Yes, this sounds like an appetizing blog post, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s about something that all of us in real estate redevelopment are guaranteed to run into, probably many times. In fact, I actually got a request for a post about dealing with mice, rats and their buddies, since I mentioned rodent issues in the post about the challenges of maintaining outdoor living rooms.
What We’ve Seen
I’ve had the interesting fortune of living near swamps or woods most of my life, so I have run into a lot of creatures. When I lived near a canal that led to the Everglades in south Florida, we had swamp rats. Well, “we” didn’t, but the woman next door, who it turned out was a genuine class A hoarder and had a rubber-tree jungle in her back yard had swamp rats. They would come out and pester our dachshund mix dog. These were huge and scary.
When I lived in Illinois I “only” had field mice, and mostly during the winter when the corn fields were barren. They were actually sort of cute, until one died under a large chest of drawers.
In Braesgate, my first Texas house, there were tree rats (or roof rats; I didn’t ask them which they were) that I’d think were kitties in the trees outside. But they weren’t. Those darlings got into our attic and kept scaring my children, well into their teens.
And of course, squirrels and such got in where those tree rats got in. Our garage was rather unpleasant there for a while.
Now, those were just my personal homes. The houses we renovate are way worse. By the time we get to them, they usually have holes in windows, doors, and walls that practically beg critters to come in and get comfortable. And if the previous occupants left food lying around, the holes are often from the visitors tunneling in themselves. I wish I could find a picture of the guest bedroom in the Travis 1 house, where something had eaten a big old hole in the floor, then noshed on the discarded mattress to create nesting material.
That’s all gone now.
What We’ve Done
As this fine article on the Orkin website will tell you in great detail, it’s not healthy to live or work alongside these creatures. For that reason, the first thing we do on any rehab is the “pre-habbing,” which consists of cleaning up debris and droppings in and around the house. We also do our best to temporarily block access as well, though as soon as the temptation of food is removed, they usually go away.
When the problem is large rats, raccoons, or other wild animals, we’ve put out humane traps. That’s how we controlled the swamp rats at the Florida house. One thing’ for sure, the rats did NOT like the cages, and were not impressed by how humane we were. I occasionally have nightmares featuring their angry faces, with their noses all messed up from trying to force their way out. Good old Dad would take them out to the swamp and bid them farewell.
Why didn’t we poison the swamp rats? Well, they were right there where our dog was, and the poison would have also killed her. We did use some poisons in the attic of our house in Texas (where domesticated animals could not go), but that brings its own problems in the form of dead rodents. Yuck. The pest control folks did put in some deterrents as well, and left the holes open so larger animals could leave before we carefully sealed them in. Every ventilation area is a potential entryway for curious animals, so we learned to check the roof, eaves, fireplace, etc., frequently.
The simplest thing we did to cut down on pests like this was to prevent residents in the house (of all ages!) from eating in their bedrooms or the living area. Confining food to the official eating areas and cleaning up promptly removes a lot of incentive for invaders.
Steps to Take on Renovations
Of course, in houses we work on, it’s important to seal any potential entry areas for animals. Don’t leave a hole in the eaves, soffits, attic, chimney, dryer vent (personal experience with this one), etc. And if possible, make it hard for animals to get under the house. Skunks love it under houses. Ask me how I know.
For small problems, setting out some mouse/rat poison can’t hurt. Heed our lesson, and don’t put rodent poison out where your own or neighbors’ pets can get to it. Please.
Trim shrubbery and trees away from the house. The tree rats got into my Braesgate house very easily when the big oak trees were draping over the roof. Once the trees were trimmed, the problem diminished. Many houses we buy to fix up have lots of “junk trees” growing around them, planted by birds that sit on the edge of roofs. Make sure to remove these early on in your projects.
When an infestation is large or involves animals that might be rabid (skunks, bats, raccoons, possums, etc.) it’s a good idea to consult with a professional. They usually know exactly what to do, and saves valuable time that you would spend in trial and error figuring out what will work. Remember the Money Value of Time, and don’t waste more time finding a solution than a professional exterminator would cost!
PS: If you leave a hole that is TOO big, you may find the rodent patrol has beat you to it, and you’ll come face to face with a very large, displeased owl, who’s made WAY more mess than the rodents she was eating did. See Mandi’s story!