To get rid of wood-destroying insects (WDIs) and other pests, consider an approach — “integrated pest management” — that combines common sense with prevention techniques, conventional pesticides, and green alternatives, such as natural plant extracts and minerals.
Back in the late 20th century, spraying or pumping poisons became the widespread method of choice as home and garden pesticides grew into a $1.4 billion industry.
But today, amid growing concerns about the dangers of toxins to people, animals, and the environment, homeowners and pest-control professionals are looking for ways to reduce the amount of pesticides used by incorporating a range of treatments that are often less toxic but still effective.
Conventional pesticide treatment
With conventional pest control, the name of the game is extermination. The operator kills the insects with chemicals—often applied as sprays—and reapplies the pesticides on a regular schedule to prevent another infestation. That means you’re paying for treatment whether or not insects are actually present.
The risks of unnecessary exposure to pesticides aren’t to be taken lightly. While perhaps effective in the short run, pesticides have been shown to produce long-term consequences, including adverse effects on the endocrine, reproductive, and nervous systems of people and animals. Children are especially sensitive to the toxins found in many pesticides because their immune systems, organs, brains, and nervous systems are still developing.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency regulates all pesticides for safety, they remain potentially deadly to humans and harmful to the environment—especially if misapplied.
A less-toxic approach
The new buzzword in the pest-control industry these days is integrated pest management. Rather than merely blasting pests with poisons, IPM uses a combination of strategies to control pests and includes homeowners as partners in the process.
IPM consists of three basic steps: identifying pests; preventing pests; and—as needed—treating them.
What to expect from a pest-control pro
Just because a pest-control company says it practices IPM doesn’t make it so. The first thing to look for is knowledge about pests. An operator must be able to tell different insects apart and understand their habits and habitats to decide how best to help you control them.
IPM stresses prevention. The pest-control representative should inspect your home for signs of infestation and then recommend steps you can take to eliminate pests by denying food, water, and access. Example: Deterring termites and carpenter ants by keeping the soil around your foundation dry.
Although prevention is the preferred solution, the professional may need to take immediate action to treat an existing infestation. That may include using pesticides, but only as a last resort against an active infestation and never as a matter of routine. Ongoing monitoring of pest activity by you and your pest control operator determines if or when pesticides are reapplied.
When using pesticides, the exterminator should choose the least toxic product possible, apply as little as possible, and treat the smallest area possible—just cracks and crevices, for example, instead of an entire baseboard. Baits—gels, pastes, and granules applied directly or contained in bait stations—are preferred over sprays because they reduce exposure to fumes and residue.
If you’re uncomfortable with even limited use of pesticides, ask the pest-control expert about products that rely on natural substances for their active ingredients.
Examples include boric acid, a naturally occurring mineral, and essential oils, derived from the natural defense systems of plants. Although slower acting than chemical pesticides, products made from natural substances can be highly effective.
A word of caution: Even pesticides made from natural substances can be harmful if mishandled. They are, after all, intended to kill living organisms. In addition, some products include chemical additives that make the natural substance more effective, but which also are toxic.
How much you’ll pay to solve your problem will depend on the type of insect, the size of the infestation, and the type and intensity of treatment. Many pest-control pros offer free inspections, but the bill for actual service can range from less than $100 to spot treat an ant nest to several thousand dollars to eradicate termites and offer ongoing protection.
Compare estimates from several pest-control companies. A few national pest-control companies, such as Orkin and Terminix, provide free online estimates. But the best way to find out the extent of your problem and the options available is to have an expert come to your home and do an on-site inspection.
Make sure the company is licensed and a member of a local, state, or national pest management association. You may also want to check the company’s status with state regulatory agencies for consumer affairs and agriculture.