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Nontoxic Pest Control

It’s getting warmer. For anyone who has spent the winter months shivering and dreaming of balmier days ahead, spring’s arrival is good news. But the change in seasons brings new home and yard maintenance issues that must be dealt with. With careful planning, one of those issues – pest control – can be addressed in a healthy, environmentally responsible, green way.


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Depending on where you live, any number of pests – especially insects or rodents – can cause health and safety issues and threaten the integrity and comfort of your home. Whether it’s termites, ants, rats or something else, chances are they want into your house. And you want to keep them out.

For many, the first instinct to respond to pest infestations is a toxic one: There are no shortage of poisons and baits on the market that promise to rid you of unwanted houseguests. But most of those toxic chemicals are not only bad for the pests; they’re harmful to you and your family, too. Additionally, toxins from pesticides and baits can leach into soils and contaminate water or disrupt local ecosystems. Pests play a role in the food chain and are vital to keeping other wildlife in your neighborhood healthy and thriving. Your pest-control goal should be keeping vermin out of your house, not doing away with them completely.

Nontoxic strategies

There are a number of ways you can keep pests out of your home without endangering occupants’ health or the environment. Some of these strategies need to be implemented while the house is being designed and built; others can be put into place during routine maintenance. The initial costs of some nontoxic pest-prevention strategies can be higher than chemical controls, but those costs are frequently offset by the long-term effectiveness and durability of the structures, not to mention the reduced health-care costs that result from living in a healthier home.

Your pest-control strategy will depend on where you live. For example, some termite-specific prevention efforts are only necessary in areas at moderate or high risk for termites. In the United States, the risk of termites generally increases the farther south you live. The American Southeast and most of California are at especially high risk of termites. Meanwhile, a swath running from the Southwest through the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic region and into New England – as far north as Massachusetts – bear at least a moderate risk of termite problems. The risk is more minimal in the Pacific Northwest, northern Midwestern states like the Dakotas and the Great Lakes states, and the upper Northeast.

Building and design considerations
  • Include no wood-to-concrete connections or separate any exterior wood-to-concrete connections – such as posts, deck supports and stair stringers – with metal or plastic fasteners or dividers.
  • Use solid concrete foundation walls or concrete-filled block. Foundations are particularly vulnerable to many subterranean pests, include termites.
  • Keep all wood, such as siding and trim, at least 12 inches above soil, as opposed to the 8 inches typically required by building code.
  • Use a sealed-to-the-wall vapor barrier for homes with crawlspaces or beneath a concrete slab to limit moisture intrusion and a resulting environment that becomes a suitable to insect habitat.
  • In areas prone to termites:
    • Use non-cellulosic wall structures. That means avoid wood, straw and other plant-based wall materials.
    • Treat any cellulosic material, such as wood framing, with a borate product to a minimum of 3 feet above the foundation.
    • Install a sand or diatomaceous earth barrier.
    • Install a steel mesh barrier termite control system. These mesh systems are installed around pipes coming up through slab and outside walls to keep termites from finding their way through gaps.
Ongoing maintenance
  • Seal all external cracks, joints, penetrations, edges and entry points with caulking. Protect exposed foundation insulation with moisture-resistant, pest-proof cover such as fiber cement board or a galvanized insect screen.
  • Plan landscaping carefully. Avoid landscaping immediately adjacent to the house by ensuring all parts of mature plants will be at least 24 inches away from the home. Maintaining a buffer zone between plants and the house perimeter limits the habitat suitable for insect infestations. This has the added benefit of eliminating the need for irrigation close to the house, helping to prevent moisture leaking through the foundation.
  • Treat lumber and other cellulosic material with borate, a natural chemical alternative that controls insects but is safe for humans.
  • Install plants and landscaping elements that repel pests and encourage biodiversity. A yard that is dominated by one plant species, such as turf grass, is more susceptible to becoming a haven for a single type of insect that become an infestation risk. Biodiversity in a yard encourages a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

A well-planned house that implements nontoxic pest-prevention strategies has taken an important step toward becoming a truly green home. The LEED for Homes green rating system awards points for green pest controls. More information is available by downloading the LEED for Homes Rating System [PDF] and ordering the LEED for Homes Reference Guide.


This article is used by permission of the USGBC's Green Home Guide


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Nontoxic Pest Control:  Created on March 12th, 2008.  Last Modified on July 22nd, 2010


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About The U.S. Green Building Council

The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green homes and buildings. LEED gives home and building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their homes' or buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. The Green Home Guide is a resource created by the U.S. Green Building Council.



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