While some people are frightened of bugs, others may be fascinated. But the one thing most people will agree on is that insects don't belong in the home. Not only do they create unsanitary conditions, but they're also just plain annoying, from the buzz of a fly to the itchy bite of the mosquito. Bees, wasps and scorpions can cause painful stings, while fleas, mosquitoes and ticks can carry diseases that they transport to pets or humans. Even the common cockroach can be a major contributor toward allergies and asthma attacks, especially in children [source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation].
With more than 10 quintillion bugs in the world (that's 10,000,000,000,000,000,0000!), bug-proofing the home can sometimes feel like a losing battle [source: Smithsonian Institute]. Fortunately, by understanding what attracts bugs to your home, you can begin making changes that will help get rid of them for good.
Just like humans, insects need food, water and shelter to survive. By eliminating their food supply and getting rid of bug's favorite hiding spots, you can reduce the risk that insects will take up residence in your home. Of course, the best way to prevent infestation is to keep bugs out entirely. To do this, you'll need to seal up the cracks and gaps in your home's exterior. By tightening up the entry points that insects use to gain access, you can greatly improve your chances of staying bug-free.
Ready to get started? Read on to the next section to learn how some simple door hardware can help you begin bug-proofing your home.
Just as a locked door can keep intruders out, a properly sealed door can help keep out unwanted pests. If you examine your entrance ways carefully, you'll likely be surprised by the number of unsealed gaps you see, each of which makes an easy entrance path for bugs.
To keep insects from crawling under your door, install a sturdy steel or aluminum threshold under the door. For even better protection, combine this with a door sweep. A sweep is a cheap device that can be found at most hardware stores, and helps to cover the gap between a threshold and the door bottom. Choose nylon brush sweeps over vinyl or neoprene, as they offer the best protection against bugs.
Add weatherstripping or door-seal kits to the perimeter of the frame to keep insects from entering along the sides or top of the door. Use a clear caulk to seal the joint where the door frame meets the wall and also along the bottom of the frame, at the area where it meets the ground.
Remember, all of these door sealing techniques won't help if the door is left open. If you have forgetful kids, consider installing a door closer. This hydraulic device will automatically close and latch your door after it's been opened and can be adjusted to control closing speed and power. You can find affordable door closers at your local home improvement store, and the average homeowner can install this device using only simple tools.
Many homeowners rely on natural ventilation from doors and windows to bring fresh air into the home. This can be especially tempting during the hot, humid days of summer. Unfortunately, summer is also the worst time of the year for mosquitoes, fleas and other pests to invade your home.
To enjoy the feeling of fresh air without the annoyance of insects, install screens in windows and doors. Choose a 20-mesh or finer screen to keep out most common household pests [source: Gouge, Olson, Snyder, Stoltman]. Screen installation is relatively simple and requires only basic tools.
Don't forget that bugs can also sneak in through holes or tears in your existing screens. Try using a screwdriver or scissors to carefully push the broken wires back into place. Add a coat of household cement or clear nail polish to seal the hole and prevent insect entry. If the screen has simply come loose along one side or corner, use staples (for wood frames) or a splining tool (for aluminum frames) to reattach it to the frame [source: Ramsey].
Yard maintenance can have a big impact on bug infestations, especially when it comes to mosquitoes and fleas. Mosquitoes need a water supply in order to breed, so eliminating pooled water in your yard is one of the top ways to reduce the mosquito population. This can not only help you to better enjoy time spent in the yard, but will also reduce the number of bugs that are trying to enter your home.
To eliminate pooling, look for areas where water tends to collect in your yard. If you find standing water on your lawn, you may have a thatch buildup. Aerating the lawn can reduce this problem and allow water to naturally absorb into the soil. Another common problem is poor drainage, which is related to the slope of the Earth. You can try to add fill dirt yourself to correct this, or have the yard professionally regraded [source: Amundsen].
It's also important to maintain regular drainage channels, such as gutters and drains. Keep them free from leaves, grass clippings and debris so they're able to operate effectively. If you have a pool, keep it chlorinated and filtered, even when not in use. Change the water in your fountains or birdbaths twice a week to keep mosquito eggs from hatching in them.
While you're working on your yard, be sure to remove any piles of leaves or debris. These areas are the perfect hiding spot for insects to hide and reproduce, preparing themselves for an infestation that can be difficult to eliminate.
