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Q: How can I keep winter pests out of my home?

A: As the weather turns colder, we are not the only ones feeling the freeze. Rodents and insects also seek warm places to nest, and our homes are all too appealing.

In the Puget Sound area, typical winter pests include carpenter ants, mice, rats and spiders.

A pest problem is pretty easy to spot. Mice and rats in particular are not very good at cleaning up their tracks. If you have an infestation, you will start to see mouse droppings, which look like tiny oblong pellets. You may also notice a fine, almost sawdust-like layer on your countertops and in dry-food drawers. If you see this, check for any tiny openings in food packaging — chances are they have been helping themselves to a snack.

For carpenter ants, take note if there are piles of sawdust under any wood in your home. These ants like to burrow into soft, moist wood. In the case of an infestation, you may hear a crackling sound coming from the nest or rustling noises inside walls and woodwork. If you see ants with wings, this is a sure sign of a colony, because only the winged ones can reproduce.

By being proactive with the following steps, it’s possible to prevent any unwanted houseguests from joining you this winter season.

Seal cracks and small holes. The best way to prevent a pest infestation in your home is to block their entrance. As a home ages, it’s normal for the foundation to shift and leave small cracks. Walk through each room and look for holes or crevices where pests could enter. Believe it or not, mice can get through a hole the size of a pencil eraser’s width. Pay particular attention to the areas around doors, windows, food cabinets and sinks, and along floorboards.

Seal any open areas with silicone or acrylic latex caulk and finish with a coat of water-based latex paint. Cover larger holes and cracks with wire mesh and install weatherstripping to the bottoms of your outside doors.

Eliminate food sources. If pests can find some food to eat, they will stick around. Take out the garbage frequently, and keep a tight lid on exterior trash cans. Don’t leave food out, and keep counters free of crumbs and spoiling fruit. Keep dry food tightly sealed. Dry food is a favorite nesting place for moths and other insects that build their nests inside food containers.

Utilize garden tricks. Using plants as an organic pest-control method is commonly known as “companion planting,” and can be effective in keeping pests away from your home. Basil, cayenne pepper and marigolds have pungent scents that are proven to ward off vermin and insects. Mice particularly do not like peppermint or cloves. Soaking a cotton ball in peppermint oil and leaving it near food sources is often an effective deterrent.

HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to