Maintaining a healthy home environment free of pests is much like maintaining a healthy body. When one goes to the health professionals with a specific problem, the doctor may ask some questions, examine the symptoms, and come up with a treatment plan. In the same way, hearing scratching and running noises in the home attic would likely result in a pest management professional being called. The pest control technician may ask some questions, examine the evidence, and come up with a treatment plan. In the same way that many health-related problems can be minimized or prevented through healthy habits such as diet, rest, and exercise, pest problems can be proactively avoided and reduced through good pest management practices around the home and office.
What can the average person do to reduce the chances of experiencing pest problems? The key is to actively look for evidence of pests in and around the home and correct the conducive conditions that contribute to them. These conditions fall under four basic categories—(the underlying causes of most pest problems): Access to shelter, Clutter, Sanitation, and Water.
Access to Shelter: Homes are full of holes. From large to small, these access points can be found virtually anywhere; roofs, eaves and bird blocks, where foundation meets siding, bottom of doors (including garage door), and crawlspace vents. Pest species thrive in partnership with these holes, using them to access the comfort, protection and numerous delectables within. The size of the hole determines which assortment of pests will be able to gain entrance. For example, a house mouse can squeeze through a ¼ inch diameter hole, a rat can get through a ½ inch diameter hole, and an odorous house ant can get through a 1/25 inch hole! You may believe that no matter how much hole sealing you do, pests are going to find their way in. However, I have been surprised at how helpful just a little caulking in key areas can be in preventing infestations. Yes, it does take a little extra time to discover and fix these holes (which is why many pest control companies rely heavily on pesticides), but think of all the time and energy gained (and pesticide exposure reduced) by keeping the pests out permanently rather than repeatedly dealing with every pest that enters.
Clutter: I admire those individuals that seem to effortlessly maintain a clutter free home. But for many, I suspect it is not an easy task. Any area of the home is more susceptible to pest problems when cluttered: overstuffed closets, random junk in spare rooms, memorabilia in attic spaces, holiday artifacts in garages, stacks of wood or yard equipment near the exterior of the house; even overgrown bushes and dense vines touching the house could provide shelter and enhance access to the home. Cluttered areas are highly attractive to pest species and provide them with a scarcely disturbed habitat where going unnoticed is easy and nesting materials and food are often readily available. In such situations, population of rodents, carpenter ants, bed bugs, clothes moths and an assortment of other pests can thrive and multiply unnoticed for extensive periods of time. Keeping clutter to a minimum is synonymous with keeping pest habitat to a minimum. This can be done by getting rid of unnecessary things and properly organizing what remains on shelves where a view of the perimeter walls and corners of the area is optimized. Equipment and piles of wood etc. should be kept as far away from the home as is feasible. Landscape vegetation should be cut back several feet from the structure. Vines should be anchored to trellises and thinned out regularly. Keeping each area of the home as simple and clutter-free as possible exposes pests and encourages them to move on to more inviting, habitat rich locations.
Sanitation (access to food): Besides finding a place to live, pests are always on the lookout for food. Both our food, our pets food, and respective refuse are under constant assault by rodents, flies, stored product beetles and moths, and other disease-carrying organisms. An obvious offender that comes to mind is food spillage accumulating under appliances and on pantry shelves. Some less obvious situations involve the storage and dispensing of pet food. A Bowl of dried pet food set out day and night for the convenience of a pet becomes an easy target for small rodents who may repeatedly return throughout a night. It is much better to give a pet a set mealtime after which the food is removed or covered. This should be done whether pests are suspected or not as they are often very good at going unnoticed. A general solution for keeping pests from accessing food is to keep the most attractive and susceptible food items containerized with sealing lids. This may involve keeping dry cat food in plastic bins, baking/baked goods in sealing jars, and refuse lids shut. In one successful case, a homeowner isolated and eliminated a drugstore beetle infestation by sealing all packaged food items (near the infestation) in clear plastic re-sealable bags. In this way, infested items were easily distinguished and disposed of. The accumulation of animals and nesting, insects and assorted debris, and wood found in crawlspaces and attics are other commonly overlooked sanitation concerns. While the underlying problem may have started as a missing crawlspace vent, the area may now contain all sorts of food items and contaminants that are attracting more pest activity. It is a good idea to make sure these areas are inspected regularly for pest activity and any sanitation issues cleaned up.
Water: Water provides the pathway for many different types of pests that if left unchecked, may lead to significant property damage. Gutter obstruction forcing water to run down the siding, roof or plumbing leaks that deliver a small but consistent drip, or standing water resulting from inadequate drainage are some examples. Once water issues are identified, the source must be corrected quickly as a succession of damaging events can occur rapidly. Water-related problems are unique in facilitating an exceptionally deleterious group of invaders including wood rot and wood-destroying insects, mosquitoes, and, and mold. It is advised that all areas of the structure be inspected for water stains, bubbling paint, excessive moisture, and standing water. In the crawl space, a vapor barrier should completely cover the soil and vents should be unobstructed to allow adequate ventilation. In the yard, check for containers that provide mosquito larval habitats and spill water out of cups, recycling bins, garden pots, and tarpaulins etc. When it comes to water, the sooner problems are detected and remedied, the better. Procrastinating on a fix will only lead to costly repairs and extensive treatment options.
Ones home endures as one of the biggest investments and assets one could have. Maintaining a healthy home environment where pests are denied access, shelter, food and water is a big part of optimizing the value of the property. But more importantly, keeping ourselves and our families safe and free from exposure to environmental hazards—both pests and pesticides—by incorporating habits and practices mentioned above, can benefit us in all aspects of a healthy way of life.
Andrew Soeprono is an Entomologist for Aria Environmental, Environmentally Sound Pest Management in Issaquah, WA.