It’s a dilemma that almost every Florida resident faces upon buying a home, or maybe even renting one – what should I do about pest management?
To help people who are moving into homes, or perhaps thinking about changes to their current routine, the BugWeek Web Team talked to urban entomologist Dr. Phil Koehler, a professor with the University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Department and an internationally recognized expert on household pests.
Newcomers to the state might be skeptical about the need for pest management – is it really *that* buggy in Florida? Koehler’s answer is simple – yes.
“If you live in Florida, you really have to consider how you’re going to manage pests,” Koehler said. “Without appropriate pest management, Florida is not a desirable place to live.”
Koehler points to the fact that about one-third of all urban pest control work performed in the U.S. takes place in Florida, carried out by approximately 4,000 companies employing a total of about 40,000 people.
There are brave souls who try to handle their own pest-management needs, but Koehler says that’s an iffy proposition. First, laypeople can’t purchase equipment and pesticides that require a state license and are intended to be used by professionals. Second, effective pest management requires extensive knowledge that the average homeowner doesn’t have and couldn’t acquire without dedicated study.
“The typical approach for people is to go down to the store and buy a can of pesticide spray for their house, and another for their yard, and they might look at these products as cure-alls and not bother reading the label directions and using them as directed,” Koehler said. “Then you end up having problems with environmental degradation, as well as human exposure to the pesticides.”
If you want to try do-it-yourself pest control, make sure to educate yourself from reliable sources, Koehler advises. He recommends the EDIS online Extension library, a resource created by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. He’s also written a book, Pests in and Around the Southern Home, which is aimed at homeowners and provides practical, science-based information about common pests and their management. The book is available at http://ifasbooks.ifas.ufl.edu/p-1222-pests-in-and-around-the-southern-home.aspx.
So, for the homeowner who’s convinced that it’s time to hire a pro, the next question is, how to choose the right one?
The first thing to keep in mind, Koehler says, is that many pest management companies today practice a strategy called integrated pest management, or IPM. With this approach, the technician who comes to your home isn’t necessarily going to spray or put out a bait during every visit.
“You’re not hiring a pest-management company to spray, you’re hiring a company for their knowledge in keeping pests from bothering you – there’s a difference,” Koehler said.
With IPM, the technician will first inspect areas in your home where pests would likely hide. If there’s sign of an infestation, the next step is to identify the pest and then determine whether action is warranted. Application of pesticide is one of several options considered.
The IPM strategy has won great support from environmentalists, because it stresses conservative use of pesticides, rather than the routine spraying that many older adults recall from decades past.
Here’s an important fact about IPM — the homeowner must play a role by following habits that discourage pests from setting up shop. These include things like minimizing the amount of food waste present in the kitchen, sealing up cracks and crevices to eliminate access points for pests, and making sure that the lower parts of exterior walls are clear of ornamental plants, ground covers and mulches, all of which can harbor pests and increase their chances of getting inside your home.
You can learn about the basics of IPM in this brochure
Koehler says that when it comes time to hire a company, the most important thing is to make sure it’s properly licensed. From there, it’s largely a matter of personal preference.
Pest management licensing in Florida is a straightforward matter, and there are multiple industry associations and instructional aids to help operators obtain training and qualify for licensing. So there is no reason for a pest management business to skirt the law. Still, some do, Koehler said.
“There are a huge number of people doing pest control illegally in Florida,” he said. “They’ll frequently go door-to-door and say they’ll take care of your bug problems at the best price in town.”
What these unlicensed operators won’t tell you is that they may be using a specialized compound to perform jobs it wasn’t intended to do, or that they know little about the safety precautions associated with pesticide application.
You’re more likely to encounter an unlicensed operation through an unexpected knock at your door, but some of these fly-by-night businesses have gone so far as to run advertisements, Koehler said.
The quickest way to tell if someone is legitimate is to ask to see the technician’s state-issued identification card, he said. Every pest-management technician is required to have one, and this ID card indicates that the technician has been trained and is supervised by a certified pest management operator and works for an owner who is licensed and insured. If a technician can’t produce their state ID card, something’s wrong.
Once you’ve narrowed down your options to a few companies, the final decision will probably be guided by your personal preferences, Koehler said.
For example, Florida is home to pest management companies both large and small. But there is no right or wrong answer about which to choose, he said. Potentially, the technicians at large and small companies will be equally well-trained and have access to the same compounds, so they should provide competent, professional service either way.
With a small company, you may get to know the employees better because you’ll potentially see and talk to the same people over and over. That can be a plus because your technician becomes more acquainted with your situation, and you may just feel more comfortable with people you know, he said.
On the other hand, a larger company may be able to offer greater flexibility in scheduling visits to your home, particularly if there’s an emergency. They may also offer more extensive customer support, such as websites and customer hotlines that can provide information and peace of mind.
Regardless of the company’s size, when you make contact to inquire about pest-management service, the company will probably send someone out to your home to take a look around, tell you what kind of service they recommend and discuss costs.
Many companies specialize in a particular type of scheduling, such as service that’s provided monthly, every other month, or quarterly. Some use contracts and others follow pay-as-you-go agreements that can be terminated at any time. Many companies are willing to work with customers on an as-needed basis, where they provide service only when it’s urgently needed because pests are getting out of hand.
“That’s the one situation that most homeowners all handle the same, calling for help when things are getting out of control,” Koehler says. “But even if that’s your plan, you really should decide ahead of time on which company you’ll use. That’s not a decision you want to make when you need someone at your home right away.”
But, again, Koehler stresses that for effective pest management the homeowner has to play an active role in making the home a “hard target” for pests, and ought to have a professional at least inspect the home regularly.
“Your relationship with a pest-management service is similar to your relationship with your doctor,” Koehler concludes. “You shouldn’t wait until you’re sick before seeing a doctor, but a lot of people do. If you try to prevent problems from happening you’ll be a lot healthier than someone who ignores good habits and just hopes that nothing ever goes wrong.”