Skip navigation

A Pest-Free Process

Incorporating integrated pest management into the construction process can help ensure an energy-efficient and virtually pest-free school for years.

Now that green building has become more popular, school facility directors and architects are beginning to make different choices during construction. These choices may involve energy-efficient lighting, window size, building materials and design elements. Often, though, what happens during construction has unexpected consequences — unwanted visitors.

For instance, overhangs over windows may provide relief from the afternoon sun, but they also make great roosts for pigeons. Doors that let light in from underneath may be easy to open and close, but they also let heat and air conditioning out, and rodents and snakes in. When decisions about construction — whether or not it is green — are paired with integrated pest management (IPM), the result is an energy-efficient, healthful building that is virtually pest-free.

Why IPM?

“If you're trying to create a healthy building that ultimately affects worker productivity, IPM is a natural next step,” says Thomas Green, director of the IPM Institute of North America in Madison, Wis. “The work environment is less distracting when you're not dealing with issues like cockroaches and flies.”

IPM involves creating an environment where pests do not want to live. IPM should begin right after the concrete is laid when the building is being constructed.

Al Greene, IPM coordinator for the U.S. General Services Administration, says one of the easiest ways to control pests both before and after building construction is the most often overlooked: replacing garbage dumpsters with more efficient, self-contained compactors.

Other experts warn that pest problems can be contained within the walls for years before they cause a sudden infestation. Some have witnessed construction workers wall up their fast-food bags and soda cans as they put up drywall, leaving school maintenance workers later to wonder where the ant problem originated.

IPM in schools has not caught up to “green” in popularity, but 15 states have laws requiring public schools to have an IPM program or to provide notification before a scheduled pesticide application, and another nine have a voluntary mandate.

Making greener choices

Several choices before and after building construction can help with energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and pest management:

  • Minimizing the number of slab plumbing penetrations and expansion joints helps keep termites away. Termite barriers should be placed around potential entry points such as plumbing and expansion joints to essentially create a permanent barrier to termites.

  • Nylon brush weatherstripping on the bottoms and sides of outside doors shuts out pests and keeps in heating and air conditioning.

  • Notable

    Inspect new walls before they are sided with sheetrock. Keep insulation and sheetrock protected from rain and moisture during construction. Mold and various mold-feeding insects, such as Psocids and fungus beetles, will quickly colonize structures built with wet, cellulosic building materials.

  • Minimizing the number of outside wall penetrations helps control pests and conserves energy. Maintenance teams should caulk and seal all holes in outside walls.

  • Discourage birds from landing on a building. Exterior perches and nesting nooks can harbor a family of pigeons. Properly installed bird nets and wire grids can deter roosting.

  • Be sure floor drains in the kitchen are easy to access. To maintain a pest-free environment once a school is inhabited, use one tablespoon of mineral oil in the drains to keep water from evaporating and allowing cockroaches to move into the building.

  • Consider groutless flooring over tile. Grout often collects moisture, providing water that can attract small insects and eventually lead to mold problems.

  • Plant native plants surrounded by a barrier of crushed stone or concrete around the building perimeter. Plants should complement the building scale and be planted several feet away from the structure. Seek help from a county extension agent to see which plants work best in your area.

  • Purchase self-contained compactors for trash. New compactors, which are essentially pest-proof and watertight, can be a wise expenditure.

  • Move outdoor lights away from doors but to a location where they still illuminate doorways. Experts recommend placing the lights 30 feet from the entryway, using sodium vapor lights instead of mercury vapor lights. Another way to keep flying insects away from a front door is to turn on lights one hour after sunset and turn them off one hour before sunrise. Changing the timing can reduce both the insect population and the electric bill by 50 percent.

Hallberg works for the Southern Region IPM Center, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Hurley is Extension Program Specialist - School IPM, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Dallas.

Related Stories

Number of states that require public schools to have an IPM program or to provide notification before a scheduled pesticide application.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.