When we lovingly build the structures that become our homes, we quietly devote much of the design to keeping pests out. Things like concrete foundations and pressure-treated lumber do thankless work in repelling insects and resisting rot, as do many of the structural designs we have in place.
But as we all know, there is only so much a house can do — we must also take matters into our own hands to prevent and control pests.
Depending on what climate zone you live in, you will inevitably be vulnerable to one type of pest or another. It is important to know the reasons you need to check your home for pests, as well as various pest control tips and tricks to keep your home or business pest-free.
As we shall see, a large portion of pest control advice comes in the form of preventive care. However, we will also cover how to detect pests that may have already invaded your home or business. Finally, we will cover how to deal with existing pest infestations. We’ll also see why it is important to hire a professional when it comes time to remove pests.
Let’s first look at how pest control affects our lives, and why it is so imperative.
The Importance of Pest Control
The first response we may jump to when justifying pest control is simple: Insects are gross, and we don’t want them in our homes. While this is an acceptable reason, it is only a small part of what makes pest control so overwhelmingly important.
In fact, pests are responsible for an enormous amount of damage — billions of dollars each year — that professional pest control must address. Pests burrow, eat through wood, create huge messes and can undermine structures until they are dangerously weak.
Furthermore, pests can pose enormous threats to our health and food industries. Insects like cockroaches carry loads of bacteria and allergens, and when they infest a supply of food, the results can be catastrophic and widespread. That is why pest control is so closely connected to the regulation of our food industry. Those ratings you see posted in restaurants are often directly related to the presence — or, preferably, the absence — of pests.
One of the true dangers of pests lies in their ability to spread disease. Ticks, fleas and mosquitoes are responsible for much of the transmission of dangerous illnesses like Lyme disease and Zika virus. When cockroaches, rats and other pests get into food supplies, they can spread bacteria and viruses that make vast numbers of people sick.
Some Surprising Facts on Pests — They’re Worse Than You Think
Pests never cease to amaze us with their unique ability to wreak havoc. Here are a few facts about them that may come as a surprise:
- Rats and mice not only burrow through insulation and chew up your belongings, but they also chew through the rubber shielding around electrical wires — which poses a real threat of fire.
- Rats and mice also contaminate surfaces they contact through their feces, urine and hair.
- In America alone, half a million people each year are admitted to the hospital for insect stings.
- Rat bites can transmit the bacteria that caused the bubonic plague.
- Rodents gobble up nearly one-fifth of the entire world’s food supply.
- Without pest control, there would be no ability to maintain suitable levels of food and sanitary regulation.
- Bedbugs have made a comeback in recent years. Though these pests had been mostly eradicated by the 1940s, experts now believe the increase in air travel in the 1980s and ‘90s contributed to their resurgence.
All these facts point to the same conclusion: Keeping pests away from us is incredibly important. Let’s look further at why it’s doubly important to do a routine check of your home for pests, even if you don’t think you have an infestation.
Why You Need to Check Your Home for Pests
We know pests can do damage to our homes. But the truly important thing to realize is they can infiltrate your home practically unnoticed. That’s why, even if you don’t believe you have an infestation, you should still do a routine check of your home for signs of pests.
The fact of the matter is, it’s all too easy for pests to find their way indoors. It often has little to do with your hygiene or cleanliness, and more to do with bad luck. Here are some of the common ways insects enter homes:
- Insects catch a ride on you or a pet. It’s hard to hear, but it’s true. Some infestations result in stowaway pests riding into your home on you or a pet. Spiders and ants can enter in pant cuffs, bags, coats and more. Fleas may come in attached to your beloved pet, or even on an article of clothing after a romp through a field. Bedbugs can hitchhike long distances in articles of clothing, bedding and suitcases. If they happen to find a source of food and procreate, an infestation can occur.
- Seasons change, and pests come indoors. When the weather gets cold, insects naturally try to migrate somewhere warm. With our luxuriously heated houses, we give them a convenient place to spend the cold months. Here, they stay warm, fed and sheltered — and we are often unaware they have joined us for the winter.
- Weather patterns like drought can also drive pests inside. When there is not enough water in the soil, pests will venture into homes to procure a steady source of it. Both insects and rodents are extremely adept at surviving through tough climate conditions by finding somewhere more suitable for survival.
