Many homeowners wonder if they need pest control as the winter approaches, and rightfully so. As colder temperatures arrive, many rodents and insects seek shelter in the warmth of your home.
That doesn’t mean you have to spray every nook and cranny, or even try and eradicate every single bug. Living with a certain number of “pests” is natural to a degree, until things get out of hand.
Certain pests can cause health problems like allergies, respiratory issues, and even depression. Always contact your local health department if you are having any of these issues.
Prevention is your best bet. Here’s how to spot the warning signs, and be proactive about winter pest control.
Seal Up Entry Points
To help prevent common pests, it’s important that you keep your home as sealed as possible. Fall is a great time to check around the home and do any repairs that will help keep pests out. Repair screens on windows and doors, and use exterior grade caulking to fill any gaps around them.
Use this caulking to fill any holes you may find elsewhere, or get a can of spray foam and seal up any entry points from the inside, if you have access. This can be a great option for unfinished basements, attics, and garage spaces, which is where many common pests like to hang out.
Check your roof, and repair eaves, soffits, and fascia that may be loose or broken, as well as broken shingles or vents. Seal up areas underneath the home like decks and sunrooms with lattice, chicken wire, or wire mesh.
Proper Containers and Waste Removal
Safely storing items is another very important tactic to keep unwanted animals and insects out of your home and other structures. All pantry food items should be stored properly and put in containers with tight lids.
In the attic or garage, put any loose items in good quality storage containers that animals won’t be able to get into, or make bedding out of.
Proper storage and removal of garbage are also very important. Compost biodegradable food items and participate in weekly removal programs to keep any enticing smells from rotting in garbage bags. Recycling can also help keep waste down so that only non-food items and containers are put in the trash.
If you keep any of these bins outside, build or purchase a small shed with secure doors to keep animals out.
Practice Good Home Hygiene
A clean house won’t have problems with pests as much as a home that doesn’t practice good hygiene. Insects prefer humid, damp conditions, especially ones with food residue and crumbs to feast on. Use dehumidifiers in basement areas, and turn on bathroom and kitchen fans when using them.
Regularly wiping surfaces with disinfectant and cleaning floors will help keep unwanted insects from coming inside. Also be sure to wash and rinse dishes, keep pet food bowls clean, and remove dust regularly.
Most bugs don’t like citrus smells or strong herbal scents, so you can add essential oils to your cleaning liquids for extra protection.
Keep Your Attic Bare
Although it’s tempting to use the attic as a big old storage space, don't load up the space with boxes of stuff. Attics should have good airflow and circulation, and if there are piles of things all over, it becomes a breeding ground for bugs and rodents, as well as dust and debris.
If you do need to store anything, ditch the cardboard boxes as they are flimsy, and squirrels and mice can easily chew through them. Instead, invest in good quality plastic storage containers with lids that secure tightly.
Attics are commonly used to store holiday décor, which makes sense because of its seasonal nature. If you do store these items in the attic, check for any bugs, and clean them well before putting them back up there.
In the fall, animals may start to build nests in areas of your garden as temperatures drop. Prevent them from doing this with a thorough fall garden clean-up. Tall grass and brush should be kept short, unless you are providing winter shelter for birds and beneficial insects with pollinator gardens.
In this case, strike a good balance between providing shelter for harmless winter fauna, and keeping the space neat and tidy.
If you have wood piles, keep them away from the house and other structures, where possible. Spray outdoor plants that you plan to overwinter with insecticidal soap, and quarantine them before coming inside.
You don’t need to treat things like yard waste and leaves like biohazard, but keeping your outdoor space organized and free of clutter can help keep pests at bay.
Types of Pests
Squirrels are notorious for setting up shop during the winter months. They love to snuggle up over the winter in old newspaper, cardboard, or exposed insulation, sometimes even using it to have their babies. Remove these cozy mediums before winter is even close.
If you don’t have a problem with squirrels, continue to be preventative and get rid of anything that might look like a cozy spot to wait out the cold. Finish exposed walls, and use plastic storage containers. Then, seal up any entry points to the space so that they can’t return, or get in in the first place.
Just note, if they had already created a nesting spot, and were kicked out, they will look for other spaces that are nearby. Continue to seal up entry points to your home, and any unfinished space like an attic, basement, or garage so that they don’t move from one abode to another.
If you don’t already have signs of squirrels, you still want to be proactive. Walk around the perimeter of your property, including the home as well as any other outside dwellings. If you see an area where animals could get in, you’ll want to secure it immediately. It only takes one to cause major damage and let the others know.
Mice and Rats
Mice and rats will also look to your home and outdoor spaces as a refuge in the winter months, and once again, prevention is key. Mice and rats are very good at squeezing their bodies into very small spaces—mice can get through dime-sized hole, whereas rats are a little bigger and need a quarter-sized entry point.
This makes keeping them out very difficult. While you can go around with a caulking gun, and try and eliminate even the smallest of gaps, what you want to focus on is not luring them in the first place.
