Did you know winter is one of the most important times of the year for pest control? With pests seeking out food and shelter, your cozy home is a prime spot for cockroaches, rodents and winter pests to take up residence.
It’s essential to take the proper steps ahead of time to winterize your home and prevent a winter pest infestation. How do you do that, exactly? This guide walks you through everything you need to know. Sign up today to learn how to effectively winterize your home and minimize your chances of a winter pest infestation.
Pest Control in the Winter: How to Winterize Your Home
We all know how frustrating summertime pests can be. Every time you try to enjoy an evening outside on the porch or do a bit of work in the garden, you end up with half a dozen mosquito bites. And sometimes no matter what you do, it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle trying to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks, or prevent an ant infestation from occurring in your kitchen.
When we’re battling pests during the summer, we look forward to the cooler months and a reduction in the number of insects we encounter. It’s a mistake, though, to think that cold weather means that pests simply disappear. For instance, mosquitoes simply go into hibernation once temperatures begin to routinely drop below 50 degrees F -- but you can be sure that they’ll return the following year. And, of course, some pests never disappear at all during the colder months.
In fact, it’s common to encounter rodents and various insects during the wintertime. These pests are looking for protected areas where they can withstand the colder months, and your home is the ideal spot to set up residence during the winter.
With this in mind, it’s essential to take the proper steps ahead of time to winterize your home and prevent a winter pest infestation. How do you do that, exactly? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know in this comprehensive guide to winter pest control. You’ll learn how to effectively winterize your home and minimize your chances of a winter pest infestation.
First, we'll look at why you ought to worry about pest control in the winter. Then, we'll discuss the most common winter pests to watch out for. Next, we'll talk about the various steps you can take -- both indoors and outdoors -- to winterize your home and keep it pest free. Finally, we'll wrap up with how winterizing your home can be beneficial beyond mere pest prevention.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Why Worry About Winter Pest Control?
Pest control isn’t just something you’ll need to think about in the summertime: it’s a year round task. Here are some reasons why pest control is just as important in the winter as it would be any other time of year.
Unless you live in northern Maine or Alaska, your region likely experiences a “false spring,” or a periodic warming of temperatures, at some point during the winter. While 55 degree weather might seem like a godsend after several weeks of temperatures in the twenties, a couple days of warmer weather will also cause pests to stir from their winter hibernation -- including any rodents or insects who have taken up residence in your home. Climate change is also causing spring weather to arrive earlier each year in many places, and might be responsible for some of the climatic variations that lead to warmer weather in the wintertime. This means a higher likelihood for pest problems, even in months that people have traditionally thought of as pest free.
Pests Look for Winter Residences
As we mentioned above, the coming of winter means that pests will be searching for nesting areas. While very few insects or rodents will mate during the winter months, they do search for nests that will protect them from the bitter cold. In urban and suburban areas where protective vegetation is hard to find, bugs, rodents, and other pests will see the shrubs in front of your home as one of the only options to stay protected from the colder weather. Given the opportunity, they’ll then make the move from your landscaping into your centrally heated home where they’re even more protected from the elements. Attic, ceiling, and wall insulation is a favorite nesting area for brown recluse spiders, mice, and other common household pests, and rodent infestations in basements are common in the winter, too.
Lack of Food Options
Pests, like all living creatures, will do what they need to do to survive. While most insect species will hibernate during winter, several types of spiders will stay active during the colder months. Mice and other rodents also need to eat during the winter. While they do try to stockpile food from other sources, both mice and various insects will inevitably be attracted to the presence of food in your home.
As you can see, there are lots of reasons that pests can present a problem in the winter. But which pests should you actually keep an eye out for? Let’s take a closer look.
Winter Pests to Watch Out For
Unless you get a week or two of temperatures in the sixties during the month of January, chances are that you won’t have to worry about dealing with mosquitoes and other warm weather insect pests during the winter. There are, however, a number of different types of winter pests that can be a major issue in the wintertime. Below, we’ll look at the habits and characteristic of the most common winter pests.
Winter Insect Pests
Cockroaches love warm and humid environments, which is one of the reasons that you typically find them in kitchens and bathrooms. During the wintertime when outdoor conditions are cold and dry, roaches will often move into homes in search of warm and moist conditions.
