Termites Pest Control

I would like to take the opportunity to write about termites. Termites are very dangerous because of the damage that they cause to man made structures. There is a different test one must take before they can become certified to treat for termites in the State of Nevada. I am happy to say that I passed with flying colors. Although called the “termite” test the curriculum or certification materials covered other Wood Destroying Pests. I was a little surprised to be studying moss, fungi, rot, bees, beetles and structural aspects of homes which included; how well water flowed away from the foundation. It is interesting to see how all of these things come together when you finally get the big picture of what the inspection is all about, and how important a proactive approach can be when trying to control termites.

I will include in another post specifically what your neighborhood termite inspector will be looking for. For now, I would like to lay the framework for the “big picture” approach to a termite inspection; generally needed for various (loan) real estate transactions.

So why did I learn about moss, fungi, various other “rot,” bees, beetles, and how well the water flows away from the foundation?

Although termites are the number one wood destroying pests, there are others. There exists various types of bees and borers (beetles) that destroy wood and it is important to know about these insects to prevent the incorrect diagnosis of termites. The cost to treat for termites can be expensive, so it is very important that your diagnosis be solid.

When it comes to termites you want to make it as hard as possible for them to find a suitable place to live. This is where the various types of “rot” and how water flows away from the foundation comes in. Subterranean termites need a lot of moisture and prefer softer wood. Areas around your foundation where water builds up is a disaster waiting to happen. Over time, wood components of the foundation will eventually become water logged; ultimately developing the wood of choice for the nearest subterranean colony. Looking for moss, and fungus can easily identify places where this has taken place. Ever look at places where water damage has occurred? Moss, Fungus, or various stages of rot in/on walls is an immediate red flag for the inspector because it could be an entry point/harborage for termites.

The big picture is more than that of termites. One should learn of other wood destroying pests native to their habitat, and understand conditions that exist around the home that may be conducive to an infestation of various wood destroying pests; let alone the infamous termite.


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Pest Control Myth #3

The busiest time of the year for the Pest Control Industry is mostly during the summer months. Pest activity increases in the spring and peaks in the summer months. Pest Control Myth #3 revolves around the assumption that Pest Control is only needed during these times. Of course the premise of my position excludes tropical and sub-tropical habitats that may be considered conducive for pests year-round.

The major reason why Pest Control is going to be needed more and more year-round in areas where there exists an “off-peak” season for pests is because of Human Intervention.

The decrease in pest activity or an off-peak season is primarily due to pest life cycles. These life cycles are developed in harmony with the earth’s seasonal changes. Although it is true that there will be a decrease in pest activity during colder times, experience has revealed that the human element of warmth in naturally cold times has been conducive to pest activity.

Most human homes provide enough food, water, and shelter for pests to coexist during the winter/colder months. If we have learned anything of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection/Evolution; we should recognize the significant ability of insects/pests to adapt to their environment (natural/artificial). Empirical evidence supports the notion that our homes provide adequate harborage for pests/insects year-round.

I have seen on a warm winter day an influx of ants, silverfish, adult sized spiders, raspy roaches, rats in a jacuzzi set up, earwigs with the morning cup of coffee, the infamous scorpion in its glory, etc… All within the confine of the human habitat…The well heated, well watered, well fed, artificial harborage, with vegetative decor to boot…Does anything say “MOVE IN” better than the human home on a winter’s cold night?


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Most Important Equation In Pest Control

For those working in the industry there could not exist a more important equation dealing with safety.
Risk = Toxicity x Exposure

Understanding this is imperative. The goal is always to minimize risk or ultimately eliminate risk if possible. As a service manager I would always try to hammer this into our technician’s mindset. Worrying about our customer’s and technician’s safety is cardinal when it comes to effective pest control maintenance. I would always advise our technicians to especially be cautious when handling pesticides. The reason is “Exposure.” Technicians are consistently exposed to pesticides if they are not wearing proper PPE. Although the chemical may be of low toxicity, because there is a high risk of exposure while applying pesticides; Risk increases:

(Low Toxicity) * (Daily Exposure) = High Risk

Always read the label, and apply pesticides with the recommended Personal Protective Equipment.


