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Toolbox Tip: Winterize

by Josh Vincent — last modified Nov 22, 2010 02:08 PM
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Keeping your home free of insects and rodents this winter.

When winter comes, even the most outdoor-friendly of us tend to want spend more time in our homes and out of the cold. Well guess what? The same goes for a lot of other critters, some of which you may not want to share your living space with. 

Rodents like rats and squirrels are already attracted to places like ducting, attics and basements. But rest assured that when the temperature outside goes down, the chances of these guys getting in goes up. This can also be said for insects including cockroaches, which are able to perceive even small shifts in temperature. Thankfully, there are some very common sense things you can do to protect against unwanted winter guests.

Seal up cracks and crevices. Insects and even rodents can slip through incredibly tight spaces, so sealing off entry points makes a crucial difference. Moreover, this has the additional benefit of making your home more energy efficient and better able to retain heat through the cold months.

  • Check your windows, inside and out, and apply fresh caulking if needed. Keep in mind that conventional caulking mixtures contain harmful chemicals. Thankfully, many home maintenance stores now carry non-toxic or less-toxic water based mixtures and reduced VOC caulking mixtures, so use those if it’s possible.
  • Install weather stripping and/or door sweeps for entry doors, especially if you can detect daylight or drafts around the perimeter of the door. This will prevent bugs and rodents from getting in, and prevent heat from getting out.
  • Seal any cracks in walls, floors and foundations. Again, there are non-toxic and less-toxic materials available for this.
  • Seal gaps around drains, exposed piping and fixtures such as sinks and toilets. Some insects like cockroaches and centipedes are attracted to moisture and will often enter homes through areas like these.

Prepare the perimeter of your house.  This one is simple. You’ll have fewer infestations if it’s harder and less desirable for insects and rodents to come in.

  • Overhanging tree limbs make it easier for insects, squirrels and other rodents to get to your attic, gutters and chimney. Similarly, piles of leaves, lawn clippings or other edible vegetation around the base of your home will attract certain creatures. Trimming trees and hedges and raking material away from your home will make your place less accessible and less attractive to bugs and rodents.
  • If your home has a fireplace, install a screen around the top of the chimney to prevent squirrels, birds, bats and other things from moving in.  Be careful though, if your chimney already has tenants, you definitely don’t want to seal them in.  Give your chimney a good inspection before installing covers or screens. There are also contract services available to do this for you.
  • Stacked firewood makes a great hiding place for bugs, mice and rats, so stack it away from the house rather than alongside the house or in a garage.  Be sure to give logs a good brushing off before bringing them inside to the fireplace.

Be mindful with holiday decorations. Decorations that have been stored for months in cardboard boxes often harbor insects and arachnids. Whatever holidays you observe, if you’re a decorator, keep bugs out of your house by inspecting your decorations before putting them up.

  • Holiday décor that involves real foliage such as wreaths, bouquets, garlands, poinsettias, and especially trees, can often also contain bugs. Inspect plant items carefully before bringing them into your home.
  • Incidentally, it is possible that pesticide residues may be present in commercial and seasonal flower arrangements, pumpkins and farmed Christmas trees. You can lower your own risk of exposure and support better industry practices by purchasing items like these from organic growers in your area.
  • When putting decorations away for the year, consider storing them in containers with tight fitting lids rather than in cardboard boxes. This will better protect them from bugs and make less work for you next season.

Practice good sanitation. Keeping your place clean will attract fewer insects and rodents, naturally reducing issues of infestation.

  • Keep kitchen counters, floors and sinks free of food scraps.
  • Keep food containers, especially pantry items, well sealed.
  • Keep compost piles and items like empty recyclables outside and away from the house.
  • If you don’t compost your food waste, dispose of it in outdoor trash bins rather than indoor trash bins, and store these away from the house as well.