Tips for Housing Managers
On this page:
- Why Control Pests Responsibly on Your Property?
- Seven Essential Components of Good Facilities Management
Pests Cause Problems
In addition to lending properties a poor appearance and potentially causing physical damage, pests can cause health problems that could make living in a property uncomfortable, dangerous, or even deadly. Certain kinds of insects, rodents, and microbes can cause or spread vector-borne diseases (like West Nile virus or rabies), asthma and allergies, avian flu, and diseases due to microbial contamination, among other health problems.
Pesticides Can Be Harmful If Misused
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 people as well. Exposure to high levels of pesticides can have short term health effects, while long-term exposure to some pesticides has been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, and effects on the central nervous system. Children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are some groups who are especially vulnerable to harm from improper use of pesticides.
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 the common sense approach of 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 apartments and do not move away due to infestations.
For more information on responsible pest control, please refer to the IPM fact sheet and consult the seven components of good facilities management below.
These seven components provide housing managers a guide to good facilities management in the context of responsible pest control. This list includes many examples of ways to follow these guidelines.
Reduce access to and through buildings.
Monitoring is the periodic estimation of relative pest population levels, building conditions and other factors that might influence the successful management of pest problems. Information gained through monitoring is critical for determining whether control measures-chemical or otherwise-are necessary.
In many apartment buildings, maintenance technicians are more familiar with the buildings they manage than anyone else that works in the building. They are the ones most likely to see pests or evidence of pests and the conditions that enable pest infestations, and they are the ones most likely to be blamed if a resident sees pests. Maintenance technicians should be familiar with pests and signs of pest problems. Many successful Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs have involved maintenance technicians as "scouts" for pests by teaching them to look for signs, such as rodent droppings, gnaw marks, and frass (insect exoskeletons and excrement).
Electricians are also important for an effective monitoring program because they often go into areas of buildings that others do not frequent, such as crawl spaces and inside drop ceilings. If electricians notice pests, gnawed wires, or other evidence of pests in such areas, they should immediately inform the pest control manager for the building.
Plumbers are also an important part of the IPM team because they are in the best position to spot leaks, humidity, condensation, and standing water that can lead to pest problems. By the nature of their work, carpenters, roofers and other tradespersons can offer additional insight into pests and structural conditions that allow pests to thrive.
The first defense against unwanted visitors-pests included-is making sure they do not get into the building. If there are apartments with pest infestations, spread of the infestation can be minimized to the extent the passageway from these apartments to the rest of the building can be blocked. 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 your 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. Doors that do not seal at the bottom should be fitted with weatherproof sweeps, or the bottom should be extended, or the threshold built up to insure the gap is less than 1/4 inch.
- 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. Whenever possible, use screens on doors, hatches, skylights and other openings. Cover fan and vent openings with galvanized mesh with openings of 1/4 inch or smaller.
- 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 for pests. The most commonly used materials for this are caulk, sheet metal, knitted copper mesh or steel wool, spray foam insulation, and cement. Knitted copper mesh, steel wool and cement are among the best materials to plug openings of 1/4 inch or greater. Rodents can gnaw through softer substances.
- Plug gaps and openings where wires and conduits come through walls, ceilings, floors, the backs of cabinets, etc. to prevent rodents and insects from using electrical wires and conduits as a means to gain access to, and travel throughout, buildings.
- Eliminate pest access in plumbing systems. Seal around sill cocks, sewer lines, and other openings. Use caulk, knitted copper mesh, steel wool, or foam insulation to block access around pipe openings. These materials are often used in combination with hinged metal "collars" designed specifically to cover gaps around plumbing and other service conduits.
Reduce sources of water.
Take steps to reduce sources of water for pests.
- 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.
- Insulate pipes in areas that might be prone to condensation. Condensation is a significant source of water for pests.
- Empty mop buckets and store mops head up.
Manage your 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 soapy water to wash bottles, cans, wrappings, and other items that have food residues clinging to them before placing them in recycling bins.
- 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.
Manage your garbage.
Steps to keep garbage-pest free include:
- Store Dumpsters and trash cans on concrete or asphalt surfaces as far away from the building as possible, but never within three feet of a building wall or fence.
- 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.
Effective IPM in a multifamily housing dwelling requires the cooperation of all residents. The Safer Pest Control Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization working to reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides, implemented a number of successful pest control programs in Chicago Public Housing using an IPM approach.
The project manager stated that an important key to their success was getting building residents involved in the effort. By soliciting the support of these community leaders, the team encouraged building residents to take ownership of the project. Community leaders attended training sessions on IPM and, in turn, provided other residents with important information about sanitation and clutter management.
As an enticement for residents to attend the training provided by resident leaders, goody bags were distributed, providing useful supplies in the war against pests, such as cleaners, bag clips, and caulk guns. Viewieg said that getting building residents involved in the project helped ensure that new procedures set up for managing pests would remain in place after her team's contract ended.
"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.