- The pests may have been there before you. If you’ve just moved to a new place and are noticing signs of pest activity, there’s a good chance they have been living there for a while. Do an inspection for signs of infestation, which we will outline below.
- They are attracted to the layout of your things. Leaving trash open in the kitchen will attract flies. Boxes and seldom-used items in dark basements can become homes to brown recluse spiders. Plastic to protect garden and mulch beds can provide an ideal setting for termites and other pests. Look for potential problem spots like papers, boxes and damp areas, and try to make them less attractive to potential invaders.
- If you run a business, infestations can come in with shipments. Running a business often means getting deliveries from far-flung parts of the country or world. Insects and rats are superb at hiding away, so it is important to keep a close eye on any spot where you receive deliveries. The same advice goes for home deliveries, as well.
Top Tips for How to Control Pests in Your Home
There are many ways to control a pest infestation in your home, and it’s often essential to supplement the work of a professional with your contributions. Here are 11 of the best methods for doing so.
- Hire a professional.
This advice cannot be stressed enough. Though you can — and should — contribute some of your own efforts to pest control, treating infestations is a job best left to professionals.
Think of the pests as a bad infection, and professional pest control experts as doctors. The doctor can diagnose the infection, gauge its severity and health risk and prescribe powerful antibiotics — the most you should do is keep the wound clean and keep an eye on it.
Treating a pest infestation is no DIY project, at least not entirely. There are highly potent chemicals involved, which need to be handled properly to avoid affecting members of the household. Additionally, being able to discern the extent of an infestation once it has taken hold is a skill requiring years of experience.
- Keep landscaping trimmed back from the house.
Pests leap on the opportunity to take a safe passageway into your home. Often, this comes in the form of tree branches, shrubs and bushes that lean up against your house, which provide a sheltered entry for pests. Trim back trees and bushes, so there is a good-sized gap between them and your outer walls.
Additionally, keep an eye on flower beds. Mulch, pine straw and shredded wood all create a moist and stealthy cover for insects to move en masse. Though these are excellent materials for bedding, they can create problems when they encounter homes.
When doing your landscaping, avoid having mulch or other organic bedding touch your foundation at all. Instead, opt for something less appealing to pests, like rocks or pebbles. This barrier will minimize the insects’ chance of happening upon your home while roaming around in the mulch.
- Close any cracks pests might use to enter.
As our houses age, cracks naturally start to appear on their exteriors. Wood siding dries, contracts and splits open. Vinyl grows brittle from sun exposure and cracks. Mortar between bricks crumbles and falls out. Even concrete can develop fissures as it cures.
It’s not just the foundation and siding that can create openings, though — also check places like the roof and utility connections. Missing or loose shingles can not only provide an entryway, they can also be the source of leaks that create water sources for colonies inside. Points where power and Internet cables enter the house can also create openings.
To close cracks, avoid using materials like caulk that pests can chew through. Using metal in the form of sheets or steel wool is a great option for keeping out pests, as is brick mortar. If you need waterproofing, you can apply a bead of caulk and then top it with one of these other materials.
- Don’t place lights near windows and doors.
Insects are drawn to lights like — well — a moth to a flame. Curiously, scientists have never fully agreed upon a reason for them to do this. Several theories seem plausible, though: Bugs mistake the light for the moon, which they use for orientation, or lights emit frequencies bugs mistake for sexual signals. Research has not confirmed either of these.
What we do know, however, is that bugs swarm around bright lights.
That is why you should place exterior lights well away from windows and doors. Coming home on a warm night to find a tiny galaxy of bugs orbiting the light outside your door makes for an interesting scene — opening the door and darting inside will inevitably bring some bugs inside with you, as well. The same goes for windows.
One excellent alternative is to have lights on poles a short distance away from the door. Even five to 10 feet will make a difference. If you have floodlights under the eaves of your house, try situating them on the corners of exterior walls so they don’t attract insect swarms.
- Keep your drains clean.
