Household pests want the same things you do—food, water, shelter—and will seize any opportunity to satisfy their needs. You can’t stop every pest from ever flying, crawling, or burrowing into your home, but you can make sure the occasional intrusion doesn’t become an all-out invasion.
Once a major infestation occurs, you’ll likely need professional help. But if you focus on prevention, you can tackle many aspects of pest control yourself, save money, and avoid adding pesticides to the environment.
You’ll find the materials—hardware cloth ($8 per 6-inch-square swatch), door weather stripping ($8 per 17-foot roll of 7/8-inch v-strip polypropylene), O rings for faucets (pennies)—you need at most home improvement stores.
And many of the steps to impeding pests’ access—clearing overgrowth from around foundations and disposing of wood scraps and other debris that accumulate in garages and along sides of houses—are things every homeowner should do as part of regular house and yard maintenance.
The effort—a few hours or a weekend a few times a year—and cost of supplies are well worth it to avoid having to repair thousands of dollars in damage caused by pests.
Termites eat wood and carpenter ants tunnel into wood to nest. So remove piles of wood and other debris from around your home. The same goes for rotted stumps and logs. Keep firewood at least 20 feet away and five inches off the ground. And never bury wood scraps or waste lumber.
Maintain at least 6 inches of clearance between soil and structural wood to prevent decay, which attracts carpenter ants, and to make it tougher for termites to find their next meal.
Keep it dry
Termites, carpenter ants, and powderpost beetles thrive in moist areas, so maintain a Sahara zone around your home’s perimeter.
In general, you shouldn’t have any vegetation—bushes, shrubs, vines, trees—touching the house, which can trap moisture that causes rot and attracts pests. Many pests use vegetation as a bridge between the ground to the walls and roof of your home.
Keep foundation plantings (shrubs, bushes, perennials) and wood mulch at least 18 inches away from the foundation. Prune trees, bushes, and vines that touch or overhang the house. And don’t plant anything close to your home that’s aphid-prone, such as peonies or roses. That’s like ringing the dinner bell for carpenter ants, which feed on honeydew, a sweet liquid produced by aphids.
Even an infrequent puddle close to the house can become an oasis for pests on the prowl for food, so take measures to direct water away from the house. Drain puddles, don’t overwater flower beds, point sprinklers away from the structure, and make sure the ground near the foundation slopes away from your home. Use drain tile if the site is flat.
Clean gutters so they don’t overflow. Use downspout extensions and splash blocks to direct rainwater runoff away from the foundation. Fix dripping faucets, water pipes, and air conditioning units. Even small leaks can contribute to wood rot and moist foundations that pests find irresistible.
Deny access into your home
The tiniest gap or crack can become an express lane for pests—and not only insects. “If you can push a pencil through a hole, a mouse can get through it,” says Greg Bauman, senior scientist with the National Pest Management Association.
Inspect your home’s envelope (walls, doors, windows, roof) for possible points of entry as well as moisture-inducing leaks. Use caulk or epoxy to seal any cracks in the foundation or gaps in the structure. Use steel wool or hardware cloth (1/4-inch wire mesh) to block any openings where wires, pipes, and cables come into or out of the house.
Should you detect any moisture damage, repair it promptly. Carpenter ants flock to deteriorating wood, but often move from decayed wood into sound wood as the colony expands. Replace punky fascia, soffits, and shingles. While you’re at it, paint weathered and/or unfinished wood to stop carpenter bees from drilling holes to build their nests.
Ventilate attics and crawl spaces, and make sure vents aren’t blocked by debris or vegetation. Good air flow prevents the buildup of moisture. Cover any exposed earth in the crawl space with a plastic vapor barrier.
Make sure roof and foundation vents are protected with hardware cloth. Install screens on all floor drains and windows. And while you’re at it, caulk or install weather-stripping around windows and doors as well. Close any gap between your garage door and the floor by attaching a door sweep. And keep the door closed.
If pests do get inside, they’ll usually die or skedaddle if they can’t find anything to eat or drink.
Carpenter ants will eat almost anything you do, but are especially fond of sweet and greasy food. Put kitchen waste in a sealed trash can, sweep up crumbs, and wipe up spills right away. Termites typically feed on wood, but will eat anything with cellulose, so never store paper or cardboard—or wood—in the crawl space.
Deal with interior moisture, too. Inspect the base of toilets, around bath tubs and shower stalls, and areas where pipes go through walls, such as under sinks. Repair any leaks and wrap any pipes that produce excess condensation.
Check behind and under washing machines and dishwashers, which are notorious for leaks, to make sure there’s no condensation or old moisture damage. Fix leaky faucets; in some cases, replacing a simple O ring might not only save water, but also stave off a potential invasion of pests.
Brad Broberg is a freelance writer from Federal Way, Wash. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he writes about business, health care, and real estate for REALTOR Magazine, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and Seattle Children’s Hospital, among others. He’s lived in the same home for 22 years—a home he shares with seven towering Douglas firs.