The German cockroach is one of the most common types of roaches here in South Carolina, and it’s not unusual to encounter them in the wintertime. They’re typically light brown in color with two darker stripes on their head, and they tend to be about a half inch in length.
Cockroaches multiply at an alarming rate, and up to six generations can be born within a single year. If they find shelter during the winter, they’ll have even more opportunities to breed. As a tiny insect, they will make their way into your home through even the smallest of cracks or crevices: they can fit through an opening as small as 3/16 of an inch. They’re also great at hiding in backpacks, boxes, and other pieces of furniture in order to catch a ride into your home.
Once established inside your home, cockroaches can cause serious allergy issues. In severe cases, they’re known to be carriers of certain intestinal diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever, and cholera. They can also bring parasites into the home, and since they tend to prefer living in the kitchen, they can pose a serious risk of contaminating your food.
Like other insects, many types of termites will burrow down into the soil in the winter months where temperatures are warmer and relatively steady. When termites are underground, of course, they pose little danger to your home.
Here in South Carolina, though, our winters are quite mild, and termites can climb up to the soil surface through mud tubes that they leave in the soil. If the temperatures are warm enough, they may even take up residence in your home and begin to eat through your home’s wooden structure.
Termites are often confused with carpenter ants, as both pests have wings during their reproductive stages. While carpenter ants have multi colored bodies that are usually a combination of red, black, and brown, subterranean termites will always be solid black. Another way to tell the difference between termites and carpenter ants is the shape of their bodies. Termites have a long, uniform body without any visible segments, while the bodies of carpenter ants are divided into three clearly identifiable segments.
As mentioned above, carpenter ants resemble termites and are a mixture of red, black, and brown in color. Their rounded thorax gives them an appearance that’s distinct from other ants. During cold winters, most carpenter ants will go dormant. Since they prefer to nest in damp and decaying wood, they might be able to skip their hibernation if they are sufficiently protected from the winter cold. That means that they could multiply during the winter -- and the last thing you want is an ant colony in your home.
Carpenter ants make their way into homes in search of sources of food, water, and warmth. While the main colony will almost always be outside your home, these ants will actively seek to set up satellite colonies in your home in an attempt to secure a winter food source.
Mice and Rats
Mice are the most common (and one of the most irritating) winter pests that affect millions of households every year. Mice will generally prefer an outdoor nest during the spring and summer months. As soon as the cold begins to set in, however, they will move towards your home -- and they can gain ingress via an opening the size of a dime.
Mice can cause huge amounts of damage to your home. They’re commonly known to chew through drywall, insulation, and even wood. Each mouse can also produce up to 50 droppings each day, and mouse urine and feces can be a vector for dangerous diseases such as Salmonella, tapeworms, and leptospirosis.
Mice are also extremely quick to reproduce. In fact, they can give birth to six baby mice every three weeks. Over the course of a winter, a couple of intruder mice can multiply into a sizeable colony that can takes over large areas of your home.
Rats are similar to mice, though they are much more aggressive, and can even chew through lead pipes in search of water and food. They also are known to carry more serious diseases such as the Hantavirus, cowpox virus, and rat-bite fever. You can distinguish rats from mice by size: rats are generally several times longer than the common house mouse.
When you spot a squirrel in your front yard, you don’t typically think of them as a pest. And when squirrels are outside your home from spring to fall, they generally don’t present much of a problem. Come wintertime, though, squirrels go out in search of warm nesting areas. Your attic or basement is much more accommodating for squirrels than a rotten log, a hole in a tree trunk, or other common nesting spots -- which is why you can end up with a winter squirrel infestation.
Once inside your home, squirrels will often help themselves to your attic insulation as they build their winter nest. Squirrels have also been known to chew through the siding of a home to make a hole that big enough to squeeze through. Lastly, like all rodents, squirrels have teeth that are constantly growing. To keep their teeth from getting too long, they have a strong chewing instinct. As a result, squirrels will chew through wood, drywall, and even electrical wiring in your home.
Raccoons are one of the primary carriers of the rabies virus in the United States, making them the last creature you want hanging around your house. While raccoons will routinely knock over outdoor garbage cans in search of food throughout the year, they can become a particular problem in the winter as they look for a place to nest.
If given the opportunity, raccoons can be tempted to set up a den in crawl spaces or basements underneath your home. They’ll sometimes even take up residence in your attic. During the warmer months, raccoons will tend to change their den every couple of days. In the winter, however, a group of raccoons (known as a gaze) might attempt to set up long term residence in a warm, protected area of your home.
