Q: I’ve been hearing strange sounds in the walls of my home and I’m worried some critters have taken up residence. How should I deal with a possible pest problem?

A: Pests such as rodents and insects present serious health and safety risks. That’s why professional pest control has been deemed an essential service by both Washington state and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The World Health Organization recognizes more than 30 pathogenic bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths spread by rodents alone. The most infamous, hantavirus, is rare, but has been found in the Northwest.

With more people staying indoors, rodents have more opportunity to openly wander. Many food and water sources such as restaurants are closed and fewer garbage cans are out, so mice and rats may be looking for new food sources — such as our homes.

Your garbage cans, recycling bins and compost piles are like grocery stores to rats and mice. Make sure garbage bin lids are securely covered and keep compost bins tightly lidded. Do not compost meat, eggs or dairy products, which will attract rodents and raccoons. Bird feeders are also rodent feeders — use feeders with catch basins to capture errant seeds before they hit the ground.

Another major food source is your pet’s food and water. Make sure to bring inside all bowls as soon as pets are done eating. And make sure to keep all bushes and trees cut back from your home’s foundation, siding and roofline. Plants provide safe hiding spots, harborage areas and access to roofs and attics.

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There are many infestation signs to look out for — droppings, scratching or scampering sounds in walls and crawl spaces, and pets scratching at the floor or barking at the ceiling. Rodents also gnaw holes, leave smudge marks on surfaces and burrow under the foundation. If you notice any of these signs, it may be time to call a professional.

Washington also has some problematic insects to look out for. Cockroaches can leave tiny particles that can cause asthma flare-ups and wasps, especially yellow jackets, have nasty stings that send some people to hospitals with allergic reactions.

Yellow jackets and hornets are largely dormant in the winter, but by late summer their nests can number in the thousands. Different wasp species nest in different locations: in soil, inside old timbers or rockeries, suspended beneath bush and tree branches, under roof eaves, and inside wall voids and attics in our homes. 

Now is a good time of year to slowly walk around the perimeter of your home and watch for insects consistently traversing the same area. They will seem to line up like planes at the airport, queuing up for the landing zone. Chewing and crunching noises coming from the wall or ceiling inside is also a bad sign; it means you’re likely dealing with rodents, ants or yellow jackets.

Whatever you do, do not press on the wall at that spot. If you suspect yellow jackets, get professionals out immediately before the wasps scratch their way through the sheetrock and expose their entire nest to your living space.

During the pandemic, pest control companies must strive to keep customers and technicians healthy and safe. Any company you decide to hire should limit interior visits to situations where inside work is completely necessary, such as treatment of active infestations, trap setting and dead rodent removal. While inside, they should socially distance and wear masks, gloves and shoe covers. It’s vital they disinfect any surfaces they touch — even with the gloves on.

Aleah Treftz is public relations manager at Cascade Pest Control, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBAKS’s more than 2,700 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.