a tree in front of a house

How to Avoid Making Your Home a Target for Rats and Mice This Winter

November 21, 2017

As winter approaches, the likelihood of outdoor pests drastically increases. With the weather getting colder and food sources growing scarce, your home can look like paradise to rats and mice.

The best way to treat a rodent infestation is to stop it before it starts, but there are a number of common mistakes many homeowners make that can put their home at risk.

Here are some essential tips you can use to pest-proof your home for the winter:

Check All Entry Points

Before you take any direct measures, your first step should be to find out exactly where your house stands. You'll never be able to stop rodents from getting inside if you don't know where they're coming in from, so your first step should be to inspect your home thoroughly for any potential entry points.

While rodents can get in from virtually anywhere, some areas provide easier entry than others, making them hotspots for mice and rat activity. Key areas to inspect include:

  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Roof
  • Home Foundation
  • Pipes and Wires

Check over these areas thoroughly for any tears or gaps, as well as signs of gnawing. Be thorough: mice can get in to your home through a hole the size of a quarter, and once they've found a potential entryway, they have a habit of gnawing on it to make it even larger - which can let even bigger pests inside.

Pay close attention to the roof. The attic is one of the most common places for rodents to invade and nest, and most of the time rodents get into the attic through the roof. Check around ventilators, roof shingles, and the chimney for any rips or tears, and investigate any leaks.
Consider capping the chimney to ensure no rodents can get into the home through it.

Once you've gotten a good idea of where rodents might be getting in, or where they could try to break in in the future, you can start taking preventative measures to keep them out.

Keep It Clean

After you've ensured that rodents don't have any way inside, it's time to take steps to discourage them from coming inside in the first place. The best way to do that is to deny them a food source. Above all else, the absolute worst thing you can do when it comes to rats and mice in the home is leave a mess for them to find. You want to make it as difficult as possible for any home invaders to find food.

Clean up any crumbs and make sure to stay on top of dishwashing after meals, and store food in sealed plastic containers and put them in the refrigerator whenever possible. Pet food is a common food source for rodent invaders, so take it out of the bag and store in glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lid.

Don't forget that finding a safe place to rest and breed is another key reason why pests invade, so beyond food, you'll also want to deny rodents of anything they could potentially use as nesting material. This means disposing of newspaper piles, cardboard boxes, balls of dust, and so on - especially in the garage and attic.

Vacuum your home regularly. In addition to removing the above factors, this can also help prevent the spread of bugs that hide in rug fibers and on carpeted floors, such as fleas.

Keeping things tidy also applies to areas outside the home. Keep the tree line trimmed, as branches can serve as a literal jumping-off point for rodents to get onto the roof and from there into the attic. Likewise, rake up any nuts or berries (rodent food sources) that have dropped off of trees and compost or otherwise discard them.

You'll also benefit from trimming bushes and other landscaping elements that they could use to hide inside and keeping the yard free of any trash or clutter that rodents could use for shelter. If there are children in the home, ensure any outdoor toys are brought inside and stored safely when not in use.

Remember, even if you home isn't currently suffering an infestation, keeping everything clean now stops rodents from viewing your home as a potential safe haven later. The less incentive you give rodents to break in, the better.

Keep Garbage Sealed

Keeping things clean doesn't stop at just throwing trash away. To a rodent, so long as they're getting food, it makes no difference if it comes fresh off the dinner table or straight from the dump. Rodents have no problem digging into garbage bins and ripping open trash bags to find discarded food items, and their teeth make them well-suited for the task.

In the home, keep trash bags in sealed garbage containers with the lid down, as this will both prevent rodents from getting inside and stop some of the smell from escaping, giving them less incentive to try. Take out the trash frequently and don't let any bags stay in your kitchen for too long.

Outside, keep trash cans at a safe distance away from the home. Stay on schedule with trash pickup days to give rodents as little opportunity as possible to find food.

Use Mouse and Rat Repellants

Even after you've taken steps to make your home as unappealing as possible to rats and mice, there are additional measures you can take to actively repel rodent invaders. Certain substances act as natural mice and rat repellants, and placing them in key areas around your home can act as an extra level of protection.

Mint and bay leaves are two great examples. Crush them up and sprinkle them in high risk areas such as cabinets, pantries, and along window sills. You might even consider putting mint plants around your home, which provide the additional benefit of repelling pesky mosquitoes in the summertime.

You can also sprinkle peppermint or spearmint essential oil around high risk areas through your home to achieve the same effect.

Many DIY pest prevention resources also suggest using mothballs to deter rodents. While they can be effective, mothballs are also poisonous to other animals besides rats and mice, so use with caution and take measures to ensure that any children or pets in the home can't come into direct contact with them.

Seal Up Gaps

Of course, the best (and certainly least-expensive) way to get rid of a pest infestation is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place. When it comes to rats and mice, that means properly sealing up any holes they might use to find their way into your home.

While a pest break-in could occur in any number of places throughout the home, pay close attention to the high-risk areas listed in the "Check All Entry Points" section above. When sealing, try to use caulk or wire mesh wherever possible as materials such as these are more difficult for rodents to chew through.

Pay close attention to existing structures that could give entry into the home from the exterior, such as drain outlets, vents, and the chimney. If the holes used to run cables through the house are large enough, mice can and will follow them inside.

Moisture sites provide the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of pests, so look out for any holes or tears around pipes or wire lines that go into the house from outside. Leaky pipes can also provide a much-needed water source for many household pests so seal with caulk or steel wool (or both), and don't be afraid to contact a plumber to ensure that the leak is properly repaired.

Keep windows closed or screened at all times, and inspect screens for any holes or signs of wear and tear. Replace as necessary. If your home has windows that stick, don't close completely, or leave a gap between the frame, seal them with wool or hardware cloth.

However, when it comes to sealing off your home, keep one important thing in mind: if you seal off all the entry and exit points to the home while rodents are still inside, the trapped rats and mice will inevitably die inside the walls, spreading a pungent odor throughout your home and leaving you with a nasty (and possibly hazardous) cleanup. This is a major reason that, when it comes to sealing your home, it's almost always in your best interest to hire a licensed and certified pest control professional to handle the job.

For more great tips and strategies you can use to keep rats and mice out, or eliminate an existing infestation, check out our free informative guide, How To Protect Your Attic from Mice and Rats This Winter, and take back your home today!