Temperatures are dropping and days are getting shorter, which reminds wildlife that it is time to seek winter quarters. The wildlife conflict specialists at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) want people to be aware that raccoons, skunks and squirrels may seek shelter in places that homeowners do not even realize they are providing through openings in their chimneys, attics, vents, porches and sheds. Homeowners should take some simple steps before Thanksgiving, in order to keep unwanted winter visitors out of the house.
John Griffin, director of Humane Wildlife Services for The HSUS reports, "Animals are the first to alert us to unknown openings above our gutters and out of our sight lines on roofs and chimneys – – places homeowners rarely inspect. Unfortunately, once they have alerted us, they've already been using them. This is the optimal time of year to see if openings exist and to make immediate repairs so that there is not a conflict in the future. The best way to do this is by inspecting your house from foundation to roof."
Exterior openings are not just attractive to animals; they are energy-robbing outlets for heat to escape and damaging moisture inlets for weather to infiltrate. So it is a good time to combine your fall exterior tasks like gutter cleaning and limb-trimming with a comprehensive inspection where you "view" your house through the eyes of wildlife around you.
The HSUS warns that it is imperative, however, that before closing, sealing or capping any potential entry points, make absolutely sure there are no animals already inside and undiscovered. Griffin explains, "People often take steps to close up and seal openings and find to their dismay that they have trapped someone inside. There are basic steps to ensure that this doesn't happen during the inspection."
Tools you will need to keep wildlife from making your home, their home:
1. Binoculars to help see parts of the roof level elements of your house like trim board, siding and vents up close if climbing a ladder is not an option.
2. A flashlight to illuminate openings in the darker areas of your home.
3. A camera to document what needs to be sealed for reference and help you monitor the condition of the exterior of your roof, trim and siding.
Starting from the ground up, inspect the foundation for potential entry points and signs of animal activity where pipes, vents and cables exit the house. Pay attention to where different types of building materials come together. Window wells, dryer exhaust vents, thresholds, brick and siding gaps can all be potential openings at the foundation level. If these openings are smaller than a few inches they can be caulked, stuffed with copper mesh or filled with expandable foam. Larger openings should be repaired to original condition.
Inspect attics with a flashlight for any signs of animals. Look for droppings, chewing and nesting material. If a hole is found, assume an animal is present and NEVER seal it up until you are completely sure that all animals are gone. To inspect, turn off any attic lights and look for outside light leaking in, which will alert you to holes that could be potential entry points. Pay attention to the roof trim board intersection and any gable or exhaust vents. These are often covered with light bug screen that will not stand up to squirrels and raccoons.
You can test if an opening is being used by an animal two ways: put white flour in front of any holes and check for footprints, or stuff the hole loosely with a paper towel and see if it gets pushed in or out. If after three days the paper stays in place, or you have no flour footprints, you can safely close up. Use caulk for small holes, staple or screw hardware cloth over larger holes or make permanent repairs.
Take caution when it comes to bats. Bats won't leave tracks or push through paper, and they can be difficult to see. So they require a different type of inspection. Look carefully on the attic floor and on insulation for quarter-inch pellets which are a bit shiny and friable. Call a bat removal specialist if you suspect these animals are using the attic.
Check inside shining a light up the flue looking for animal signs on the damper and smoke shelf. Also check the chimney flue from the roof (or have a chimney sweep do it) to make sure no animals are present and install an animal-proof chimney cap.
From the outside and/or from a ladder look for loose vent screens, warped siding, trim board that is deteriorated and pulled away from the wall or roof holes and make permanent repairs once you have completed the attic inspection.
Trash: Secure trash containers with cords, ropes or weights, or put trash out the morning of collection, not the night before.
Trees/leaves: Keep branches trimmed 6 feet away from your house to limit access for wildlife, and clean debris – especially leaf piles – in gutters and around the foundation.
Compost: Cover and secure compost piles. Never compost meat scraps.
If animals are still finding their way inside your home humanesociety.org/wildneighbors has more information. The HSUS Wild Neighbors Program promotes non-lethal means for resolving conflicts between people and wildlife and cultivates understanding and appreciation for wild animals commonly found in cities and towns.
About the Humane Society of the United States
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization – backed by 10 million Americans, or one of every 30. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org