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pest_control(MCT)—The arrival of spring weather brings with it an influx of insects and rodents. Though they vary in type, depending on the region, they’re still a problem most homeowners face. Some are more than just a nuisance; left to their own devices, they can do serious damage to homes.

“Because we have such a high rodent population in the northwest, we always have a large amount of rodent pressure,” says Dan Huie of United Pest Solutions Inc. in Seattle. “There are some mice, but it’s mostly rats. With the dense vegetation we have and the moist climate, there’s always enough food and enough protection for them out in the wild. They’ve kind of acclimated and have kind of taken over the city. Also, now we’re having a lot of small nuisance ants. Those are the ones that tend to trail into peoples’ homes. People call them either sweet-feeding ants, or moisture ants, things like that. They’re the small little black ants that just cause headaches for people all over their homes.”

Termites are also making their presence felt this spring; everywhere from the northeast part of the U.S. down to the southwest. Termites, also known as swarmers, tend to emerge from their nest on the first warm spring day of the year and can number in the thousands in one area, making them easily visible to homeowners.

Winged termites can easily be confused by homeowners with flying ants but can cause significantly more damage. Homeowners who see a swarm of flying insects around their property would be well-served to contact a professional. Wood-feeding termites cost homeowners $5 billion a year in damages, according to the National Pest Management Association. Like bedbugs, treating for termites can be costly, so homeowners should always seek a second and third opinion before agreeing to any high-priced treatment.

Stinging insects also thrive in the spring, says Phil Coulson of Custom Care Pest Services in Boise, Idaho.

“Things go seasonal,” Coulson says. “In the last 30 days or so, things are starting to warm up and we’re seeing emerging wasps, hornets and yellow jackets. We’re getting calls for spiders and ants that are popping up.”

There are a few common denominators that homeowners can address on their own to minimize pests being attracted to their homes. To start, trim branches and shrubs that could reach the home.

“That is basically a highway for insects coming from trees and tree limbs,” Coulson says. “Bagging and removing leaf litter from the ground also helps. Insects survive the winter by clustering underneath leaf litter that’s been there all winter long.”

Soil and mulch that is piled high enough to reach siding is also a gateway for insects to make their way inside the home, Huie says. Keeping garbage cans and pet food containers covered with lids can also reduce the temptation for pests to linger.

“You also want to do a good perimeter check and make sure there are no openings on the exterior of your home that are larger than about the size of a dime, to keep mice out,” Huie says. “Rats require something about the size of a nickel to a quarter, so just make sure the house is very well-sealed.”

Homeowners dealing with insect and rodent issues can have more effective treatment outcomes by establishing regular service. Most pest control companies offer quarterly treatments that range in price from about $80 to $120. Often, these companies offer a guarantee to come back in between treatments and treat for free if homeowners continue to experience issues.

Before hiring a pest control company, check that it holds the proper licenses for your area and has liability and worker’s compensation insurance. Look for a company that follows Integrated Pest Management principals, in which pests are controlled in the most efficient way possible with minimal exposure of chemicals being introduced into the environment.

“With a (preventive) maintenance customer, the basic principal we try to accomplish is eliminate the pests that are there today by treating inside, outside and under the home and then maintain a pest-free environment inside by controlling the pests on the exterior of the home before they get inside,” Coulson says.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.

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