Friday, October 9, 2009

Getting Rid of Pests in a House: Caulk, Seal, Clean, Repeat

It is that time of year again. As cool weather approaches, small creatures of many types look for warm places to spend the winter. Those of us who live in old houses need to prepare right now to make our homes inhospitable to the critters. I'm not a professional at repairs or exterminating, so all this is just what I do for my home. Check with the pros to get real advice.

Regular exterminating is an important part of home upkeep. And regular cleanliness we all know is essential to preventing pests. But like Nicolas said, stopping things from getting in in the first place is the most important strategy. Even the cleanest old houses have all sorts of hidden entry ways! And these issues can occur even in a brand new house, or in apartments.

It can be difficult to find experienced people willing to do repair work, even if one can afford it. And even if one plans to repair it correctly later, immediate action is imperative in my book.

It requires vigilance, but most especially it requires sealing the house from the outside in - especially around the bottom. It requires keeping things dry. The thing that has to happen is to seal the lower part of the house as though you were trying to make it water-tight. This means no little gaps.

It took me a while to get the hang of using a caulk gun, but I am the Queen of Caulk now. Once I figured out to hit that little lever on the back every time I paused for even a few seconds, it made a world of difference. I buy plain white cheap caulk by the contractor's boxful. I put on vinyl gloves and use my finger to smooth out the bead and make sure the seal is complete, and I keep a wet cloth to wipe my hands on.

Put a nail in the tip when you are finished for the day and the caulk will keep until the next time you find a spot that needs it. So caulking can be a do-it-when-you-see-it kind of task. See a gap? Caulk it now! Did an ant just escape into that little crack? Caulk it now!

One of the most important places to caulk on the inside that I never would have thought of is the baseboards. They actually cover seams in the floor or foundation that can be entry points. So seal them - bottom and top of them, all the way around the room and under the cabinets and behind the stove and fridge and around every corner - seal every micrometer of every
room. I caulk any place there is the least bit of a crevasse or where any two surfaces come together.

Use caulk to seal around all the window frames and door frames inside where they meet the wall and the floor, and outside where they meet the house siding. Pay special attention to the tops and bottoms of the frames and sills.

Install real weatherstripping for old doors - the kind that has to be screwed on, not that stick-on stuff. It will not only keep the cold out but will keep bugs out too.

I used Wood filler around and under the threshholds of old doors, which often have unnoticed gaps around them that the little mousies love to use. Once large gaps were filled, I used caulk to complete the seal.

I also make great use of "Great Stuff" Foam. It is sticky, will expand to fill spaces too big for my caulk to fill, and it is easily removed if you need to take it out. Read the directions before using and do not touch this stuff while it is wet! You can use it around where pipes come into the house, etc. Once it has gotten hard, you can cut off excess with a knife to make a flat surface. This is pricey and once you start using a can, anything left in it won't save over because the nozzle clogs, so I keep an ongoing list of "Places To Foam", then put on my gloves and do them all at once. It is worth every penny.

Check the bottom perimeter outside the house, where the walls meet the foundation, and make sure the siding there is in good shape. If it isn't try to get at least that bottom piece replaced with solid new hardiboard even if you can't do the whole thing. If you can't do that, it might help to use a trowel with spackle or plaster to fill and seal it, then paint it to keep it dry until you can fix it properly. That will help keep mice from getting in through dryrotted siding.

If you are on a pier-and-beam foundation, seal entry to under the house with screen, hardyboard or bricks to prevent small animals from being able to get under the house. Of course, make sure nothing is under there first!

Check the eaves and attic vents and cover them with screen to keep squirrels, bats and birds from being able to get in, while still maintaining essential ventilation for the house.

Foundation plantings and permanent mulches in flowerbeds provide habitat for little bugs. Avoid these near the house if you can do so. If you need these landscape elements for appearance sake, try to at least keep the back of the plants trimmed away from the sides of the
house so they won't create a bridge insects can walk over, and so you can get behind them to spray. And this is the time of year to stir or put insecticide in the mulch so nothing can overwinter in it.

We don't have any babies or little children in the family, so I keep a good quality home insect killer that has residual action and spray inside and out every 2 to 3 months. I also use a granular insecticide that has to be watered in around the exterior perimeter each quarter (I do it right before it rains). They tell me that Orange Peel Oil is a good natural insect killer but I have not tried it yet.

I keep Decon in any place that used to get mice before we were able to get their long-term entry points sealed up (there was actually a trail thru the insulation in one wall where generations of mice had made a tradition of coming in for the winter. They won't any longer!). I know, but I've tried traps in the past and they don't do the job well enough. Decon works.

These are things you can do yourself. We also use professional exterminators for bugs inside and out. Most recently, ours have been local companies that are licensed but not franchised. On the coast, Walter Dowell did our house. He was 87 years old when he passed away from a sudden heart attack. He had visited us for our regular spraying a month earlier.

Check your yellow pages and get estimates from several. They all charge more for the first treatment than for successive ones, but there can be a huge difference in price, so it pays to check around. While they are there, ask them to let you know if they notice any particular areas that could use attention in the prevention department.

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