Green Pest Control: Consumer Checklist
As a pest control expert & environmental engineer, it is a pleasure to see not only my industry, but the entire world thinking “green.” The term green has various meanings, but in general it means to put the environment side-by-side with our profits.
The 21st Century consumer is becoming more aware of the detrimental impact he/she has on the world, and green trends are appearing everywhere we look. So how can we apply this green way of thinking when controlling unwanted pests? There are many ways that individuals can help to control & reduce pest problems using truly green methods. It is worth noting that while those “botanical or all-natural” products do not necessarily equal green, the use of conventional & botanical pesticides play a vital role in the protection of human health, food & property. The following points will establish some important facts about insects & provide a checklist which homeowners can use as a tool in controlling insets in a way that has little to no impact on the environment. Some simple, proactive measures can serve to protect tenants’ health as well as prevent costly damages to the property itself.
So why should consumers take steps to proactively control pests? According to the National Pest Management Association, over 500,000 people are sent to the hospital emergency room every year due to stings from insects such as yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants Billions of dollars in damage each year are done to structures in the U.S. by wood-destroying organisms. Insects & rodents can spread illnesses & diseases such as Malaria, West Nile Virus, Hanta Virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, & Salmonella. Needless to say, control is definitely worthwhile when considering the damages pests cause. So how can consumers use green methods to help control insects in their environments? Think like a bug! Understanding a few basics about insect needs & behavior helps to control unwanted populations. Actually, insects have the same basic needs as humans do: food, water, & shelter (harborage areas). To eliminate what insects need to survive to help create a pest-free environment in & around structures, consumers can follow the green guidelines for pest management listed below.
CLEAN & MAINTAIN GUTTERS
Leaf debris in gutters creates a dark, damp environment for insects to nest. Gutters heavy with leaves will also begin to sag & pull apart the wood they are attached to. This creates many entry areas into a structure from the top, not to mention the structural damage it could cause.
DIVERT WATER AWAY FROM STRUCTURE
Familiarize yourself with your property’s irrigation practices & any drainage issues. Are downspouts effectively diverting water away from the structure? Are there any areas that flood after a heavy rain? Areas with high levels of moisture are much more prone to insect problems.
EASY ON THE SURROUNDING VEGETATION!
There should be a minimum of a 12” clearance between a structure & all vegetation. This reduces the amount of moisture held at the base of the building, discourages insect harborage, eliminates pathways for insects to gain entry, & allows for a more thorough inspection. Ground coverings such as mulch & pine straw should be no more than 2” thick, since thick ground coverings create a perfect living environment for unwanted pests.
DON’T FEED THE RODENTS!
Many people don’t realize that rodents, particularly roof rats & squirrels, are serious pests in Georgia. These rodents commonly enter attics & other areas open to the outside. These nuisance pests chew wires & pipes, potentially causing fires or flooding. They also chew air conditioning ducts, sheetrock, shingles, & other material. To discourage unwanted wildlife, all pet food should be stored in seal-tight containers, & it is recommended to place bird feeders a minimum of 100 feet from any residence. It is also advisable to feed pets at a certain time every day instead of leaving food out all day/night, as both birdseed & pet food are highly attractive to roof rats. A structure could have a serious infestation of rodents without its occupants even being aware. In addition to posing health risks due to their urine, feces, shed hair, & parasites they carry, rodents commonly compact the insulation present in attics. Rodents are highly active, and they often move insulation, create runways and tunnels in it, and can even reduce the thickness to virtually zero. This can greatly decrease a structure’s energy efficiency, resulting in higher power bills & greater emissions, which are environmentally detrimental. Exclusion methods permanently control many wildlife-related problems and involve sealing all openings in a structure, including plumbing & air conditioning pipes, gable vents, roof vents, and many others. Leaving these practices to an experienced expert is recommended when dealing with any rodent issue.
MAINTENANCE IS A MUST
As a structure ages, it develops cracks, openings, & other issues that can contribute to pest problems. Cracked siding, gaps between the structure & window sills, cracks around the foundation or chimney, broken thresholds & door seals, roof leaks, & plumbing leaks are all factors to consider when preventing pest problems. Regular repairs & maintenance help to keep a structure pest and rodent free. Pay special attention to small cracks & crevices which can be sealed with caulking.