Drains, especially those that see infrequent use, can collect debris and create standing pools of water and moisture. Utility sink drains can take an especially hard beating. We often use them to handle our more unsavory refuse, like paint, mops and other cleaning tools. Hair and dirt will then clog the drain, which is more likely to be neglected than a high-traffic sink like that in the kitchen. Basement floor drains suffer from the same problem.
However, it doesn’t take long for tiny flies to use accumulated sewer goo as a breeding ground. Even a messy kitchen drain can attract them, and with breeding cycles of less than a day, it won’t take long for eggs to hatch.
To clean your drains, pour a half-cup of salt down the drain, followed by a half-cup of baking soda. Finally, pour one cup of white vinegar down as well, and sit back and enjoy the bubbles. This solution will clean the pipe, and if you clean the drains once a week, it should keep them uninhabitable for drain flies.
- Make sure your stored food is airtight.
Your pantry is a cornucopia of smells that will attract nearly every type of pest. From flour to dried fruit to crackers, every item is a potential attractant for them.
For starters, store your food in airtight, plastic bags. Ziploc bags are excellent for this because they provide airtightness and ease of opening. Avoid using paper bags to store food, as these are permeable and will allow the smell of the food to escape. Mice also love chewing through paper to get to food, as they use the paper for their nests.
A pantry without a lot of old food in it is less likely to be infested. Take a few minutes to organize your pantry — bring older foods to the front so you can use them first. Throw away anything that’s expired. This practice will help significantly in reducing the attractiveness of your pantry as a food source.
- Seal your doors and windows.
Over time, doors and windows gradually develop gaps that let in bugs. As wood contracts and hinges wear and settle, the edges may not sit quite as tightly as they did before. Additionally, the soft foam or rubber weather seal that lines the edges tends to lose its effectiveness over time — it will peel off at its adhesive edge or start to dry-rot. Rehang doors that have gaps around them and replace this weather seal.
Screens are an incredibly effective tool that let you enjoy a nice breeze with zero bugs entering your open window. However, they can easily warp or develop holes if you don’t treat them carefully. Look for tears in the screens, as well as gaps between the metal edges and the window frame. Either patch the holes or replace the screens — they’re not expensive.
When looking for screens, shop for those with at least 200 squares per inch squared. These holes are small enough to keep out bugs, and they are also widely available.
- Use this opportunity to clean up trash and litter.
This advice doesn’t just pertain to your house — look around your yard and make sure there aren’t any pest oases lying around. Also keep an eye on porches, patios, backyards and decks. These are areas where piles of leaves, weeds, sticks, recycling and trash bags tend to collect. Standing water is also a common problem that attracts mosquitoes.
Piles of trash and organic matter attract almost any type of pest you can name, including snakes, rodents and maggots. Keep the area around your house tidy, and pests will have fewer places to live and hide.
- Close any interior gaps in your home.
Gaps around floorboards, drywall and baseboards are easy entry points for pests. Sometimes, these will be largely absent from the more visible portions of your house, so be sure to check under your kitchen counter and in other unfinished areas of the house. There are also lots of gaps behind appliances such as refrigerators, dryers and gas ranges.
It is not just bugs that can fit through those tiny gaps, either — mice can fit through extremely small openings of much less than an inch. They do this by flattening their flexible bones and squeezing their bodies through.
To seal up these cracks, you can use wood putty or interior caulk. Just be sure to check thoroughly to make sure you’ve gotten all of them.
- Make sure to seal your trash containers.
Trash containers are a weak point in many of our homes. The presence of rotting or fermenting food will bring pests out of the woodwork to dine and lay eggs in its fertile depths.
The first insect you will often notice around garbage cans is the housefly. These insects are extremely common, and so we tend to think of them as innocuous. However, nothing could be further from the truth — houseflies are a much dirtier insect than we think.
First off, houseflies tend to land on just about everything. They are particularly fond of feces, sewage and garbage, and every time they land, they are spreading bacteria from whatever they’ve previously landed on. They also subsist on an unappetizing diet that includes excrement, pus and rotting meat, so they are spreading those germs, as well. They are carriers of many different diseases, which is not surprising, since they regurgitate and defecate almost everywhere they land.
Now you know far more about houseflies than you ever wanted to, let’s move on to the last tip.
- Keep your house clean.
