With a bite in the air and frost just around the corner, you may want nothing more than to find a warm, cozy nook to snuggle up in. You can bet the wildlife in your neighborhood has the same idea, and your house might beckon as the perfect comfy hiding place. Unless you perform a home inspection, squirrels, raccoons, bats, mice and more will do it for you, squeezing themselves inside through the most innocuous of gaps and holes.

Like many human-wildlife conflicts, keeping wildlife out of your house is best managed through prevention, rather than waiting until a full-blown home invasion has occurred. To help keep critters at bay, follow these tips for inspecting and winterizing your home.

1. Head outdoors. Walk around your house and do a thorough examination of your foundation, as well as the siding, trim, and roof. If you are not able to climb a ladder to inspect second-story areas, try using binoculars, or hire a service to do it for you. Your goal is to notice any small holes or gaps that might occur around pipes, vents, cables, in between siding and along trim, and in the roof. Pay special attention to places where different materials come together, such as window wells and vents. Even a hole as tiny as a fourth of an inch in diameter can provide an inviting cubbyhole for small creatures.

2. Investigate likely hiding spots. Head indoors and do a thorough sweep of your attic, basement and crawl spaces. Turn off the lights to discover gaps where daylight peeks in (keep a flashlight handy in case it’s needed). Check behind large appliances, paying special attention to natural gaps that might occur, such as those around the dryer vent.

3. The chimney: it’s not just for Santa Claus. Critters such as birds and raccoons adore an easily accessible chimney, viewing it as the perfect spot to hole up and raise a family. If your chimney is not already covered, give it a thorough inspection by shining a light up the flue, looking for evidence of animal activity on the smoke shelf or damper. Peer down the chimney from the roof, or hire a chimney sweep to do this. Bear in mind that you should never use smoke or fire to evict wildlife from your chimney; you may end up injuring or killing the animals instead. After you’re sure your chimney is critter-free, install an approved animal-proof chimney cap.

4. Look before you caulk! Before sealing off any part of your home, make absolutely certain there are no animals hiding inside. The Humane Society of the United States recommends this method: plug up any holes you find with paper or cloth that animals can easily push aside. During mild weather, check it after three days to see whether it has been moved by an animal. Let it stay for longer if the weather is extremely cold or hot, as animals may be less inclined to head outside then. If the temporary plug remains undisturbed, you can safely seal off the opening. If you do find the hole is being used as a passageway, contact a humane wildlife removal service such as SCRAM! Wildlife Control.

5. Bats in the attic. Take special care to not seal in these little flying mammals. They will not push aside paper to exit through plugged holes, so you must look for other signs of their presence. Try watching the outside of your house at dusk to see whether bats fly out to hunt. Listen inside for squeaking noises that increase just before sunset. And look for bat droppings on your attic floor or insulation: quarter-inch pellets that are shiny and easily crumbled. If you find that bats have set up shop in your attic, contact a humane wildlife removal service to evict them before sealing up any holes.

6. Break out the caulking gun. After inspecting your home, determining possible entry points and making sure no wayward wildlife is hiding out inside, repair holes with caulking or hardware screens, or make permanent repairs to areas with greater damage. (A bonus of sealing off these holes is that you will save on your energy bills!) Keep raccoons out with 16-gauge 1 x 1 steel mesh, and deter squirrels with solid aluminum flashing.

Sharing the neighborhood with wildlife enriches our lives, allowing us to observe firsthand the beauty and mystery of nature. Most of us would agree, however, that wildlife is best enjoyed outside of your home, rather than overhearing the antics of a raccoon family in your attic crawlspace. Stay tuned for an article on the ways you can help your local wildlife throughout the colder months, without inviting them in as houseguests. — Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.

Photo credit: George Hodan