[Application Economics] Small Changes, Big Savings

Features - Technician Training

Precision application and healthy equipment will save you big-time on material costs.

July 21, 2015

Every technician wants to be the hero. Eliminating pests means happy customers and happy customers like to brag to their friends about your service. It’s tempting, therefore, for technicians to go overboard when applying product. If a little bit of product is good, a little bit more product must be even better, right?

“It’s just not the case. Over-application is no more effective in achieving control and, in fact, it’s wasting your company big sums of money,” says Dr. William Robinson.

As a Ph.D. entomologist, Robinson has spent years researching household pests. And as technical director for B&G Equipment Co., he has spent many an hour working with pest management equipment in the field. “I’ve been under many sinks treating for German cockroaches, so I understand the temptation just to blast it and wet the whole area with insecticide, but that isn’t necessary. This is the 21st century; we need to apply insecticides efficiently,” Robinson says.

Not only is it good practice to apply pesticides precisely, it will also be a big money saver for your company, Robinson says. Here’s how:

Bad Application Habits.

One of the best ways to save money, while still achieving great pest elimination, is to help your technicians avoid over-applying insecticide.

One of the worst, and most common, bad habits is spraying a surface until it’s wet. “The tendency is to wet a surface with spray, but we don’t realize the amount of insecticide wasted when we do that,” Robinson says.

For example, the coarse fan spray setting on a sprayer nozzle is designed to deliver droplets of an insecticide to a surface. Those droplets dry and when an insect walks across that surface the insect picks up a lethal dose. “A German cockroach walking across a surface only needs to contact 33 droplets on the underside of its leg. There are small pads on a cockroach’s leg which will pick up those droplets. Spraying until the surface is wet is not necessary; it’s not more effective and, thus, it’s a waste of insecticide,” Robinson says.

What’s more, spraying to wet poses the risk of actually being repellent to insects. “The ends of insect antennae are very sensitive to all kinds of subtle differences in their environment. We don’t always know what over-application does, it’s very difficult to study and measure that, but I think it is safe to say that over-application could very well end up being a deterrent to an insect from walking over a surface. And if they don’t walk over a surface or go into a particular crevice, they aren’t going to pick up enough of the insecticide to do them harm,” Robinson says.

Rather than spraying randomly until a surface is wet, Robinson suggests using a precise overlapping pattern. “With the coarse fan spray, if the nozzle is held about 12 to 14 inches from a surface, the width of the pattern of spray will be about 17 inches wide. The majority of the insecticide is applied in the center of that spray pattern and on the edges there is less pesticide applied. So if we understand that, and understand that we want to get an even distribution of insecticide over a treated surface, then to do that, we need overlap. We have found that the best technique is to have about 7 inches of overlap on either side,” Robinson says.

Another costly habit, Robinson says, is the “need-to-squeeze.” “Once we pull the trigger on the sprayer, it’s tempting to spray a little extra over here, a little extra over there. After all, we think, ‘It isn’t going to hurt anything.’” However, Robinson points out that the “little extra” won’t result in better control, and could lead to dramatically higher material costs.

Consider that the flow rate for the coarse fan spray is 17 ounces per minute. If a service technician serves eight accounts a day and sprays just an extra 30 seconds’ worth of material at each account, that translates to a half-gallon of waste each day (8.5 ounces X 8 accounts = 68 ounces). An extra half a gallon applied each day translates to roughly 10 gallons a month and 120 gallons a year. At $1 a gallon, just 30 seconds extra spray per account will cost the average company $120 per technician per year. If your company has 10 technicians, that’s a grand total of $1,200 per year.


Use the Right Tool.

Precision application requires precision tools, Robinson says. Anything less is going to cost you money and might result in less effective insect elimination.

Take, for example, the application of gel baits. Robinson suggests the use of calibrated bait guns, which deliver a consistent amount of bait with each squeeze of the trigger. The amount of bait dispensed, either by size (diameter) or weight (grams), can be adjusted by use of a dial on the rear of the gun. In contrast, Robinson says, doing hand application of baits without a calibrated applicator results in a widely variable amount of bait applied. “Most bait guns are squeeze as you please. In other words, you determine how much bait is applied by how long or hard you squeeze that trigger; the responsibility is on you to squeeze it just right, and that’s pretty hard to do consistently,” Robinson says.

This is especially important in cracks and crevices, where the technician is unlikely to see the actual amount of bait being applied into that crack. “With a calibrated bait gun, you stick the tip in the crevice, pull the trigger, and you know it’s delivering the prescribed amount of bait each time. The end result is equal or better control with less waste, which is going to save you money,” Robinson says.

Train Technicians for Success

A big part of cutting costs by eliminating excess application is making sure technicians learn and implement good application habits. “The big key is to reinforce how that nozzle was intended to work — to deliver droplets to a surface — and that it doesn’t take any more than that to achieve control. You, as a service technician, have to have faith in that. Even though you can’t see the droplets, you have to accept that that coarse nozzle was, in fact, designed to deliver just the perfect amount of droplets within that 17-inch-wide application area, especially when you are overlapping,” says Dr. William Robinson of B&G Equipment Co.

Second, technicians should be taught to respect their equipment from day one. “The stainless steel sprayer looks indestructible because they are designed to be rugged, but they aren’t indestructible. It’s actually a very fine piece of physics to have the spray come out of that nozzle at just the right amount, pattern and pressure. So it is really important that this is stressed in training. The same applies to your termite rig — it looks robust, but you can bend the rod or distort the nozzle and that’s really going to throw off your applications,” Robinson stresses.