This tip follows naturally after our advice on cleaning up piles of weeds and sealing your garbage, but it is one of the most important things you can do to control pests in your home. Remember, like all living beings, pests need to eat to survive. If you leave crumbs around, they can sustain a large population of insects and mice.
Think of this advice as extra motivation to wash your dirty dishes, vacuum your floors and keep crumbs from falling when you eat pizza on the sofa. Throw away fruit rinds and wipe your kitchen countertops clean. Don’t unwittingly feed pests or give them a place to breed — it’s as easy as keeping your house tidy.
Advice on Preventing Pests from Entering Your Home
If you don’t think you have an infestation, count yourself lucky — and get to work preventing one. Try these pest control tips and information for maintaining a pest-free home.
- Don’t allow too much shade on your house. Having a house shrouded in the shade of trees can be comfortable in the summer, but as it turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. Sunlight is a crucial ally in fighting pests. Many bugs, most notably mosquitoes, thrive in the shade and the moisture it tends to trap. Allowing sunlight to bathe your house and yard provides a double benefit: It removes pests, and also stops mold from growing on your home. So grab a trimmer or hire an arborist, and trim some of those branches back to keep your yard bright and sunny.
- Install 45-degree termite shields between the concrete foundation and subfloor on your house’s exterior. Sometimes, the best inventions are the simplest ones. This ingenious contraption is nothing more than a slender sheet of metal crimped at a 45-degree angle in a lathe. You install it on top of your concrete foundation and under your subfloor. The protruding sliver of metal angles downward towards the ground, which gives it the added benefit of directing rainwater away from the foundation. Its true benefit, though, is that it keeps termites from being able to crawl upward into the wood of your home.
- Do some yard and gutter work. Yard work isn’t just for curb appeal. Pests love tall grass and weeds, which give them a place to hide, eat, build colonies and latch onto passersby. Ticks, fleas and spiders are all drawn to tall grass. Additionally, you should keep your gutters clean. If soggy, old leaves sit in gutters, it creates a similar environment to that of a gunked-up drain — a moist, organic paradise for bugs to breed and feed in. Gutter guards are a reliable way to keep your gutters clean. These perforated strips lie on top of the gutter to prevent leaves and debris from getting into the trough.
- Move the firewood pile away from your house. Termites eat wood. Having a pile of it leaning up against your house is as inadvisable as placing a jukebox in a library, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if an infestation moves into the pile and then directly into your home. However, termites are not alone in their predilection for firewood piles. Spiders, ants and other pests also use them for shelter and sustenance.
- Have a pest control expert spray regularly. Schedule a regular visit from a pest control expert, who will spray critical areas around your home to prevent pests from entering it. Professional pest control is one of the most important parts of pest prevention, as the chemicals exterminators use are both effective and knowledgeably administered. Contact Cape Cod Pest Pros to get on the schedule and receive regular, preventive spraying.
How to Tell If You Have a Pest Infestation
It takes a trained professional to end an infestation, but just about anybody can scout one out if armed with the proper knowledge. Let’s look at some of the signs of pest infestations so you can determine if there is a problem.
First, there are a few items you’ll want to grab. Take a flashlight, a flathead screwdriver and some coveralls or old jeans. You’ll be doing some undercover work on the floor and in the crawlspace, so expect to get a bit dirty.
- Look for droppings. Pests, especially mice and rats, leave droppings all over. Look for tiny, seed-like droppings scattered about. Insects like roaches and bedbugs will also leave droppings that look something like coffee grounds. Termite feces resemble small grains that typically take the color of whatever wood they happen to be eating. Look in cupboards and cabinets as well as under appliances like refrigerators and stoves, and don’t forget the attic.
- Shredded paper can indicate mice or rats nesting. Rodents will shred paper to build their nests. If you see a small pile of it somewhere, it can indicate the presence of rodents. Be sure to shine your flashlight in areas you don’t usually look, as rodents are stealthy creatures who do much of their work out of sight.
- Look for soggy or discolored places on the walls. Termites, in particular, will hollow out wood behind the walls, but drywall discoloration will sometimes reveal their work. Termites keep their burrowed tunnels humid and warm. If it looks like you have a water stain or if the paint is bubbling or peeling, inspect closer to see if it is the work of termites.