Given the microscopic size of many bugs, it's not hard to believe that they can enter the home through cracks or holes that are nearly invisible to the homeowner. That's why sealing cracks on your home's exterior can be one of the best ways to bug-proof your home. One good guideline to keep in mind is this: If a pencil can slide into a crack or gap, a young mouse can also fit through, as can an endless stream of insects.
Start by examining the exterior of your home with a critical eye. Look for damaged or missing sections of siding, cracks in foundations, loose or crumbling brick and rotted wood. You'll be surprised by just how open and inviting your home is when you pay attention to the number of openings you find.
To keep bugs out, use mortar or cement to patch foundations and masonry walls. Clear away damaged bricks and add new ones, filling the joints with mortar. Replace rotting wood or trim, and repair or replace damaged sections of siding or cladding. Consider adding a layer of cementitious backerboard to areas susceptible to termite damage, including exposed foam insulation or wood sheathing. Pay particular attention to the roof line, where bees and wasps frequently build nests. Gaps or holes in the fascia board or soffit can lead to a dangerous encounter with a stinging insect in your home [source: Amundsen].
To really seal your home and repair small cracks, take time to enjoy the wondrous properties of caulk. Caulk is cheap, easy to apply and can go a long way towards keeping bugs out. Add caulk around window frames, as well as around any air intake or exhaust grilles. Use caulk to patch small cracks in foundations and siding, or use it to seal joints where the siding meets the roof or foundation. Latex varieties are best if you plan to paint over them, while clear silicone caulk is more flexible and less likely to dry out and crack over time [source: Gouge et al].
If you're like most homeowners, you've had to deal with utility installation at some point. Whether it was a new cable line, Internet service or phone wiring, the installers likely ran the lines into your home through holes drilled in the exterior walls. The more conscientious installers may have added sealants or caulk around these lines on your home's interior, but what about on the outside? Most likely, there are at least some utility or pipe penetrations in your walls that are surrounded by large gaps, providing an open invitation for insects.
Some common types of through wall penetrations include those made for water, gas, electrical or air-conditioning piping. Check the entire exterior of your home for these types of openings, as they may be located at either ground level or along the roof line. Often, you can visually follow cable and telephone lines from outside poles to find the path they take into your home. Don't forget to check around outdoor faucets and electrical outlets [source: Gouge et al].
Fill smaller gaps or cracks using pipe sealants or caulk. For larger openings, look for expandable polyurethane foam. Some installers prefer to add copper mesh or steel wool as a base layer behind this foam to deter insects that may bore through [source: Potter].
Some of the largest holes in your home's exterior are more difficult to cover. After all, you can't exactly fill your chimney or roof vents with caulk. To fill larger openings and keep bugs out, use very fine wire mesh, often called hardwire cloth. This material comes in rolls that can be stapled over holes to keep out pests. It not only keeps bugs out, but can prevent squirrel and raccoon infestations, which often bring fleas, ticks and other insects into the home [source: Potter].
Look for large holes on the roof, which are often found at the chimney and roof vents. A pre-fabricated chimney cap can be used in lieu of wire mesh, and may be more successful at keeping a variety of pests out of the chimney. Wire mesh should also be installed over holes in crawl spaces and basements, as well as over grilles, vents and registers [source: Gouge et al].
Some vents have pre-installed dampers, which are designed to keep bugs out. Check to see if yours are operating properly, and repair or replace the dampers as necessary. You can also replace existing grilles or vents with screened models that are designed to keep bugs out.
No matter how many ways you try to bug-proof your home, there's likely going to be some way for them to enter your house. To keep them from making themselves at home, get rid of their favorite amenities. This means eliminating clutter, as well as unprotected food and water sources. Without these resources, bugs will move on to the next house and leave you in peace.
A cluttered home is an easy breeding ground for bugs. Hidden by piles of newspaper or in a packed cupboard, insects can reproduce in huge numbers before they're even discovered. By that point, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. Keep clutter to a minimum, and end infestation before it begins.
Insects also need a source of food to survive. Keep them from dining in your home by storing all food in airtight containers and storing unsealed food products in the refrigerator whenever possible. Limit food consumption to a single area of the home, and wipe up crumbs or spills quickly [source: Heloise].Wash dishes immediately after use, or put them into the dishwasher.
