In the past, if a property had a pest problem, the most common method of treatment was to spray, spray, spray. It didn’t matter what pest it was or why it was there; spraying the interior or exterior of a building with a one-spray-fits-all treatment seemed to be the norm. Unfortunately, this treatment also meant damaging and killing the innocent, and often useful, insects and pests, as well as flowers and other landscaping. It also meant exposing residents and their children and pets to harsh chemicals.
Today, a different approach is gaining in popularity. You can eliminate bugs and pests from your building with an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy. “Forget about the old ways of doing things,” says Ron Harrison, Ph.D., director of technical services for Orkin Pest Control in Atlanta. “We are more targeted in our approach and use such items as bait to attract the pests. IPM can effectively prevent pests in apartment environments with proactive measures and green treatments.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes IPM as an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common sense practices that are the most economical and least hazardous. This is especially important when pesticides can cause serious health problems in pets and residents, including asthma attacks in children, as well as damage the environment.
The Tower Cos. in Rockville, Md. has implemented an IPM program in their buildings. “It’s not just seeing one bug or some pest somewhere and spraying everything,” says David Borchardt, PE, chief sustainability officer for the company, which developed the nation’s first LEED-certified apartments. “An expert, who is knowledgeable about that specific pest, comes to our buildings and takes a more targeted approach at eliminating them.”
For example, when one dumpster attracted roaches, Borchardt says that instead of just spraying around and in the dumpster, the pest management specialist first found their point of entry—holes that needed to be sealed. “This made it more difficult for the roaches to get in and out, and they went away,” says Borchardt.
Harrison explains that there are several tiers to this IPM approach. “From a cultural standpoint, we find out what we need to change, such as garbage, so the pests don’t stay,” says Harrison, who says that the most common multifamily infestation problem is ants.
Then, he says, traps and sweeps may be put on the property. “Biologically, do we use insects to catch other insects, such as spiders to catch bed bugs, or do we use a chemical?” he asks.
“Managers aren’t used to hearing this method,” says Harrison. “We typically hear, ‘just spray. That’s your job.’”
If a chemical is needed, there are IPM steps that should be taken. First, less risky pest controls, such as pheromones, are used. These stop pests from mating. The EPA also suggests biologically based, non-toxic pest control products, such as those derived from plants, animals, fungi, bacteria or other non-man-made synthesis.
Next, chemically based pesticides—herbicides, insecticides and fungicides—can kill or inactivate the pests but aren’t as risky as other pesticides. If that doesn’t work, stronger pesticides may be used—but they are first used in a specific, targeted area. Spraying the entire property or building with a high-risk pesticide is only done as a last resort, when all other methods have failed.
Residents can, and should, implement this program inside their own units, before immediately grabbing a toxic can of bug spray. They can be taught to identify and control the source of any infestations as well.
Borchardt says that building managers will know their IPM program is effective when there are fewer complaints from the residents, but his company still works with residents who might have cleaning issues in their apartments, as an IPM strategy also makes the building healthier.
“About every six months or so, we go into the units to change air filters and observe for cleanliness,” he says. “And as we do any renovations in the unit, we seal what we can to make sure it limits any ability for any pest to come in.”
In addition to the program being environmentally friendly, it’s also economical, as only small amounts of products and chemicals are being used.
Borchardt says that The Tower Cos.’ pest management company is paid on a monthly contract with anything extra handled on a case-by-case basis. “[The specialist] puts out traps and checks the property to see if there is any potential of an infestation starting, and we deal with it then.”
Orkin and the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) now provide multifamily property managers with IPM training, with a one-hour IPM course that also earns one credit toward the NAAEI’s Credential for Green Property Management.