15 Tips for Keeping Pests Out of Your Home
Low cost DIY steps you can take to keep your home free of bugs, rodents, bats, and snakes!
My wife recently had a Facebook memory from 3 years ago where she was asking her friends for help finding someone who could locate a dead rodent in our house. After 4 different people failed to find it, I ended up finding it myself in under the flooring in the attic. It was the tiniest mouse, but the smell of its dead body had nearly driven us out of the house. How that one lonely rodent got inside remains a mystery. This was our first infiltration since the particularly bad mouse problem we had one winter when our son was a baby. My wife heard so much noise that she called a wildlife exclusion company because she was convinced there were racoons in the attic. She claimed that it sounded like something was pushing boxes across the attic floor, so you can imagine our surprise at being told that mice were to blame.
After explaining that we needed to prevent the mice from entering the home, our exterminator put out rodent poison in places where it wouldn’t be accessible to children or pets. It wasn’t until we successfully prevented them from entering that we finally solved our problem. We forgot about the poison entirely until years later when our refrigerator broke. I took the old one outside while waiting for the new one to arrive. When I came back inside, my dog looked at me with blue on her face to match the smear of blue on the floor. Luckily our vet’s office is only minutes from our house, and she was fine.
Learn from My Mistakes
My wife’s recent Facebook memory reminded me of some of the other woodland creature invasions we’ve dealt with. When we were young, inexperienced homeowners we had some preventable situations that led to panic and chaos. A chipmunk once entered through the dryer vent when I wasn’t home, and my wife released it from the laundry room after opening all the doors and windows. Somehow, she succeeded in driving the chipmunk out of the house by standing on a stool and steering him with a broom. We were not so lucky later on when she thought the same trick would work with a squirrel that fell into our fireplace. Follow these 15 tips to keep pests out of your home, and you won’t find yourself cleaning up 2 days worth of squirrel excrement from your laundry room after trapping one with a honey bun as bait.
1. Seal Penetrations
Penetrations are the holes where pipes, wires, and vents enter the home. You should fill any gaps in these areas with steel wool or copper mesh, which you should then secure in place either with caulk or expanding foam. Rodents do not like to chew through these mesh products in order to gain entry, but if the mesh is not secured in place they can easily move it out of the way.
2. Repair Damage
Repair any areas of wood that already have damage from rot or pests in order to prevent the holes from becoming larger. If you don’t have the money to repair the damage properly, you can temporarily take care of these areas the same way you would fill penetrations in your siding. If going that route, you should still seal any exposed unpainted wood to prevent further decay.
3. Secure Loose Siding
If you have vinyl siding, secure any loose pieces and replace any sections where siding is missing. These gaps are perfect areas for snakes and bats to enter your house, and neither of those make very pleasant roommates. Bats are particularly difficult to get rid of because they’re federally protected.
4. Repair or Replace Foundation Vents/Screens
The screens on foundation vents are often very flimsy and easily damaged. It’s not uncommon to see screens completely missing on older homes, and once in a while the entire foundation vent is missing. If you have a crawl space, make sure all vents are in place with a sturdy screen covering them. If you are unsure of how to go about doing this yourself, you can hire an exterminator or handyman to take care of it for you.
5. Make Sure Your Chimney Cap is Protected
In order to prevent animals and birds from getting into your chimney, the cap should have wire mesh around the outside. Check it every so often to make sure it hasn’t been compromised.
6. Check Your Dryer Vent
I see so many dampers on dryer vent covers that are stuck open, just waiting for some little critter to come in and build a nest. The simplest solution is to just check the dryer vent cover periodically if it’s in an accessible location. Make sure you can open and close the damper freely. It’s best not to use the type of dryer vent cover that has a cage or screening on the outside because it causes an increase in lint accumulation. This can prevent your dryer from working efficiently, and it can even become a fire hazard.
The images to the left show one vent cover style that I really like. There’s no way for anything to enter through the vent, and I’ve never had any problems with it getting clogged. Plastic versions are available at a lower price, but the plastic becomes very brittle after a few years. Mine broke less than 3 years after it was installed. The one pictured here is currently $79,98 on Amazon, and you can find it here.