Don't forget pet food, which can be a tempting treat for ants and cockroaches. Put pet food away after mealtimes, or invest in a bug-proof container, which gives your pet access to food while keeping insects out.
Just as one man's trash is another man's treasure, the trash cans in a home can be a gourmet smorgasbord to cockroaches and other pests. To prevent bugs from feasting on your trash, proper storage and handling are critical.
Keep food trash in the kitchen and not in wastebaskets throughout the house. The trash should be placed in a can with a lid, and should be emptied each night. Exterior cans should have self-closing lids along with tight seals to keep insects out. All interior and exterior trash receptacles and recycling bins should be cleaned and sanitized regularly, especially if they're exposed to spills.
If you keep a compost bin, it should have a secure lid and should be lined with hardwire cloth to keep bugs from feasting. Be sure to remove fully composted materials every three to six months [source: Gouge et al].
Because your home's foundations are the closest part of the house to the ground, they're also one of the most common entry spots for bugs. By keeping foundations clear and protected, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of infestation.
Insects such as termites, ants, fleas and spiders are particularly good at breeding and thriving in wet areas. By keeping moisture away from your foundations, you can make it more difficult for them to reproduce. Keep piles of wood, leaves, mulch or grass clippings away from foundations, and place firewood far away from the house to avoid tempting termites [source: Amundsen].
Check for gaps along the foundation and siding joints as well. Often, the bottom row of siding or trim is not securely sealed to the home and provides a gateway for insects. Check up under this row for gaps or poor connections, and use trim, caulk or foam to fill this space [source: Gouge et al].
Many homeowners choose to use chemical insecticides or termicides to treat their foundations, and these treatments are often unavoidable. For a more natural solution, consider placing boric acid or diatomaceous Earth at the base of these walls. These substances are non-toxic and will not harm pets or family members [source: Garrett].
One of the simplest methods for bug-proofing your home is to rely on the insects' natural predators for help. Small insects are the main source of food for a large number of birds and bats. Warblers and swallows, in particular, are potent mosquito killers [source: Lyric Bird Food]. Bats eat a much larger variety of bugs and pests, including wasps, flies, spiders, mosquitoes and even scorpions [source: Carstens].
To encourage birds to help with your pest control efforts, it helps to provide trees and bushes where they can establish nests. Add a fresh water supply, and change it often so that it doesn't grow stagnant. You may also wish to add a birdseed or nectar feeder to supplement their insect-based diet [source: Gouge et al].
Many homeowners may be hesitant to encourage bats in their yard, despite their ability to help control insect populations. Fortunately, bats sleep during the day and only fly at night, which means you're unlikely to even notice them. As you're sleeping they'll be hard at work getting rid of bugs before they can crawl their way into your home. Encourage bats by installing a bat house or roost in your yard.
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More Great Resources
- Amundsen, Lucie B. "How to Keep Animals and Insect Pests Out of Your House." Reader's Digest. May 2006. 7/29/09.
- Carstens, Bryan. "What Do Bats Eat?" Organization for Bat Conservation. 2006. 7/29/09.http://www.batconservation.org/content/Infobatarticles.html
- Garrett, Howard. "Termites." The Dirt Doctor. 2008. 7/30/09http://www.dirtdoctor.com/organic/garden/view_question/id/51/
- Gouge, David H.; Olson, Carl; Snyder, Jennifer L.; Stoltman, Alison J.; "How to Bug Proof Your Home. The University of Arizona. Date Unknown. 7/30/09.http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/insects/az1320/
- Heloise. "How to Get Rid of Insects and Pests." Good Housekeeping. Date Unknown. 7/29/09.http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/heloise/pests/banish-insect-pest-jun06-2
- Lyric Bird Food. "Food Chain Tag." Date Unknown. 7/29/09.http://www.lyricbirdfood.com/adx/aspx/adxGetMedia.aspx?DocID=57,7,2,Documents&MediaID=39&Filename=lyric_lesson1_food_chain_tag.pdf
- Potter, Michael F. "How to Pest-Proof Your Home." University of Kentucky. August 1997. 7/30/09http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef641.asp
- Ramsey, Dan. "How to Repair Windows." HowStuffWorks. Date Unknown. 7/30/09.http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/repair/how-to-repair-windows2.htm
- Smithsonian Institute. "Bug Info." 2009. 7/18/09.http://www.si.edu/encyclopedia_si/nmnh/buginfo/bugnos.htm