and of course the old toilet waste exit.  I spoke to them for a while afterwards and they said it is a very common issue with extensions.  Builders are supposed to feel old pipe exits with glass and cement to stop rats.  They rarely do! This was true as I had read many similar horror stories on the net from people having these extensions been built over the sewers.

LESSON LEARNT.  ALWAYS HAVE A DRAIN SURVEY WHEN YOU BUY A HOUSE!  IT MIGHT SAVE YOU HAVING TO DEAL WITH THE 63 RATS I KILLED IN 3 YEARS.

So now you have read the long story.  Here is the short version of steps to go through:

  1. Buy foscam indoor cameras and attach to under your floor board.  Do not leave on floor where rats walk.  They will eat the cam or the power lead to the cam.  
  2. Buy lots of rat traps. Coat the things in peanut butter.  Buy the pest control bait.  The grain is total rubbish.  
  3. Contact the water board and report the issue.  Fight to the point where you’re getting threatening with the engineer in order to get them to do a visual on all of your neighbours manholes that share your sewer.  If there are no issue in the neighbour’s garden demand they do a CCTV survey.  Be prepared they will deny everything.
  4. Get your own CCTV scan of the sewer you are using and get evidence.  Thames will not believe your own footage, as I found.
  5. Make plans to re-route any pipes using the shared sewer to another location in front of the open pipework.  If you are mid-terraced you are basically screwed.  You have to side wall to reroute anything.  End of terrace, no problem.
  6. Write to developer services and get permission to install a drain liner and rat flap.
  7. Buy a vermead rat flap.
  8. Contact drain lining firm to install the liner.

List of contractors I recommend in London to help:

UKDN – Did my Drain lining

Drain scan in Morden.  Robert provides amazing advice.

Sutton Water – Pipe work. Did my new toilet waste.

TSS roofing – for any roofing needs.

M&M decorating Morden.  Chap called Marcin.

UPDATE: 21/11/16

Adding an update on other avenues on trying to hunt down paths that runs can use to enter a home.

  1. Checking drains from inside to the outside of the home.  Your own private drains could be a problem leading to infestation. One method to check this would be to use a waterproof camera with a cable run of say 30m or more.  These can be slid down the toilet/sink/basin waste pipes to eventually see the camera head come out into the sewer.  This website http://www.scanprobe.com/hire-drain-cameras.html has a number of options but I think the one that is in a case with an 8″ screen would do the job.
  2. Drain lining example.  Not everyone may understand how these are done so including an example here.  Renoline seems fairly common in the UK but drain lining is done internationally and there are hundreds of youtube examples.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BLTrkJDx58 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K80FmLHnPEk
  3. Air brick covers.  Rats and mice can chew there way through an air brick.  Example of products here help to defend against this.  http://www.pestfix.co.uk/Mouse-Mesh-Air-Brick-Covers.asp?gclid=Cj0KEQiA08rBBRDUn4qproqwzYMBEiQAqpzns9L2k7UjJW341cCJAk4Kd9z-FRM1I5KC9ADbp-zS9_MaAlNY8P8HAQ