If you had a bug problem in your home in days of old, or just wanted to prevent pests from coming in, you would call an exterminator who would come out and spray your baseboards with a pesticide. Because of this, the term "baseboard jockeys" became a slang name for pest control technicians.
Today's responsible pest control – whether performed by a homeowner or a professional – takes a more integrated, focused approach called Integrated Pest Management.
What is Integrated Pest Management?
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) defines IPM as "a process involving common sense and sound solutions for controlling pests. The focus is upon finding the best strategy for a pest problem, and not merely the simplest. Pest professionals never employ a 'one-size-fits-all' method in IPM but rather utilize a three-part practice: inspection, identification and treatment by a pest professional. Treatment options in IPM can vary from proactive measures like sealing cracks and removing food and water sources to reactive measures, such as utilizing pest products, when necessary."
According to the EPA, "Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment."
Apply IPM in Your Home
What all this means, is integrating a number of approaches to prevent and exclude pests so that minimal chemical is needed for control, and no treatment is conducted until an inspection properly identifies the pest(s), habitat(s), and extent of the problem.
1. Inspection is an important first step, because it is by looking around both the interior and exterior of your home that you will learn where potential entry points are for exclusion, where sanitation may need a boost, and where pests or pest evidence are being seen. An inspection should take a 360-degree look in open and hidden areas. That is: Look up, down, high, low, right and left; look into corners; open doors to all rooms, cabinets, closets, attics, basements, and unused areas. From this inspection, you will then know where and how to take action for both prevention and control.
2. Prevention. IPM action should focus first on prevention, including:
- Exclusion – sealing and repairing entry points around the interior and the exterior of the home to keep pests from entering. This includes repairing of any cracks and gaps in the structure as well as general upkeep and repair of doors, windows, and screens. For specific tips on implementing exclusion tips to keep pests out, see "Tips to Keep Pests Out."
- Sanitation – cleaning the interior and exterior to eliminate food and water on which the pest is feeding, and cluttered and dirty areas where it is finding shelter. Additional and specific sanitation tips can also be found at "Tips to Keep Pests Out."
- Once you have taken steps to exclude entry, or re-entry, of pests and limit their food, water and harborage, it is time to identify and eliminate any pests that already entered.
3. Identification forms the basis of the next step of IPM. Proper identification is important, not only because it makes the job easier, but it makes it more effective. For example, different ant species are attracted to different types of bait; and while mice are curious creatures, willing to investigate new things (such as traps), rats are more wary and require more care and thought in placement.
You can identify the pest through a variety of resources:
- Send a sample to your county extension office (A list of offices is available at About Landscaping)
- Search the Internet for a similar-looking image to get an idea of what you are dealing with. The most accurate resources will generally be university and government sites, that often have fact sheets on common pests; trusted pest control company pest identification pages; and, of course, About.com sites including About Pest Control and About Insects.
- Contact a local pest control company for identification and recommendations.
4. Control. The final step of the IPM program is that of implementing controls for the identified pests. Non-chemical methods be those that are first considered and attempted; if deemed to be not successful or effective, chemical controls can be considered and implement to the extent deemed necessary.
- Non-chemical control – Non-chemical controls include the preventive efforts of exclusion and sanitation above to limit the reasons a pest would invade your home. But these also include manual and mechanical methods of control, such as
- Vacuuming to get rid of seasonal, occasional invaders, such as boxelder bugs, that do not reproduce indoors
- Traps and non-chemical baits for control and elimination of rats and mice
- Insect light traps to attract and eliminate flying insects
- Manual removal, such as literally picking up lone spiders in the home.
- Other non-pesticide controls, such as a soapy water wash to control aphids on house plants.
- Chemical control - When and if these the non-pesticide attempts fail, then pesticide controls can be judiciously implemented. Because this will vary significantly according to the pest to be controlled, a single answer cannot be provided for chemical control of pests. As a rule, however, all pesticides should be used according to label directions, and only in areas and applications and against pests specifically listed on the label.
More information on safe use of pesticides is available at:
- Five Guides for Pesticide Use
- Pesticide Safety Tips
- Reading the Pesticide Label
- 11 Questions and Answers on Pesticides and their Use
- Handling Pesticide Emergencies and Spills
In some cases, the only effective pesticides will those that are limited to use by licensed professionals.