How to Protect Against Unwelcome Critters

When I was a kid, my father was a do-it-yourself man. I remember when he remodeled our bathroom, he installed a bathtub that drained down the hillside instead of into the sewer or septic, and that wasn’t the only rule he broke. He also didn’t install a p-trap, that p-shaped bend pipe under sinks and tubs where water gets trapped (and if you’re lucky, where valuable jewelry gets trapped when it goes down the drain).

After my dad’s remodel, if you were the first one to bathe in the morning, you had to rinse a few bugs down the drain before washing up. It wasn’t until years later, when I learned a bit about construction, that I understood that a missing p-trap is an invitation to all sorts of little critters. Unfortunately, even with p-traps firmly in place, some critters make themselves at home in your home.

Whether you’re dealing with rodents or bugs, it’s no fun to deal with unwelcome critters, so here are some tips on how to safeguard against them.

First, you need to know how they’re getting in. Since you probably don’t spend a lot of time on your roof, you may not know whether your vent pipe is covered. Your vent pipe allows gases to escape from toilets, sinks, and any appliances connected to the sewer or septic—and if left uncovered, it can also allow rodents and bugs to enter. Although the vent pipe should lead to p-traps full of water, rats can swim for three days straight and cockroaches can hold their breath for 40 minutes, so a little p-trap isn’t much of a deterrent. Clearly, step one is to install a stack pipe cover with mesh that is fine enough to prevent cockroaches.

Step two is to identify and block other modes of entry. Mice and rats can get into openings as small as a dime, and cockroaches can get into even smaller holes. In Ukiah, many sewer laterals are many decades old and have begun to deteriorate. This gives critters access to your plumbing fixtures. Although it is rare, it is not unheard of for rats to travel up into a toilet or tub. It is far more common, however, for this to be a route used by cockroaches. By installing a multi-flap that only allows one-way flow away from the bathroom and other plumbing, you can make it harder for unwelcome guests to enter.

Once you’ve blocked any passage inside the pipes, consider the pathways along the outside of the pipes. Pipes have to go through floors, walls, ceilings, and foundations to transport water in and out. It’s rare for the holes cut for those penetrations to be perfectly sized to the pipe. Ideally, after pipes are laid, the contractor fills gaps with rodent proof foam and seals all penetrations completely.

Sometimes, rodents can take up residence in your crawl space, garage, attic, or even in the walls, where they chew on insulation and wiring and leave their waste to fester. Years ago, after moving to a new house, we stored our dog food in our garage. A week later, we were at war with the biggest racoons I’d ever seen. These were big, healthy, well-fed racoons the size of small dogs.

Generally, racoons can be shooed away, but don’t underestimate the ferocity of a racoon when it’s cornered. They will use their sharp teeth, sharp claws, and a never-say-die attitude to defend themselves (and their newly discovered food source). I shot one of these racoons with a paint ball gun from three feet away, and the racoon just looked back at me as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” If you want to keep your pet food in the garage, put it in a metal container with a locking mechanism. Otherwise, racoons will make quick work of lifting the lid and taking what they please. Their dexterity is nothing short of amazing.

If you are dealing with a pest infestation of any kind, do not delay in calling an exterminator. As a rule, pest infestations only get worse with time.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or visit If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

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