Keeping raccoons from re-entering beneath the living room

A handyman project to prevent wily bandits from returning

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This article describes a handyman project to keep raccoons from chewing their way from a crawlspace into a cavity beneath the first floor living room. This is a public domain article; feel free to copy pictures and text without attribution. Like it? Add weblinks pointing to it. — tom sulcer May 2011

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Photo: D. Gordon Robertson
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A New Jersey home had not-so-stealthy visitors underneath the living room floor. The homeowners could hear them snoring during the day, and ambling about. Underneath the living room floor was a cavity which the raccoons got into after removing the insulation; beneath this, there was a thin layer of plywood, and underneath that, an easily accessed crawlspace with many points of entry. Raccoons can chew through wood. And they can bring mites and lice and poop and mess wherever they go.

Were raccoons still in the house? Since they’re nocturnal, emerging only at night to scavenge for food, garbage cans, and other goodies, they might be asleep in the cavity during the day. They raise babies in springtime, so there’s a risk of driving off the mother, only to have the baby raccoons die, leaving a foul odor for months. And raccoons are particularly feisty, dislike being challenged, and will fight, particularly if a mother raccoon is defending her babies. If a human is bitten by a raccoon, then a series of painful shots must be endured to prevent rabies since doctors will assume the raccoon was rabid if there’s any uncertainty.

Luckily, the raccoons have departed. The homeowners prompted the raccoons to leave by placing an electric light, playing music, and fox urine. Notice the radio behind the lattice. But would they return? The project was to prevent this.

My handyman assignment is: prevent their return. I imagine I’m like team leader Peter Graves in the Mission: Impossible TV show, calmly but competently listening to a tape which then self-destructs after six seconds: (the tape plays:) Tom, your mission, if you decide to accept it: prevent the re-entry of the raccoons! And then hiss! the tape self-destructs!

The crawlspace is in the front of the house. A problem is there’s no door; to remove the rectangular frames which hold the plastic white lattice means more work later on when it’s time to rebuild it. So I think about it for a bit — why not enter the way the raccoons entered? A few tugs on the lattice and it comes off, but I wonder how I will ever get it back on.

I look down the crawlspace. There is not just one hole where the raccoons entered; there are four. Further, the plywood is thin, about a half an inch, and not well attached. I bring screws and run the orange extension cord.

I get my tools out.

The owners initially want me only to patch up one hole — now there are four. But I wonder will this do any good? There’s a huge easy-to-bite-through space above the crawlspace, and I imagine any wily raccoon will simply return and bite a new hole somewhere that’s unprotected. So the problem won’t be solved. Adding more boards won’t be enough; we need some kind of wire mesh, but buying this from a hardware store can be expensive.

I visit the town dump and look around in the metals bin. Luckily someone had thrown out a wire mesh fence. It was in sections, some of them broken, but there was enough fencing material to cover the entire underside of the crawlspace. I lift off a hot water heater and bring the fence sections back to the house. I lay them flat on the grass.

Surprise! The neighbors dog — let’s call him Barko– keeps barking at me. “He’s a friendly dog” they say. Oh? Friendly to YOU but not friendly to ME. Why does he continue to growl? I let him smell my butt and ask, hey Barko, what did I have for lunch yesterday? If only I had that magical ability to fart on command, I’d blow out extra clues for him to savor. He keeps growling, barking. My efforts to befriend this animal get nowhere. So, I shoot the dog. With the camera. Here’s Barko, growling.

Barko goes inside for a spell, but the neighbors let him out at other times, and he keeps growling. Later, a postman comes by with mail, and Barko barks at the postman, who holds out his hand and says “nice doggie”. Barko growls more. So, the postman doesn’t deliver the mail — just keeps walking. Smart strategy!

I think up weird things to flummox the neighbors about their dog to motivate them to keep Barko inside. One idea: “Hey if I let Barko dry hump my right leg, do you think he’d keep barking at the other leg?” Another: “Do dogs reflect the owner’s personalities or lack thereof?” But these ideas stay in my mind since Barko doesn’t become enough of a nuisance to justify a comedic out-of-left-field attack. My verbal zingers remain thoughts like unspent ammunition.

I cut plywood boards to cover up the four holes. I use two sawhorses, and clamps.

I find that I don’t need to pre-drill most times, but that screws (usually) go in by themselves. I use small ones (1.25″ drywall screws). The wood doesn’t get exposed to rain so there’s no need to use more expensive galvanized or stainless steel screws. The first screw in a board is the hardest; after going in, it holds the board up for the remaining ones. That’s the hard part of working overhead — holding it up for the first screw. Sometimes I use my head or foot instead of my other hand. I work around exterior plumbing pipes like this water line. The foot-wide raccoon-entry hole gets mostly covered up by the boards; it doesn’t make sense to measure precisely to find something to cover the hole neatly; to save time, I use rough squares and rectangles and get it approximate. A tiny hole remains but I’ll use the wire mesh in a bit.

Wire mesh goes up. The fence has these natural eyelets where a screw fits in easily. The small black dots (eg upper left corner) are the screw heads.

A closer view.

I bring in more fence sections.

Some fence sections overlap. It’s hard pulling a fence section to one side once part of it is screwed in; I find it’s easier to merely add an overlapping section to places missed the first time. It’s like painting a ceiling with wire.

Places near pipes (a natural entryway for raccoons) get double treatment, with overlapping meshes (the fence material sometimes doesn’t fit around narrow openings.) This is a different discarded wire mesh, without the eyelets, so I use screws with one or two washers (see the silver circles in the picture) which hold the wire in place.

More fencing covers another raccoon opening, further protecting the boards.

I add fencing over the exterior water line.

I need a smaller wire guard on the other side, so I cut another wire mesh using a reciprocating saw (not shown), after clamping down both sides of the wire.

I give the homeowners a tour (they peek in from one side) and say they’re happy. There are no places for a raccoon to re-enter unless they have jaws of steel and can bite through metal.

But a remaining problem is how I can re-attach the white exterior lattice (must be done from the inside) and then how can I escape from the crawlspace? There are no doors. I notice there’s a tiny space beneath a different lattice. So I reattach the lattice (where the fence sections came in) and exit through this section (picture on right), squeezing mouse-like through the opening, and then reattach the bottom of the lattice to the board below.

Done! Now, time for a long hot shower!

If interested, here are other handyman projects:

I also write on other subjects, such as essays, screenplays, biographies:

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