Indoor Preparations to Winterize Your Home
Knowing which pests are likely to be active during the winter months is the first step toward effective winter pest control. With the above information in mind, it’s time to winterize your home against pests. First, we’ll look at what you can do indoors to reduce the risk of a winter pest infestation. In the next section, we’ll examine how to winterize the exterior of your home.
Keep Your Home Clean
While spring cleaning is a great way to air out a stuffy home that’s been closed up all winter long, fall cleaning is just as important. Pests of all types are inevitably attracted to messy areas where they can hide from humans and pets, making a cluttered home more attractive than a tidy one.
Pests are relatively low on the food chain, meaning they prefer to be as discreet and low-key as possible. A clean, hygienic, and orderly home will be much less appealing for mice, bugs, and other pests who want a space where they can ride out the winter without being noticed. On the other hand, a home with a disorderly attic that is seldom used offers a perfect nesting spot for all types of pests. Unused basement closets, disorganized corners of your home, and even messy kitchen cabinets or pantries will be taken advantage of by pests.
With natural food sources for pests being scarce during the winter, any food that’s left out in the open is likely to attract insects and rodents. Fortunately, a few simple steps can reduce your chances of attracting unwanted pests. First, make sure you keep your kitchen as tidy as possible. Never leave dirty dishes on the table or in the sink. Additionally, be sure to properly store your pet’s food in sealed containers. Mice, to name just one common winter pest, have extremely poor eyesight. They make up for this with a keen sense of smell, and they can detect a food source from outside the walls of your home. This means that keeping food properly covered and sealed inside your cabinets and fridge will reduce your risk of a rodent invasion.
Completely Seal All Openings
Carpenter ants and termites can squeeze through seemingly microscopic openings, and mice only need a hole the size of a dime to make their way into your home. By sealing the tiny cracks and crevices around the inside of your home, you’ll eliminate various paths of entry for pests. Adding weatherstripping to windows and caulking around pipes and wires are simple DIY projects that can be completed in a few hours. For maximum protection from both cold air and pests, consider sealing your window and door frames both inside and outside your home (more on this below).
Keep Your Home Dry
Cockroaches love wet and moist areas, which is why they tend to show up in your kitchen and bathroom. Mice and other winter pests need access to water, too. Keeping your home dry, then, can cut down on the number of pests you encounter. If you have an unfinished basement that always feel moist and moldy, consider applying a concrete sealant to the walls and floor and run a dehumidifier throughout the winter.
Leaky pipes can be hard to detect, especially if they are only trickling a drop or two every hour. Even a small amount of water, however, will attract cockroaches and other types of pests. While checking all of your piping can be close to impossible, a water leak detector might be worth consider in some situations. These detectors will alert you to even the smallest of leaks and allow you to call in the plumber to get it fixed.
On a similar note, insulating your pipes is a great way to avoid miniscule cracks that can lead to leaks. Insulated pipes also cut back on the amount of electricity your home uses to heat water, and will help you avoid burst pipes that can lead to major household damage.
Outdoor Preparations for Winterizing Your Home
Indoor preparations are important, but don’t neglect the area around the outside of your home. Here are some things you’ll want to do to prepare your home’s exterior for winter.
Keep Firewood and Other Organic Materials Away from Your Home
In urban and suburban areas where woods and forests are scarce, pests will flock to your yard for shelter. And while your garden mums and azalea bushes might not attract many winter pests, a stack of firewood or pile of unused mulch are quite appealing. They offer pests warmth and protection, and can act like magnets for winter insects and rodents.
Store your firewood as far from the outer walls of your home as possible. Be sure to keep your firewood covered and dry, too, as moisture will attract even more pests. If you have a mulch pile near your home, consider moving it to a far corner of your yard.
Check Your Home’s Exterior for Openings
As mentioned above, even the tiniest cracks and crevices are big enough for many pests to slip through. Spend some time going around the outside of your home to check for openings that would allow pests inside. Be sure to examine your foundation for cracks, too. Homes will settle over time, and this can lead to cracks in the foundation of your home. While tiny cracks and crevices usually don’t present any sort of structural threat, they can be taken advantage of by all sort of pests.
