Spring Home and Garden: Technician offers advice on pest control
Sean Ledwidge answers to many names: exterminator, pest control technician, even "ratman." He may be a professional killer, but that doesn't mean he's scary.
"My niche is — it's not just service — the customer actually likes you," he explained.
On a recent morning, we accompanied Ledwidge on a typical home inspection hunting for pests and vermin. While he didn't find any rats or mice, he pointed out a number of tips and tricks homeowners can use to maintain a rodent-free residence.
Ledwidge's first stop was the outside of the garage. With the door fully closed, he looked for gaps between the rubber seal on the bottom of the door and the cement. If he finds a crack taller than the height of the dime (about 0.7 inches), he knows the homeowner has already rolled out the rodent welcome mat.
That's especially important as the weather turns colder. Unlike rats, mice can die from hypothermia, Ledwidge said. That gives them an extra incentive to search for warm spots, like the water heater or furnace located in most garages.
Once they're inside, rats and mice will use wiring, plumbing and crawl spaces to go wherever they please. Any moisture and condensation on pipes provides them with an almost inexhaustible supply of water.
Walking the perimeter of the home, Ledwidge searches for easy-access points and other tell-tale signs that rodents are scouting for a winter home.
"Poop, mostly. And holes. And smelling for the urine," he said. Anyone who's whiffed a hamster cage will recognize the smell.
Satellite TV and air conditioning technicians commonly punch larger holes in exterior walls than needed for wiring during installation. Ledwidge keeps steel wool and quarter-inch meshing (deterrents for vermin) in his truck to plug the holes and keep rodents outside where they belong. The laundry vent can be another entryway.
If you want to keep rats and mice from digging around the foundation your home, Ledwidge recommends spreading sharp, crushed gravel.
"Rats and mice don't have opposing appendages, so they have to use their faces to dig," he said. "And they just say, 'To heck with (digging through gravel)!'"
Good advice, but what can a homeowner do if the vermin are already inside the house?
According to Ledwidge, one of the most important things to do is cut off their food supply.
Rodents will fearlessly steal pet food and they aren't opposed to raiding the humans' pantry either. Stolen food will end up stockpiled inside your walls and rats and mice won't be tempted by most traps until their supplies run low.
When it comes to the placement of bait and traps inside your home, Ledwidge recommends placing them along baseboards and near corners. Rats and mice can't see more than three feet in front of them, so they memorize the number of steps between destinations. They use whiskers as feelers, including the ones on the top of their head.
"You and I want space, because we have good vision," Ledwidge said. "Rats are happiest when they're enclosed."
Another important tip: Anchor snap traps to the floor after positioning them so an injured rodent can't drag the trap away.
A wounded rat or mouse is going to find a nice, secluded place to die, like the space between your walls. The corpse will be almost impossible to retrieve, but the smell will linger for months.
And while you're securing your traps, make sure to check them daily. Ledwidge has found plenty of sprung traps with just a torn limb left behind.
"They don't care if it's mom, dad or sis. If they're hungry enough, they'll eat anything," Ledwidge said.
A five-year veteran with Portland Pest Guard, Ledwidge is an expert at keeping residences critter-free. He said extermination usually takes about a month and costs about $300.
His favorite part of the job?
"Helping people out," he said. "They're usually beside themselves."