How Do Rats Get Into Your House – And How To Stop Them

By Jai Breitnauer

Rats will live outside in good weather, but commonly enter homes in the winter month, or when there is high rainfall, seeking food and shelter.  Click To Tweet

Roland Rat, Remy from Ratatouille, Rattus Rattus from Horrible Histories … it seems we love watching these fluffy little fiends on our living room TV, but less so in our actual living room. 

We take a look at why rats take shelter in homes, how to stop them and how to rehome them if they’ve already moved in. Plus we find out – does home insurance cover rat infestation?

“You’re never more than 6ft from a rat”

This long-time urban myth became accidentally cemented as fact in the 1990s. Dr Stephen Battersby, a UK rat expert, told the press that in some areas, you could be that close to a rat and not know it. 

However, depending on who has estimated the rat population and what methodology they use, the closest you probably ever get to dominant species Rattus Norvegicus, or the brown rat, is about 15ft. The UK’s native black rat, Rattus Rattus, is very rare these days.

Contrary to popular belief, rats are quite clean, highly intelligent and live in bonded familial groups. They are nocturnal and you might not realise there is a rat nearby unless they are in your home. Even then, they could hide effectively until their numbers increase. Rats can have around 60 babies each year.

How To Deter Rats From Your House

Rats will live outside in good weather, but commonly enter homes in the winter month, or when there is high rainfall, seeking food and shelter. 

Discourage rats with these tips:

Keep your home clean and tidy

Rats will enter tidy homes, but are more encouraged to stay inside when they find suitable places to nest, such as piles of paperwork or dirty clothes left lingering on the floor, or boxes in forgotten corners.

Take care with composting and food scraps

Keep your compost heap a good distance from your home, and don’t compost bread or cooked items as these are like nectar to rats. This also means you shouldn’t throw scraps outside for your pets or other wildlife as any leftover titbits could encourage the rats. If you put these things in bowls, place them far from your home and wash them daily.

Feed the birds in the bottom of the garden

Like your compost heap and other food scraps, place bird feeders a good distance from your home. The seed scraps that land on the ground below feeders are a favourite with rats, and while this isn’t a problem at the bottom of your garden, if the rats are hanging out right outside your home, they will probably find the warmth of it enticing and head inside. Avoid this by ensuring feeders are nowhere near your home.

Seal cracks, crevices and holes

Any gap bigger than 20mm can provide access to a rat.

You need to be careful not to block crucial air passages, but seal up any cracks and holes, including in the chimney or around pipes. If necessary, in some places, such as plumbing pipes, you can get specially vented seals to allow the water in and keep the wildlife out.

Place a door brush along the bottom of external doors that have gaps to deter interested rodents.

Watch your trees

Experts suggest you keep trees and shrubs at least 4ft away from your home, and keep those that are close trim and tidy. 

Keep wood stacks far away

Ensure firewood – a common nesting area – is far from your home. You can see how appealing those big stacks of firewood with lots of gaps would be for rats, and if they’re adjacent to your home, they will probably make their way inside. 

Don’t forget about ventilation

Rats like damp areas, so keep cellars, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.

Signs rats could already be in your home

Key signs that rats are present in your home include:

  • Stale smells in secluded areas.
  • Holes chewed in walls and flooring that could offer an entry point.
  • Signs of chewing on food packaging.
  • Visible nesting material like fabric or paper
  • Rodent droppings around food packages, in drawers or cupboards, and under the sink.

Rats can damage walls, insulation and electrical wiring, which can be a fire risk, as well as furniture. A large volume of rats can be difficult to get rid of, so once you have spotted clear evidence, you need to act quickly.

Rats can damage walls, insulation and electrical wiring, which can be a fire risk, as well as furniture. A large volume of rats can be difficult to get rid of, so once you have spotted clear evidence, you need to act quickly. Click To Tweet

How to encourage rats to move out

You might be an animal lover or just respect the vital role rats play in our modern ecosystem. If so, you could try some natural remedies before calling in the experts.

Mothballs, ammonia and peppermint oil are all repugnant to rats – but take care as some of these can be dangerous to cats, dogs and children. Easily available in local shops, these smells could send rats packing, although it might take a couple of weeks.

If you can see the hole that is the entry point, you could try putting some chopped onions and garlic in there, or pepper flakes, which could also send them away. You can also buy electromagnetic or ultrasound devices which make your home an unpleasant place for rats to live – but again, note that these can sometimes affect other animals and children, so check before use.

Trap and release methods

Another popular method is the use of humane traps that don’t kill the rats. If you use these, you must check them daily as rats can suffer a long and agonisingly painful death from hunger if caught in one. Your good intentions could actually see a worse outcome for them if you forget about your humane traps.

If you do catch rats in them, you need to make sure you let the rats go more than 2km away in an appropriate environment, otherwise they will die or find their way back quickly. And be sure you’re not releasing them somewhere that they will cause problems for others. 

The problems with home-use lethal methods

Do not attempt to try to kill rats yourself. Snap traps are dangerous to young children and pets, and poison can cause damage to protected wildlife. Around 40 percent of barn owls, polecats, stoats and weasels become ill or die after eating poisoned prey. Rats can also die long, agonisingly slow deaths from poison, glue and snap traps. They should be avoided, at all costs.

If you can’t get rid of rats safely and they have started to cause damage, it is time to call in an expert.

Does house insurance cover rat damage?

It’s important to note that pest control usually isn’t covered by home insurance because it’s deemed a preventable issue.

To cover you for the costs of rat infestation, you would need home emergency insurance. 

What is home emergency cover? This covers many of the unusual things that can go wrong, such as a rat infestation, but that don’t fall under a typical home insurance policy schedule.

The best home emergency cover can help with these immediate and serious issues. 

FinEdge’s home emergency cover will pay up to £250 to cover the cost of alternative accommodation should your house be uninhabitable for 12 hours or more. 

It’s important to note that pest control usually isn’t covered by home insurance because it’s deemed a preventable issue. To cover you for the costs of rat infestation, you would need home emergency insurance.  Click To Tweet

Get Home Emergency cover now

Home emergency cover will only cover you for events once the policy starts, so to make sure that you are covered for pest control get a policy in place as soon as you can. It can cost as little as £5 a month, and as well as pest control it can help with things like boiler breakdown, broken pipes and electrical issues. Check your policy for specifics as all policies differ. For more information about FinEdge home emergency insurance, click here.