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Pesticide/Pest Control Myth #2

Pesticide myth #2 for me lies in the perception that effective pest control requires that pesticides should blanket or be applied everywhere possible. This may be necessary in extreme cases (fumigation, termites), but not necessarily to be the norm.

I would often meet customers who had these expectations, and I would always do my best to meet these expectations as long as they were legal. Some people will always feel like “the more, the better.”

The development of new chemical technologies, and our increased understanding of pest biology/sociology has equipped the up-to-date Pest Control Technician with more ‘effective’ ways to get rid of pest problems. It is a matter of how you would define ‘effective’ pest control. Effectiveness should not only measure the ability to control the pest; but should also take into consideration how people and the environment may be affected. Effectiveness = Efficiency.

Professional Technicians have/should become proficient of the latest technologies. A proficient Pest Control Technician has the ability to get rid of your pest problems using only the amount of chemical needed, and will apply the chemical in places that takes advantage of known pest patterns and is out of harms way for unsuspecting pets and people alike.

Environmentally Friendly?

Environmentally Friendly Pest Control – What does it mean to be Environmentally Friendly? What is Green Pest Control? Is Pest Control Safe? These are all too common questions and none with a simple answer. So how do pest control companies answer these?

This is an interesting area of our industry.  In some states the use of the phrase “environmentally friendly” is illegal. Even if you only use your boots to smash the roaches.  In these states, the laws are enforced only partially.  In other words, if someone or some inspector at the state wants to harass you, they’ll enforce the law just for you and not against the competitors.  Generally the law is not enforced.

The real question in answering “Is pest control safe?” is exploring the potential risks of any given product, natural or man-made. For example: the EPA measures toxicity of every substance in the United States, including plain dirt. Substances with higher toxicity rates are labeled “danger” (gasoline, and paint for example). The next level down “warning” (toothpaste, household cleaners). The next level down “caution #3” (salt, botanical insecticides like cayenne pepper) the next level down “caution #4” (every other substance known to man not included in the first three categories). This has nothing to do with whether the substance is natural or organic.  Many natural substances are very toxic, cyanide for example or a popular one in Pest Control is “diatomaceous earth”, crushed silica\glass, this scratches the waxy cuticle of the insects exoskeleton and causes the insect to dehydrate, it is natural but also known to be very toxic to humans because the crushed glass is not metabolizable by our bodies and causes cancerous damage to our lungs. Even though diatomaceous earth is natural, it is very dangerous and Bulwark will never use it.  Many consumers do not know this.

Toxicity Ratings are based on whether or not your body can break down and metabolize the measured substance without damage to the host.  Often times products like salt are perfectly fine at a certain concentration but are lethal at higher levels of acute doses. Comparison wise, table salt is more toxic to humans than boric acid, but its highly unlikely that you will ever die or be injured from over exposure or over consumption of table salt.

Most Pest Control companies use insecticides in “warning” and “caution three” categories.  Bulwark never uses warning grade chemicals.  Our products fall within the “caution three” category.  Upon request consumers can receive “eco-smart” technologies for interior treatment.  The active ingredients in these products are various types of plant oils.  The products themselves are food grade quality meaning that they legally could be put in food in the United States.  Eco-smart technologies are only applied inside the home, and only on request because they have an odor to them which consumers generally do not like.  If the consumer does not request “eco-smart technologies” then we apply natural boric acid and other products which are made in a factory synthetically but are derived from a compound found in chrysanthemum flowers.  All these products are considered less toxic to humans than toothpaste.

Finally, the bulwark pest defense system, focuses on exterior treatments were the insects breed so that interior treatments are unnecessary.  It’s always going to be better to treat the source of where the pests are breeding in the yard with higher quality products to maintain a barrier or “bulwark” around the home.  This is a much cleaner method because interior treatments are rarely needed and only done on request.  Most companies use lower grade products on the exterior which break down rapidly and allow pests back into the home before the next service call.  That’s why many companies prefer to treat inside and outside every time.  They have to chase the pests back out of the home because the barrier did not last on the outside. It’s so much cleaner just to keep a good wall up so little or no treatments are conducted on the interior.

