If you're not careful, your home may end up as the hottest winter getaway for local pests
As much as we love the spring, summer, and fall weather, insect and rodent infestations can be a constant battle during these seasons. So when the thermometer plummets and frost covers the lawn, we no longer have to worry about creepy crawlers running across the kitchen floor, right?
Unfortunately, many of the pests we fought off in the warmer months see our homes as a fine place to hunker down for the winter, have an occasional bite to eat, and prepare for the spring season ahead. Here are 10 tips for winterizing your home against unwanted critters and tackling pest control in the winter.
1. Know Your Overwintering Pests
The first vocab word of the day is "overwintering." Overwintering pests seek shelter in homes, sheds, and woodpiles to stay alive in the winter months.
Depending on the rodent or insect, many pests will hibernate in warm, safe places during the cold, either in one of their nascent stages or as adults, according to the Smithsonian Institute. Wasps, for example, love to set up shop in attics and under the eaves of houses to survive the chill. Others love the cold, damp corners of your basement.
While they vary across the country, overwintering pests include:
Mice and rats
Other small rodents
Wasps and hornets
2. Learn the Signs of Winter Pests
Here's another great term to know: integrated pest management. Also known as IPM, this system relies on preventing and identifying pests before having to act on pest control, according to the EPA. When done properly, homeowners can cut down on using pesticides while still keeping infestations at bay.
Many local pest control companies—especially those with year-round plans—use IPM. Knowing the signs on your own is a great first step to implementing IPM in your own home.
In the winter months, look out for:
Insect shells or shedded skin
Bite marks in wires or food containers
Dead or living pest sightings
Nests or webs
Unexplained insect bites
Sounds in your attic or walls
For example, termites may not be as active in the winter months, but an infestation can still do damage. Signs of termites include discarded piles of wings, crumbling wood features, small holes in your walls, or termite excrement.
3. Mind Your Firewood
Beetles, pillbugs, wasps, and carpenter ants like to burrow into large piles of wood in the winter, especially when it's protected from the elements. For this reason, it's important to keep your fireplace woodpile at least 20 feet from your house so that infestations don't bridge the gap between your home and the pile.
Additionally, avoid bringing large piles of firewood into your home at one time. A small number of pests that hitch a ride are unlikely to cause an infestation, but it's best to keep numbers as low as possible.
4. Secure Food In Plastic Containers
One of the top reasons insects come indoors during the winter is the search for food. Many pests, such as pantry pests, can break through paper, cardboard, and even cellophane packaging. Once you get food home from the store, check it for pests—since some can come from the store—and repackage it in thick plastic or metal food containers with sealed lids.
While you're at it, make sure there are no crumbs or sugary residues on the base of your cabinets and pantry as well. Any open food or sweet liquids can bring pests in from the outdoors.
5. Cover Your Garbage
Most pests aren't picky when it comes to their food supply, either. Even if the season of fruit flies is mainly behind you, you should still take extra care to contain access to your garbage. Always use a lid for garbage and recyclables, and keep your bins behind a cabinet or closet door whenever possible.
6. Seal Up Entryways
As you begin to winterize your home from the cold, put pest control on your list as well. Sealing up pest entryways is an important step in IPM. Common entryways include:
Cracks in door and window frames
Cracks in your foundation
Roofs, eaves, and attics
Wall passages around laundry and heating vents
Chimneys and fireplaces
In addition to sealing up your windows and doors, call your local chimney sweep for your regular inspection. Not only will the chimney expert check the structural integrity of your chimney, but they can also double-check for animals that have burrowed in your chimney during the fall.
7. Clean Beyond the Clutter
Pests like spiders, silverfish, and cockroaches prefer hiding out where they can't be found, which is why you're more likely to catch them venturing out at night. You can get rid of their hiding places by regularly cleaning in the backs of closets, under the sink, and behind piles of clutter that often go unmoved. Use this opportunity to cut down on clutter wherever possible while you're at it.
8. Check for Nests
Wasps commonly build nests inside homes in the winter, particularly in attics where they can creep in through cracks in your eaves. If you find a nest, it's best to call a pest control professional to avoid injury when removing it. After, call your local roof inspection team to identify and repair their entryway.
9. Treat the Source
If you do end up with a winter infestation on your hands, get ahead of the problem by avoiding the most common DIY pest control mistakes. For example, avoid spraying the insects directly, and instead, treat the colony with baits. Baits encourage pests to bring the poison back to their nests to stop the source of the infestation before they get wind that you're trying to wipe them out.
10. Schedule a Pest Control Visit
While the cost of DIY pest control ranges from about $10 to $100, it can be difficult to fully wipe out the problem yourself, even in the winter. We don't always find the source of the colony as quickly as a professional, allowing the infestation to grow in the meantime.
More extensive infestations are best handled by an expert, which will cost an average of $200 to $600 depending on the severity of the issue. Some companies include a winter inspection as part of their annual plans, so if you hire a team in the summer, speak with them about a return visit.