Fighting Off Unwanted Pests This Winter
One of the things no property manager enjoys finding is a pest problem on the property. Pests cause problems. In addition to being unsightly, pests can make living in a property uncomfortable, dangerous, or even deadly. To combat pest problems, many people often turn immediately to pesticides. Pesticides are intended to be toxic to pests. When used improperly, pesticides can be toxic for humans as well. Exposure to high levels of pesticides can have short and long term health effects. Children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are some groups who are especially vulnerable.
Taking precautions to prevent pests from entering the property and becoming a problem is the first step to safe and prudent pest control. By using a strategy known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), housing managers can avoid wasting time and money on treatments and repairs for pest infestations that could have been prevented. Additionally, dealing with pest problems quickly and effectively can help ensure that residents are pleased with their homes and do not move out due to infestations.
The following seven components provide property managers a guide to controlling unwanted pests.
Information gained through monitoring is critical for determining whether control measures, chemical or otherwise, are necessary. Property managers should be familiar with pests and signs of pest problems. Being aware of rodent droppings, gnaw marks and frass (insect exoskeletons and excrement) is important. Keeping the communication lines open between property managers, electricians and plumbers can also be helpful because electricians and plumbers are often working in areas such as crawl spaces and attics, and are in positions to spot leaks, humidity and standing water. If any evidence of pests are present, they should inform the property manager.
- Reduce access to and through buildings
The first defense against unwanted pests is making sure they do not get into the building. Pest management experts recommend regular inspections of the building exterior to spot holes where pests may gain entry. Other steps to keep insects and rodents from entering or traveling through the building include:
- Fix broken windows, screens, vent covers or holes in exterior walls as soon as possible. A mouse can fit through a hole as small as the diameter of a dime.
- Doors and windows that do not completely close must be fixed immediately to prevent pests from getting in.
- Automatic door closers should be considered for frequently used doors that tend to be left open, and for doors that are near rooms or outdoor areas where food or trash is present.
- Do not leave doors to buildings propped open, particularly near kitchen areas or dumpsters.
- Place screens over air intake and exhaust vents for heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to prevent insects and rodents from entering buildings.
- Carefully review HVAC components, such as piping and duct work, where they meet floors, walls, or ceilings, and close openings pests could enter to prevent these from becoming runways.
- Plug gaps and openings where wires and conduits come through walls, ceilings, floors, etc. to prevent rodents and insects from using electrical wires and conduits as a means to gain access inside the building.
- Eliminate pest access in plumbing systems. Seal around sill cocks, sewer lines, and other openings.
- Reduce sources of water
- Fix leaking pipes and faucets as soon as possible. A five-gallon bucket under a slow leak may seem an easy solution to a plumbing problem. However, it provides a watering trough for rats, mice, and cockroaches and may be a moisture source for supporting mold growth.
- Keep roof drains and downspouts open and free-flowing.
- Keep gutters clean and unclogged. Standing water and debris in gutters provides water for rats, carpenter ants, mosquitoes, and other pests.
- Fix clogged or slow drains as quickly as possible.
- Replace water-damaged wood as soon as possible.
- Empty mop buckets and store mops head up.
- Recycling program
While recycling is meant to improve the environment, it can contribute to environmental problems, particularly those related to pests, if it is not handled correctly. Some key concepts that managers in charge of recycling activities should understand and practice include:
- Wash recyclable containers. Food and drink left on or in recyclables will help support insects and rodents.
- Use metal bins when practical. Pests can gnaw through many types of plastic containers.
- Line bins used to store food and beverage containers with garbage bags and clean bins weekly with detergent and hot water.
- Equip storage bins with tight fitting lids to keep rodents and insects out.
- Arrange for all recyclables to be picked up as frequently as possible. This keeps pests from being able to rely on a steady source of shelter or breeding area. Constant disruption of pest habitats helps keep populations from becoming established.
- Garbage control
- Store Dumpsters and trash cans on concrete or asphalt surfaces as far away from the building as possible.
- Provide adequate numbers of Dumpsters and trash receptacles to avoid overflow of contents. Outdoor trash receptacles should have self-closing lids.
- Inspect trash rooms regularly and clean up spills promptly.
- Remove pests without pesticides
If a pest insect infestation is large, vacuuming is a quick way to reduce the population immediately. A strong vacuum can be used to pick up live cockroaches, as well as their egg cases and droppings, and rodent droppings, hair and debris contaminated with rodent urine. IPM experts recommend using a vacuum equipped with high efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filter to reduce the amount of cockroach, mouse, or other allergens that can become airborne during cleaning. Elimination of rodent pests, such as mice and rats, can often be accomplished without chemicals by using simple snap traps.
- Solicit the support and cooperation of building residents.
An important key to successfully eliminating unwanted pests is getting building residents involved in the effort. Educating tenants on what to look for can be helpful in fighting off rodents, roaches and other unwanted pests this winter.
“Tips for Housing Managers” was adapted from “Scram! Keeping Apartment Homes Pest-Free, Without Toxic Pesticides,” an article by an EPA staff member, in the June 2004 issue of Units, a National Apartment Association’s publication.