Don't let backyard critters win. Here's how to curb raccoon and squirrel damage

·6 min read
Desiree Givens and her family have been dealing with raccoons damaging their North Canton house.
Desiree Givens and her family have been dealing with raccoons damaging their North Canton house.

NORTH CANTON – It was late in the night and Desiree Givens' 13-year-old heard unusual noises outside.

"It sounded like a bat caught in the garage," Givens said.

They heard more noises but found only chewing and claw marks and a hole on the side of their house.

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They called a pest control company but it would be another night of chewing and clawing before a trap could be set.

In the end, the culprit got away, leaving behind a mess for Givens and her family.

"We're pretty positive it was a raccoon," she said.

Raccoons – and other backyard critters – are known to turn houses into nail salons and maternity rooms, creating problems for homeowners.

How can a homeowner deter these creatures from their property?

Desiree Givens and her family have been dealing with raccoons damaging their North Canton house.
Desiree Givens and her family have been dealing with raccoons damaging their North Canton house.

'It becomes a part of their habitat.'

While raccoons and squirrels attack houses for a numbers of reasons, it is definitely not to provoke a battle with humans.

Laurie Brown, a research technician for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife, said the critters gnaw on the edges of houses to sharpen their teeth; scratch to improve their nails; and chew to open holes to stay warm or have babies.

"It is something they are used to and it is their routine to visit those locations," Brown said. "It becomes a part of their habitat."

The same issues, as well as digging holes and tunnels, apply to groundhogs and skunks. They can create instability in a structure's foundation, Brown said.

Critter damage can be costly

It can cost between $150 and $5,000 to remove an unwanted animal and make repairs.

Some, but not all insurance policies, cover damage caused by a backyard critter. But the damage must be unforeseen and unavoidable.

That "unforeseen and unavoidable" part is key for any claim, said Scott Holeman, media director of Insurance Information Institute.

He said if a home was already in need of repairs and the owner ignored them, no policy would cover damage from a critter that gains access.

Holeman added that any coverage would likely be limited to structural or electrical needs, not personal property.

In other words, no policy covers a raccoon or squirrel tearing into a couch or bed.

Holeman also said any costs to remove the critter would come out of pocket.

For the Givens family, they paid $350 to set up a trap and the raccoon caused an estimated $3,500 to $4,500 in damage. Fortunately, their insurance policy will cover most of the repair costs.

How to repel these five homewreckers

Here's how you can repel critters from filleting your home before extraction is necessary.

Do not handle any rabies vector species — raccoons, foxes, skunks or bats — even babies. Experts can reunite babies, like this raccoon, with its mother.
Do not handle any rabies vector species — raccoons, foxes, skunks or bats — even babies. Experts can reunite babies, like this raccoon, with its mother.

Raccoons

Zach Smith of Smith's Pest Management in San Francisco shared these humane tips for deterring raccoons in an April 25, 2022, company post:

  • A motion-activated sprinkler can sense a raccoon and spray them with cold water.

  • An ultrasound deterrent device emits a mixture of lights and sounds that scare them.

  • Because trash is a food source for raccoons, make sure trash cans are securely fastened or kept inside a garage or shed.

  • Rodent-repellent trash bags, like HDX, are infused with mint that keep raccoons away without harm. They are also safe for humans and pets.

  • Make your own repellent with a mixture of water and a few drops of dish soap and hot sauce (or some powered cayenne pepper). Raccoons don't like spicy smells.

  • Put a bowl or soaked rags of ammonia at entry points for raccoons. The cleaner smells like undesirable urine.

  • Remove outdoor pet and bird food each night.

  • Install electric fences around areas you want protected.

  • Never feed raccoons.

To learn more about raccoon problems and removing the critters, visit https://smithspestmanagement.com/blog/post/how-to-get-rid-of-raccoons/.

A pizza loving squirrel munches on a slice in Florida.
A pizza loving squirrel munches on a slice in Florida.

