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Of Mice and Men (and Women)
I’ll begin by saying: every house has or had mice in it at one time or another. Yes, even your house. Let’s just get that out of the way right now.
In our parents day mice were so common as to be almost a rite of passage for owning a home. I may be dating myself, but think how many cartoons you have seen with a mouse in the house and cat chasing it around—it was once so common as to be part of our culture. Fast forward a decade or two and while true it has become less prevalent, they are still with us. The only thing that has changed is our perception.
Many people have tolerance levels for mice ranging from “what a cute woodland creature” to “how long would it take to burn them out?”. When doing inspections this issue almost always comes up right after I’ve come down from the attic with the telltale trails and dollar sized holes in the insulation. The next comment is usually a shocked and sometimes indignant “I don’t want a house with mice in it!”. It is then that I gently explain to them that 80% (or higher) of the attics I see have visible signs of former occupants and that this condition is far more common than most people know. If you don’t want a house that has signs of mice then your only option is likely a new house.
Now don’t get me wrong, just because I know how common it is, doesn’t mean it’s something that I think it’s ok to ignore. I know that having mice in your house is no picnic and not something you want to foster. They leave droppings everywhere, eat and ruin food and eat and ruin portions of your home.
So how can you tell at a home inspection if it’s historical or ongoing? Short answer is that unless I see a live one, there is no way to know. The reason they are so invasive is that they are very good at what they do, which is: get in, eat, stay hidden, reproduce. If they get to the point where they aren’t even worried about you—then you have a problem.
Case in point—I was just at a 50’s bungalow where the tenants had been evicted. This is what greeted me in the middle of the garage floor:
This poor fellow expired mid crossing. His sibling was more fortunate:
What you can hardly see is the tip of his tale. This hole is 3ft off the floor, straight vertical climb-he did it so fast I couldn’t get a picture. You have to give them some respect for that!
Now how do you keep them out? The only way is to seal up the entire exterior perimeter at least 5’ or higher from the ground up. That means any hole that is the size of a dime is fair game for entry. Vinyl sided houses are particularly vulnerable since there is usually a gap where the bottom of the siding overlaps the foundation. A friend of mine actually watched one climb the wall and into his house while his kids were on the swing just a few feet away!
Other especially vulnerable houses are older homes (thanks to all those gaps and cracks) and those that are near green spaces. As the weather turns cold and the smell of baking cookies comes wafting from all the exterior cracks—where would you rather be; eating seeds in a frozen meadow or getting some meals in a heated palace?
The one sure fire method of controlling them is by watching your living habits. This isn’t to say if you have mice, you must be dirty. It simply means that if there is a reason for them to stay and multiply, they will.
All food should be off the floor in sealed cupboards (no holes in the back wall they can get into it from)
no food should be tracked around the house. (As a father of two small boys I can appreciate how many cheerios the average couch will hold!)
Dog food and even cat food (if your cat isn’t the king of beasts that he pretends to be) should be cleaned up
Bird seed, grass seed or any organic material in the garage or shed should be stored in containers
Be eternally vigilant for droppings around stoves, fridges, lower cupboards etc. if you are seeing some, get on the traps before they can reproduce.
So while every house may get mice, don’t make it easy for them to get in and certainly don’t make your home an attractive place to stay. If they can’t eat, they won’t stay. Good hunting!