One of the most common ways that pests are introduced into homes during the holidays is via Christmas trees, wreaths and firewood. Ants, spiders, ticks and other pests can hide deep in the branches of trees and in crevices of wood. In some cases, insects may even lay eggs in trees or garland. When brought indoors, the eggs will hatch creating a major pest infestation in the home.
To prevent bringing pests into you home on live trees and other greenery, take a few minutes to carefully inspect such items before bringing indoors. Look for insects, nests or eggs, and shake off greenery outdoors to rouse any hidden tenants.
Another way that pests can access our homes this time of year is through boxes of decorations, which are often stored in basements, attics, garages and crawlspaces – all favorite hiding spots for pests. Mice and other pests find their way into the boxes of during the off-season. When homeowners unpack their decorations, they may find live or dead pests and droppings inside. Unfortunately, in some cases, they may also find that holiday decorations have been chewed or destroyed by pests.
When it’s time to decorate, unpack holiday items outside and inspect all items carefully for signs of pests, droppings, gnaw marks or other damage before bringing them indoors. Pay special attention to strings of lights to ensure that wiring has not been frayed by pests.
Perhaps the most important step you can take to prevent pests during the holidays comes at the end of each season, when it’s time to take down the tree and pack up the decorations. Store holiday décor in hard, plastic bins with tightly sealed lids instead of cardboard boxes or bags that can easily be chewed through. Do not pile discarded live trees or cut firewood near your home, as this can attract mice, termites and other pests.
Homeowners should be on the lookout for the following spider species:
Common House Spider: These spiders don’t pose a health risk, but they can be quite a nuisance throughout the house. They spin a tangled web in upper corners, angles of window frames and around furniture.
Brown Recluse Spider: The bite from a brown recluse can cause a very painful ulcer. These spiders can be found in many undisturbed areas around the home, such as inside boxes, under furniture and in seldom-used clothing or shoes.
Black Widow Spider: Probably the most infamous species of spider, the black widow’s venom can have serious side effects, especially in children and the elderly. Widows often build nests in cluttered areas within garages, attics and basements.
Hulett Environmental reminds homeowners that there are several ways to prevent spider bites and keep them out of the house all together:
- Install screens and weather stripping on windows and door sweeps on doors.
- Fix any cracks in siding and walls, especially where pipes or wires enter the home.
- Store clothing and shoes inside plastic containers, and shake out all clothing that has been in a hamper, on the floor or in storage before wearing.
- Wear heavy gloves when moving items that have been stored for a long period of time.
- Inspect shoes before wearing them, as spiders often hide inside.
- Reduce clutter in basements, garages and attics.
- Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house.
What should a homeowner look for when selecting a PCO?
A recent national study found that over 50% of homeowners take the time to check the certifications of pest control companies before hiring them. This is a great start when looking to select a PCO. You should make sure to do the following:
- Always deal with a qualified and licensed pest management company that is a member of national, state or local pest management associations.
- Ask friends and neighbors to recommend companies they have used successfully and how satisfied they were with the service.
- Check prospective choices with the local Better Business Bureau for a reliability report or to see if complaints have been filed against the company you have in mind.
- If a sizable amount of money is involved, get bids from several pest management firms.
- Don’t rush a decision. Since you are paying for professional knowledge as well as skillful application of pesticides, look for someone whose judgment you can trust.
- Before signing a contract, be sure to fully understand the nature of the pest to be exterminated, the extent of the infestation, and the work necessary to solve the problem.
- Find out if the company has liability insurance to cover any damages to your house or furnishings during treatment.
- If a guarantee is given, know what it covers, how long it lasts, what you must do to keep it in force, and what kind of continuing prevention and management are necessary.
- Buy value, not price. Beware of bargains that sound too good to be true
If you hire a PCO are you guaranteed a pest-free home?
Professional pest control companies differ in their guarantees regarding treatments. If a guarantee is given, know what it covers, how long it lasts, what you must do to keep it in force, and what kind of continuing prevention and management are necessary.
It is important that homeowners remain active participants before, during and after all pest control treatments. This type of vigilance helps the homeowner better understand their contract and possible guarantee, and better helps the PCO understand the homeowner’s expectations.
What are some precautions that homeowners can take to help prevent rodents from coming indoors?
There are a number of pest-proofing measures that homeowners can take to protect their home and families from the threats posed by rodents. NPMA recommends the following:
- Store boxes and containers off the floor and organize items often to prevent rodents from residing in undisturbed areas.
- Seal cracks and holes, including areas where utilities and pipes enter the home.
- Store food in thick metal or plastic containers with tight lids.
- Clean up spilled food right away immediately and wash dishes and cooking utensils soon after use.
- Keep outside cooking areas and grills clean.
- Do not leave pet food or water bowls out overnight.
- Keep bird feeders away from the house and use squirrel guards to limit access to the feeder by squirrels and other rodents.
- Use a thick plastic or metal garbage can with a tight lid and keep sealed at all times.
- Keep grains and animal feed in thick plastic or metal containers with tight lids. In the evening, return uneaten animal feed to containers with lids.
- If you find rodent feces, hear sounds of scurrying in the walls or observe other signs of a rodent infestation, contact a licensed pest professional to inspect and treat the pest problem.
Aside from being nuisances, rodents and cockroaches are vectors of a wide array of diseases and can exacerbate asthma and allergy symptoms – effects only worsened by the increased time spent indoors during the winter. Rodents can also chew through drywall, insulation, wood and electrical wiring, increasing the potential risk for fires.
- Seal cracks and holes on the outside of your home to help prevent pests from getting inside. Be sure to check the areas where utilities and pipes enter the home. A mouse can fit through a hole the size of a dime.
- Replace loose mortar and weather stripping around the basement foundation and windows.
- Store firewood at least 20 feet from the home. Pests often take up residence in wood piles and can easily gain access to your home if the pile is nearby.
- Rodents can hide in clutter, so keep storage areas well organized, and store boxes off of the floor.
- Eliminate all moisture sites, including leaking pipes and clogged drains. Extra attention should be paid to kitchens and bathrooms as these areas are particularly vulnerable to cockroach infestations.
- Install door sweeps and repair damaged screens in windows.
- Screen vents to chimneys. Keep attics, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.
Winter Weather Increases Risk for Allergies & Asthma Attacks
Cockroaches seek shelter from the cold which could mean trouble for allergy sufferers
Most people think of pollen, dust and animal dander as common asthma and allergy triggers. However, Hulett Environmental Services a pest management company servicing South Florida warns that cockroaches can also pose a threat to allergy and asthma sufferers. The threat for cockroach allergens is elevated in the winter because there a greater chance for cockroaches to invade homes in search of warmth and because families spend more time inside.
Children are the most at risk to be affected by this often-overlooked asthma trigger. Cockroaches spread over 33 types of bacteria, including E. coli, and studies show that about one in five children in the U.S. are sensitive to cockroach allergens.
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) advises homeowners to seal cracks around the outside of their home, keep counters and floors clean and free of crumbs that can attract the pests and vacuum frequently. Kitchens and bathrooms are particularly vulnerable to cockroach infestations due to the presence of food products and moisture around sinks or appliances.
If you suspect you have an infestation, contact a licensed pest professional who will be able to recommend a course of treatment. To learn more about cockroaches and the health threats they pose, visit www.pestworld.org.