7. Secure & Seal Your Crawl Space Door
You wouldn’t think I’d need to say this, but it’s not sufficient to place a concrete block against your crawl space door to hold it in place. You certainly don’t want to see the door lying on the ground. Hinges should attach the door to the house, and it should have a proper latching mechanism. Just like our regular doors and windows, the trim around your crawl space door requires regular maintenance such as caulking and painting. If the trim is soft or damaged, or there are visible gaps, it’s time to make repairs. If you have an ongoing pest issue or your door is warped, it may be worthwhile to look into replacing the crawl space door. Curb Appeal Products sells very nice PVC crawl space doors that are easy to install and even come with weather stripping.
8. Screen Your Gable Vents
Gable vents typically have screens on the inside, but most of us don’t usually venture to the far ends of our attics where we would be able to see the condition of those screens. If these areas aren’t easily accessible at your house, consider having an exterminator or wildlife exclusion professional take a look. Any animal that can climb your siding or reach your roof from a limb has the potential to end up in your attic.
9. Trim Trees & Shrubbery
As I’ve already mentioned, limbs allow animals to access your roof. You don’t want any limbs close enough on any side to allow a squirrel to jump to the roof, and you don’t want any limbs hanging above that will enable animals to drop down to the roof. Once you trim your trees and shrubbery, pests have one less way to get inside.
10. Check for Gaps at Eaves
Use a heavy gauge hardware cloth to fill in any gaps at eaves. Remember, rodents and snakes can squeeze into very small holes!
11. Check Doors & Windows
All of your doors and windows should close tightly enough that you can’t feel a draft or see daylight around the edges. Many exterior doors have an adjustable threshold that will allow you to close any gap at the bottom. If yours does not, there is a variety of different types of seals available for door bottoms. Steel and fiberglass doors will usually have tracks in the bottom to allow you to slide a new door bottom. There are also u-shaped door bottoms, some of which screw on to the door. Another option is a door sweep that attaches to the interior of the door to seal the gap at the bottom. You also should not be able to see daylight around the edges of your doors. Weatherstripping deteriorates over time and must be replaced periodically, and several different types are available.
There are a number of different weatherstripping options available for windows as well. With newer style vinyl windows, you will usually see pile weatherstripping, which has a fuzzy appearance. This type tends to last longer than foam or rubber types that become brittle over time. Older wood windows that are very loose can be nearly impossible to seal properly with weatherstripping. If you have that type of windows and aren’t ready to invest the money for replacements, storm windows might be a good solution. In addition to preventing pests from entering, storm windows will improve your home’s energy efficiency. Most people are familiar with the type of storm windows that attach to the outside of the home, but there are also interior storm windows available from a few different manufacturers.
12. Replace Missing, Torn or Broken Window Screens
It probably isn’t necessary to say, but if you open your windows at all, you should have screens in place. Check the condition of your screens periodically to make sure that none are torn or damaged. Remember that flying creatures aren’t the only ones that can come through an open window! If you have any gaps around your windows, screens provide a little extra protection against insects even when the windows are closed.
13. Make Sure Ductwork Is Sealed
Gaps and holes in ductwork impact more than just our energy bills and comfort levels! In case other exclusion methods fail, you need to make sure they can’t gain easy entry into your home’s ductwork. Technicians making repairs can sometimes fail to adequately tighten connections, or even leave abandoned ducts blowing conditioned air into your unfinished spaces. Pests that enter your ductwork can do a lot of damage, or they can die and be quite difficult to locate. We actually found a squirrel skeleton in the vent under our kitchen sink, and I was disgusted to find out that the air coming through that vent had been passing over that skeleton for years.
14. Check for Interior Gaps
Sometimes the pests find their way in even if you do everything right. Sealing any gaps and holes inside your home can prevent them from entering your living space. It’s common to see gaps where pipes go through the walls and floors, but you should also be aware of any holes in sheetrock. You don’t want insects & rodents finding their way into your home’s finished living space from unfinished spaces such as the attic, crawl space, and between your walls.
15. Don’t Store Wood Piles or Trash Right Beside House
Ideally, it’s best to store firewood at least 30 feet away from your home. If you can’t keep it that far away, aim for a minimum of 5 feet. Stacks of firewood leaning against your home is practically an invitation for termites and carpenter ants, but many other insects will happy make their homes there as well. Keeping your wood off the ground and under cover will reduce the chances of rodents nesting there. Cardboard an trash are even more enticing to insects and rodents, so it’s best to use an enclosed container with a lid and keep it at least 15 feet from the house.