Rodent Season: Focus outside to prevent rats and mice from getting inside

Rats can cause serious damage to your home, and spread disease.

It's getting to be that time of year when we get out of the weather, hunker down inside our warm homes, and prepare big meals.

Rats and mice have the same plans, and when they get inside, they can devastate your home. And experts say this year will be a bad one for rodents in the Northwest.

"Rodent means 'to chew'. It's Latin meaning 'to chew,'" says Rob McMaster, the president of Beaverton-based Halt Pest Control. "The damage that they cause is incredible."

Rodents spend at least 3 percent of their life chewing, because their teeth never stop growing. If they don't chew, they'll die.

But in your home, that chewing can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage, and can even lead to fires.

Experts say 25 percent of house fires with undetermined causes are likely due to rodents chewing electric wires in the walls and elsewhere.

"Those wires in your house look very attractive to them to chew on, and those pipes look very attractive to chew on," says McMaster, who recalled a story about a woman who had a rat behind her dishwasher. It chewed through the water line when she was away and the resulting flooding caused $50,000 in damage.

Then there's the illnesses that rodents can spread. From salmonella to meningitis to hantavirus and E. coli, they carry pathogens that can kill you.

So, how do you stop these dangerous pests from getting into your home? Start by working outside your home.

Halt Pest Control shared these steps from the National Pest Management Association:

  • Install door sweeps on exterior doors and repair damaged screens
  • Screen vents and openings to chimneys
  • Seal cracks and holes on the outside of the home, including areas where utilities and pipes enter the home, using caulk and/or steel wool, and don’t forget to seal up points of entry into the garage
  • Store food in airtight containers and dispose of garbage regularly
  • Keep attics, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry
  • Replace loose mortar and weather stripping around the basement foundation and windows
  • Eliminate all moisture sites, including leaking pipes and clogged drains that provide the perfect breeding site for pests
  • Inspect items such as boxes, grocery bags and other packages brought into the home or car
  • Regularly inspect under the hood of vehicles for gnawed materials, nests, droppings or frayed wires
  • Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house and keep shrubbery trimmed and cut back from the house

If you see mice in your house, try to trap them and find out how they're getting inside. But then, be ready to call for help.

"If you keep trapping mice, then you're just harvesting mice, and you've got a problem," says McMaster. "You've lost the battle. Give us a call."

But if you see rats, even one rat, in your house, that's a very bad sign. One rat can be a serious problem, due to the damage they cause and diseases they may carry. And because rats are smarter than mice, have a wider range they travel, and can do so much more damage, even one rat is reason to call the professionals.

"You DON'T want a rat in your house," says McMaster.

But don't despair. There's hope, and it lies with you.

"If we can convince the homeowner to change their habits, that will probably way lessen the impact that these rodents will have on the house."

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