EXCLUSION TECHNIQUES

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June 12, 2001

Is your company involved with wildlife control? Do you want to be? Here are some tips to help sell this service to your customers.

The word "exclusion" means a lot of things to a lot of people. In my hometown of St. Louis, the primary animals I exclude are squirrels, raccoons, bats, rodents and birds. I believe, however, that it’s best to deal with the problem animal first and then do the exclusion. In my experience, if you just scare out the animal and then do a repair, you invite further — and sometimes more costly — damage.

I once went to see a customer who had not heard any noise in his house but he had a roof leak. The roofers came to repair the leak but did not recognize that this problem (i.e., the hole) was caused by a raccoon. They removed a couple layers of shingles, fixed all the sheeting and installed a new roof. The raccoon did not like being locked out of her "house," so she proceeded to rip a hole bigger than the first hole through the new roof.

When animals move into a house, they claim that house as their home without any recognition that the house is owned by a human — a human who may not want them there. I personally don’t want to be responsible for further damage to someone’s house. I believe it is irresponsible to do exclusion before dealing with the problem animals. The exception to this rule is in the case of bats inside an attic, which I will discuss later in this article.

ROUNDING UP RACCOONS. I’m 6 feet 1 inch tall, weigh 230 pounds and have been yanked and pulled off balance by a raccoon that weighs about 25 pounds. Do not underestimate the strength of these creatures. I trap the raccoons before I do the exclusion. My primary method of trapping is to place a live trap as close to the animal’s entrance as possible. If the animal is in a chimney, I use a "Chimtrap" over the flu of the chimney. Once the raccoon is caught, I check to see if there are any others or if the homeowner has heard any more noise. Sometimes the way to check for continued activity is to place a plastic bag over the entrance and see if an animal moves it or rips through it. If the bag is disturbed, continue trapping.

My raccoon exclusion work usually involves installing a double layer of ½-inch by ½-inch hardware cloth over the entrance or to block off an eave, fastened with wafer-head pointed tech screws. Because of the size of the head on these screws, washers are not needed to hold the hardware cloth in place. This also makes a nicer looking repair. Repairs should look as nice as possible. They are your signatures. People remember you by what you leave behind. If the raccoons were in the chimney, install a chimney cap permanently over the flu to prevent a new raccoon family from entering.

It is a good idea to do an attic inspection after you think you’re done trapping. If the raccoons have been there a long time, you could offer an additional service doing a cleanup — but be sure to make it worth your time. I don’t do an attic cleanout for less than $100 per hour. It’s hard work, but with raccoons, the droppings are usually located in a small area as the animals establish a bathroom area in a structure. Their droppings may be concentrated in an outside area under an overhang on the roof rather than inside. If so, you won’t have much quantity to clean up. I was once in an apartment attic that had raccoons for more than three years. The feces pile was 3 feet wide by 8 feet long and 3½ feet deep. This was a long-term problem.

SECURING SQUIRRELS. Squirrels frequently come back to where they were born to have their young, causing repetitive problems for homeowners. They have sharp teeth and can chew through many structures. Sometimes they chew on a house for no apparent reason. Everyone wants a quick and easy way to take care of squirrels, but there just isn’t one. Trapping the squirrels, then excluding any others, is the best way to deal with the invaders.

When I’ve gone two weeks with no squirrels, I do the repair. Our repairs are either sheet metal or hardware cloth. I prefer ½ inch by ½ inch hardware cloth and I double layer it. I have never had a squirrel eat through one of my repairs. I have had some eat a hole right next to my repair, but never through it. My theory is that they can chew through a single layer, but a double layer leaves too many sharp edges and they move on.

I also believe squirrels are family oriented and territorial. If my trap is next to a hole, I’m catching squirrels that live in that hole. I don’t believe I’m catching the whole neighborhood.

EXCLUDING SPRING BIRDS. Many of the homes in our area are built with 2-inch vent holes between the rafters of the house. When they were built, the architects did not think about pest problems. They just covered the hole with window screen. The birds have a perch and can easily peck through to gain access to the attic.

If you cover one vent hole, the bird moves to the next. I give the homeowner two bids — one to fix the one hole and a second to fix all of them. It’s almost certain that those homeowners who choose to cover only one vent hole have birds back the next year. (Then, the next year they call me back to cover all the holes.) You need to use hardware cloth. Again, I use ½ inch by ½ inch and make about a 3 inch by 3 inch square to cover the hole. The hardware cloth is overkill but it will stop squirrels while still allowing venting of the attic.

