It seems that every winter while we're trying to stay warm and cozy, so are all sorts of bugs and rodents that creep into our houses and garages.
Why wouldn't they want to make a home for themselves in your home - after all, who (or what) wouldn't want to partake in the comfort your home offers?
But you probably have a different take on the situation. It's not a compliment that these things are trying to share your living space - it's a nuisance at best and unhealthy at worst.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common diseases spread by insects and rodents include hantavirus, leptospirosis, rabies, tularemia, West Nile Virus, tapeworms, salmonella, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, strep, staph, polio, murine typhus, malaria, Lyme disease, dysentery, dengue, cholera and plague.
But never fear. If you know how to arm yourself you can likely handle the infestation, whether you do it yourself or hire professionals.
The National Pest Management Association, an association made up of pest control companies, lists mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons and opossums among the rodents that may try to infiltrate your home between October and February.
Signs include scampering or gnawing sounds late at night in the attic or behind walls, and droppings found in undisturbed areas of the house (pantries, attics, garages, under baseboards, and along walls).
These fuzzy creatures are destructive. They'll chew through packaged goods, cardboard boxes, walls near pipes and vents, and electrical wiring.
If you have a rodent problem, you're not alone. The NPMA says that 21 million households in the U.S. fight rodent infestations each year during the winter.
Common points of entry include pet doors, holes in walls, missing vent screens, openings around pipes and dryer duct vents ¾ even openings as small as a nickel or half dollar.
So what can you do to keep them out? The NPMA suggests sealing all holes of larger diameter than a pencil, sealing any cracks and voids, and making sure there's proper drainage at the foundation, including gutters or diverts which channel water away from your home.
According to the NPMA, common home-invader insects include cockroaches, termites, ants, flies, pantry pests, wasps, fleas, ticks, spiders and silverfish.
To prevent infestation, keep gutters free of debris, repair fascia and soffits, replace rotted or broken roof shingles, prune vegetation back from roof, caulk around windows and doors, replace weather stripping and repair loose mortar around basement foundation and windows, and make sure attic vents are in good condition.
The Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc., the umbrella organization of the nationwide Better Business Bureau system, says in a consumer report, "In some cases you may be able to eradicate (pests) yourself; in others you may need to hire professional services."
The BBB advises that even in do-it-yourself cases, it is a good idea to check with a pest management company to get up-to-date information on chemicals that should be used.
"Selecting a qualified and licensed pest management company is critically important," says Robert Lederer, executive vice president of the NPMA. "At stake is not only the effective elimination of your pest problem but also the health and safety of you and your family," he says.
Before you hire a pro, the NPMA recommends:
* Certification. Call the certifying state agency for information about pest management professionals in your area. They are required to attend pesticide safety and applicator certification at least every two years.
* A license. Ask to see their license and make sure they are a member of national, state or local pest management associations.
* Referrals. Ask people to recommend companies they've used successfully.
* Reliability. Check with your local BBB for a reliability report and to see if complaints have been filed against the company.
* Bids. If a sizable amount of money is involved, get several bids.
* Before signing a contract, be sure you fully understand the nature of the pest problem, the extent of the infestation, and the work necessary to solve the problem.
* Liability insurance. Make sure the company has this to cover any damages to your house or possessions during treatment.
* If a guarantee is given, know what it covers, how long it lasts, what you must do to keep it in force, and what kind of continuing prevention and management practices are necessary.
And if you opt to try store-bought pesticides to eradicate your pests, be sure to follow the instructions, keep them in their original containers, and always keep them out of reach of your children and pets.
For a list of licensed and qualified pest management professionals in your area, visit www.pestworld.org.