How to

17 November 2016

Pre-empting the Rat Race - Pest-Control Tips for Winter

When temperatures plummet in winter, we’re far from the only species to seek refuge from the elements. Every year, countless homes are unceremoniously invaded by rats and other rodents, and even the most animal-loving eco-warrior would have to ultimately agree that this is highly undesirable; rodents often carry nasty diseases such as Salmonella and Hantavirus, while the damage they can cause by chewing through electrical wiring, wallboards and seemingly just about anything else they may find can be both substantial and expensive.

In the US alone, more than $4 billion is spent annually in an effort to stem the flow into the estimated 21 million invaded homes, but not all of us can justify the annual expense of pest-control professionals; apart from anything else, typically by the time you realise that you are in need of pest-control, much of the damage has already been done. A lot of people turn to cats at this point, assuming their predatory instinct will keep the rodent population at bay; this sounds good in theory, but if your pet is anything like my own cat then they’re far more likely to go out, find a rat and bring it home to ‘play with’ (by which I mean torture), so you can’t really rely on your feline friends as a fool-proof solution either.

With all that in mind, there are a few simple, far more cost-effective little tricks you can employ to help keep your home damage- and rodent-free this winter:

1. Avoid the Use of Cardboard Boxes Where Possible

It’s a well-known fact that, for some reason, rats simply love to chew on cardboard. While it is unlikely that they’re actually eating it, the damage they can do to the items stored inside can be substantial once an opening is made, allowing the elements and other small critters a way in. Rats will also often use these boxes as a nest, secure and warm with chewed cardboard bedding; it’s like a luxury hotel for rodents. Using sturdier, sealed containers made of plastic or similar should ensure that you avoid this particular issue.

2. Store Food in Airtight Containers, Ensure Regular Garbage Disposal

The smell of food, both fresh and rotting, is entirely too enticing to a rat for it to ignore once it gets a whiff. Piles of slowly decomposing rubbish stacked outside your home will lure them in faster than the KMW team on free lunch day, providing them with both a meal and a warm spot to huddle up. The same is true of compost heaps. That being said, rodents aren’t as dumb as many people may think; given the choice between the bin and the kitchen, rats will head straight for the kitchen in search of carbohydrates and sugar-rich foods. This means cereals, potatoes, bread, meat and cakes are all on the menu if given the opportunity. To avoid this problem, ensure that rubbish is disposed of regularly, rather than sitting outside, and that where possible food is stored is sealed containers.

3. Install Screens over Chimney Vents, Drain Pipes & Other Openings

This one is fairly obvious, but the best way to avoid a rodent infestation is to deny them access to the building. You can go some way towards achieving this by installing screens over prominent openings; chimneys, drain pipes and vents are the primary targets here. Even so, the little critters will likely find another way in, but we will discuss these other routes in more detail in the next section.

4. Seal Exterior Cracks, Gaps around Pipes etc. Replace Loose Mortar & Weather Strips

See, I told you. So, you’ve got your chimney and various drain and pipes nicely covered, but rats are remarkably successful home-invaders. If their head can fit into a gap, they will get their entire body through, so it’s important to ensure that you seal all those little areas we often neglect. Over time cracks can form in exterior walls, gaps can open around exterior pipes and mortar can even wriggle loose. Use a decent exterior sealer to block these access routes, or that chimney guard will ultimately be rendered pointless. Weather strips on window seals and bristled draft excluders on doors also need replacing as they accumulate wear over time, providing the rodents with another potential way in.

5. Store Firewood Away from the Home, Off the Ground

Large stacks of firewood, stored on the ground around the home, will provide an ideal nest for rodent populations. From there, you will find small numbers start to move towards your home, or you may carry them in yourself when you bring wood in for the fire. That raises another point; rodents nesting in firewood often meet an unfortunate end, being inadvertently thrown into a lit fire to burn alive in horrendous pain. Storing the firewood away from your home should help to reduce the number of living creatures still held within by the time you enter the home, but by storing the wood a few feet off the ground you can stop the vast majority from getting in in the first place. Less pests for you, less death for them; it’s a win-win!

Identifying an Infestation

Even with all the best measures in place, resourceful rodents may still find their way inside. To check if you have an existing infestation, inspect all wires insulation and walls for signs of gnawing. Other tell-tale signs include finding rodent faeces around the home (a major giveaway) or occasional sounds of scurrying.

When it comes time to remove the infestation, please do so humanely. They may be considered pests, but there's no need to make them suffer excessively.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.