Wood-burning fireplaces are an excellent way to escape the blustery weather – after all, few things are more enticing than snuggling up with a cup of hot cocoa in front of a roaring log fire – but they also give pests a chance to find a way into your home.
Raccoons, squirrels, opossums, and other animals can occasionally enter homes through chimneys in search of a denning site, where they can keep warm during winter and raise their babies until spring. To some of them, your uncapped chimney is indistinguishable from a hollow tree, and they have no idea there’s a human dwelling at the other side of it. Unlike hollow trees, however, the inside of your chimney is often damp and slippery, and some animals will likely get stuck inside.
Having a wild animal inside your chimney can be anything from a nuisance to a safety hazard. Pests have the potential to bring in fleas, ticks, mites, and other parasites, which will be looking for a new host – you – once inside the house. Animal bodies and nesting materials can also block the passageways inside the chimney, preventing smoke from getting out. Additionally, animals and their nests may catch fire, putting the entire structure at risk.
Here are some of the most common chimney pests you will be up against this winter:
Squirrels. Squirrels are also a cause of grief for homeowners, as they often make their nests in chimneys, attics, or in the exterior walls of your home. Squirrels are loud and messy, can cause structural damage to your house, and spread diseases through their feces and urine. If a squirrel is living inside your chimney, you will likely hear sounds originating from squirrels running, scratching, or fighting with each other.
Raccoons. This is by far the most problematic pest if it finds its way into your chimney. Raccoons, usually females, will choose a small place such as a chimney to birth and care for their pups. Intelligent and crafty, they will sometimes succeed in not only entering the structure through the chimney, but also getting through the smoke shelf and right above the fireplace. From there, they can easily make their way into your living room, or at the very least, ruin your holidays with their disturbing odors and sounds.
Mice. Mice don’t usually live inside chimneys, but they can sometimes fall down while looking for food on your roof. An uncapped chimney is an open door for any rodent looking to find shelter from the winter cold. Even if the chimney flue is blocked, they can use the cracks and crevices in your chimney, loose bricks, or stucco gaps to get inside the attic and the rest of the house, spreading foul odors from their bacteria-laden droppings and urine, fleas, and disease.
Bats. When caves are not available, your chimney will do just fine for bats searching for a warm, dark shelter and protection from predators. Starting a fire with bats in your chimney may cause the bats to either get inside the house through the open damper or die inside, and neither of these scenarios is preferable. Some species of bats are protected or endangered species and cannot be harassed, captured, or killed. Plus, bats can fit through very small gaps, and they will likely flee into the attic or walls of your house if you start a fire.
Birds. Birds prefer nesting in chimneys for the same reasons as bats: they are warmer than the air outside and also provide some protection from predators. Multiple bird nests can be found inside a flue at the same time, typically right on top of the smoke shelf or on the sides of the flue liners. Using the fireplace without first inspecting the chimney for birds or nesting materials can restrict the flow of flue gasses and result in a fire hazard.
There are several things you can to prevent wildlife from entering your home. Capping your chimney is one of the most effective ways to prevent pest entry into your chimney, while allowing gasses to escape freely. You can also screen the openings to the chimney using hardware cloth and ensure the structure of the chimney is in good shape prior to lighting up the fireplace.
If you have reason to suspect that wild animals are living inside your chimney, you should never attempt to capture them yourself. Animals such as raccoons and squirrels are difficult to trap and dangerous when cornered, and you can be seriously injured in the attempt. Contact a professional pest company that offers wildlife removal services to get wild animals safely and humanely out of your chimney and property.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.