KNOW THE SURROUNDING AREA
Paying close attention to what surrounds a property will enable you to foresee pest problems before they occur. For example, are there any standing bodies of water on or near the property? If so, mosquitoes will indefinitely pose a concern. A mosquito control program may include something as simple as ensuring that all ponds are stocked with certain species of fish which feed off of mosquito larvae. Additionally, rats, squirrels & other nuisance wildlife will certainly be present, as this can serve as a water source. Has any land been cleared in the surrounding area within the past 2 years? This is often an indication that rodents & other wildlife have been driven out of their natural habitats & may attempt to enter nearby structures. Are there any landfills in close proximity? Abandoned property, clutter/ trash piles, & unoccupied property can also signify target areas that should be monitored heavily for pests.
Wood should never be in direct contact with the ground. Siding should be a minimum of 6” above the ground to prevent a termite infestation, since it is possible for a structure to become infested by wood-destroying pests even if it is under a termite-protection plan. Deck posts, even if they are pressure-treated, should have some sort of base between the wood & the ground, because as wood ages, it develops cracks, thus allowing termites to infest it. Decks should always be built so that a person can access the area underneath it, since decks built low to the ground obstruct termite detection & create harborage for many types of pests. Avoid stacking firewood directly on the ground. It is recommended that firewood is stored at least 6” off the ground to prevent pests such as roaches, scorpions, spiders & rodents. Any wood debris, fallen trees/limbs, logs, or other materials containing cellulose should never be in direct contact with the ground, since termites are attracted to these items.
MANAGE WASTE WISELY
If you live in a place that has a common waste management site, you’ll need to read this section. Paying attention to where the property’s waste management facility is located will help to pinpoint hot spots. The homes or buildings closest to areas where trash is kept will experience higher pest pressure from certain pests than the other units. How often is the waste removed? Lids of trash cans should always be closed, and overflowing containers shouldn’t be permitted. Are trash receptacles & surrounding areas ever washed? Sanitation of these critical areas will reduce food sources and reduce the amount of pests attracted from the surrounding vicinity, and you will indefinitely see lower populations of flies, roaches, rodents, ants & other pests. Dumpsters should be a minimum of 100 feet from inhabited areas & should be monitored heavily. Talk to your community’s President or Management Company regarding these issues.
COMMUNICATE WITH RESIDENTS/OCCUPANTS
A consumer should ensure that they have a way to openly communicate any pest concern to the Home Owners’ Association or Property Management Company as they appear. This helps to catch pest problems in their preliminary stages so that they can be more efficiently & effectively resolved. Early detection often allows for greener solutions.
WHEN TO CALL A PROFESSIONAL
For advice or assistance in controlling pest problems, a Pest Management Professional can be very valuable. It is worth mentioning that control of certain pests such as termites, bedbugs, cockroaches, rodents & wildlife are better left to a Pest Management Professional, as extensive knowledge, training, & special equipment are often required to eradicate them. Due to experience, professionals are better able to pinpoint sources & more successfully target pests while minimizing environmental risks. In many cases, professionals can offer greener solutions than do-it-yourself methods by using knowledge of a pest’s biology & behavior.
HOW TO CHOOSE A PEST MANAGEMENT PROFESSIONAL
First & foremost, a company should be certified & in good standing with the Georgia Department of Agriculture. All service technicians should be registered with this government body as well, which requires them to pass a state-administered exam. The Georgia Pest Control Association is a statewide organization which promotes professionalism & ethical business practices within the industry, & the National Pest Management Association is the industry’s national organization. Membership in these associations can be a good indicator of whether or not a company is proactive in ongoing education, new technology, & the betterment of its methods & practices. The number of years in business, appearance & overall professionalism of employees, & congruency between a company’s promises & what it delivers should also be given consideration when choosing a company. Beware of unrealistic claims & silver-bullet promises. Green certifications are also becoming more & more sought after. Just as buildings are striving for LEED certification, Pest Management Professionals are striving for similar third party certifications for green pest practices. Examples include Green Shield & QualityPro Green. While Forsyth Exterminating is diligently working to achieve these certifications, I believe that existing pest control practices, techniques, & products, when implemented properly, have been green for a long time.
Written by Mario Ramirez, Environmental Engineer & Owner of Forsyth Exterminating. Serving Metro Atlanta & North Georgia for over 25 years.