by David Moore
Manager of Technical Services and Board Certified Entomologist
with contributions by Eric Smith, PhD, BCE
If you have had a pest management professional at your home, you may have heard them speak about proofing a structure to prevent pests from harboring inside of it. This is important for commercial and residential locations and can have far reaching implications if basic maintenance is not sustained.
What does proofing consist of?
Proofing a structure is basically finding any place a pest can enter into a location and limiting access to that area. This can be as simple as a crack in the foundation or as big as a project as a broken sewer pipe under a concrete slab. Proofing can be achieved through simple measures such as using an inexpensive tube of caulk, or it can be as extensive as having to rip down a wall in order to prevent pests from entering a facility. It basically sums up to being measures that are taken to prevent pests from entering or living inside a structure and impacting either the life of the resident or the operation of a business. These measures can be reactive once a pest issue is discovered, or proactive to help prevent a pest issue from even developing. Hopefully this session will help you take the proactive approach to help prevent pests from becoming an issue.
What types of pests can we proof against?
In a short answer: All of them to some capacity. Right now with the fall weather we are primarily concerned with two types of issues: Overwintering pests and rodents. Although proofing can go beyond just preventing pests from entering a structure, to removing areas that they can live at once they enter a facility. A great example of that would be sealing up cracks and crevices in a restaurant kitchen to help prevent German cockroaches from becoming established inside the structure.
Overwintering pests consist of all the insects that get inside your home to live during the cold months and are usually nothing more than a nuisance pest. Some examples of overwintering pests are brown marmorated stink bugs, lady bugs, and boxelder bugs to name a few. Mice and rats are the primary rodents that impact people on a daily basis. The challenge with rodents is that they have the ability to chew through certain measures and they are much smarter than most people give them credit.
Quick and inexpensive measures:
The simplest and probably biggest impact you can have on your home is to get some caulk or silicone and find as many cracks and crevices you can find and seal them up. For the smaller cracks and crevices, use caulk but be sure to use the kind that is flexible and that can be painted or use clear flexible caulk if you are sealing naturally finished wood or other surfaces that will not be painted. For larger holes, expandable foam can be used to seal the larger cracks and crevices that are hidden from view such as those around electrical boxes hidden by cover plates. Some areas to target are:
- Window and door frames. Seal around the outside of the frame where the frame meets the wall.
- Seal the pulley holes on double hung windows with tape or stuff them with fabric (tie the end piece of fabric around the cord so you can easily retrieve and remove the fabric in the spring).
- For electrical outlets and switch boxes, first be sure that the electricity is turned off, and then remove the cover plate, close the gap between the box and the wall, and replace the cover. There are actually template foam inserts than can be purchased specifically for this purpose now.
- For heating duct and air-return vents, remove the grate, close the gap between the duct and the wall/floor, and replace the cover.
- For light fixtures and ceiling fans, first be sure that the electricity is turned off, and then remove the fixture to the electrical box behind its base plate, seal the gap between the box and the wall, and then replace the fixture.
- Canister lights. Remove the decorative trim/plate and seal the fixture-to-ceiling junction, but do not seal the air vents on canister lights, they are required to allow heat from the bulb to safely escape.
- For skylights, seal the junction of the skylight box or its trim with the ceiling.
- For baseboards, seal the junction of the baseboard to the wall.
- For utility openings, seal your air conditioner lines and other gaps dime-sized or larger.
Doors are another great entry point for pests. Some doors have gaps large enough for larger rodents to walk right under. Door sweeps and astragals (vertical door sweeps) are quick, simple, and cost effective measures that can be taken to help reduce the likelihood that pests can enter into a structure. Utilizing weather stripping on the gap between a door and door frame can reduce pest penetration as well.
The great thing about these measures is that they should have a positive impact on a heating bill for the coming months. It is like hitting two birds with one stone.
More involved measures:
Repairing tears in window and door screens will help reduce entry of flies, gnats, mosquitoes and midges during summer, and cluster flies, lady beetles, and other overwintering pests in early fall. Installing ¼”hardware cloth over attic, roof, and crawl space vents will help prevent entry of birds, bats, squirrels, rodents, and other wildlife. You can place the hardware cloth over other larger holes to limit wildlife entry as well.
Besides proofing your home, you can look at how your landscaping is configured around a structure. If you have any trees that are touching your roof or walls, they need to be trimmed back. Ideally, mulch should be replaced with rocks or stone. This is particularly important for any areas touching the structure itself.
Keeping trash and litter in sealed containers will make your location much less attractive to wildlife, rodents, and insect pests. Keeping firewood off the ground and away from a structure is another way to reduce your risk for pest introduction.
These are some measures that just about anyone can perform to take a proactive approach with their location. If you do not feel comfortable in taking on these tasks, many pest management professionals can take care of the proofing for you. Sometimes the structural repairs are much larger than the small items I noted above. When that happens, a professional with the right skillset may be necessary to solve the structural deficiency. A phrase I use frequently for the pest management industry is that our problems do not go away, they only get worse. If you are having an issue, please reach out to your pest management professional to resolve it. Ignoring the issue or the underlying cause of the problem only allows the pest to flourish and impact your life further. Taking some of these proactive measures noted above will hopefully alleviate some potential frustrations and allow you to have less stress in your life.