Here’s where the money savings comes in: a typical amount of bait specified on labels is for 0.25 grams of bait per placement. Thus, each 30-gram bait syringe contains 120 placements. But it is very hard to discern, visually, the difference between a placement containing 0.25 grams and one that’s, let’s say, 0.4 grams. So if a technician is applying bait without the assistance of a calibrated gun, it’s possible that all his or her placements will be closer to 0.4 gram. Those placements would be 0.15 grams more than the label says is necessary.

That may not seem like a big deal, but if each placement is 0.4 grams, you are only getting 75 bait placements per syringe compared to 120. That’s wasting about a third of the tube. “Keep in mind that this extra application isn’t going to get you any better control,” Robinson stresses. So, as you can see, equipping your technicians with calibrated bait guns, which cost about $50, has the potential to save you as much as 33 percent off your bait material costs. At an average price of $3.75 per tube, the savings could translate into thousands of dollars or more, depending on the amount of bait you use. If your company uses 1,000 bait tubes per year, getting 1/3 more applications out of each tube saves you roughly $1,200.

Ewuipment Up-Keep.

Damaged or worn equipment can be a silent, often overlooked profit killer. “The most common problem in pest control is probably the use of old and worn out nozzles. We all forget that while a tank sprayer is going to last for 10 to 15 years or more, the spray nozzle is not going to be effective for that long. Using worn out nozzles wastes insecticide and thus increases costs,” Robinson says.

B&G conducted a nozzle wear study several years ago in which it collected nozzles from pest control companies around the United States. The nozzles were in use for a range of three to 36 months. “What we found is that the flow rate on those nozzles had increased anywhere from three to 27 percent, with an across-the-board average of 14 percent increase in flow rate,” Robinson says.

“So it’s probably safe to say that the average B&G sprayer out there in service has a nozzle on it that has an increased flow rate and it’s probably increased by 14 percent or more,” he added.

For the sake of simple math, let’s assume your sprayer has a nozzle with a flow rate that is 10 percent more than when it was brand new. That means it is applying an additional 1.7 ounces of pesticide per minute. (Remember that the flow rate for the coarse fan spray is 17 ounces per minute.) So, take a technician who serves four accounts a day and sprays two minutes at each account. That extra 10 percent of flow would translate to an over-application of a pint of insecticide each day. This is a simple example to demonstrate the point. Obviously the real-world numbers would probably be much higher, thus much more expensive, since most technicians are spraying more than two minutes at an account, and likely serving more than four accounts per day.

The point is, Robinson says, make sure your nozzles are in good working order, or you are likely going to end up wasting lots of product, and thus, wasting lots of money.

It’s very difficult, however, to tell just by sight, if your nozzle is worn and out of specification. So how do you know when to replace a nozzle?

An easy way, Robinson suggests, is to take notice of your nozzle’s spray pattern. “Worn nozzles dump more insecticide in the middle of the pattern, versus out in the edges. Just use a section of dry concrete, which will show the spray pattern well. Give it a one-second shot of spray and see how wide that spray pattern is. As the nozzle wears, the spray pattern will get narrower,” he says.

And if you want to be even more precise — and Robinson suggests that you should — use research that B&G has conducted as your guide. “We know, as a benchmark, that nozzles have a 17 percent increase in flow rate after having applied 358 gallons. So, based on this, we are recommending that nozzles be replaced at 300 gallons. When 300 gallons have passed through that nozzle, that’s a good time to replace the nozzle,” Robinson says.

Figure out how often your average technician is emptying and then re-filling his or her 1-gallon sprayer. Depending on your business, it may be twice a day; it may be once a month. But based on that you can know approximately the period of time it takes for 300 gallons to pass through that nozzle. That’s the time to replace it. “When a nozzle is replaced, use a magic marker to put the date on the bottom of the sprayer. Then track the number of times it’s been refilled. When you get to 300, change the nozzle,” Robinson says.

Termite Tip Test.

When it comes to termite application tips, Robinson has an easy way to test if it’s time to replace them. “Termiticide nozzles, even though they are stainless steel, are moving in and out of the soil many times during an application. That soil is abrasive and degrades the tip and the nozzle, [and] that’s in addition to the normal wear from the fluid itself. So you are going to end up with termiticide nozzles that are going to have wear,” Robinson says.

Most tips for termite tools are rated to apply two gallons a minute. That’s one gallon in 30 seconds. So if you take a 1-gallon bottle — say an old milk jug — and fill it using your termite rig, if the nozzle is in good shape, it should take 30 seconds to fill the milk jug. If it only takes 27 seconds, you have about 10 percent wear. In other words, when you’re doing a termite application, you are applying 10 percent more product than you should.

“Ten percent doesn’t sound like much, but it can be costly. Ten percent wear is an extra 26 ounces of termiticide applied per minute. So for every 500 gallons applied, you are actually applying an extra 50 gallons that you aren’t accounting for. Not only is that not necessary to kill and prevent termites, it’s wasting your company dollars every time you treat for termites,” Robinson says.

Do the Right Thing, Save Money.

Pest management has come a long way. Today we know that targeted application of insecticides not only achieves better control, it’s also more responsible for our customers and community. Better still, Robinson says, and as the numbers in this article indicate, making just a little investment of time and money into proper equipment maintenance and targeted pesticide application, can dramatically impact your company’s bottom line.


About the author: Steve Smith is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.