Cheat Sheet | How to uninvite rodents from your cozy dwelling

Rats are good climbers and can shinny up drain pipes.

Baby, it's getting colder outside, and no one knows better than the neighborhood rodents. They find it much more comfy to live in your floors, walls, kitchen drawers, name it, so it's time to come up with an eradication strategy. Here's some advice, provided with help from the folks at Terminix.

Know your enemy: Cooler temperatures limit rodents' natural sources of food and shelter. But they can enter houses through tiny openings and are capable of scaling rough surfaces and even tightroping wires to gain access to entry points. It's estimated that rodents will enter more than 21 million homes this winter.

Of mice and rats: The house mouse is the most common rodent pest on the planet. It's a nocturnal animal that can gain entry to human structures through openings as small as one-quarter inch. Common entry points include exterior vents, around cables that enter the home, and even under doors. The Norway rat, also known as the sewer rat, is found throughout the United States. Norways are the larger urban rat, measuring up to 16 inches in length, including tail, and just under a pound in weight. Although capable of climbing pipes and scaling cables, Norway rats prefer to travel across smooth, flat surfaces. They don't like to move across open terrain. Because of this, homes with thick vegetation or shrubbery near the foundation can unknowingly welcome this rodent.

It's nothing you did: Although rodents are unsanitary and can carry disease, their presence isn't an indication of how clean (or not) their hosts' home is. Rodents are opportunistic and will live in even immaculate homes.

Signs of invasion: Dark-colored droppings, one-quarter-inch to one-half-inch long; gnawed boxes of food in cupboards; oily "rub marks" along walls, caused by the rodents' habitual use of the same paths; gnawed door frames or furniture legs; sounds of movement in pantries and ceilings and behind walls.

Keep them out: Attempt first to eliminate safe harbors around the outside of your home. Store firewood as far from the house as possible (keep it off the ground, too), and move debris, stones and bricks away from your foundation. These provide shelter for rodents and could bring them closer to inside comfort. Seal any holes or cracks in your house larger than one-quarter of an inch (mouse size). Large openings should be stuffed with steel wool or wire mesh before sealing. Equip attic and foundation vents with tight-fitting one-quarter-inch hardware cloth, because rats are good climbers and can shinny up drain pipes and into openings. Regular insect screening will not deter rodents. Install a tight-fitting weather strip on the bottom of all doors.

Trap decisions: Mice are best controlled with traps: snap traps, live traps, or a combination of the two. With snap traps, use different baits and place traps where the mice are active, but where children and pets can't get to them.

With rats, traps are best for control, because the bodies can be removed. If you use only baits, you run the risk of a rodent's dying inside a wall or in a place where you can't remove it, and it may cause an odor. In some cases, you may need to use both traps and baits. Rodent bait should be used only in tamper-resistant rodent stations, away from children and pets. If rats are your problem, hiring a professional may be the best solution.

Forget about cheese: Most professionals say it's not a good bait. Peanut butter and chocolate are recommended, but some pros suggest using burned bacon as bait, especially for rats.

Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at

or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

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