Harbaugh Real Estate

How to Get Rid of Squirrels in the Attic

Remember the movie Up when Dug the dog kept getting sidetracked every time he saw a squirrel? If you find yourself doing activities at home only to get suddenly distracted and sidetracked by the sound of scurrying on the ceiling, you may have squirrels in your attic! While these somewhat cute and cuddly little critters can be frustrating to homeowners, there are ways to eliminate them safely and humanely from your home and mitigate their presence in your attic. This post will guide you through the process of identifying, preventing, and safely removing squirrels from your attic.

Understanding Squirrels and Their Behavior

Squirrels are like people and other animals in that they want a warm and dry protective environment in which to nest. Your attic often provides the perfect space for squirrel families - the insulation keeps them warm, the height of the attic as well as the enclosed space provides protection against common predators (such as foxes, bobcats, coyotes, racoons, and some birds), and the roof protects them from the outdoor elements. Additionally, if you have any kind of nut-producing tree in your yard, the squirrels have a sort of built-in restaurant right at their paw tips.

Identifying the Presence of Squirrels in Your Attic

If you suspect some kind of unwanted animal behavior in your attic, the first thing you need to do is identify what type of critter you are dealing with. Unfortunately, squirrels are not the only creatures that love attic space. Mice, rats, raccoons, possums, and other animals are also capable of setting up shop in attics.

Here are some common signs of squirrel activity to watch for:

  1. Noises like scurrying or scratching coming from your attic - The time of day that you hear them is important because squirrels tend to be active in the daytime. If you are hearing sounds at night, it is likely another type of furry friend visiting you.
  2. Paper shreds, leaves, bark, and other nesting materials - Squirrels will generally build a nest in your attic. They will use whatever soft materials they can find. If you see shredded up cardboard or small chunks of insulation or maybe a bunch of leaves, there is a good chance that squirrels have been building their home inside your home.
  3. The smell of urine and/or poop visible - Squirrels will often build their nest at one end of a space and use the other end as a bathroom. So, if you see nest materials in one place and smell urine in another, this is a good sign of squirrel activity.
  4. A decaying smell - Unfortunately, sometimes we don't notice these critters until after they've been in the attic for a while. Occasionally, one may die and start to decay. If this is the case, you will often notice a foul smell coming from above your living space in your house.
  5. Chewed or damaged wood and other materials - Squirrels will usually enter the attic through an area they've chewed up (unless you already had openings big enough for them to get through). Often times you will see signs of chewed wood or trim on the exterior of your house near the roofline. Pay special attention to little corners and all the nooks and crannies.
  6. Chewed wiring in the attic - Squirrels love to chew wiring and other items in the attic. Obviously, this can be a danger not only to them but also to you, so recognizing the problem and remedying it quickly is important. If your electrical wiring has chew marks on it, squirrels are likely to blame.
  7. New water leaks when it rains - If the squirrels are chewing away at exterior trim, this will sometimes lead to water leaking in during a rain shower where it hadn't before. If you suddenly notice a leak, you might check for fresh openings in your trim and soffit areas. If you see rough areas that appear to have been chewed, squirrels most likely did it.

If you aren't certain what is residing in your attic, one thing you can do is sprinkle a fine layer of baking powder or sand on a solid surface where you consistently hear scurrying. Squirrels have paws that are usually one to two inches long. The front paws have four toes, and the rear paws have five.

A closeup of a squirrel sitting on a roof

Risks and Common Damages Caused by Squirrels

I've already mentioned that squirrels commonly cause damage to homes by chewing through wood and siding to get inside. Squirrels are pretty industrious creatures, and like mice or rats, they can chew through almost anything. Obviously, chewing through housing materials can damage a house and cause headaches and expenses to repair, but probably the most dangerous aspect of having squirrels in your attic is that they can chew through electrical wiring causing shorts and even sometimes fires. If you have reason to believe that you have squirrels in your attic, it is in your best interest to act sooner rather than later.

Humane Removal of Squirrels

If you are like me, I don't want squirrels in my attic, but I also don't want to just kill them. After all, they are an important part of our ecosystem:

Benefits of Squirrels

  1. They help plant trees and other plants - Because squirrels eat lots of nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, they often times grab the seeds and bury them for later. As with you and I, when we forget where we left something, squirrels often forget where they buried nuts and seeds, and those forgotten nuts and seeds turn into trees, shrubs, vines, and other plants.
  2. They provide food for predators - Larger animals like foxes, bobcats, hawks, wolves, etc. feed on squirrels. This means that squirrels play an important role in the local food chain.

So, how can we get rid of squirrels without killing them?

