The Tinkerer

Features - /// Cover Story

PMP Scot Hodges has developed ingenious hacks to make the lives of fellow professionals just a little bit easier. Here’s how he does it.

December 11, 2018

Ryan Gibson Photography

Pest management professionals are called to help residential and commercial customers every day, all day long. They have a variety of techniques and industry knowledge at their fingertips and their toolboxes are filled with many tools, chemicals and pieces of equipment to solve almost every problem. But, when trying to access the space beneath a baseboard or reaching into insulation in an attic, almost all PMPs have thought, “If only I had a little tool that did this or that, everything would be easier right now.”

When having these ideas, inventive types either create a new device or jimmy with a preexisting device to make a new and useful modification, or “hack.” Scot Hodges, A.C.E., Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta, Ga., is one of those inventive types. He refers to himself as a “tinkerer.” Hodges says that since not all ideal tools or devices exist for pest control operators, oftentimes a simple hack is all that is needed to resolve a challenge and get the job done.

THE GOAL. Hodges says Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is “the mainstay in our industry, and calls for a lesser dependence on pesticides.” Twenty years ago, pest management professionals applied chemical treatments to most pest problems, he said. “Now, you have to think about that, think about where you put [insecticides], how you apply it, and what products you are using,” he continues. Hodges added that any tool or technique that a pest control operator can utilize to decrease the dependence on insecticides is a benefit to the pest control company and to customers.

With these goals in mind, when Hodges, as a “self-described tinkerer with tools,” finds challenges in the field, he thinks “like a mad scientist” to find ways to modify or make new tools. All of his hacks are reasonably priced, intended to help reduce PMPs’ dependence on pesticides and will improve results of the overall service provided to the customer, he says.

THE HACKS. In looking for ways to increase customer satisfaction, and make his day-to-day work day a bit easier, Hodges developed a wide variety of tips, tricks, tools and “hacks” for improving his IPM service. He shared these tips at an NPMA PestWorld educational session last year.

“To rig or improvise something inelegant but effective” is the official definition of “hack.” “If I am anything, I am inelegant,” Hodges told fellow PMPs as he described hacks for them to consider using in their accounts.

Ryan Gibson Photography

“There’s a way to do it better — find it.” – Thomas Edison

INSPECTION MIRRORS. A great hack for inspecting areas where pest management professionals cannot reach or spots that have an unusual angle, like in an attic or crawlspace, is to purchase an inexpensive smartphone selfie stick (at Dollar Tree, for instance). Use the selfie stick in conjunction with a smartphone to inspect in high, low or angled areas, all while having the capability of visually capturing the sites or findings with the camera.

SPIDERS. “As pest management professionals, we know that spiders are our friends. They help us do our jobs; they eat bugs,” Hodges said. “But, our customers pay us because they don’t like them.”

Brushes (like Webster brushes) can be used to knock down spider webs, which drastically reduces spider populations. Although a great solution, these types of brushes can be bulky and messy, especially on white walls, he says. After testing many prototypes, Hodges created this portable tool: take a collapsible cane with a rubber stopper at the end and remove the stopper; use a toilet brush and cut off the top (or find a version with a screw-off top); stick the brush top into the cane; drill a hole; and screw into place. Voila! The result: an inexpensive tool to remove and clean up spider webs in windows, door frames, baseboards and corners. Hodges says this hack costs roughly $10, and spiders are not likely to return after utilizing this brushing method.

EXCLUSION WITH CAULK. Hodges wonders if it’s feasible (or reasonable) to seal an entire house to keep pests out. “What if,” he asked, “we performed targeted exclusion, as we do making IPM targeted applications, rather than attemping to seal and the entire structure?” Instead of relying on the customer to pest-proof an entire house, PMPs easily can seal smaller areas where ants, for instance, are spotted; places like cracks around countertops, tile, windows, sinks or small holes. The hack? Caulk and a syringe. Since a caulk gun is bulky to carry around, fill a plastic syringe with caulk and put a tip on the end. The process takes 30 seconds, costs 50 cents apiece, and is a fantastic solution to cover an access point, he says.

FLEA DETECTION TOOL. Hodges created a flea detection device for those occasional sites where bites are occurring, but where fleas cannot be immediately detected. His hack is to put a shoe cover over his shoe and partially step on a glueboard. Then, slowly walk around the home, shining a light on the glueboard that’s stuck to your shoe. If fleas are present, they will be attracted to the light and jump on the board. Hodges says this is a simple but effective tool for flea verification. (He notes it’s best to work in a darkened room to attract fleas to the light.)

ANTS. Large ant infestations require skills to resolve. “Many sources say certain ant species avoid direct sunlight and prefer nesting in shaded areas,” Hodges said. However, he’s observed that the exact opposite is the case; ants seek out the sunlight or the warmest spots. When tackling a large area — like the siding of a house or an entire landscape bed — start by buying a relatively inexpensive infrared thermometer that will reveal the surface temperature of the area at which the device is pointed. Hodges says to use the thermometer to scan the side of a house or a wall to find the warmest spot, and chances are that this is where the ants will be found.

PLASTIC PUTTY KNIFE. Another inexpensive and easy-to-use hack is a plastic putty knife, which can be used as a wedge for sliding under a baseboard or up into the siding on a house. The end of the plastic blade is thin, and wedging allows just enough of an opening for a pest management professional to apply treatment. Hodges recommends the plastic version versus the metal, as the latter tool might scratch or cause permanent separation.

FELT PAD EXCLUSION. If you spot a hole and can stop pests from coming in, why not solve the problem right then? Arrow Exterminators’ Terrill Hare came up with a hack for small holes or cracks in doorways and door frames. Rather than rehanging, sealing or weather stripping the door, Hare stuffs felt pads into the holes. The felt pad conforms to the space, takes the shape of the hole and completely seals the hole. Hodges credits Hare with this quick and inexpensive tip.

SMALL VACUUMS. Small handheld vacuums that sell for roughly $25 are perfect for sucking up ants on countertops, spider webs, dead bugs and fallen insulation. Hodges used this trick years ago, and while at Arrow Exterminators, his colleague Glenn Glover suggested the same. Great minds think alike! As a bonus, these small vacuums help PMPs keep their toolboxes and vehicles clean.

Ryan Gibson Photography
This tool will allow PMPs to access areas that are difficult to see, like under insulation or ceiling tiles.
Ryan Gibson Photography

GARDEN TOOLS. A regular hoe/rake combination garden tool has too many prongs and the blade is too thick, Hodges says. A fairly simple modification to the device will allow a pest management professional to move siding that is too close to the ground, reach a window, provide aid in crawlspaces, move insulation and lift ceiling tile. To create the tool, Hodges trimmed the blade with a grinding mill and cut off two of the three prongs with a hacksaw.

The author is an Ohio-based freelance writer.