2007-05-03 / News

Animal-proof your home to keep out unwanted guests

Keeping the outdoors outside is just one function of a home.

This is not to suggest we all don't like to invite daylight or a refreshing breeze into our homes, it's the denizens of the outdoors that aren't welcome inside - namely wildlife, rodents and other nasty critters.

Animal-proofing your home should be at the top of your list of warm-weather home chores, according to many natural resource and environmental officials nationwide.

Wild animals in and around your residence can cause big trouble - even if they are small creatures.

Some, like squirrels, can cause real fire hazards by chewing through wiring in the attic. Others, like raccoons, skunks, and woodchuck, can be major carriers of rabies. Rabies can also be found in bats, another common attic dweller.

"Wildlife-proofing your house and grounds before a problem arises will save you hundreds of dollars and provide enormous peace of mind for the health and safety of you and your family," says Lori Gibson, supervising wildlife biologist at the Department of Environmental Management in Rhode Island.

Many of the techniques are fairly simple and a matter of common sense.

First, check tree limbs, stresses Gibson. If any overhang the house, trim them back. Overhanging tree limbs are a major pathway for squirrels and raccoons to reach attics and chimneys, which are favorite nesting places.

While you're up high, check the chimney, attic vents, and the structure itself. If your chimney is not capped, install a commercial wildlife-proof cap.

Never attempt to smoke out an animal from your chimney. Lighting a fire will cause a back draft into your home and kill young animals in the chimney.

Never block up holes while young animals are still in your home. Adults will cause further damage trying to scratch their way back inside.

Replace any loose or rotting boards on your house, especially attic louvers, which might provide an entranceway. Check for gaps around window air conditioners and chimneys. Some bats, for instance, can enter cracks as small as three-eighths of an inch.

When you are back down on the ground, look for areas that are appealing to skunks, foxes, woodchucks, and opossums, says Gibson. All these animals like denning sites such as woodpiles, elevated sheds, openings under porches, and crawl spaces under houses and garages.

Raccoons will nest in crawl spaces and brush piles, as well as in attics, chimneys, and tree cavities. Wildlife-proof the open areas under these areas with hardware cloth screening that extends several inches underground and bent outward for an additional few inches to prevent access from digging animals.

Openings under concrete structures should be backfilled with gravel and screening. Debris piles should be removed or stacked neatly to eliminate cavities.

Remove undergrowth and grass cover used by woodchucks by mowing around buildings. Use mortar to patch cracks in concrete and masonry.

A major attraction for wildlife is unsecured garbage. Raccoons and coyotes are very strong and patient and will get into any type of garbage can that is not securely latched or placed in a building. They will move a cinder block off the top of a can, and they will defi- nitely open plastic garbage cans that are left outside.

If you cannot store your garbage cans inside a garage or shed, use metal cans, and secure the lids with locks, straps, or tiedowns. Keep aromatic garbage, like shellfish, frozen until the morning of pickup.

Do not leave pet food outside and tidy areas around bird feeders or suspend feeding if this is causing further problems.

And, of course, never feed other wildlife.

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