The first thing you will want to do is figure out how they are getting into your attic. Once you get them out, you will want to seal up their entry point quickly so that they don't come back. (I'll talk more about sealing up their entry point in the squirrel prevention section below.) Once you have figured out their ingress and egress point(s), you can take steps to get them out of your attic. Here are some things you can try:

  1. Wait until they leave - Often times you will notice that the squirrels' activity comes and goes during the day as they go out scavenging for food. If this is the case, just wait until the time of day when they typically leave. Then, make sure none are in the attic before you seal their entry point(s). If you discover that they have a family going up there, you may have to wait until their babies have grown big enough to go out on their own before sealing them out. You definitely don't want to put a seal over their entry point only to find there are babies left behind.
  2. Make loud noises - If your rowdy neighbors upstairs don't seem to be leaving on their own, you can try making loud sounds in the attic. If you bang on the ceiling below them or go into the attic and start banging around on things, they will often leave. However, you should be cautious about being overly threatening to them. If they panic, they may run deeper into your house instead of leaving by their typical entry/exit point.
  3. Ultrasonic machine - Similar to the loud noise idea, I have heard of people who have had success getting rid of squirrels by using an ultrasonic machine. Interestingly, some studies show that squirrels will use ultrasonic sounds to warn one another of danger. An ultrasonic generator seeks to replicate this natural deterrent.
  4. Light - Light is another natural deterrent to squirrels. Try placing a light in the attic that stays on all the time.
  5. Try natural repellents - You can also try odors that repel our furry friends. I remember one year we had squirrels nesting in our car engine. I went to a local feed store and found some fox urine. I placed a tiny bit in a small container under the hood, and the squirrels never came back. An attic is usually a much bigger space than a car engine, so it might be more difficult to get enough fox urine to canvas the entire area they are dwelling in. If this is the case, or if animal urine is too gross for you, you can also try soaking rags with apple cider vinegar and putting them around in the attic.
  6. Pest Control - If all else fails, call a humane pest control company. You can try to set traps yourself if you are adventurous, but if all the above ideas have failed, I would probably call in a professional. They will set traps and then take the critters out some distance from your house to release them.

From what I can tell, squirrels are not known to carry rabies, but they are mammals, so it stands to reason that there are probably some diseases that they can carry. As such, I personally recommend that you don't try to catch the squirrels yourself. At the very least, use a trap with bait or possibly a one-way door that you mount to their entry point. That way you don't have to get close to them, and you don't risk them panicking and attacking you.

Preventive Measures to Keep Squirrels Out

Once you have the squirrels out, you will want to seal off their entry and exit points quickly. Finding these points can be rather challenging. Squirrels actually have the ability to slip through a hole just over an inch wide, so it doesn't take much of an opening for them to find a way in.

When I had squirrels in my attic, I waited for them to leave one day. Then, I went into the attic with the lights off so that I could see anywhere that daylight was coming into the space. Sure enough, I spotted a small hole about two to three inches wide near one of the eaves. When I walked outside and looked up (this was on my second story), I could see where they had chewed through the wood trim just under the shingles.

The key is to take away any possible routes into your attic or house:

  1. Use metal flashing - Once you find their entry point, use metal flashing to seal the hole. In my case, I went into my attic and was able to seal up the hole from the inside, and I haven't had any squirrel problems since (this was nearly three years ago).
  2. Repair any gaps around vents, turbines, etc. - Even if you have fixed a primary entry point for squirrels, check that there are no gaps around any of your roof vents, turbines, etc. If there are, get a qualified roofer to help you get them sealed.
  3. Install a chimney cap - One way that squirrels often get into a home is through the chimney, especially in older homes that do not have a chimney cap. Installing a chimney cap can help prevent squirrels and other critters from entering your home.
  4. Trim tree branches near the house - You have probably noticed that squirrels are rather acrobatic and can jump quite a distance. If you have tree branches that extend over your roof or are even within a few feet of your roof, squirrels can use that as a road in. Trimming these can help with the issue, although I have seen squirrels climb brick facades with no problem, so cutting back tree limbs might not completely eliminate their ability to get to your roof, but it will help.
  5. Remove any food sources - If you have an oak tree or other seed/nut producing plant in your yard, you have a natural food source for squirrels. While cutting down the tree is probably overkill, doing what you can to keep the nuts or acorns as far away from your house as possible will help.

Repairing Squirrel Damage to Your Home

Once you have successfully chased the squirrels away and prevented their return, you will want to repair any damage they have done to your home. Leaving open holes can lead to rain leaking into your house, which can obviously lead to other problems. Also, if the squirrels have chewed through wood trim, the newly exposed part of the wood that surrounds the hole will only continue to degrade with time, so you will want to repair this in order to prevent further damage to your trim or siding.

Be sure to check the wiring in your attic once the squirrels have left. If you see signs of chewing on the wires, have a qualified electrician assess the damage and make any necessary repairs.

You should also check to see if the squirrels have displaced any insulation in your attic when they built their nests. If so, you may need to add a little more insulation in some areas.

Squirrels Have to Chew for Survival

Believe it or not, squirrels have to chew for survival. Their front teeth never stop growing. As a result, they must constantly chew on something in order to keep their teeth filed down. While this is good for them and their nut eating diet, it means they will chew on anything around your house. So, as you are looking around at what needs to be repaired, check everything for damage that was in the area(s) in which the squirrels took up residence.

Conclusion

Having squirrels in your attic (or any other part of your house for that matter) is no fun for a homeowner. These rodents can do quite a bit of damage to your house, and they can also be quite a nuisance to you and your family. However, it is possible to quickly get rid of them for little cost. By employing these strategies, you can protect both your home and mother nature by safely and humanely removing these furry friends from your house. Remember, your goal is to live in harmony with nature and your ecosystem.