Eliminate Bugs at the Source

March 21, 2011
Use green pest management to lower your risk of an infestation and eliminate bugs at the source

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Not only are pest infestations disastrous for your work and business environment, but they also take a toll on your budget. Avoid wasting precious funds on treating existing problems by implementing a green pest management program (GPM). This sustainable practice decreases the possibility of an infestation and discourages the use of harsh chemicals.

From Reactive to Proactive
There are three tiers of pest management: traditional, integrated, and green. Traditional is a reactive approach that typically addresses pests after they’ve found a home in your facility. Integrated pest management is a philosophy that mitigates the effects of pesticides by using a sliding scale of physical, biological, and chemical measures. "Green pest management borrows the principles of integrated pest management and limits the types of chemicals you can use to ones that are environmentally sensitive," explains Ken Schumann, an entomologist with Bell Environmental Services.

Green pest programs have specific restrictions about where and what kind of materials can be used in a building. GPM sidesteps chemical pesticides, toxins, and mutagens in favor of physical or biological methods that reinforce an environmentally sensitive space for your occupants.

GPM uses a four-step process for sustainably managing pests that accounts for the severity of the infestation:

  1. Physical Methods – "You need to create an environment that is less conducive to pest infestations," says Lonnie Anderson, director of quality assurance with Terminix. Pest-proofing is a mandatory starting point for all exteriors and interiors, from your landscaping and lighting choices to sealing doors and windows. Good sanitation practices will take your program a long way. For existing pests, it includes monitoring and bait traps, vacuums, and heat or freeze applications.
  2. Self-Contained Baits –

    10 Proactive Ways to Deter Infestations

    1. Keep your building envelopeand roof in good repair.
    2. Address sources of moisture – leaks, ventilation, and drains.
    3. Seal and screen all doors and windows.
    4. Control access to food and garbage.
    5. Employ proper storage tactics.
    6. Use sodium pressure or cool light bulbs.
    7. Eliminate internal and exterior clutter.
    8. Limit or regulate interior greenery.
    9. Practice proper trash management.
    10. Avoid heavy landscaping that provides insects with a habitat.
    If preventative measures aren’t enough, deploy contained insecticide baits. These should be placed out of sight and away from high-traffic areas. Self-contained capsules or bait stations prevent trapped pests from spreading chemicals, continuing to reproduce, or dying in inconvenient locations.
  3. Natural Pesticides – Natural chemicals provide a low-impact technique for large spaces or infestations. Designated as 25b products (an EPA class of minimum risk pesticides), these are derived from bio-based or inert materials like plant essential oils, boric acid, or diatomaceous earth. These are applied sparingly and in low quantities – the "crack and crevice" approach.
  4. Isolated Chemicals – Green pest management doesn’t preclude traditional chemicals, but they should be used judiciously and only when expedience dictates or other approaches have failed. "Traditional pesticides are a last-chance effort after you’ve explored all other options," says Anderson. At this point, a pest management professional and building management will discuss the best way to ensure the least possible impact to the facility. Mass applications like fogging or broadcast spray will still be avoided.

When Green Won’t Cut It
Because GPM takes more time, there are cases when it can’t save the day. There are several scenarios where pests are resistant to green approaches or pose a serious health hazard:

  • Fire and ghost ants are difficult enough to treat with traditional materials, much less sustainable ones.
  • There are virtually no known sustainable methods for dealing with termites.
  • Because bedbugs create ongoing physiological stress and disruptions to business, an owner may want to select regular pesticides.
  • A school with hornets or bees should opt for standard treatment to avoid complications from allergic reactions.

Plan ahead for these invasions by identifying them with your pest professional and outlining specific procedures in your program. You can make a list of exemptions from green treatments that let your sustainability goals off thehook in favor of quick remedies.

Prevention at Its Finest
The greatest strength of GPM is the focus on preventing pest problems from developing. Though you can’t control nature, it’s important to acknowledge how human behavior and building structure attract pests to your property. You need to identify and respond to how bugs or rodents are encouraged to make your building their new home.

Target moisture problems, which attract virtually all insects. Focus your energies on controllable sources of water and humidity, such as roof leaks, faulty rain gutters and downspouts, plumbing leaks, clogged or dirty drains, and excess humidity.

Inspect your building envelope. Cracks and gaps around windows, under doors, in attic spaces, and around piping are all natural entry points for pests. Proper lighting is also essential because insects gravitate to heat and light, particularly those generated from mercury bulbs. Switch to sodium pressure, low watt, and shielded light sources. Lighting should be offset from a building instead of attached to it, such as placing flood lights on a light pole to direct light toward your facility. This literally keeps bugs off of your building.

Evaluate your janitorial practices. Where waste is stored, how trash is managed, and how frequently garbage is collected can impact your susceptibility. You can deter many pests by simply eliminating an easy source of food.

Put restrictions on your employees or tenants. Whether employees can eat at their desks, if there should be container requirements for all food stored on the premise, and which plants are safe to bring in are questions that can be answered through simple policies.

Communication Fundamentals
A sound GPM program relies on frequent exchanges and established procedures. Unlike traditional pest programs where the burden is largely on the pest professional, "GPM is a definite commitment that is required by the building owner and the occupants," says Anderson. You need to formalize protocol for notifying your pest professional of an infestation, how your pest professional should respond, how to communicate with your building occupants, and how to address business interruptions or employee complications.

Keeping a pest sighting log is also an added responsibility for building management in a green program. "A sighting log allows a professional to evaluate the trends and habits of your pest problem," explains Schumann, such as where the infestation is originating from, how big it might be, and whether the infested area is contained or expanding.

You also need to retain records for prior treatments, advises Anderson. Whether the pesticides were low-impact or not, a pest professional needs to know what was previously applied, where it was used, who treated the area, and the frequency of applications.

A Nest of Savings
GPM, like any eco-friendly practice, is an investment in the well-being of your building. Because pest management is complex, pricing isn’t black and white. These variables affect how much GPM can cost:

  • Your square footage
  • Location of your building
  • Extent of monitoring and inspections
  • Type of pest being addressed
  • Materials or methods applied
  • Time required for the given application

"An office building in Manhattan may be priced differently than a similar property in Little Rock, AR," explains Anderson. Geography and climate also influence which pests your building may attract and which methods should be deployed. An apartment building in a dry climate will face different pest issues and treatments than one in a humid region.

The good news is that pricing per hour for low-impact methods costs the same as traditional pest management techniques. The only catch is that sustainable methods take more time and care. "Green approaches typically run a little higher due to the increased time required – 25-35% more," says Anderson. Monitoring and inspection rates range from $250 to $1,000 or more, depending on the size and scope of your property. Treatment rates average $100 an hour.

The type of pest you’re treating is the most dynamic part of your pricing formula. For example, bedbugs are notoriously difficult to treat. If you opt for heat treatments, you can expect to pay between $100-$150 per 1,000 cubic feet. This can run into the thousands of dollars because you cannot treat individual rooms for bedbugs. Their ability to travel on people and furniture and their small size require extensive applications.

Preventive pest measures also save money in more intangible ways, such as improving occupancy rates, offering a selling point to tenants, escaping bad PR, having few shutdowns or closures, and avoiding lost productivity. It’s hard to put a price tag on avoiding a cockroach infestation at your hotel or an army of ants in your office.

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Jennie Morton ([email protected]) is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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