As a pest control business owner, I have experienced the trends in pests over seasons and years. The phone rings in the late spring and early summer for carpenter ants. Emails from second homeowners filter in throughout the summer with complaints of yellow jacket nests in the sides of their homes. And in the winter … the phone rings off the hook regarding rodents inside.
These unwelcome winter visitors don’t suddenly appear overnight. They find ways to get inside a home year-round. Chipmunks and squirrels store their seeds, stocking a perfect pantry in your home all summer long. Mice do the same thing; creating nesting material out of insulation, long grass, and even pieces of garbage like yarn or cotton scraps. Ever strap on your ski boots and find them full of nuts or dog food?
When the weather is nice, they forage outside regularly and aren’t noticeable roommates. Yet, as the weather turns, and the outside moisture level changes, so do your fuzzy tenants’ preferences. The mice no longer want to leave. Why would they? Your home is warm, cozy, safe, and packed with food. After hoarding supplies and preparing a fantastic nest, the rodents now have time to explore the rest of their new home. The rain and snow stops everything (dogs, rodents, and people) from wanting to leave the house — the mice get cabin fever also and wander around their new digs.
People come up to their second homes over Thanksgiving or Christmas break, see they have a rodent problem, and believe the snow must have driven the critters inside. But in truth, the critters have been there all along, it’s just that now they have hunkered down for the winter and are staying until the snow melts.
What can be done?
First, find out how they are getting in. The industry is moving in the direction of less pesticide, more practical thought. Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a philosophy I work within, targets using the least toxic solution first. In the case of rodents entering the home, discovering their entry point and sealing it up is the first step. If the rodents cannot enter the home, then they will live outside where they belong.
It’s not hard. Most homes have four solid walls, but often there are gaps around garage doors, at the juncture where the gas line connects to the house, in the frame around crawlspace vents, and even around attic vents. Sealing up these small gaps is fairly easy for a handyman and provides a permanent solution to this temporary problem. If you don’t seal the entry points, the rodents will come back.
How big of a hole should you look for? A mouse needs only a quarter-inch entry hole, about the size of your pinky finger. A squirrel needs half an inch, about the size of your thumb. A chipmunk is somewhere in between — I’ll let you guess the finger. Once a squirrel finds a hole, they chew it to make it bigger and eventually, they can fit pinecones through it.
When I go out on an inspection, I turn off the lights in the house and look around. I look for daylight. Daylight gaps are the usual points where rodents enter the home. If I can’t see daylight gaps around or under doors, I look outside where utility lines enter the home, or where eaves meet the walls. Some contractors around here in the ’80s used window screens in the vent holes in eaves. In my inspections, I’ve seen that birds discovered this plastic mesh was easy-pickins and pecked through it pretty quick. Birds love making their nests high up, to avoid predators. The squirrels follow the birds and set up shop in the roof.
Mice can be trapped fairly easily. Snap traps, glue boards, or poison (as a last resort) are all proven methods of eliminating a mouse population.
Squirrels can be trapped, but it is much more difficult. Snap traps or live trapping work. California does not allow catch-and-release. If a professional is called out, they must kill the animal. It’s the law.
There is no poison approved for residential use on the tree squirrel (Douglas squirrel) or chipmunks in California. Yes, I’m sure … read the labels of the products before using them.
How about chasing them out? A tried-and-true method that I’ve found to be effective is Pine-Sol. It smells, is cheap, and it works. Squirrels under the house? Soak some rags in undiluted Pine-Sol and toss them throughout the underside of the house. Wait a day and seal up the holes. The smell chases them out and the sealing of the hole prevents them from coming back.
Don’t get too excited about this being a simple job. The rodents have nothing but time to find new and unlikely places to enter the home. Chipmunks can climb up bare walls. Yes, they can. So can squirrels. Mice are not the best climbers, but they can make their way up to the second floor of a house pretty easily. Don’t be surprised if there is more than one entry point that needs some work.
As the snow continues to pile up outside, your furry housemates do not plan on leaving anytime soon. They have been planning their “ski-lease” in your home since the summer. When the snow melts away and you can see your lawn again, take a look around. Grab a pencil and see if it fits in any gaps outside. Make a list, call a handyman, and get your home fixed before the next winter. Or get used to non-paying tenants.
~ Steven Roth has 10 years of experience in the pest control industry. He established Panda Pest Management in 2014 and has five licenses in two states for one reason: more knowledge means better service.