How to keep creatures and critters out of your home as it gets colder

A pest control expert on evicting unwanted guests.

A pest control expert on evicting unwanted guests.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

While the end of the summer brings some much-needed relief from wasps and mosquitos, the chill in the air might be causing a few more critters and creatures to knock at your door. And while we all wish we were as calm and friendly as the Racoon Whisperer, a lot of infestations can be irritating, terrifying and potentially damaging to our homes and health. So to keep your closets clean of furry friends this fall, we checked in with Brett MacKillop of Abell Pest Control to learn how to keep unwanted visitors at bay.

Stay proactive

"With most pests it pays to be proactive", says MacKillop, "Exclusion, early detection, identification and an action plan are all part of a control strategy." Most pests are opportunistic and are ultimately seeking food, shelter and mates to reproduce. "If you can remove one of those factors," MacKillop says, "you will eliminate the pest problem." Though it might be tempting to go all-in immediately upon discovering a pest, MacKillop believes chemical control should be the absolute last resort. MacKillop suggests: "The first step to take when you suspect you have a pest problem is to positively identify the pest. Once you know what you are dealing with and you understand the biology of the pest you can plan an effective control program."

Insects

Though the winter typically brings the death of insects, there are still plenty of common species that could give you an autumnal run for your money, especially if your property has trees. Centipedes and millipedes often dwell in trees and gardens and similarly seek out damp parts of your home, like basements and bathrooms. Although unsightly to some, they are ultimately harmless and even beneficial, by eating a host of other insects. Boxelder bugs commonly spend summer in boxelder trees (though they can live in others), in colonies of thousands, but can be known to seek winter warmth in walls. Carpenter ants similarly live in large colonies and spotting one in your home come winter is a probable sign that they've nested inside. Conversely, September begins the spider mating season so, if you spot one in your home, they are more likely looking for a mate than seeking warmth.

A centipede, boxelder bugs and a carpenter ant (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

For minor pest problems such as these, there are two simple steps for control and prevention. First, laying sticky traps (especially in darker, hidden areas, so long as they're away from the reach of children and pets) is a great way to deal with small numbers of insects, but also to be able to identify exactly what insects you're dealing with. Secondly, checking for cracks in and around the foundation of your home to detect any possible points of entry - even the tiniest space could be letting a pest in. It's best to fill these cracks with epoxy, which not only helps keep critters out but also helps keep more heat inside your home.

A wolf spider and a bed bug (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Two insect infestations that require more urgent attention are bed bugs and ticks. While bed bugs have had a startling resurgence, they are near impossible to eliminate on your own, so it's best to call a professional exterminator who may have to use detector dogs, heat, steaming, vacuums and chemical control. Ticks are more present in warmer weather, but the risk of Lyme disease is enough to take precautions. Because they're primarily outdoors, they are harder to control, so always guard yourself with protective clothing and insect repellent.

A wood tick (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Rodents

As the lounging squirrel in your yard will tell you, rodents can be a bit more adaptive and used to being around people, thus a little trickier to deal with, so MacKillop recommends the following steps:

  • Seal openings inside & outside: Cracks are not just for bugs, as mice, rats and squirrels are known to squeeze through the tiniest of openings. Doing yearly checks and repairs around the home as well as closing other possible points of entry (pet doors, chimney, windows without screens) can provide a great defense. Cracks and openings on your home's exterior, like on gutters and pipes, should also be examined and sealed, with hard-to-chew-through materials.
     
  • Ditch the "guard cat": It may seem like a good idea to have your pet as your first line of defense, but you're actually leaving them open to both injury and disease. Not only is it generally ineffective, but having your pet hunt for pests outdoors puts them at a higher risk of carrying ticks and bacteria into your home, potentially making the problem even worse.
     
  • Keep it clean: Inside and outside your home, clutter, food and dirt are just pest invitations. Store food neatly and tightly, being mindful of crumbs and open leftovers in your kitchen and in your garbage. Outside, leaving old leaves, stumps and overgrowths on your property gives rodents the perfect places to nest and hide, so limiting them will reduce your yards habitable appeal.
     
  • Stay on your toes: There are a variety of small signs - droppings, noises, moved or chewed items - that are easy to deny until you explicitly see the pest, but by that time, the problem could have gotten much bigger. It's important not to ignore or hesitate and, instead, reach out to pest control sooner rather than later. Pests are rarely patient, so staying vigilant will help you literally get the hop on these critters.