Hope this helps.  Please feel free to add your comments.

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3 types of Pesticide Exposure

There are three major ways for pesticide exposure. Knowing the three methods by which pesticides enter your body will help you be more cautious when treating your home with pesticides. The best thing to avoid pesticide exposure is to make sure that you have adequate PPE and air circulation.

The three major ways for your body’s exposure to pesticides are:

  1. Oral Exposure: By consumption.
  2. Dermal Exposure: Through your skin.
  3. Respiratory Exposure: By inhaling it.

Respiratory exposure is considered to be the most dangerous out of the three.

Pesticide Myth 1

As a technician or service manager with Bulwark Exterminating I would find it very challenging to overcome various stereotypes surrounding the pest control industry while trying to meet a customer’s expectations. I will eventually cover all of these challenges but for this post, I would like to focus on what is myth #1 in my book.

Myth #1: “The best pesticide kills on contact.”

Contact killers are what most people think of when they think of insecticides. As soon as the insect is exposed to the chemical they expect the insect to stop dead in their tracks. The usage of this type of pesticide is very ineffective for various reasons.

Pesticides that kill on contact are very problematic because you are prone to attack symptoms of the problem rather than the root cause of your infestation.

If you kill ants within the home they die right there on the spot. The insecticide quickly dissipates where it has been sprayed and the chemical never makes it back to the ant nest. Secondly, because of ant sensitivity it often times instinctively knows to avoid areas where a pesticide that kills on contact has been used. Studies have shown that at any time; approximately only 10 – 20% of the ant population is away from the nest…and the best way to eradicate a nest is to remove the queen. The ant colony will reproduce more rapidly than what is killed on a day to day basis and thus you will never really eradicate your ant problem.

Similar to the situation regarding ants it may be very hard for you to locate the nest, web, or other harborage for various insects and therefore contact kill insecticides are ineffective. (Understanding that you need to apply contact killers directly onto the pest.)
Insects are very good at finding places within your home that are rarely disturbed; a place where you will not be able to apply your contact kill insecticide. Insects are often nocturnal which adds to the problem of having to locate the insect and applying the pesticide directly onto the little critter.

“Try to find insects in their hard to reach places, and make sure you’re looking in the dark while you are at it…Good Luck.” (Don’t forget the scorpions that can live without food or water for up to 18 months.)
In conclusion we are assuming that a contact kill pesticide is highly toxic and dissipates quickly (as most do); the last thing the EPA would like is a commercial pesticide that is highly toxic and resides over a long period of time within the environment. (Did someone say DDT?) Pesticides that are spread through body contact, that resides on an insect, and allows the insect to make it to nest would be far more effective than a contact kill pesticide in eradicating a pest problem.

Signal Words on Pesticide Label

When handling pesticides the most important thing that you can do is read the label. The label for the most part is a “tell all” about the chemical or at least the label provides everything that a pest control technician should know about a specific pesticide. Labeling on the product should always contain one of these three signal words.

  1. Caution – “Slightly Toxic”
  2. Warning – “Moderately Toxic”
  3. Danger with (poisonous, peligro, image of skull and cross bones) – “Severely Toxic”

peligro, danger, skull with crossbones

These are three signal words that should help a technician quickly identify the toxicity of the chemical or pesticide that he/she is dealing with.

IPM: Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is sometimes referred to as a total science that encompasses the basic principles that guides the perception of the right way to approach pest control and pesticide application. The ultimate goal of Integrated Pest Management should be to identify conditions that are conducive to unwanted pest presence, the measurement of tolerable pest thresholds, and the best way to control pests in a manner that is the least destructive to the environment.

We can better identify conditions that are conducive to an unwanted pest presence by recognizing the three aspects that make up Integrated Pest Management.