Squirrels

According to Terminix, here are 10 ways to deter squirrels from your property:

  • Do not feed them. Any food found in the yard becomes fair game for squirrels and other creatures.

  • Rake your yard regularly to remove fallen fruit, nuts and seeds.

  • Dogs and cats, as well as predator urine sprays, may keep squirrels out of the yard.

  • Motion-activated sprinkler systems may help deter them.

  • Block entry points and install plastic pipes around non-electrical wires. The pipe will spin on the wire.

  • Install two-foot wide metal collars around trees and poles; put fences or nets around plants; and build a mesh wire fence.

  • Treat seeds, bulbs and flowers with a chemical repellant.

  • Plant mint at the edge of your garden.

  • Plant daffodils. These flowers have a toxin that makes them inedible.

  • Block entry points into the house.

Bloomington, Indiana resident Woody G. Hauge is greeted at the front door after a busy day by his loving wife, Charlie. This family of groundhogs lives comfortably in a burrow adjacent to the H-T parking lot. (Monty Howell | Herald-Times)
Bloomington, Indiana resident Woody G. Hauge is greeted at the front door after a busy day by his loving wife, Charlie. This family of groundhogs lives comfortably in a burrow adjacent to the H-T parking lot. (Monty Howell | Herald-Times)

Groundhogs

The Old Farmer's Almanac has eight tips for making your property ugly to groundhogs which are often attracted to gardens:

  • Sprinkle blood meal, ground black pepper, dried blood or talcum powder on the edge of your garden.

  • Make a spray with water, soap and puree and strain hot peppers and garlic. Use it on your garden.

  • Put some harmless, intense substances in burrows (i.e., kitty litter) and loosely seal the entrance.

  • Buy and use predator scent repellents.

  • Remove woodpiles. They are known to be used for groundhog nests.

  • Keep undergrowth and grass low.

  • Seal abandoned or vacant burrows before another groundhog finds them.

  • Use traps. Bait them with broccoli, apple slices, lettuce, carrots or sweet corn. If you catch one cover the trap with a blanket to calm the creature.

Skunks are rarely seen during daylight hours, as they are nocturnal animals.
Skunks are rarely seen during daylight hours, as they are nocturnal animals.

Skunks

HGTV.com offers suggestions for turning the noses of skunks away from your property and homes.

Like other critters, skunks frequently come into yards for food. Make sure trash cans are secure and gardens are fenced.

Additionally, pet food and open compost piles can attract skunks.

Here are other tips:

  • A motion-activated flood lamp startles skunks which don't like bright lights.

  • Citrus, ammonia, mothballs and predator urine smells offend skunks.

  • Find where the skunk lives and cover the hole with dirt. Be careful. Springtime is when skunks have babies.

Possums have semi-prehensile tails that they use to gather materials to make their nests. This possum is missing a tail, making it non-releasable, and will be going to a home to be someone's pet.
Possums have semi-prehensile tails that they use to gather materials to make their nests. This possum is missing a tail, making it non-releasable, and will be going to a home to be someone's pet.

Opossums

To keep opossums away from your property, BobVila.com recommends:

  • Install four-foot high fences around gardens.

  • Prune trees and shrubs, remove brush piles and get rid of fallen tree fruit.

  • Secure garbage cans and pet food.

  • Close or block entry points around the house, including porches and decks.

These critters have upsides.

While these backyard critters have damaging habits for property and houses, Brown said that they also offer ecological benefits.

For example, she said, squirrels help spread tree seeds.

The Texas-based pest control company Natran said opossums reduce the tick population and eat venomous snakes, and raccoons help maintain balance between prey and predators.

For Givens, she didn't want anything bad to happen to the critter culprit that damaged her home.

"I just don't want it to come back," she said.

Reach Benjamin Duer at 330-580-8567 or ben.duer@cantonrep.com

Follow on Twitter @bduerREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Here's how to combat backyard critters from damaging your home