Getting Your House Ready For 2013

Okay, it is a bit late, but I just now got this idea that it would be a good idea to give you some tips for preparing your home properly for the year.  To start off, I’d like to feature a great article from the 02/27/2013 Wall Street Journal entitled “Critter Counteroffensive”.  I hope you enjoy it and I hope you also get something of value out of it!!

Critter Counteroffensive

The Tactics to Take Back the Great Room From Stubborn, Furry Visitors; A ‘Highway for Animals’

By ELLEN BYRON

Evicting wildlife in homes is on the rise. WSJ’s Ellen Byron joins Lunch Break with a look at how to keep raccoons, bats, possums, skunks, mice and moles out of your home.

The wooded area surrounding Cheryl Giudicessi’s vacation home in Galena, Ill., offers beautiful views, privacy and winged invaders.

Ms. Giudicessi heard scratching and squeaking from the rafters of her living room’s vaulted ceiling. Suspecting bats, the retired preschool teacher spent two nearly sleepless nights with her bedroom ceiling fan on full speed, a light on, towels stuffed under the door and her dog at her side, hoping to keep the nocturnal bats away until she could get an exterminator to visit. The bats are now gone, but Ms. Giudicessi still has the seven-year-old house regularly inspected for mice and insects.

As both wildlife—and people—have found the perfect habitat in upscale suburbs, often new developments in former woodlands, homeowners are turning to new ways to evict their unwanted guests. Deer in the garden seem easy compared with bats in the new cathedral ceiling or raccoons in the garage.

“Animals are just like people—they need food, water and shelter,” says Gary Bauhof, owner of Austin’s Wildlife Removal Services in Austin, Texas. “If they can make a steady living in your home, they will stick around—you would, too.”

Some 30% of Americans used pest-control services last year, up from 20% in 2004, according to the National Pest Management Association. The landscaping that dots suburbia—not to mention the endless buffet of garbage cans—is more hospitable to many animals than the pastures and fields that covered much of the U.S. generations ago. Add the enticing aroma of dinner on the stove or a warm breeze coming from an attic vent and critters are eager to find a way to move in.

Rabies is also a concern. Some 40,000 Americans receive rabies-prevention treatments each year, with wild animals accounting for more than 90% of the reported cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exterminators say such problems usually aren’t a reflection of a home’s age or cleanliness. “We probably do more work on new construction. A lot of times it is the contractors leaving gaps,” says John Adcock Jr., owner of Adcock’s Trapping Service in College Park, Md. “We do ‘multi-multi-million’ dollar homes where there is not a crumb to be found, and they have rats.”

Today, most exterminators focus on finding and closing up pests’ entry points into the home, a far different strategy from the chemical blasts many relied on until the early 1990s. Cracks in foundations, roof lines that don’t perfectly meet and damaged or missing screens around the eaves are common problems.

Amid all the construction during last decade’s U.S. housing boom, plenty of contractors left such gaps behind. “Construction was put up so fast—whether expensive or not so expensive—that there’s a lot of access for these creatures,” says Gerry Weitz, president of Hearts Pest Management Inc., which serves tony Southern California neighborhoods including Beverly Hills and Malibu. “The vast majority of homes in Southern California have some damage from rats and mice.”

Though bats and mice usually rank among the most challenging animals to evict, many pest-controllers say homeowners can be difficult to work with, too.

“I try to never use the word ‘rat,'” says Mr. Bauhof of Austin’s Wildlife Removal. “I say ‘rodent’ instead, it doesn’t sound as bad.”

For maximum discretion, Mr. Bauhof drives an unmarked truck. “People like that because they don’t want the neighbors to know,” he says. To nosy passersby who approach him as he works, he says he has a standard response: “I’m doing a little maintenance.”

Homeowners have plenty of ways to keep unwanted animals out, beginning with a stroll around their home every month. “Look up and down—you should be familiar with your house and look for any changes,” says Tony DeJesus, service and technical manager for Big Blue Bug Solutions in Providence, R.I. Pay particular attention to the eaves, foundation and any vents, he says. Even peeling paint can be a problem, since the accumulating moisture is a draw for insects.

Mr. DeJesus urges homeowners to check their dark garages and basements on a sunny day. “Look for any areas where you see light coming in,” he says, noting that worn weather stripping around doors and spots where cable runs through the wall are common entries for animals.

“We’re not talking about big openings,” says Mr. DeJesus. “A mouse needs a hole the size of a dime, a rat between a nickel and a quarter.”

Mr. DeJesus shudders when he sees vines crawling up houses—a common sight throughout the New England region he serves. “I know aesthetically some people like it, but boy are you asking for problems,” he says. “It’s a highway for animals to get into your house.”

With some invaders, homeowners have to wait until spring before beginning the eviction process. Carol Swart, co-owner of Exclusive Batproofing Inc. in Raymond, Minn., begins her work in April, when bats that are dormant all winter begin to seek food again.

Using a method she calls “exclusion,” Ms. Swart and her husband identify the areas where bats come and go and create one-way mesh doors over the holes so the bat can leave but can’t get back in.

Bats need just a tiny opening—usually a quarter of an inch wide by an inch long—to enter a house, often along the roof line. Openings can be identified by smudges from oil on bats’ wings. Droppings, which sparkle when crushed, often show up nearby, too. After entering the attic, bats typically will live inside walls, leaving at night to feed. Most homeowners report hearing scratching and fluttering sounds in their walls, Ms. Swart says.

For years, former U.S. congressman Vin Weber dealt with bats in his large log cabin on Leech Lake in Minnesota’s North Woods. Many evenings Mr. Weber used a tennis racket to encourage bats to scram as his wife and daughters anxiously stood by.

“People weren’t enjoying being there,” says Mr. Weber. “We were told there was nothing you can do about it; you have to live with it or shoo them out.”

Mr. Weber hired Ms. Swart’s company to try its exclusion technique. They scoured the log home to close its many small openings and installed one-way doors. “To my amazement, it worked,” Mr. Weber says.

Erik McCue decided to take on the squirrels that took residence in his Hartsdale, N.Y., attic.

Over several years Mr. McCue, a shift supervisor for a power plant, trapped about 20 squirrels, but he and his family continued to hear them, especially at night. Increasingly frustrated, Mr. McCue hired someone to trim back the trees in his yard. The squirrels were still getting in.

Finally, last spring Mr. McCue spent about $16,000 on new siding for his home, which effectively covered all the openings. Since then, the squirrels have stayed away. “I was never a squirrel fan, but I’m really not now,” he says.

Write to Ellen Byron at Ellen.Bryon@wsj.com

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