Giant squirrel looking through window

How To Pest-Proof Your Home This Winter

In summer, you work hard to keep annoying insects out of your home. Winter can be even more of a challenge, because some of the creatures trying to get in are bigger—and harder to drive out.

“Mice, rats, raccoons, squirrels, cockroaches and ants will try to seek food and shelter inside homes as the temperature drops,” says Jamie Nichols, senior service center manager of Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta. These critters can cause damage to your home as well as spread bacteria. Also, some (like raccoons and squirrels) can be difficult—and expensive—to get rid of, as they require a professional exterminator.

Fortunately, some careful planning can help you keep these creatures outdoors, where they belong. Here’s what Nichols recommends.

Pest-Proof The Outdoor Area

Eliminate Hiding Spots

  • If you have grass and shrubbery close to the house, keep it well trimmed.
  • Use rocks and stones for ground cover near the home’s foundation; material like wood chips could provide shelter for pests.
  • Firewood is a favorite hideout for mice and rats. Place logs at least 20 feet away from the house and elevate at least 18 inches off the ground.
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Don’t Tempt with Food

Trim the trees

  • Any tree branches close to your roof could be a bridge for insects, squirrels and rodents. Squirrels are especially skilled jumpers, so trim branches back at least 8 to 10 feet from your roof.

Keep Water Away

  • Termites, ants and roaches are all drawn to moisture, so make sure gutters are clean and that downspouts direct water at least 3 to 4 feet away from your home’s foundation.
  • Regularly drain decorative pools and birdbaths; eliminating standing water will help keep termites, squirrels, raccoons, possums and other rodents away.

Pest-Proof The Entry Points

Plug Cracks and Holes

  • Seal the following:
    • cracks in the foundation
    • spots where wires or pipes pass through walls
    • any holes larger than one-quarter inch
    • any holes in the roof, no matter how small
  • Use steel hardware cloth (wire mesh that’s woven or welded) or galvanized steel flashing.

Protect the Windows

  • If you’re worried about larger pests that could chew through screens, install hardware cloth on top of them.

Refresh the Weather Stripping

  • Check the weather stripping around doors and windows and replace any that is damaged or decayed.

Add a Sweep or Brush Strip to Exterior Doors

  • By blocking off the small gaps at the base, which are especially common in older homes, you leave pests fewer ways to get inside. (This will also help you save money by keeping the heat inside.)

Check the Chimney

  • The chimney is a common nesting site for bats, birds, squirrels and raccoons. Have yours checked for nests every year before using it and install a chimney cap to help keep wildlife out.

Seal the Attic

  • Make sure attic vent seals are tight.

Mind the Garage

  • Keep your garage door closed when possible; it presents another barrier for creatures.

Pest-Proof The Indoors

Look for Gaps

  • Check under and behind refrigerators, stoves and kitchen cabinets. Also look between the floor and wall junctures, as well as the area around pipes, floor vents and dryer vents. Plug any gaps with hardware cloth or steel wool.

Eliminate Moisture

Be on the lookout for leaking pipes and clogged drains. Pay extra attention to kitchens and bathrooms, which can be particularly vulnerable to cockroach infestations.


  • Keep attics, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.


  • Mice and rats love hiding in clutter, especially in lightly trafficked areas like the basement, attic and garage. Some quick tidying can make these areas less tempting. Clear out stacks of old newspapers and other junk.

Store Off the Floor

  • Cardboard boxes clustered together and piles of old clothes can be inviting to pests. Store items in sealed plastic containers and keep them on shelves.

Lock Up Food

  • Store food in airtight containers and dispose of garbage regularly.
  • Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink.
  • Leave no trace of kitchen spills and clean up crumbs (even those beneath the toaster).
  • Pick up bowls of pet food when done; don’t leave them on the floor overnight.

Another way to help protect your home from uninvited guests? Homeowners insurance through the GEICO Insurance Agency. Get a fast, free quote now.

Read more: How To Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing

By Maridel Reyes

GEICO can help protect your home.

    Leave a comment

  1. Rhodesia says,

    Thank you for the information on how to keep outside pests ,(Mickey mouses) family out of my house/haven. Almost 40 years ago my father showed me how to use commercial grade metal mesh, and tar to seal up holes where critter could get in.. So I am sure metal mesh ,and fast drying cement or foam insulation will serve the same purpose. The only mice I like are the Disney World ones, Minnie, and Mickey . Any other mice don’t pay rent at my house, and if they try to squat, or try to sublet my apartment without my permission, there will eviction procedures quick fast by any mean necessary.

  2. Daryle Thomas says,

    Keep mice, rats, squirrels and their friends out with peppermint oil and ammonia.
    Buy commercial peppermint oil, a full pint is less than $40 delivered, and mix it with ammonia at a 50 – 50 blend.
    Spray the outside walls and the attic if there is one. Spray again in a few days.
    Storing your car while on winter leave? Spray it, too.
    Spray the garden shed.
    “Bulk Apothecary” is a good source for essential oils in bulk.

  3. Fatolla Lessani says,

    Do not use D con or any other edible chemicals inside the house for getting rid of mice or rats.The chemicals are not only dangerous to the young children/pets ,the affected animals may die in hidden and invisible areas inside the house and cause extremely bad odour

  4. Lyle Predmore says,

    Every place we have lived we find that mice will find their way inside, usually in the fall with the changing season. I always keep some DeCon out in a corner or two of the basement. At current location I have it under the crawl space and in the attic. In the attic I have taped a couple pieces to the rafters. Mice and rats cannot resist – they nibble on it and then go outside to find water and die.

  5. Sara Killinger says,

    I have recently discovered that there are a few mice living in my home. I want to find an effective way to get these pests under control but did not want to use poison or a glue board because I am afraid that my pets may accidentally ingest the poison or get caught in the trap. Your advice to use peanut butter to lure mice out is an excellent idea. Do you have any instructions on how to build a trap with peanut butter?

    • Robert Spencer says,

      Hey Sara,
      Simply go to Walmart and purchase a rat/mouse trap. They normally come two in a pack. You then put a little peanut butter on the metal trigger plate. When “Mr. Sneaking the Mouse” comes to swipe the peanut butter, Powie! He’s a dead rat.

      • Cynthia says,

        I had a friend in CT. that used “Have A Heart” traps to capture field mice that would make their home in her home during the winter. She captured then separated the males from the females into 2 different aquariums. She put toys like toilette or paper towel cardboard rolls, exercise wheels, etc. and cared for them over the winter then released them come spring. Just in case you can’t bear to kill these adorable but destructive little guys. Catching and releasing in the winter? Tried that. They make it back into the house before you do!

        • Mag says,

          I use those little white “thing-ama-jigs” that plug into your electrical outlets.
          They work like a charm! No poison, no traps, no dead little critters in the
          walls or draws. No fuss no muss! Critters in the house, sheds, cabins, etc
          were just a fact of life at our beach property until we started using them.
          They come in two sizes for not a lot of money. I use several per room because the emition can be blocked by furniture, etc. Now I use a more sophisticated version that plugs in and send the whatever it sends through the wiring in the whole house (trailer in this case.) They are more expensive (about $25) but if you’ve ever had to through out
          everything in the place for fear of hantahirus than it is well worth it.
          Two years with the same ones and not a critter to be found!

        • Killer says,

          Kill them! They carry diseases. These are not pet-grade animals. They are wild. And when you let them loose, you are begging for another infestation. But you know, whatever. Play with the plague-carrying pestilence because they are “cute”… I’ll call it natural selection when they kill off a family with their diseases. (If you want a gerbil, go to a pet store).

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