Raccoons might just be the cutest pest around, but that doesn't change the damage they do and the costs they incur. Homeowners should think of them just as they do any pest, and should take steps to deter them and prevent the damage from occurring. Controlling raccoons is similar to controlling other mammalian pests; you need to be aware of their preferred environment and habitat, know what their behavior is, and take action to deter them.
Environment and Habitat
The natural environment of raccoons is in wooded areas with dense brush and with a water source nearby. They build dens in a number of places including dead tree trunks, small caves, and brush piles. In urban environments this extends to backyards, under decks, behind chimneys, and in attics; any place that offers a modicum of cover and is quiet during the day when they are sleeping.
Most damage from raccoons comes from their need for shelter. Nesting females will remove shingles and fascia to enter a den-like area and will proceed to use insulation and vegetation for nesting material. During the night, when they are out, raccoons will urinate and defecate as they see fit but, during the day, it will likely be just outside of the den area (and likely somewhere in, or near, your home).
As nocturnal animals, raccoons live their lives under the darkness of night. They emerge at dusk to start foraging for food and can cover quite a large distance during the night. Raccoons are omnivores in nature, and in suburbia; they eat fruits, berries, and nuts as well as fish, bird eggs, and small mammals such as rabbits and muskrats. Always adaptive, they are just as happy to eat pet food, birdseed, food from garbage cans, and compost material. They will find water at many sources, but backyard fishponds are a favorite.
The best way to manage raccoons is to deter them from setting up on your property to start with.
Start with managing the environment around your home. Fencing can be helpful but it is not entirely effective; raccoons can dig under fences and can often be seen running along the top of wooden neighborhood fences. You'll need to dig the fence below the surface and create a top surface that is not wide and flat. Cutting back trees and bushes can also help by reducing the den sites available. Ensure that your basement and attic are well sealed and take steps to enclose any spaces below decks and patios. Also check soffits, roof vents, and chimneys to ensure they are secured.
Controlling food and water sources are also good deterrents. Make sure that pet food is not left out overnight, pick up all fallen fruit from fruit trees, and consider installing netting and/or fencing around vegetable gardens. Use netting over any fishponds also; this will decrease access to water and will deter fishing at the same time.
Mechanical deterrents may also be helpful. Motion sensor lights or sprinklers can work to surprise raccoons and convince them to go elsewhere. These work best if you vary the time delay and the location of the light or water sprinkler.
As with all pests there may come a time when the problem is too big for you to manage alone. If the issues persist, and you just can't convince the critters to move along, then calling in professional pest control is the next step. They can help remove raccoons and deter them from returning. One company that performs this service is Greenleaf Organic Pest Management.