Don’t you just love escaping the icy cold of winter and getting cozy in your house? Surprise! So do rodents and other pests. While you might think summer would be peak pest season, it turns out that creepy, crawly creatures seek shelter from the elements in winter, just like us.
According to the National Pest Management Association, mice and rats invade about 21 million homes each winter, and they can squeeze in an opening the size of—get this—a dime. And that’s not even considering numerous other skittering friends such as termites, ants, and spiders.
But there are measures you can take to prevent your home from becoming the pests’ party pad. We’ve rounded up some helpful room-by-room advice to help you keep rodents and other pests out this winter.
As you might imagine, the kitchen is typically the room singled out by pest control professionals as having the highest risk of a pest problem, says Nancy Troyano, entomologist for the family of pest control brands that include Ehrlich, Western Exterminator, and Presto-X.
Here are some common-sense steps to take to hinder insects or rodents from invading:
- Store food in airtight containers.
- Check the expiration dates of cereal and other dried food items, and discard expired items to prevent infestations.
- Keep your counters and floors clean and crumb-free.
- Regularly empty garbage cans.
- Deep-clean underneath appliances to remove dust and crumbs that may have fallen.
- Check for leaky sinks to deter pests seeking moisture.
- Inspect boxes, bags, and other grocery carriers thoroughly for signs of pests before bringing them in.
Finally, Cynthia Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, reminds you not to overlook pet bowls. Rather than leave pet food sitting out all day, remove and clean bowls after mealtime and wipe up any spilled food or water around them.
Attics are a favorite room of rodents, and it’s easy to see why: They are dark, secluded, and dry, with plenty of places to nest. To help keep them out, check the condition of your roof tiles and attic vents and replace any that are damaged or missing, recommends Troyano.
Don’t forget to check again once or twice in the winter, especially if your area has experienced strong winds.
To make the attic environment as unwelcoming to rodents as possible, ditch the cardboard boxes and store your keepsakes in sealed plastic bins—they’re more difficult for rodents to chew through, Mannes says.
Rodents love the garage almost as much as the attic. In fact, Mannes says, one of their preferred hideouts is under a car hood, where it’s nice and warm. As you might imagine, vehicles can also serve as a source of food that’s left behind: french fries, crackers, etc. They’re not picky!
What’s even more disconcerting is the abundance of wiring available for their gnawing pleasure. Mannes says rodents spend nearly 3% of their time each day just gnawing on objects like wires.
Frequently check under the hood of your car(s) for gnawed materials, frayed wires, nests, and droppings, which will alert you to an unwanted visitor. (Yes, they can live in there even when you are driving.)
Keep all items on shelves, rather than directly on the ground. Transfer food items like pet kibble or warehouse club vats of snacks to plastic containers. Check around doors for gaps and seal any opening that is larger than a quarter of an inch, Troyano says.
To keep birds, bats, and squirrels from making homes in your chimney flue, install a suitably sized chimney cap that sits right on top of your chimney, says Troyano. Expect to pay about $350, including installation. And store your firewood at least 20 feet from the foundation of the home.
“Rodents often make their nests in wood piles and easily gain inside access if the stack is too close to the house,” cautions Mannes.
Foundation and walls
Crack repair is key: Identify and repair any openings in the foundation, as well as around utility pipe entryways. Keep an eye out for a damaged dryer vent hose as well as other vents.
When sealing up cracks and holes in the home’s foundation, it’s vital to choose the right materials to fill these entry points.
“We suggest homeowners use a silicone-based caulk for smaller openings and fine-grade steel wool for larger gaps, as the rough fiber found in steel wool is a deterrent for rodents,” Mannes says.
The great outdoors
Bird feeders don’t just ensure a steady food supply to birds in the cold weather. Mice are also attracted to bird food, including seeds and discarded hulls, Troyano says. Make sure you regularly clean up seeds and debris surrounding bird feeders.
Also secure trash cans with tight-fitting lids, and stop leaks around pipes and drains to help deter cockroaches, ants, and other insects that are attracted to moisture.
Yes, your winter to-do list just got longer, but ensuring rodents and critters will keep their creepy paws off your precious house is well worth it.
Cathie Ericson is a journalist who writes about real estate, finance, and health. She lives in Portland, OR. Follow @CathieEricson