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No Pests Allowed

Pests in the home can turn into a major headache for homeowners. Not only are they a nuisance, gnawing rodents and chewing termites can eventually cause real damage to the structure of your home. Unfortunately, when this damage happens, it’s usually not covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

The warmer weather means the insects, rodents and other pests will be out and about, in search of new sources of food and shelter.

However, with preventive maintenance and a little vigilance, you can make your house more difficult to breach and protect your investment.

Is there a mouse in the house?

It's unpleasant to think about, but it can happen to anyone. Mice and other rodents can make their way into your home in search of food, shelter and a place to nest. Even if you think mice were cute in the movies, rodents can be destructive and carry disease. Here are some smart steps to prevent and respond to a rodent invasion.

Rodent prevention

Look at your home and yard from the perspective of a mouse and you will likely see opportunities for them to enter and make themselves at home.

  • Look for holes. When you find them, whether they are inside or outside your property, you’ll want to plug them with steel wool and patch with cement. Remember, almost no opening is too small. Many pest-control specialists say all a mouse needs is a quarter-inch opening.

  • Rethink your food storage practices. We all love buying in bulk, especially when it comes to staples that come in large bags, such as dry pet food. Unfortunately, if you store it in the sack it comes in, you’re pretty much rolling out the welcome mat to mice and rats, who can sniff out an easy food source. Instead, store the chow in a large container with a tight-fitting lid.

  • Clean up your act. Store trash in closed containers with tight lids and get your family members in the habit of cleaning up after themselves when they're finished eating (wipe up spills and sweep crumbs). Every month or so, pull out your kitchen appliances and clean up any spills or morsels that are under and behind the refrigerator or oven.

  • Set out traps. Traps work especially well in the garage, shed, basement, pantry and kitchen. Remember, rodents feel unprotected when they venture out into open spaces, so the best place for a trap is next to walls and enclosed areas where they’re likely to feel safe. Be sure and check these traps regularly.

Dealing with rodents

Here are the classic signs that mice or other rodents have taken residence in your home:

  • small droppings

  • shredded paper or other material that could be used as nesting material

  • signs of gnawing

  • sounds of scratching and scampering, especially inside walls

  • If you have the signs, set up your traps, or make sure existing ones have fresh bait. Check these each morning, and wear rubber gloves during cleanup. If trapping is not successful, it's time to call a professional pest control company.

  • Be safe during cleanup

Once you are sure the rodents are cleared out and you took steps to seal your entrances, it's time to clean up. However, it’s important to protect yourself or you could become ill. For example, rodents are sometimes carriers of a serious respiratory disease called Hantavirus. Humans can catch it from making contact with the urine and feces of infected rodents.

Even if there isn’t a Hantavirus outbreak in your region, rodents are potential carriers of nearly three dozen other diseases, so always take precautions during cleanup to minimize your risk:

  • Cross-ventilate the room for at least 30 minutes before starting cleanup.

  • Spray down infested areas with a bleach and water solution to avoid inhaling the dust.

  • Wear rubber gloves and a mask and use disposable paper towels.

For more tips on safe cleanup in any room, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has plenty of additional information.

Have house ants, not house pants?

Since ants can easily locate and live off even the tiniest food source, the first and best thing to do is to get out of the ant hospitality business. If ants are getting in and swarming around dropped morsels of food, it's time for you and your family to step up the cleaning habits.

  • Store and seal food containers. Put away food and store it in airtight containers, especially pet food. As one researcher put it, an ant has a “high definition” sense of smell, and uses “chemical communication” to keep their operations going.

  • Clean up regularly. Get everyone at home in the habit of wiping spills and sweeping crumbs off tabletops, countertops and floors after every single meal or snack.

  • Clean in every nook and cranny. Every month or so, look through your cupboards to find and clean spills and wipe down jars. Also pull out your kitchen appliances from the wall so you can sweep and mop under and behind them.

  • Take care of trash. Make sure to use well-sealed plastic bags for garbage. As food and other garbage breaks down, the smell can be a powerful ant attractant.

  • Keep an eye on summer produce. In one day, your fresh fruits and veggies can go from ripe to rotting, which will send the ants marching in.

Block ant access

As far as keeping them outdoors where they belong, look for entry points and fix them. Search around the outside of your home for cracks near air vents, windows and doors. It’s a good idea to seal these off for many reasons, but barring the ant entryway is just one of them. Also, patch screen holes and repair gaps in windows and doors.

If you see ants

If you come home to an ant gathering in your kitchen, cleaning up the ants themselves is pretty easy. Once they're cleared away, it's especially important to spray and wipe the entire area of the infestation. Ants leave a trail of chemicals called pheromones that help them find their way home and communicate to their colony mates the location of a feast.

