Experts including the specialists at the Environmental Protection Agency have created a set of strategies that can help landlords stop their roach problems for good.

That approach, called integrated pest management, uses poisons as a last resort. Instead, integrated pest management starts by using common sense to help design and manage a property to make it difficult for bugs to live there. It fights pests by removing access to the three things that all living creatures need to live: shelter, water and food.

Fight infestations with common sense

Even the most carefully managed properties can have bugs. Often new tenants will bring cockroaches into a property with their moving boxes. Insects can also come into a property from the outside. As any long-term apartment dweller knows, insecticides are often ridiculously ineffective against pests, which sometimes build up a tolerance to the poison designed to kill them.

“Quarterly prophylactic spraying is something everyone should be moving away from,” said Kim Vermeer, an expert in creating healthy, pest-free homes and a principal with Urban Habitat Initiatives, based in Boston.

Instead, Vermeer recommends setting up a quarterly integrated pest management program. Her program costs about the same as the spraying that most property managers pay for and is more effective at stopping infestations, she said.

Vermeer has trained the exterminators, or “pest control operators,” that she works with to visit a building and lay down sticky traps where insects are likely to be active.

The traps don’t kill many roaches. Instead they reveal the precise places in the building where infestation is a problem. They also show what species of bugs are causing the trouble. Since each type of insect eats different kinds of food and lives in different kinds of places, identifying the bugs should help the managers and exterminators team up to kill them.

A caulk gun is one of a property manager’s best friends in the fight against roaches. In areas where inspections and sticky traps show that insects are active, managers should find all the cracks, seams, crevices and holes that insects might hide in or crawl through to reach other apartments. Caulk these openings shut. In damp places use mildew resistant caulking.

Pay particular attention to the backsplash by the kitchen sink, gaps where cabinets meet the walls and holes under sinks where pipes enter and leave the apartment unit. Plug larger holes with a corrosion-proof material such as copper or stainless steel mesh, plus caulking. The gap between cabinet boxes can also be sealed with wooden trim.

Sealing the spaces around electrical wires can also help stop roaches from using electrical outlets as tiny doorways.

Managers should block off ways for insects to enter buildings. Screens on drains, windows and vents can help, as can placing weather stripping on doors. Also, managers should trim back bushes and trees to at least three feet from the building. This greenery can provide a staging ground for pests to find a way inside your building.

Make it difficult for roaches to find water by quickly finding and repairing leaks. In an apartment, this task usually begins under the kitchen or bathroom sink, which often drips. Plumbing should be designed to be easy to inspect and repair. Pipes should also be insulated so that condensation does not form on the outside of cold water pipes.

Some cockroaches can eat paper products, especially if the paper is moist. Since it would be impossible to ban paper products, avoid piles of paper bags or cardboard and keep paper products out of damp places.

Also don’t install carpeting in any place that might become wet, including bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, entryways or damp basements.

How to use poison safely

These measures should steeply reduce the number of tenant complaints about bugs at your property – and the need to use insecticide.

In areas that still require pesticide, Vermeer recommends that managers work out a plan with their pest control operators that specifies what conditions require spraying and what pesticide will be used. Managers should also make sure that they see the product’s label and warnings.

Green building experts recommend beginning with less toxic pesticides such as boric acid, which kills insects but is relatively harmless for humans and has even reportedly been used as an ingredient in eye wash – although if inhaled, boric acid powder can irritate human noses and throats.

Since boric acid powder is long lasting, some green building experts recommend sprinkling it in places roaches might eventually travel through, such as the kick space under a sink or inside walls around pipes, before sealing up the space during a renovation.

Boric acid is also much less expensive than most pesticides, and insects do not build up a tolerance to the poison.

Managers that desire stronger products should use gels, which are less likely to be inhaled by tenants than sprays. Baits or vacuuming can also be effective.

Making an apartment building pest-resistant can turn it into a healthier place in which to live in at least two respects. First, insect feces and the dried bodies of dead insects can cause the allergic reactions that eventually trigger asthma, especially in children, according to the Asthma Regional Council of New England.

Also, when a building needs fewer pesticides to kill its bugs, less poison is released into the air that could potentially impact the health of your tenants. And tenants will be less likely to use their own remedies, such as illegal, highly poisonous products like Chinese Chalk or Tres Pasitos.