With birds, one major factor is the kind of bird causing the problem. I get calls primarily for house sparrows, starlings and pigeons. Just about every other bird that becomes a nuisance is protected. Be careful. You can get into deep legal trouble with protected birds. Sometimes if it’s a bird like a chimney swift in a chimney or a barn swallow on an overhang, I tell the people they need to wait until the young are big enough to leave the nest, then put on a chimney cap or remove the nest. You could install bird netting if it would work in that particular situation. (Editor’s note: for more information on bird netting, refer to this author’s article on birds from the March 2001 issue of PCT magazine, www.pctonline.com/articles/article.asp?MagID=1&ID=1380&IssueID=139)

Bird exclusion can be very profitable. Materials are usually inexpensive and your cost is mostly labor. It’s also one of the most successful forms of exclusion.

CAPTURING RODENTS. Many homes have so many holes that it would be impossible to cover or close off all of them to prevent a mouse from coming through. So, I block off the areas that are obvious, but it can be tough to figure out exactly how the rodents may have gained access to the house. If I have a home with a big mouse problem, I look at the reasons why I think the pests may be there.

If mice and/or rats are the pest, ask if there is a bird feeder outside near the house. Where do they keep the dog food? I find many rodent problems can be handled successfully with perimeter bait stations. This can lead to regular service of a customer. I have many homes that we service on a regular basis and solve the fall and winter rodent problems before they even get in the house.

BAFFLING BATS. Bat exclusion is another labor-intensive treatment that can be profitable. You will learn with experience how long it takes you to perform the work and it will be easier to estimate. You need to inspect the entire structure and look for bat droppings in the attic or around the outside of the building.

Bats look for gaps. I find the most common type of structure is an older building, usually brick with wood trim at the eaves. When the trim warps or shrinks, it opens a gap that allows the bats to slide in. Sometimes this opening is not much more than a ¼ of an inch but it’s big enough for an army of bats. It may take years to build up a large group of bats unless they are homeless and looking for a new home. The entrance may be marked by dirt on the bricks or on the wood trim. Seal the entire house except the entrance with caulk.

At the entrance, install a one-way valve or tube made from window screen that allows the bats to exit but not to find their way back in. If you have not sealed the rest of the structure first, the bats will find another entrance. Leave the valve (or valves) in place for about a week, then remove them and seal that area. By then, the bats should have moved to a new location.

In my area, I’ve found it is not a good idea to do bat exclusions until after August 20. Before that time, the bats have young that are nursing and do not leave the structure at night to feed. If you seal the building, you will seal young bats inside and exclude the bat mothers from getting back to them. Baby bats may find their way into the living areas of customers’ homes if they are sealed into attics, creating a very uncomfortable situation for everyone. Most of my bat work is done from August 20 until the end of October. After October, the bats may be hibernating in the structure and may not be coming out every evening, causing them to be sealed in.

Again, this may be an opportunity to offer cleanup services. Remember the precautions for airborne toxins. It can be worth it, but it’s hard (and hot) work. Safety precautions must be taken so as not to expose you to some nasty illnesses. Anytime you remove droppings of just about any type of animal, you want to moisten it down first. That way no dust or particles become airborne. If vacuuming, you need to use a HEPA- type vacuum so as not to spread airborne particles everywhere.

CONCLUSION. Here are some final things to consider about exclusions: Determine the problem animals in your area. Decide which animal problems you feel confident and comfortable handling. How high are you willing to work? One-story? Two-story? Higher? The higher the building, the less competition you will have in the bidding.

Only buy Type 1 or 1A ladders. You don’t want to be injured because a ladder folds up under you. Basic equipment you will need includes: a screw gun, a caulk gun (a battery-powered caulk gun is awesome for those big bat jobs), a tape measure, a hammer, a variety of cutters to cut the hardware cloth and a portable brake to bend the hardware cloth or sheet metal.

Make sure your exclusions are visually appealing or inconspicuous. If you would not want it on your house, why would you put it on a customer’s house? If it does not look good when you are done, redo it. What you leave behind is your signature and your reputation depends on it being good.

The author is president of Holper Pest & Animal Solutions, St. Louis, Mo. He can be reached via e-mail at jholper@pctonline.com.

TIPS FOR SQUIRREL TRAPPING SUCCESS

Here’s some help with catching squirrels:

Locate the squirrel trap (or traps) next to the hole on the outside of the building. I like to mount most of my traps on the gutter line. This way people don’t have to be home when you do your pickups. Optimal trap size for gutter mounting is a 5-inch by 5-inch by 18-inch trap. It’s the perfect size to mount on most gutters.

Buy or make your own bait. You’re supposed to be a professional. Straight peanut butter gives the customer the mind set, "I could do this. All they use is peanut butter." Here’s a great bait, which I call "Holper Bait." It brings wonderful results:

  • 5 pounds peanut butter
  • 2 pounds pelletized gerbil food (from a pet store)
  • 16 to 32 ounces vanilla extract (imitation is fine)

It has an odor that will bring them in. This is gourmet squirrel food and it’s easy and cheap to make. You want it to be a little sticky.