Most hardware stores sell foundation crack repair kits. Simply plastering a bit of Portland cement over the crack usually won’t do, as the colder winter weather will cause the plaster to crack and pull away from your foundation (thus creating new openings for pests). The best strategy is to find epoxy injection crack sealers that come with liquid concrete repair. The small cartridge and injection ports allow you to inject the sealant deep into the crack. This will solidify the structure of your home while simultaneously keeping pests out.
Clean Your Gutters and Check Your Roof
When most of the leaves have fallen from the trees around your yard, it’s time to winterize the roof and gutters of your home. Clearing out leaves and other debris from your gutters will get rid of a potential nesting place for all sort of pests and critters. If there are tree branches that are touching or dangling near your roof, you might consider pruning those back as a way to dissuade squirrels, mice, and other rodents from climbing onto your roof in search of an entrance into your home.
If you have a chimney, make sure that our chimney caps are intact. You might also consider installing a fine wire mesh around any open areas to keep pests out. Attic vents are another favorite entryway for pests of all types. Special attic vent screening can be purchased and installed by a handy homeowner. This screening is fine enough to keep out mice and rodents while still allowing for proper ventilation.
Soffit vents are another part of the home ventilation system that bring fresh air into the home. These vents are usually located underneath the eaves of your home, and if you don’t use proper screening, the tiny slits for airflow intake are an easy access point for pests.
Clean Up Your Bird Feeders
While bird feeders are a great way to attract undisruptive wildlife to your home, they can also attract all sorts of pests. Squirrels and mice that are having a hard time finding enough food to eat will be attracted by the fallen seeds and grain underneath your bird feeders. Once they’ve identified your yard as a potential food source, it’s only a matter of time before they try to make their way into your home.
Additionally, there are several species of birds that will attempt to make their winter nests in or around your residence. Cliff swallows love to build their mud nests underneath the eaves of a home. Even though most swallows will migrate south when winter comes, their nests are a breeding ground for bird mites that can be extremely dangerous for your health. Other bugs will also migrate towards these abandoned nests -- and from there, it’s a short trip into your home.
To avoid these problems, make sure that you periodically clean the area underneath your bird feeders to ensure that you’re not offering up free food to rodents. If any birds have built nests in your gutters, on your roof, or underneath your eaves, make sure to get rid of those before winter begins.
Deal with Snow Buildup Sooner Rather than Later
In the winter, a heavy snowfall can lead to the formation of ice dams. These blockages at the edge of your roof prevent snow from properly draining. The subsequent buildup of moisture on top of your roof can damage shingles and lead to moisture leaking into your home.
Since ice dams will lead to an increase of moisture at the edges of a roof, these leaks often make their way into walls, ceilings, and insulation inside your home. Wet insulation is a perfect breeding ground for cockroaches and other common winter pests. The sooner you deal with snow buildup, then, the better.
Store Your Trash Appropriately
Lastly, you should always make an effort to keep pests away from your trash can. Raccoons will predictably show up the night you take your trash out to the curb. If you have a well-sealed storage shed, placing your trash can there is one way to dissuade pests from getting into your trash. Alternatively, consider purchasing a trash can with an animal-proof lid to keep the critters away.
For families that send their organic waste to a backyard compost pile, never dispose of bones, uneaten meat or dairy products in your compost pile. This will inevitably attract all sorts of pests. Also, make sure to cover up any fresh kitchen scraps with “brown” materials such as leaf litter, sawdust, or other carbonaceous materials.
The Multiple Benefits of Winterizing Your Home
Winterizing your home is a great way to keep pests away from your home during the winter. Since homes are usually sealed tight during most of the cold season, a pest-free home will also have healthier indoor air quality due to the absence of pest droppings.
A properly winterized home will do more than just keep pests out, though. By sealing your home before the cold weather sets in, you can save a significant amount on your winter heating bills. Several of the strategies listed above will also protect the structural integrity of your home, keeping it sturdy and resilient for the long haul. And, of course, a properly winterized home will be a tidier and more pleasant place to spend time indoors during the colder months.
By following the above strategies for winterizing the interior and exterior of your home, you should be able to dramatically cut down on the likelihood of experiencing a winter pest invasion. But if you end up with winter pests, don’t worry: Home Pest Control is here to help! We offer complete home pest control services for any pest problem, as well as help with moisture control in the winter. Contact us today to learn more!