My introduction to pest control began as a service technician in Columbus, Ohio. As with many entry-level technicians in the 1970s (and dare I say still today), training involved a week or two in the field with another technician to learn everything and anything I needed to know to control all species of pests that may plague my customers. Needless to say, the finished product lacked many skills. The only way to hone those skills was by a series of trial and error. When control efforts failed, the response inevitably leaned towards applying more of the same product that wasn’t working in the first place or switching to a “stronger” pesticide.
The following decades unveiled a renaissance in the industry involving a collaboration of university and private industry researchers who developed improved chemistries targeting the physiological traits of pests. As a result, today we are blessed with a variety of effective pesticides such as baits, insect growth regulators, pheromones and non-repellent products that when applied properly, offer a much greater level of control than before.
Understandably, due to the long history and predominance of chemistry in the structural pest control industry, many outsiders perceive us solely as chemical applicators who “have the good stuff,” which is both true and false. Although most pesticides used in our industry are available to the public, our knowledge of how to use them along with other non-chemical techniques proves our value to the customer. Along with the physiological research of pests, behavioral research has enlightened our industry on how we can control pests without chemistry, hence exclusionary tactics.
WHERE TO START? By far the greatest number of pest species entering structures originate from the exterior. In order to determine what needs to be excluded, we must first identify which pest or combination of pests are to be included in our service. This is determined by current and historical pest activity, location, exterior pest pressures and the action threshold of the customer. For example, are we dealing with a non-food warehouse, residence or pharmaceutical manufacturing facility? Each customer will have a different level of tolerance for exterior invaders. This information needs be taken into account in our exclusion service.
Once the species of pests to be excluded are determined, their biology must be understood in order to identify what motivates them to enter structures. As with all living creatures, their basic needs for survival include food, water, harborage and a suitable temperature range. Food odors originating from restaurants and food-processing plants can attract a variety of pests, such as filth flies and rodents. Excessive moisture or dry conditions on the exterior motivate pests to seek shelter within buildings. Equipment graveyards and firewood piles offer harborage while the structure itself provides nesting sites for rodents, birds and nuisance wildlife.
Insects and other arthropods are cold-blooded and during cooler weather become motivated to invade structures by warmth escaping from cracks and openings in buildings. If you were to do an infrared scan of a structure, you would see where warm air is escaping. Common areas include warmth escaping around windows, soffits and at the bottom of garage and entry doors. Pests follow the air currents through these gaps into the building. Pipe and cable penetrations plus attic, wall and roof vents offer additional points of entry. Once all structural openings allowing pest entry are identified, we can plan our strategy.
HOW HIGH TO GO? After the target pest has been identified and entry points determined, the next step is to decide how to access the sites. Pests that lead a predominately terrestrial life such as the house mouse and Norway rat may be excluded at ground level, while flying insects, birds, roof rats and nuisance wildlife may require ladders, scaffolding or other aerial work platforms for roof access. In a majority of cases, exclusion is performed on the exterior of the building, however thought should be given to the possibility of performing service from the interior. Sealing attic and roof vents from the interior may provide a safer vantage point than working off ladders and roofs. Also, by working on the interior, the exclusion material installed may be more aesthetically pleasing.
The most important aspect of exclusion service is safety. Ground-level work may not have fall potential, however, there may be many safety hazards around a building when installing dig deterrents for burrowing animals. Be sure to give thought to buried utilities such as cable lines and sprinkler systems. Check local regulations to see if a “call before you dig” service should be contacted beforehand to mark utilities.
The importance of safety increases at greater heights. Do not assume that everyone is capable of working at heights. Acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of heights that is rated by some in the top 10 of all fears. Others may experience physiological issues that can affect their ability to work safely at even the slightest of heights.
The most common tools utilized for above-ground exclusion work are step ladders and extension ladders. Companies need to establish written protocols from ladder type and inspections to training and documentation. Tragic accidents have occurred when workers have fallen from a 6-foot step ladder.
CODES & REGULATIONS. Prior to engaging in exclusion service, it is important to have an understanding of what additional permits or licenses may be needed. Depending on location, states or local regulatory agencies may require contractor or builder permits to sell and/or perform exclusion services. If nuisance wildlife is involved, the state Department of Natural Resources or other agencies may require licensing or permits. This is particularly important when nuisance wildlife is trapped, or if exclusion services are performed during seasonal nesting periods. Proper species identification is critical to identify if any threatened or endangered animals may be affected by the service.
MATERIALS & WARRANTIES. Exclusion must have two objectives. First the entry points must be identified and sufficiently sealed to exclude pest entry and second, the material installed must remain effective for a prescribed period of time. Taking into consideration the variety of pest types and construction elements involved in the list of exclusion materials is quite extensive. There are many suppliers available that can direct you to the products needed relative to the specific task at hand. Suppliers and distributors have valuable expertise so take advantage of such resources.
After determining the cost of labor and materials and adjusting for profit, the total proposed cost of exclusion services can be calculated. A sales agreement identifying pests to be removed and/or excluded from the structure along with payment terms and warranties will help define the service. A graph of the structure indicating areas excluded will specify the exact locations of service should there be any questions afterwards. Initial warranties may include a workmanship and re-entry guarantee when pests are removed from the structure for a specified period of time. Subsequent warranties may be offered to provide periodic inspections designed to cover maintenance and repair costs.
Exclusion is a key component of integrated pest management for a majority of structural invaders. Identifying the target pest along with an understanding of their biology and habits will help you identify how they are entering the structure. Once determined, thought must be given to choose the proper materials and labor required to provide a safe and effective service. If done correctly, exclusion services will remain effective for many years and can be an added source of revenue to your business.