Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | October 19, 2011

When the Great Outdoors Moves Indoors

TV celebrity Mike Holmes has many helpful suggestions on how to protect your home against the unforseen and with the onslaught of cooler weather, all sorts of critters are going to start looking for warmer quarters.

Ants, spiders, termites, raccoons, bats,  and squirrels —they’re all part of nature and I love them all, but they can be real pests when they decide to move in.

If you have wildlife in your home, you need to get it out. And fix whatever problems it’s caused before it does some real damage.

The presence of ants in your home—particularly the otherwise harmless carpenter ant—almost always indicates the presence of rotten wood.

Carpenter ants are among the largest ants, from 1/4- to 3/8-inch long, and are usually black, but can have some reddish or yellowish coloration. They live both outdoors and indoors and can nest almost anywhere in and around your house including in lawns, walls and stumps, in moist, decaying or hollow wood.

They can get into your home through even the tiniest cracks. They’ll follow a trail of food or even drips from a popsicle into your house and then leave an invisible chemical trail known as pheromones for others to follow. An average sized colony can contain up to 500,000 of them. Worse, worker ants can live for seven years and the queen may live as long as 15 years.

While carpenter ants do not eat wood, they do cut “galleries” into the wood grain to make passageways and nests, leaving sawdust behind. If you’ve noticed sawdust and ants, find their colony and repair the damaged and rotten wood before it leads to further damage. Then call your contractor to block access routes and properly seal the house. 

Spiders themselves shouldn’t concern you. It’s what attracts them to your house that you need to worry about.

Spiders, mealy bugs and silverfish are attracted to moisture and if they’re in your house, you should take them as a warning sign that you have moisture where it shouldn’t be, like under a basement subfloor or on foundation walls.

Moisture is a magnet for these types of bugs so to get rid of them; you need to deal with what’s causing excess moisture. Consumer sprays and poisons may reduce the infestation, but it won’t eliminate the problem and the bugs will come back.

An experienced building contractor will know how to find the leak and how to best repair it.

Termites are another issue entirely, since their presence is an omen of serious damage in your home. Unlike carpenter ants, termites eat wood for food, not just to nest in. They require moisture from soil and soft rotten wood and can tunnel hundreds of feet to find new sources of food, like the wood in your house. 

They feed on cellulose-based material, including wood, books, boxes, furniture and drywall. Termite colonies work 24 hours a day, and infestations can go undiscovered until serious damage is done. 

Because they feed hidden from view, there are few signs of their presence. The obvious clues are discarded wings, wood that sounds hollow when tapped, cracked or bubbling paint and termite droppings that look like sawdust (frass). Swarmers resemble flying ants, which have bent antennae, larger forewings and a thin waist. Termites on the other hand have straight antennae and the same-sized wings. 

Your best bet is to call a professional pest inspector/contractor. Finding the location and extent of termites in the house is something of an art. Inspectors use a combination of probing, tapping, listening, and looking. Some may use fiber optic scopes that can peer inside a wall.

After finding an insect infestation, a good inspector will recommend one or more options for eradicating the bugs, and discuss the pros and cons of each with you.

Raccoons can be a huge problem in the city where they have a steady source of food from green bins and garbage cans and a host of attics, chimneys and crawlspaces to build their dens.

Raccoons can get through any space that’s large enough to fit their heads. Most will look for weaknesses in your roof’s structure—rotting overhangs, curled shingles, small gaps where two roofs meet, but some will go so far as to rip the shingles right off your roof and dig through your roof board to gain access to the attic—just one of the reasons I like metal roofs. What’s more, if you leave that space open, the same raccoons will come back year after year—and cause more and more damage.

Detecting a raccoon in your home isn’t too difficult. They’re nocturnal animals so you might hear them heading out for supper around 10pm and returning in the early morning. If a female raccoon has a litter in your attic or in a crawlspace you might hear the babies goofing off while she’s out gathering food.

If they’ve gotten in through your roof, you may have water damage in the attic or in your living space or you may be able to see where they’ve pulled aside the shingles on the roof.

Chimneys without caps are also popular hiding places. If you have a raccoon in your chimney, you should be able to hear it. Or you might run into it on a midnight kitchen raid—often raccoons will enter your house through the chimney looking for food.

If you’ve had raccoons, you know the damage they can do. I’ve seen it and believe me—you’ll want them out as soon as possible. They can tunnel through insulation making it ineffective, shred the ductwork, chew on wiring and rip the insulation off pipes, not to mention put holes in your roof.

They’re also a health hazard. Raccoons will use part of your house as a toilet, which is disgusting. They also carry roundworm which–if you store stuff in your attic (something you shouldn’t do, by the way)–can be brought into your living spaces. They also carry ticks, mites, fleas and other unpleasant insects.

If you have a raccoon, call a wildlife expert to trap it and then a professional roofer to seal off the entry point to your home. Also maintain the trees around your property to remove branches that provide easy access to the roof.

While bats can be great neighbours—they can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour—you definitely don’t want them moving in. If they have, then chances are you have weaknesses in your roof structure.

Bats look for small gaps of less than an inch where joined materials have warped or shrunk. In most cases, these occur in the fascia, soffits, where the dormer meets the roof, where pipes or wiring enters the home or through poorly sealed windows and doors. 

The occasional bat that gets into your house isn’t a huge deal—as long as you get it out—but if bats have taken up residence, you have a problem. Once bats get in and get comfortable, they bring bat mites with them along with disease. Moreover, their urine and dung can cause structural problems to your home. If there’s enough of it, it will soak through particle board and drywall, ruin insulation, and drip through ceilings. 

If you have bats, hire a professional to get rid of them as soon as possible. They should do a thorough inspection to identify all the points of entry and, once the bats are out, they should seal and screen these entry points to prevent re-entry. This last bit is critical. Bats will come back if they can so make sure it’s impossible for them to return.

Like raccoons, every fall squirrels come looking for a warm and dry home for winter and to have their babies. You’ll know they’ve chosen your attics if you hear them—they can make a racket day and night, especially once the babies are running around.

Most squirrels get into your home by finding a small hole around the eaves and making it bigger by chewing. Sometimes they fall down a chimney or climb through an open roof vent. Once inside, they bring nesting material into your home which can be a fire hazard—especially when they’re also chewing through wiring.
    
This constant need to chew is the biggest problem with squirrels. They can chew on ducts, plumbing, aluminum, wood, wiring—you name it.

To get rid of squirrels, most professionals will use a one-way exclusion door and seal up the entry points with steel or some other material the squirrels can’t chew through.

 

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