- Listen for telltale sounds of pests. Mice and rats, while often hard to spot, are far more brazen when behind the cover of a wall or floor. Listen closely for the sounds of scurrying, scratching or rustling behind walls, above ceilings or beneath floors. Termites are known to tap on wood to signal their presence to the rest of the colony. If you hear tapping sounds coming from within the walls, it could be them.
- Look for discarded wings. Termites shed their wings in the spring, when they are swarming and looking for new places to colonize. These wings collect in ghastly piles that are not difficult to spot due to their surprising size. If you see one of these piles, assume termites have taken interest in your home.
- Inspect your basement for mud tubes. Termites travel up from the earth to the wood of your foundation. They prefer to do so in the safety of their mud tubes, which they often build along the concrete walls of basement foundations. Look for these tubes, and with your flathead screwdriver, crack into one to see if there are pale, soft-looking termites within. These tubes indicate the presence of an active termite colony in your home.
- Look for bedbugs. If you’ve ever noticed bumps or a rash on your skin when you wake up, there’s a chance bedbugs are doing their work under cover of night. Pull the sheets off the mattress and take a careful look. Rust-colored stains are signs of their excrement, and their eggs will be light-colored and usually hide in the seams of the mattress. Bedbugs spread extremely quickly among homes, so be sure to take signs of their presence seriously.
- Remember, moisture is a massive attractant for pests. For this reason, it is important to spend extra time inspecting areas that harbor more moisture. Inspect plumbing, basement floor drains, air conditioner condensers and any other point where water gathers. Dehumidifiers are a tried-and-true way to dry out damp rooms, which will have the added benefit of lowering the chance of mold forming.
What to Do If Your Home Is Infested
The absolute first step you should take if your home has an infestation is to call an exterminator. Trying to solve the problem yourself will often result in wasting a lot of time and money on expensive DIY remedies, which are not nearly as effective as the tools and skills of an experienced exterminator.
While you are waiting for the exterminator to arrive, though, you’ll want to do some things on your own. First and foremost, use this opportunity to remove any clutter or mess that might be hiding or feeding the pests. Think of it as the best reason ever to clean your house. A clean home will make an exterminator’s job so much easier, and it is something they will ask you to do anyway.
However, don’t get too trigger-happy with the vacuum. While you may be tempted to vacuum up the entire mess — feces, wings, wood shavings or whatever else the pests have left behind — resist the temptation to remove all the evidence. By examining what the pests have left behind and where they’ve left it, exterminators can gauge a lot about what kind of infestation you have, and how long it has been there.
Expect an infestation to cost some money. Chemicals, labor hours, tools and much more go into pest prevention, so don’t get sticker shock at the price. You can expect to spend several hundred dollars for a one-time visit, though if there is structural damage to your home, the cost can climb into the thousands.
However, there is a reason for the cost. These pests are dangerous to you and your family. They can bite and transmit disease, or they can sting and cause a dangerous allergic reaction. Furthermore, they leave eggs and excrement all over the place — including in your food. In the long run, they can also render your home structurally unsafe, which is a burden nobody wants to bear. Removing them is an investment that pays off.
Call Cape Cod Pest Pros to Exterminate and Prevent Pests
At Cape Cod Pest Pros, we know pests get in the way of life and homeownership. That’s why we take pests out for a living, and we offer different service plans to keep your house pest-free. You can choose from:
- Quarterly visits: Every 90 days, we will come to your home to spray and perform inspections.
- Semi-annual visits: In Cape Cod, many summer homes go unused for part of the year. We will do both preventive work and provide a call-back service, which allows you to call us to come out if there is an issue.
- Onetime treatments: If recurring treatments don’t make as much sense for you, we can schedule a one-stop visit.
- Mosquito and tick treatments: These pests seem to come farther north every year, and we have solutions to keep them out of your yard.
- Commercial service: Your business needs to stay free of pests for peace of mind, quality inspections and appearances. Let us come take care of it for you.
- Termite baiting: If termites are giving you headaches, we will install a system of bait traps to eradicate them.
Visit us at Cape Cod Pest Pros for more information, or call us at (508) 888-0999.