If you think there is only one family living in your house, think again. Families four, six and eight-legged creatures are most likely nestled comfortably behind your walls. They may be eating your food, chewing through your stuff, and secretly delighting in scaring the living daylights out of you every once in awhile.
Some of us have a higher tolerance for critters than others, but it's important to prevent a single little field mouse from breeding into an entire mischief-brigade in the attic. Besides the major creep-out factor, an infestation can result in thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home. Here's what you need to identify the critters, learn their habits, and stop an infestation in its tracks.
The culprit: Mice
How to spot them: Besides catching glimpses of their pointy faces in the cabinetry, you'll be able to detect a mouse by what he leaves behind: feces and chewed wiring. Their sharp teeth can also do a number on your drywall, so those mouse-holes from the cartoons can become reality in your home.
Taking Action: First, fix any holes that Mr. Mouse has made so he won't be tempted to come out and say hello. Don't discriminate according to the size of the hole; mice can fit through a space the diameter of a dime. Cats work as great mice exterminators, too.
If you find mousetraps cruel and unusual punishment, invest in kinder models that don't kill the mice or glue them into place. Another alternative is to place a piece of food at the bottom of an empty wine bottle where you suspect Mr. Mouse may be lurking. Once he finds his way into the bottle he won't be able to get out. Take the bottle outdoors and carefully break the neck and set the little guy free.
Preventative Action: Keep your food under lock and key.
The culprit: Roaches
How to spot them: Well, you'll see them for sure when you turn on the kitchen or bathroom light in the middle of the night.
Taking Action: Certain parts of the world are simply prone to roaches, but when you start seeing them en masse or more frequently, it's time to drag out the heavy artillery. Time-release bombs and sprays will keep these disgusting beasts away for a couple of weeks, while a series of roach motels will kill whatever's left over for months. Boric acid is a cheaper, natural alternative, but can be lethal to your pets, so read the instructions carefully before using it around the house.
Preventative Action: We can't stress the preventative measures enough. If there isn't any access to food, roaches won't want to invite themselves over. Keep all morsels sealed or refrigerated and don't leave crumbs lying about under any circumstances.
The culprit: Raccoon
How to spot them: The state of your garbage is a good indicator. Also, if you hear something pawing around late at night (and you don't have a cat) it is likely a raccoon or an opossum.
Taking Action: Raccoons are good at setting up camp under and over our homes and given their size, temper, and proneness to rabies, it's best to call Animal Removal Services if you suspect there's a family living amongst you.
Preventative Action: Keep pet foods indoors and secure your garbage cans with bungee cords or rope.
The culprit: Ants
How to spot them: You'll see them.
Taking Action: In many regions, ants are a seasonal annoyance. Sealing any cracks and crevices where they are finding their ways indoors is a good start. (It's easy to find these holes; just follow their trail.) Sprays and foggers will kill the ants that you can see, but they won't prevent them from returning. Sprinkle a repellent powder around the perimeter of your home.
Preventative Action: Seal up all food, especially the sweet stuff. Wipe up spills and crumbs immediately.
The culprit: Fleas
How to spot them: Check out your pet: has he or she been doing a lot of scratching lately? Once they are on your pet, watch out! You're next.
Taking Action: Apply flea medication to your pet and wash all of their bedding in hot water. If fleas have worked their way into the carpet, you have quite a battle ahead. Invest in boric acid and sprinkle it liberally onto the floor. (Again, remove your pets as boric acid can be harmful to them.) Let the boric acid sit for a few hours and then vacuum it up. Fleas can get into your vacuum, so empty the bag immediately into the outside garbage. Leave the vacuum outside too—if the temperature drops, any fleas living inside your machine will die. Repeat as necessary until you are flea-free. Store-bought foggers work well for fleas, but follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully as they can be dangerous.
Preventative Action: As soon as your pet starts scratching, treat the problem. Otherwise, it'll blow up and you'll have a major mess on your hands—not to mention bites on your feet.
No matter how clean your home is, you will most definitely have a run in with a pest at one time or another. The trick is learning how to spot the critters and stop them in their tracks before you have to start charging rent.