The three parts of Integrated Pest Management are:

  • Environment
  • Insect/Pest
  • Food Source

The goal is to see how our homes play out relative to these three components of Integrated Pest Management. Integrated Pest Management is a science that focuses itself on these three factors and how they specifically can be applied to any specific property. For example I will give you my IPM perspective towards controlling scorpions. First and foremost I look for environmental factors that are conducive to scorpions and/or scorpion activity. I look for construction nearby which may have removed the scorpions previous habitat, or perhaps may have disturbed the current habitat and encouraged migration. Secondly, I would look for the introduction of new landscaping, and particularly types of agriculture used as a natural habitat for the scorpion. Furthermore, does the customer have various water sources, pool, poor drainage, etc?

Does the customer have a lot of make shift harborages for scorpions; firewood, old washer and dryer, kids toys, un-maintained brick walls/fencing? What type of (gravel/rock) landscaping are they utilizing? There are many different things that although artificially created produce an environment that scorpions are naturally attracted to.

In addition to environmental conditions, (and probably after recommending that nothing sit up against the house for at least 2 feet) I would focus on food sources. Although controlling the scorpion’s food source may be a good idea, I am always cautioned by my respect for their antiquity. The fact is that scorpions have been around for millions of years and have over the ages developed the ability to survive under the direst circumstances. Scorpions eat various insects; ensuring that you eliminate the scorpion’s prey of choice can help control an unwanted scorpion population. Divulging from my scorpion perspective to help add emphasis to the “food source” aspect of Integrated Pest Management I would like to quickly point to fruit flies. I would often run into customers who would complain about fruit flies and come to find out they have a huge pomegranate tree in their backyard with fully ripened fruit dotted throughout the problem area. The IPM way would be to remove the fruit (food source) and in turn, remove the pest.

The final aspect would be to look at the insect/pest or in this case the scorpion. The nature of this pest may justify more drastic measures because of the type of danger a scorpion bite poses to humans. Secondly, the threshold of scorpion tolerance is very low (as opposed to a fruit fly, where tolerance can be significantly higher). I have not met a person who could tolerate sharing their home/yard with scorpions. I would always recommend that every precautionary measure be taken when it comes to scorpion control.

The general theme surrounding Integrated Pest Management is that overall there may be a progressive approach that you can take to pest control that in some cases may not utilize pesticides or is more environmentally friendly. Sometimes changing environmental factors within your control can eliminate/control various pests. Desert Landscaping as opposed to Green Grass is conducive to different insects/pests. Sometimes controlling the availability of food sources; dog food, dog poop, fruit trees, wood, etc. will help prevent the unwanted pest who prey on your unsuspecting food sources. Finally, look at the insect and identify a threshold of tolerance. Insects/Pest all have its own implications on our environment. Nature’s equilibrium rests upon a delicate balance that requires the participation of all natural living beings and their life processes.

The practical approach to effective pest control

There are four general steps that should be taken towards effective pest control. These Four steps describe the basic regimen for a Pest Control technician and are required for an effective service against those sometimes-pesky critters. As a service manager with Bulwark Exterminating I would often introduce this four-step process to “green” technicians who had relatively no experience in the Pest Control Industry. Adopting this four step process means your on your way to becoming a successful Pest Control Technician (PCT) or Exterminator.

The practical approach to effective pest control:

  1. Inspection: The first thing that you should do is performing a thorough inspection of the premises. Insects for the most part have the same basic needs as humans; insects desire shelter, food, and water.
  2. Identification: After performing a thorough inspection the next step is identifying the pest(s) indicated. Identifying the pest in my opinion is key to what we refer to in the industry as “Searching Out the Source” (SOS). Identifying the pest means identifying known habits, needs, and shelter common to your newfound friend.
  3. Diagnosis: What is the magnitude of the infestation? What exists that is conducive to this pest’s attraction to this site? What can be done to control this pest problem?
  4. Prescription: As a pest technician this is where you decide the most effective method of solving the pest problem. There are several methods to use to get rid of pest problems. This is where you decide whether or not a healthy dose of pesticides, exclusion, or other methods are best suited to controlling or resolving any known or foreseeable pest problems.

Taking this practical approach to solving your pest problems should increase your effectiveness.