Keep Those Varmints Out of Your House

By Vernon Trollinger, November 8, 2013, News

hausmaus2It’s the 3 am noise that wakes you up and sets your teeth on edge.

It’s that faint “scritch-scritch-scritch” sound coming from somewhere. Then it stops. You’re not even sure you even heard it. Then, it starts again. Where is it? Is it in the attic? Or is that the wall?

Unfortunately, it seems that varmints like mice, rats, bats, birds, opossums, and even raccoons know that the cool fall weather has arrived, and that means it’s time to find a warm place for winter. While you might be a gentle person who happily welcomes house guests and your domestic pets, wildlife follows its own rules when it comes to tearing holes in your walls, gnawing your electrical wires, and soiling your kitchen counters. Varmints also carry morgue-full of contagious diseases in their fur, saliva, urine and feces – including rabies, salmonellosis, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Allergens in dandruff and fur are suspected in triggering asthma attacks in children.

How do you keep them out of your house? Well, since varmints are after only two basic things – shelter and food – you need to deny them both and they will go elsewhere. The home improvement solution really is that simple, but it does require you to be vigilant.

Gimme Shelter!

Let’s look first at denying them shelter. The first thing to do is examine the entire perimeter of your home for possible entry points and then strongly close each one. Look for small gaps around drier vents, at corner joints, basement windows, and door thresholds, as well as at the mudsill and banding joists. Mice, voles, and some snakes can slip through a 1/4 inch wide opening. Also, look where any pipes, wires, or air conditioning coolant lines leave your house. Block these with silicon caulk. Small rodents, especially mice, chew right through normal expanding foam, so use one that includes a pest-blocking additive. For larger holes up to 1 inch wide, fill these with expandable foam first and then cover over with galvanized sheet metal.

Larger pests like raccoons, opossums, and skunks can take up residence under porches or decks. The best preventative is to close off the entire perimeter with mesh hardware cloth. The bottom should be buried about foot below ground surface. Skunks, opossums, groundhogs, and snakes also like living in wood and brush piles or other debris. So, it’s always a good idea to clean these up or at very least keep them far from your home. A burrowing animal, like a groundhog, can help cause water damage to your foundation if its burrow is near enough to your home.

Most rodents are excellent climbers so you shouldn’t limit your inspection to ground level. Examine your windows and trim for holes or gaps. Seal small gaps with silicon caulk and close up larger gaps by either repairing the badly fitting seam or patching it with sheet metal.

One common entry point is the soffiting under the eaves, particularly the intersection between roofs and dormer eaves. Since newer ventilation soffiting tends to be track-mounted aluminum or vinyl, climbing pests, like squirrels and raccoons, can easily push, gnaw or claw their way inside. One way around this is to secure 1/2 inch wire mesh (hardware cloth) onto the eaves over the soffiting.

Blocked rain gutters that routinely over-flow can cause rot in the fascia and soffit boards (see photo)fascia-rot-pest. As the wood softens and crumbles, holes open up, providing access to deluxe accommodation inside your attic. Patch the opening with sheet metal until new fascia and soffit boards can be installed.

Lastly, gable vents at the ends of the roof normally have wire mesh or hardware cloth inside to keep pests out. However, wooden (and some cheaper vinyl) vents can deteriorate over time and the wire mesh can come loose.  Animals can also dig their way in around loose or rotted vent framing and through the sheathing. In this case, you should replace the damage framing and siding.

Be alert for traces of animal droppings, plant material, or even feathers. If you discover a raccoon or opossum has moved into your attic, call your local animal control office. While some localities no longer remove animals from homes, they can refer you to a professional animal removal service who can help you prevent such problems happening again. After the animal is removed, you will need to thoroughly clean the space by removing any insulation that is contaminated by urine or feces.

Some birds and squirrels will attempt to build nests in chimney pipes, fan exhausts, or sewer stack pipe openings. Please note: Never plug these up with anything. Use enclosed vented caps or secure hardware mesh over the opening to discourage critters. All too often, a well-meaning homeowner plugs a vent pipe with steel wool only to discover that they have harmful furnace or water heater exhaust gases backing up into their home.

Beggars Banquet

While you’re denying them shelter, you should also deny them food. For example, one sunny autumn morning a few years ago, I walked onto my front porch to drop some trash into the garbage can. There at the bottom lay an opossum that had managed to tumble inside whilst foraging for the previous evening’s chicken bones. Both of us knew right away that we had made mistakes about the stuff in the garbage.

Throw out kitchen and table scraps in garbage cans with lids that seal and store these in your closed garage until collection day. If you have raccoons or opossums nearby and you don’t have a garage available, then put your garbage in a steel garbage receptacle with a tight closing lid. Do not keep or store pet food outside. Move it inside or if you must store it outside, then store it in a steel garbage can with a tight fitting lid.

If you’re like me and you have a compost pile, be sure that your pile is not very close to your house. Also dig your vegetable fresh scraps into the middle of the pile and re-bury them. Because we have skunks, raccoons, and opossums (not to mention a few coyotes) in our area, we now put meat wrappers, bones, and anything greasy into empty chip or bread bags and close them in a garbage can in our garage.

By implementing these home improvement tips, you’ve made it hard for pests to find shelter or food, which means they’re more likely to leave your home alone – especially when fall and winter weather arrives.

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