Mice and rats love clutter, and will gladly infiltrate newspaper heaps, cardboard boxes, and other piles. Keep outdoor spaces free of food sources and bedding, making sure to clean up any messes, secure garbage areas, and regularly inspect wood piles.
If you know mice are getting in, don’t bother to waste your money on certain DIY pest control options. Ultrasonic devices that allegedly repel rodents like mice and rats have not been proven to work, and even if they do, it’s usually only for a short time.
If you see one or two, humane mouse traps can effectively allow you to trap and release, just make sure you drive them far enough away, preferably into the countryside. For larger infestations, better to invest in proper extermination by a professional, or get a cat. Often just their presence keeps them away.
Bats are very much a winter problem, even though they, too, go into hibernation from October until the spring. Before they sleep away the cold months, they need to find a warm, cozy, safe place to shelter. Attics tend to be their preferred hideout, especially ones that aren’t in use.
They aren't a nuisance while they are dormant, but they cause more of a ruckus once they wake up. This is towards the spring months, but can happen on a particularly warm winter day, as well. They often awake confused and fly around recklessly.
Just like with other rodents, having a roof in good condition will help deter them, but you also need to check chimneys and vents as they can easily fly through them. If you already have bats, fall and spring are the best times to remove them.
This so-called pest is not always worthy of complete eradication, as spiders can do more for you than you think. They are excellent at seeking out and eating other pests like roaches, ants, flies, gnats, and beetles. If you can live with seeing a few in the corner every now and then, your home will actually benefit from year-round insect pest control for free.
If there is an infestation, especially of a poisonous species, then it’s time to take charge. While the majority of Americans will never run into a poisonous spider, you don’t want to take any chances. The Brown Recluse is notoriously shy, and non-aggressive, but if they are threatened, their bite can cause tissue damage.
While it shouldn’t alarm you, there have been reports of these kinds of spiders hiding in large numbers underneath homes or in attic spaces where homeowners are none the wiser because of their “keep to myself” attitude.
Know how to identify poisonous species, and f you notice even one of them inside your house, call a pest control company. Don’t try to eradicate them yourself, as most sprays you get at the hardware store are only good at single contact, and don’t get at the root of the problem.
A professional company will safely check for any large infestations for you, and get rid of any problems before things get out of hand and the winter sets in.
These dreaded six-legged creatures are a homeowner’s worst nightmare. As the saying goes, if you see one, there are already thousands. Don’t fret too much if you do happen to get an infestation, but call an exterminator right away.
Most companies don’t spray anymore but use a caulking gun to apply a small amount of poisonous bait around problematic areas like kitchen cupboards, around drains, or any spot that has an entry point.
In the winter, cockroaches will find their way into a warm house so that they can stay active all season. They aren’t tolerant of extreme heat or cold, and will actually go into a kind of hibernation if they can’t seek warmth. That’s why you may notice more activity in the winter.
Cockroaches prefer homes where conditions are unsanitary. Keep your kitchen and bathrooms free of food crumbs, spills, grease, and dampness, and wash your surfaces and floors thoroughly.
After summer ends, do some “fall cleaning,” which will keep these creepy-crawlies out. Store food properly in sealed containers to make your home a less inviting space for cockroaches or other invading pests.
If you haven’t seen a cockroach, then there’s no need to do annual control, unless you have reason to think your home may be a target. Large infestations may require a secondary treatment, but keeping your home clean and following the pest company’s instructions should get rid of them quickly.
The majority of insects that bug us during the summer months go into hibernation when the cold weather hits. This is called “diapause” and puts the insects into a state of low-energy. Then, when spring comes, they emerge again.
This doesn’t happen with bed bugs since they live indoors only, so while it’s not a specific winter concern, know that you need to check for them at all seasons, and call an exterminator right away at first signs.
House flies will enter your home through improperly screened or sealed windows and doors before the winter comes. Ladybug infestations are rare, but they can happen, as well, and are hard to get rid of. Prevent either of them from entering your home by repairing torn screens, and sealing around windows and doors.
Certain beetles can also cause harm in your home, but most of them are harmless. There are a ton of varieties, so don’t panic if you see one. Try and identify it, and if it’s harmless, merely escort it back outside.
Ants are usually more of a problem when spring comes around, and fleas are more active in warmer weather, as well.
Preventative Pest Control
Do you need to hire professionals to do preventative pest control even if you don’t have pests? In most cases, no. However, you know your property best, and what potential pest threats there may be in the area.
For example, if you know that carpenter ants or termites have destroyed other homes in the area, then it may be a good idea to do some preventative pest control, or at least have your home inspected.
If you are prone to doing annual pest control as a precaution, professionals recommend doing so in the very early spring. This is when numbers are at their lowest, and just before an increase in warmer temperature brings an abundance of new activity.
In winter, pests aren’t likely to multiply, but they will seek shelter if they can’t find any. If you don’t have any particular pest concerns, then practicing good home hygiene is your best kind of winter pest control, and will be the cheapest, too.