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Something’s living in the ceiling — maybe squirrels, maybe not

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Q: My home problem is squirrels in my ceiling. My home is very old, and there is no opening for a person to get into the attic. There is an opening in the back of the house where I think squirrels might be getting in. I had Terminix come and take a look. They said they could not do the work because of some wiring. I'm at a loss. What is your advice?


A: Call another pest-control company — one that specializes in dealing with wildlife issues.

In Washington, as in many communities, only pest-control companies specifically licensed for wildlife control are allowed to do the work you need. The D.C. Department of Energy and Environment has a link on its website to a list of licensees. “If a company does not appear on this list, they are not permitted to perform wildlife control in the District,” says a notice at the top. Perhaps that is why the person who checked your house turned you down. (Calls to Terminix were not immediately returned.)

John Adcock, the second-generation owner of Adcock’s Trapping Service (800-486-0341;, which is licensed for wildlife control in Washington and surrounding areas, was puzzled why lack of attic access or nearby wiring would prevent a wildlife-control professional from dealing with a problem. “We don’t usually set traps in the attic,” he said. Instead, he and his crews usually place them outside, near likely entry points. Or, on tall buildings with a good place for traps, they plug entry holes with one-way doors, which allow critters to leave but not enter. When electrical wiring is too close for safe work nearby, they ask the customer to have the electrical service shut off temporarily. If they need to get into an attic that lacks an access door, they add one, ideally in a closet ceiling. “There’s always a way,” Adcock said.

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He cautioned against assuming you have gray squirrels, the destructive, furry type also known as tree squirrels. People often assume they have these when in fact they have raccoons, sewer rats (they climb up openings within a structure) or even flying squirrels, which are chipmunk-size and tend to live in colonies of 20 to 50. If you haven’t seen an animal coming or going, note when you hear the sounds. This will help a wildlife-control expert confirm the type of pest and offer an appropriate control method. Noises during the day, particularly near sunrise and sunset, point to gray squirrels. They sleep at night and “go shopping” outside during the day, Adcock said. The other possible intruders are all nocturnal; they make noises at night.

Assuming you are dealing with gray squirrels, the basic strategy is to identify where they are getting in, then live-trap them or install one-way doors so they can leave but not reenter. With gray squirrels, Adcock prefers trapping for a couple of reasons. With one-way doors, the squirrels stay on the property. But Adcock can release trapped squirrels a few miles away, reducing the chance they will return. Also, he can check to see if a trapped squirrel has been nursing babies. In that case, he makes a point to check the attic and remove the nest, because letting babies die there would stink up the house. In a house with no attic access, like yours, discuss options before you hire a company. You could install an access door, delay trapping until after the nesting season, or release a trapped mother until she finishes raising her babies and then resume trapping. Gray squirrels in the Washington area usually have two litters a year, one in March or April and the other in August or September. About a month after birth, the babies usually start leaving the house each day.

Once it’s certain no squirrels are left in the attic, you will need to seal or screen the openings so they can’t get back in. Ideally, you should also repair damage and fortify other potential entry points where they could easily chew their way back in.

Wildlife-control companies generally offer a suite of services, with a basic fee that includes inspecting, getting the animals out and sealing entry holes. For an additional charge, most companies will also repair damage and fortify against future incursions. Adcock’s basic fee when the crew uses one-way doors starts at $225, but it can be $375 for a tall building with a lot of ladder work. Live trapping costs more, typically around $425, because checking traps requires more visits. The company establishes the fee at the time of the inspection and then makes as many return trips as required with no additional fee. “We guarantee we’ll get them out,” Adcock said.

The fee to repair and fortify a house varies. “It could be $25 to screen a roof vent that’s easily accessible, or if there are rotten trim boards that have to be taken off and replaced, it could be $1,000,” Adcock said. “We’ll tell them what’s wrong. It’s not rocket science. If they have a roofer they’re comfortable with, we’ll tell them what needs to be done, what materials we recommend. They’re free to use whomever they want.” But if you hire his company, there’s a bonus: a five-year guarantee against future infestation. “We know they’re not going to come through our work,” Adcock said.

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