You’re cuddled by the fire, warm mugs in hand, when something goes bump in the night. A prowler? No, it’s only a mouse seeking a warm winter hideaway.
Most homeowners don’t think about winter pests—like rodents, spiders, cockroaches, crickets or even raccoons and skunks—until they see signs of an infestation, at which point treatment becomes more difficult, says Ron Harrison, Ph.D., director of technical services at Orkin, Inc., based in Atlanta.
Many pests are inside and making themselves at home before we even know they’re there.
The house mouse, Norway rat, and roof rat (non-native species that don’t hibernate) start looking for warmer conditions when outside temperatures drop below 50 degrees—which can be early fall in the Midwest and Northeast and mid-winter in southern states. And it’s usually the offspring (not as careful as their parents) that are eventually seen and heard, alerting homeowners to their presence even though they’ve been in the home for months.
Other “overwintering pests” include box elder bugs, lady bugs, and stink bugs, which invade in the fall and would normally hibernate during the winter but are active indoors, especially on warmer winter days, because the house is so warm.
Often, we’ve opened the door to these pests ourselves, notes Harrison. We bring boxes of decorations down from our attics. We go out to farms to cut down a tree. We buy plants like poinsettias and Christmas cactus to decorate our homes. We bring in logs from the woodpile. Or a visiting relative or kid home from college will have bed bugs inside luggage, purses or on shoes or pants.
Smoke ‘Em Out
According to Harrison, the best way to keep pests out of your home during the winter is to take preventative action before you have a problem. He suggests the following:
- Inspect cracks and crevices. Look at the outside of your home, including gutters and roofs that could provide access to overwintering pests. Trim vegetation that can serve as a natural pathway indoors. Seal cracks, crevices or gaps in siding, door and window screens, and around pipes, as these areas can serve as entry points for pests. Rodents and cockroaches can enter your home through tiny gaps—rats can squeeze through quarter-sized openings, and mice can fit through dime-sized holes.
- Examine what you bring in. Carefully look over plants, trees, and stored boxes before bringing them inside. Anything you see that looks insect-like bears closer inspection. Some ant and cockroach species nest in firewood, so be sure to store it on a raised platform away from your home and inspect it before bringing it inside. Only bring in what you plan to burn right away, advises Harrison.
- Keep it clean. Keep countertops and dishes clean, and don’t forget to tightly seal leftovers and rinse recyclable containers prior to storing. Empty garbage bins regularly and vacuum frequently to avoid attracting pests.
- Spring fling. As part of your spring cleaning, remove clutter, especially from low-traffic areas like closets, crawl spaces and attics. Pests love clutter. Says Harrison: “Get rid of it and you reduce the places they can hide.”
If you do see or hear signs of pests in or around your home, Harrison recommends calling a licensed pest management professional to determine the most effective treatment and control methods. And, he says, it’s important to call right away because pests can spread disease, contaminate food, and trigger allergies and asthma in some people, Harrison notes.
You can also visit Orkin’s Learning Center  for more resources on identifying common household pests and treatment recommendations.