Pests in buildings
Safe and effective pest management is more than a matter of choosing the right product. Because their long-term health risks are poorly understood, pesticides should only be considered a last resort.
The focus of reduced-risk pest management is pest prevention. The key words to remember are food, water, shelter, and access. Removing some or all of these will prevent pests from getting established in the first place.
Food: Do not leave food out to attract pests. Routinely clean up all crumbs and spills. Seal all food in plastic, glass, or metal containers (many pests can chew through paper, cardboard, and thin plastic such as baggies). Rinse all food and beverage containers before placing in recycling bins, and routinely rinse out garbage and recycling bins. Clean up plant debris such as droppings from fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
Water: Fix leaky pipes, clean out drains and rain gutters, drain or treat pools, turn off all hoses when not in use, and make sure soil drains completely after watering. Avoid birdbaths and fountains if pest problems persist.
Shelter: Clean up clutter. Remove cardboard boxes, crates, used tires, piles of wood, and overgrown plant material. Seal all cracks and crevices that could lead inside.
Access: Seal up all entryways into buildings to keep pests outside. Sealing out pests, or exclusion, can be accomplished through caulking and installing door sweeps, screens, and other barriers. For more information visit, "How to Bug Proof Your Home," published by the University of Arizona.
General References: Handbook for Tenants and Building Managers by San Francisco Department of Public Health in English, Spanish and Chinese for bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, flies, lice, mold, mosquitoes, pigeons and wild birds, scabies, rodents.
All structural pest control companies (that is, controlling pests in and around buildings) must be licensed under California law, but it isn't always easy to determine which companies practice a prevention-based, least toxic approach to managing pests.
Select a certified company
- Check out this factsheet on how to find companies that prevent pests (from Our Water, Our World).
- Try these contractors because they have been certified by independent, third-party organizations that require extensive documentation of a company's adherence to IPM principles:
Or ask companies that claim to practice IPM (but are not certified) questions in these links:
- Beyond Pesticides Safety Source for Pest Management- Directory of IPM Professionals
- Bio-Integral Resource Center Directory of IPM Professionals for Buildings
Ask the right questions
- Does the company try alternative approaches before turning to pesticides?
- If they want to apply a pesticide (insecticide, fungicide, or herbicide) can they explain their reasons in an understandable way?
- If they have to use pesticides, how do they select least toxic products?
- Do they use regular chemical treatments to prevent problems or treat only when disease or insect threshold levels are exceeded?
- Do they assess underlying conditions that may cause the pest problems?
- Can they explain what will happen if the pesticide is not applied?
Use the tips above. Also, when going out to bid, use a Request for Proposal. Don't do a low-cost bid because it gives contractors more incentive to schedule frequent on-site visits to manage pests instead of preventing them.
Use a third-party certified contractor (e.g., EcoWise, GreenShield) if available in your area.
- EcoWise Toolkit for IPM Contracting
- Use SF's Contract Language: SF Request for Proposals for IPM Services to City Properties (2007)
San Francisco recently completed an ambitious contract:
- It was costed by the square foot, not hourly since there will be more hours up front with IPM but fewer hours in the long term.
- SFE currently does not have cost comparisons on IPM versus non-IPM structural pest control because there are so many factors involved:
- Long term vs. short term costs.
- How to account for maintenance repair/pest prevention costs recommended by the contractor that should have been done with or without an IPM contractor.
- Comparing what did happen with what could have happened.
- Start an IPM Program in Apartment Buildings (video), Boston Housing Authority.
- San Francisco’s award-winning IPM Program: Reduced Risk Pesticide List and Compliance Checklist for City Properties or how to create a Reduced-Risk Pesticide List for your organization.
- How to meet US Green Building Council LEED-EB Operations and Maintenance Requirements to use least-hazardous pesticides.