ACES: Pest proof your home to keep critters away this winter

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(Alabama Cooperative Extension System)

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Winter can bring a seemingly sudden invasion of indoor pests when the weather turns cold. Dealing with these critters can be challenging, however they can be stopped at the door with the right preparation. An Alabama Cooperative Extension System entomologist has tips to mitigate winter’s seasonal pests. 

Pests in the home 

When winter weather arrives, some pests hibernate while others look for warm, protected spaces with plenty of food and water to survive for several months. According to Alabama Extension Entomologist Xing Ping Hu, the most common places are under rocks and fallen logs, in woodpiles, tree holes, leaf litter, beneath tree bark and deep soil. 

However, most people see these pests when they come into their homes. Hu said this is typically an accident.   

“Unfortunately, some of them may wander into or invade homes accidentally,” Hu said. “Ironically, indoor conditions in living spaces, especially low humidity, are not the preferred choice for most species, so many will die of dehydration.”  

Many of these creatures can be found flying and buzzing around before locating preferred spaces such as wall voids, attics, crawlspaces, basements, garages, shelters, corners, under patios and many other places.     

Common pests to look for 

There are several common pests that can be found in homes in the Southeast. 

  • Stink bugs – Stink bugs include the brown marmorated stink bugs, Kudzu bugs and others. All of these pests emit a foul pungent odor when they feel threatened.   
  • Ladybugs – Ladybugs like to congregate in big groups on the sunny side and upper corners of homes. These pests are generally harmless but can emit a yellow, foul-smelling liquid when disturbed.  
  • Cockroaches – Cockroaches can contaminate food sources and spread diseases, and their allergens trigger allergies and exacerbate asthma symptoms.   
  • Spiders – Spiders are common in the home year-round, but many species tend to breed in the fall. This means homeowners may see a population boom in the winter, particularly brown recluse spiders.  
  • Flies – Flies are often found in the home—especially cluster flies. These pests don’t bite or sting but can be very annoying and make homeowners feel like the home is filthy when they aggregate in large numbers in basements around water heaters.   
  • Ants – Ants do not hibernate, which makes them opportunistic food seekers. Ants stay inactive when it is cold and resume foraging when it becomes warm.   
  • Centipedes – These pests look creepy, and all species can bite but not all are life-threatening.   
  • Boxelder bugs  
  • Beetles  

Pests can be found anywhere, but some are more common based on their geographical region in the United States. Cockroaches and bedbugs are more common in urban areas because their diet revolves around humans and what is kept in the home. 

Hu said stink bugs and lay beetles are more problematic in rural areas because they live and feed on agricultural crops and fruit trees. However, pests can be found anywhere. Urbanization has lessened the differences between urban and rural areas. Pests seek out food, water and shelter. Anywhere they can find these resources is where people will find them. 

Pest proofing your home  

Hu said there are several practices that can prevent pests from entering the home. 

“The best time to begin pest proofing homes is when the first cold front hits,” Hu said. “Although, doing these things at any time can help make a difference.” 

  • Move wood piles, debris, garbage cans and household items away from the foundation and exterior wall of the home. Moving them 20 feet away is ideal.   
  • Keep trees, shrubs and potted plants away from the home. Trim back limbs overhanging the roof as well. This will also help spring pest populations.   
  • Keep storage items organized in airtight storage bins or containers.   
  • Use a vacuum to physically remove pests.   
  • Check anything brought into the home for hitchhikers.   
  • Keep counters and floors clean and free of crumbs.   
  • Seal the home with door sweeps and new weather stripping. Fix water leaks, as well.   
  • Traps and insect monitors can be helpful and easily purchased.   
  • Chemicals are the last step, and people should only use outdoor applications. 

More information 

There are many home pest resources available under The Home section of the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu. There, you can read more about pests that may plague your home and how to control them.