How to Rid Your Home of Honeybees Without Killing Them

It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm April afternoon in my Georgia backyard when I noticed a swarm of insects next to my house. After sending videos to several experts, we confirmed what we suspected — honeybees were on our property. Even worse, however, they were making their way through the cracks in the house’s stonework, crawling through the air vent and ending up in the basement.

Now I have no problem with pollinators on my property, but inside my house is a whole different ball of beeswax. “Not to worry,” I told my husband, “I’ve heard that beekeepers will just take them away, free of charge.” I was only half-right because once honeybees involve a structure in their relocation plans, it becomes a much bigger issue. More on that in a minute.

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Why Bees Swarm Your House

So, what’s a worried person to do when honeybees show up? First of all, don’t panic. “When honeybees are swarming, they’re at their most gentle,” says Julia Mahood, Georgia master craftsman beekeeper and board member with the Pollinator Stewardship Council. This is because honeybees swarm only when they’re searching for a new home, so they’re not defending an existing nest. It also helps that they gorge on honey before making this trek, so they don’t feel like fighting, she says. People who are nervous or allergic should still take precautions before getting too close, but most of us will be just fine walking around among them.

When you see honeybees swarming it’s actually just a fraction of the original hive’s population. These bees are known as scout bees. These little buggers are sent out specifically to find a new home. “There’s a healthy colony somewhere and they have a biological need to reproduce,” Mahood says. “The bees leave the nest with the old queen and look for a new place.”

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What honeybees are looking for is, ideally, a hollow tree, but in the absence of that, they often turn to structures, like houses. Too often, they set up shop in a cavity that’s about 40 liters (1.4 cubic feet or 0.4 cubic meters) in size, so the space between a home’s outer wall and the drywall is just perfect (in the eaves or inside of a column are other common spots).

If the scout bees find a suitable location they’ll head back outside and “do a little dance” to communicate their findings to the others, Mahood says. Or, in the case of our swarm, they get stuck inside and die. Then, the rest of the honeybees will figure out that there’s no hospitable environment to be found and they’ll head elsewhere.

Fortunately, that’s what happened for us, although it was a nail-biter of a situation for a few days and I did lament the loss of bee life. Once the bees left, my husband sealed up all of the cracks he could find to hopefully prevent future invasions.

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What to Do if the Swarm Inhabits Your Home

If the swarm does wind up inhabiting a structure, a lot of things happen very quickly. “They will draw a comb, lay eggs, they will start collecting nectar. You could have 50,000 bees and 200 pounds [91 kilograms] of honey in the wall,” says Jimmy Gatt, president of the Metro Atlanta Beekeeper’s Association. Such a situation is much more difficult than collecting a swarm, he says.

This is because a lot of places, like Georgia, require companies to be licensed and insured in beehive removal from a structure. “There’s good reason for this because that company doing that extraction is going to have to cut into your house, remove every bit of that comb and they’re going to have to seal up the space where the bees were getting in so they can guarantee that it won’t happen again,” Gatt explains.

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In our research, these removal companies charge in the neighborhood of around $1,000 for the service. This is a tough pill to swallow, but “it’s not easy money,” Mahood says, noting that bee removal services must have a construction background to take out the hive, which requires them to remove and replace the drywall. They also have to know how to avoid doing any other damage, like cutting wires or water lines. Hives are also often in tough-to-access places, which puts workers on steep ladders doing difficult work. In Georgia, regular beekeepers are not allowed to remove honeybees from a structure, thanks to a 2021 law which levies a $10,000 fine for people performing this service without a special license. Some other states have similar laws.

Some homeowners actually choose to let the hive stay in the structure as long as they’re not encroaching on the living area. “Personally, I wouldn’t do that,” Gatt says, “but technically the hive could function in the space just fine for many years.”

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Why Spraying Bees Is a No-No

Here’s one thing you should definitely not do: Spray poison into the cavity to kill the bees. “Once the bees are dead the honeycomb will degrade and the honey will fall to whatever is underneath it,” he says. “It will attract anything that wants to eat that honey,” like ants and rodents. Beyond that, the buildup of organic matter will quickly do a lot of damage to the home, even seeping through the drywall. “This becomes an immensely pricy cleanup job,” Gatt says. Mahood likens it to a medium-sized dead dog rotting inside the walls.

The other problem with not having the hive fully removed is that other bees will probably smell that friends once lived there. “So, if you don’t have it removed and sealed they could come in,” Mahood says.

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But how do you know if the hive-building process has already begun? That’s easy enough to determine by observing the honeybees coming in and out of your property. “If they have set up home they’ll have pollen on their legs,” Mahood says. So, clumps of yellowy-orange “pollen baskets” are a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with an established nest, not a bunch of scouts.

Honeybees are nature’s pollinators. “Over the years commercial agriculture has used tons and tons of broad-spectrum pesticides to kill insects that would damage crops,” says Gatt. “But that had the very unfortunate side effect of killing other insects as well. Because of this, there are no longer enough native bees to pollinate crops.” He notes that many agricultural farms have to rent beehives from beekeepers because there aren’t enough bees in the wild. “Foods that we love to eat, the apples, the peaches, the plums, blackberries … these are insect-pollinated and they are completely dependent on honeybee pollination.”

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What to Do If the Swarm Is Somewhere Else on Your Property

Now for the good news. The process is different (and much easier) if the swarm is elsewhere on your property or has fully settled on something like a swingset, car or in a tree. Chances are it’ll move on its own in a few days, but if you’re not comfortable with that, many beekeepers will happily come out and collect the swarm for you at no cost.

“Any good beekeeper is going to want to catch a swarm. It’s one of the most exhilarating things in the world for a beekeeper,” Gatt says. It’s pretty easy these days to find a licensed beekeeper in the area. Just do a simple web search for a beekeepers’ association in your area. Many of them, like the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, operate a “swarm line” or offer other contact information to report a swarm and request assistance. Again, as long as a home or commercial structure isn’t involved, they’re probably going to be overjoyed at the prospect, as those same bees would cost the keeper hundreds of dollars to purchase.

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Are There Any Home Remedies for Getting Rid of Bees?

You may see online advice about spraying peppermint oil or sprinkling cinnamon to drive bees away. Gatt and Mahood both say they don’t work. My husband did try the peppermint oil trick and it seemed to keep the bees away, but both said that it was far more likely that the scout bees just left on their own and that the peppermint oil had nothing to do with it

Mahood advises that honeybees don’t like water, so it’s possible that someone wielding a hose (or a well-placed sprinkler) could deter the honeybees from pursuing a property. Of course, this is only an option outside of a home.

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Spring is swarm season, so honeybees are most likely to show up en masse in March, April or May, Gatt says. Summer swarms also happen, but they’re usually much smaller and less frequent.

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