Rodents raid homes to escape cold


Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 11:44 p.m.

When Nancy Darr woke up to scratching sounds over her bedroom ceiling at 3 a.m. recently, she knew something wasn't right.

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Dave Hasz of Critter Control shapes metal into a barricade to keep flying squirrels out of a Haile Plantation home Saturday (Nov. 23) morning. Hasz said as the most common pests that move into homes are squirrels.

MIKE LEWIS/ Special to the Sun

Facts

AT A GLANCE

  • Rodents can forge holes in walls and damage electrical wiring, insulation, wood or curtains.

  • They also can scurry up and down pipes, inside walls, between cupboards, behind appliances and through drawers.

  • Florida's outdoor cockroach species are another pest that will seek warmth indoors.

  • "The more I listened to it , it sounded like a gnawing," said Darr, who lives in a Haile Plantation home surrounded by oak trees. "It was pretty obvious we had some kind of animal in the attic area."

    Rodents. Or a flying squirrel to be precise, the type that searches for its food at night.

    Call them the uninvited guests of late fall and winter.

    As the weather gets colder this time of year, rodents - mice, rats, squirrels - are more likely to seek ways to enter homes and roost in attics, said John Wooding, a wildlife biologist who consults on issues of nuisance animals.

    "It's colder, They're seeking shelter," Wooding said. "People know they have them because they hear them."

    But you don't want these rodents in your home.

    Rodents gnaw because they need to wear down their enlarged, chisel-shaped upper and lower front teeth that keep growing throughout their lives. They can forge holes in walls and damage electrical wiring, insulation, wood or curtains. They also can scurry up and down pipes, inside walls, between cupboards, behind appliances and through drawers, which may keep you up at night.

    Joe Felegi, president of Critter Control, the animal control company that Darr called, said calls tend to increase beginning in November.

    "At least 60 percent of our business is squirrels in attics," he said.

    To keep the rodents out of Darr's home, Critter Control technician Dave Hasz used sheet metal to block gaps from the overlapping of the roof and installed screens over the exhaust vents on the top of the roof.

    Darr said she's been sleeping soundly ever since.

    Frank Meek, technical manager for Orkin Pest Control, offered one reason a drop in temperature moves pests around.

    "Less food is available outdoors when the temperature drops," Meek said. "Your home is like a nice radiant heater."

    The state's milder winters generally leads to larger rodent populations, he said.

    Meek said a half-inch gap the size of a quarter is all a gray squirrel, a flying squirrel or a rat needs to squeeze into a house, and a hole the size of a dime is all a mouse needs. Florida's outdoor cockroach species are another pest that will seek warmth indoors, and they only need a gap of about one-sixty-fourth of an inch, he said.

    Wooding said all rodents, including year-round pests like the roof rat, are "always looking for a way into a dwelling."

    And it's not just older homes that rodents can nibble their way into, Wooding said. It depends on the construction of a house, but "potentially any home could have a problem," he said.

    Many newer homes such as Darr's 4-year-old residence in a Haile Plantation subdivision are built with a lot of eaves and many natural gaps where the different angles of the roof come together, he said.

    The underside of these structural components, the soffit, is often made of aluminum in newer homes and rodents can gnaw on the wood in the fascia next to the soffit to create the opening they need.

    For remedies, experts say closing visible gaps in the foundation or cracks around pipes and wires with material that rodents can't chew through, such as steel mesh, should be the first step.

    They also recommend taking a walk around your residence to look for tell-tale signs such as gnawed-on wood, droppings, or tiny hair or urine around openings.

    Among other tips:

  • Store dog food, bird seed and garbage in rodent-proof containers

  • Keep woodpiles at least 18 inches off the ground and two feet away from walls and fences.

  • Place screens on openings to house foundations such as attic vents.

  • Remove food sources by clearing yards of pet feces, nuts, fallen fruits or snails.

  • Remove debris such as leaf litter or tree limbs near the home that can harbor pests.

  • Prevent outdoor barbecue grills from collecting water and remember that pests of all types need water to survive.

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