Clean these surfaces along with any discovered ant entryways so you can disrupt this path and keep newcomers from making their way inside.

Then, sprinkle a pet-safe ant repellent around the perimeter of your house, reapplying every few weeks.

Shoo, fly! Shoo!

The best way to control house flies is to understand what attracts them to your house in the first place. In a home setting, they're probably most attracted to kitchen waste (especially sugar and fermenting vegetables) as well as feces.

Pretty gross, right? It doesn’t end there. When a fly lands on your dinner (or your pet’s feast), it can also be dropping off some pathogen it picked up from the garbage or some other source of filth. Meaning you or your pet could get sick.

Bottom line, flies are unsanitary and it's important to take steps to keep them out of your house. 

How to keep flies away

  • Repair points of entry. Check windows and doors, and fix any gaps or screen holes that could grant flies easy entry.

  • Regular clean up. Clean up crumbs, food remnants and spills from counters, floors and tabletops as soon as possible. Make it a practice to limit eating to the kitchen and dining areas. 

  • Take care of the trash. Store kitchen waste and pet waste in a tightly fitted garbage can. Before taking out the trash, keep it packed in tightly closed plastic bags. 

Trapping flies

If you still get unwanted visitors buzzing around, try one of these trapping methods before you call a pest control company.

  • Insect light trap: In addition to flies, these also catch mosquitoes. Since they are drawn to the light, you’ll have to be smart about where you hang it, or you’ll have extra (and unwanted) visitors swarming around you as well as the light. Keep away from windows and doors, and, if using outdoors, hang it in an out-of-the-way place.

  • Fly paper or ribbon: This is paper coated with a sweet and sticky substance that attracts and entraps the flying pests. Once you’ve gathered a few, these can be dropped in the trash. These are available at hardware stores and other retailers, or you can try homemade flypaper. 

  • Bait traps: These are containers that hold an attractant and are designed to make it difficult for flies and other unwanted insects to find an escape route. Disposable traps offer a hands-off method to catch and dispose of flies, without mess or cleanup.  

Keep Termites Out of Sight

In the forest, termites are useful creatures. They enter a dead tree and digest it into humus (rich topsoil).

Every year, termites cause a staggering $5 billion in damage, according to the National Pest Management Association. If left unchecked, termites can eventually destroy an entire home, chewing their way through wood support beams, roofs and flooring. They have also been known to cause electric failure as they tunnel their way through cables in search of food. 

Unfortunately, termite damage is generally not covered by homeowners insurance, and you should contact your agent and review your policy for details.  The reason termite damage is not typically covered is termites do their ‘work’ slowly and over time. The destruction is not sudden, like a storm or fire. Fortunately, with maintenance and attention from the homeowner, termite damage can be stopped or prevented altogether. 

Termite prevention

By following these treatments and preventive tactics, homeowners can reduce the possibility of an infestation in their homes. 

  • Treat the soil around your house. The first and most important step is to use termiticide to  treat the soil around the house. Some choose the DIY route, but professionals can typically get this done in less than a day. Once in place, a treatment will last several years. To treat the soil, a 6-inch trench is dug around the house, right up next to the foundation, into which several gallons of the chemical mix are poured in. Some professionals will also inject the concrete foundation with chemicals. When termites ingest the treated soil, they die. They can also carry the chemical back to their colony, with the potential of eliminating much of the population.   

  • Choose something other than mulch. For foundation plantings near your house, choose rock or pea gravel instead of wood mulch.

  • Maintain proper drainage. Termites are attracted to moisture and by maintaining proper drainage around your house, you’re taking a proactive step in deterring termites.

  • Contract with a pest control company. Look into a warranted spraying contract with a pest control company. For an annual fee, your home is inspected and sprayed. If termites get in after all and cause damage, the costs of repairing it are covered. 

Signs of a termite infestation

It's important to remember that termites are often mistaken as white ants. If you see signs of termites, contact a pest control company immediately.

Signs include:

  • Mud tubes on foundation walls. One telltale sign of an infestation is a series of mud tubes on the surface of foundation walls. These are little tunnels built from chewed-up wood, soil and feces that allow termites to get around and evade predators.

  • Tiny holes in the wood. These are often the size of nail holes with mud and dirt near or in the entrances.

  • Wood that sounds hollow. If you see cracks and gaps in the wood that sound hollow when you tap it, you may have been hit by termites.

Once pest control treats your home for the infestation, contact a professional contractor if necessary to assess the damage and replace the damaged wood.

For more home safety tips, check out our other articles here.

SOURCE - Erie Insurance - Keep Your Home Pest-Free

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