This fall, don't be haunted by rodents and insects trying to find a home for the winter inside your house.
Squirrels and other wild creatures are anything but cute if they've taken up residence inside your home, says Cindy Mannes, National Pest Management Association (NPMA) spokeswoman, based in Fairfax, Virginia.
"Animals have a job in nature. For example, termites break down dead trees so they can become soil again," she says. "It's great when that happens to fallen logs in the forest, but it's devastating when termites infiltrate your home."
A pest can be considered any insect, rodent or other wildlife that is an unwanted houseguest in your home. "Some people may not act if they see a single spider or mouse, but just know: If you see one, there's likely to be more," Mannes says. "Especially if a creature is venomous or carries disease, people want their home to be a sanctuary and their family to be protected."
In 2016, pest management was a $7.6 billion industry, with a projected growth of 4.5 percent every year, according to NPMA statistics. Mannes attributes some of this growth in pest management to consumer education and an intolerance of pests in and around the home.
As the weather turns colder, animals are also seeking the creature comforts humans can easily provide -- food, water and shelter. To help ensure that no creatures are stirring -- not even a mouse -- inside your home, know that an ounce of pest prevention is worth a pound of cure.
In order to keep insects, spiders and rodents from becoming unwanted houseguests, the NPMA recommends regular maintenance around the outside perimeter of the building.
-- Seal any cracks and crevices with silicone caulk, and larger holes with steel wool. Pay special attention to areas where the utilities enter a home.
-- Repair any opening in window screens and seal larger entryways under doors. Make sure attic vents and chimney openings are also capped and/or screened.
-- Replace weatherstripping and repair the fascia or any loose mortar around a basement foundation and windows.
-- Clean out gutters and remove other debris that encourages standing water near the house. Disconnect the outdoor hose and repair leaking faucets, water pipes and air conditioning units.
-- Properly landscape around the home to avoid providing a safe haven for pests. Keep shrubs trimmed, and keep mulch and thick groundcover away from the foundation. Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the home, and when bringing it inside, make sure to burn it right away.
-- Make sure basements, attics and crawl spaces are well-ventilated and dry.
-- Don't leave garbage cans outside without tightly sealing them.
Mannes says most pest prevention is common sense, but requires a homeowner to see a structure through an animal's natural instincts. And you don't have to see a creature in your home to know that it has settled in for a long winter.
"If you have papers or books that have been chewed, or see droppings, you likely have a mouse in the house," she says. "Termites can leave what looks like sawdust under a window, or you can hear scurrying from other creatures in the walls or attic."
If you suspect an infestation, Mannes says it's important to not freak out, but figure out the problem by hiring a licensed and insured pest professional who has the tools and expertise needed to inspect your home. By properly identifying the problem, a pest-management company can recommend the best course of action to rid your crib of unwanted critters.
"It's important to act, but not overreact," Mannes says. "Before contracting with a company, make sure the pest-control professionals have proper credentials, and get three bids, if possible."
Today's pest control isn't just one-size-fits-all; there is often an integrated pest-management plan based on the infestation problem and your home. "There has to be a level of trust with the pest-management company employees, because they are going into basement or attic storage that we, as homeowners, don't even venture," Mannes says. "When shopping for a pest-management company, it's important to not make a purchasing decision based solely on the lowest cost. Buy value, not just price."
Keeping critters outside can be as easy as implementing common sense inside, says Mannes. Be especially vigilant in areas that are dark and damp. "Don't store items in cardboard boxes, and use totes with lids that seal tightly," she says. "Keep a clean house, especially in the kitchen, where crumbs can be a critter's cafeteria."
To learn more about specific pests or find a pest-management professional in your area, go to PestWorld.org.