When you have a pest control problem, what starts off as a manageable situation can very quickly become uncontrollable. In that case, the best thing to do is call a professional pest control company. But how can you be sure they’ll do a good job? When doing the research, be sure ask the following questions:
1. Are the company and the technicians licensed?
Most state and local agencies issue pest control licenses. Contact your State Pesticide Regulatory Agency to make sure the license is current, and the correct classification for the job. Since different pesticides have varying degrees of toxicity, and some can be extremely dangerous in untrained hands, it’s important to make sure your home and family will be safe.
Also, a good tip to ask here is whether the company’s employees are bonded, which means that the company reimburses you for any loss or damage caused by the employee.
2. How much experience does the company and its employees have, and what’s their reputation?
Some questions about experience can be answered by the company itself, such as whether newly hired technicians train with more experienced employees, or how much experience the business has with dealing with your particular pest control problem.
Other queries require you do your own research. Look for the company’s reviews and ratings on the Better Business Bureau website, ask your State Pesticide Regulatory Agency if the company has had any complaints, ask neighbors or friends who have used the service, and look into online review websites.
3. Does the company offer a written estimate they will stand by?
Any legitimate pest control business will have no problem providing an estimate in writing for the treatment plan they propose, and a detailed list of costs. Most will give you the estimate for free, so it’s a good idea to get more than one when you’re looking at different companies.
Every estimate should include the following information:
- Extent of the problem
- Pesticide chosen
- Method of dispersal
- Explanation of its active ingredient, including potential adverse effects
Be sure to carefully read through the estimate. Some companies will quote you for additional services you don’t need, like adding in rodent control when you’ve called in the exterminators to get rid of an ant infestation. Check the chemical components in the recommended pesticides, all of which must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
4. Is pest control poisonous or dangerous?
Any chemical treatment of your home will inherently carry a certain risk of toxicity, if used incorrectly. That said, there are certain methods that are riskier than others. As long as they’re kept out of reach of children and pets, baits or crack and crevice treatments are safer than sprays or fogging devices.
The most important thing to remember about pesticide use is to follow the instructions precisely. Outdoor chemicals shouldn’t be used inside the house, or vice versa. Recommended amounts should always be respected, pesticides should be stored in their original containers, and never assume that twice as much is better.
5. What safety questions should you ask the pest control company?
Pests are a nuisance, but the method of prevention can have unforeseen consequences if the chosen pesticides are used excessively or incorrectly. You should always attempt to minimize your family’s, pet’s, and environment’s exposure to harmful chemicals.
With that in mind, some good questions to ask include:
- Are the chemicals selected the least toxic options available?
- Are there any special instructions to reduce exposure to the pesticide, or any preparations you may have to make before the treatment?
- Are there recommendations of preventive measures to limit future recurrence of the problem?
- Does the company provide Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? This may include monitoring devices, insect growth regulators, sanitation, cultural practices, trapping or other physical measures.
- Is there a guarantee, and if so, what are its terms and possible exceptions?
- Are repeat treatments required for the guarantee, or only recommended?
6. Does the company require a long term contract? If so, what are the terms?
Not all companies require a long term contract. Depending on the nature of your pest problem, resolving it may require numerous follow-up visits, and it may therefore make sense to hire the company for a period of time. However, you should be aware that most pest infestations only require one treatment for effective eradication.
Be wary of companies that offer scheduled chemical treatments automatically. Pesticide applications should only be done judiciously and after a thorough inspection of the home, in order to avoid unnecessary over-exposure.
7. Are repeat treatments necessary?
Repeat treatments are necessary when the pest problem is a constant one, and preventive methods haven’t solved the issue. Cockroaches, spiders, ticks, rodents, fleas, and ants, for instance, find your home a very attractive source of food, nesting area, and shelter. These recurring pests are very hard to eradicate and usually require repeat treatments.
Termites are also notoriously difficult to completely eliminate, and they can necessitate massive structural repairs to your property. Since termites work 24 hours a day, and infestations usually go undiscovered until serious damage has already occurred, repeat detection and continued termite treatment can really save you money in the long run.
Other pests are easy to eliminate. Raccoons and squirrels, for instance, are generally easy to get rid of by removing sources of food and blocking access points. Bees can be eliminated simply by hiring a beekeeper to relocate the queen.
8. Should I only pay for a one-time visit, or is a periodic service contract better?
All pest control companies offer the option of a one-time service visit, but it’s important to understand that extermination works best with frequent control—the more time passes between treatments, the harder it becomes to get the job done. For this reason, first visits are usually more expensive, and subsequent maintenance visits—monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly—are cheaper.
Some companies also offer periodic service contracts in which they routinely treat for a certain type of pest. This is best for recurring pest infestations in which non-chemical methods have failed to eradicate the problem. Service contracts for homes generally include periodic inspections as well, but pesticides shouldn’t be applied regularly in the absence of a problem. These inspections are included in the terms of the contract and don’t incur additional charges. One-time visits are always the most expensive up-front option, followed by initial visits and lastly, periodic visits.
9. Beware of Pest Control Scams
There are some shady practitioners within the pest control business. Luckily, there are always ways to spot the scammers. Here are some helpful tips:
- Always ask to see a license from any technician before they begin spraying your home. Some states allow companies to only have one single, licensed professional exterminator who then “trains” the other employees. Since these other employees aren’t licensed and certified, you’ve no real guarantee that they have the expertise to handle chemicals.
- Beware a free, unsolicited inspection, and always get a second opinion. Some exterminators show up at your door offering a free inspection, and conveniently discover a massive pest emergency you had no idea was there. Some scammers will even drop a few dead insects on your floor, “find” them, and then quote you an exorbitant amount for pest eradication. Though some very reputable pest control providers do offer free inspections and legitimately find evidence of infestations, you should be aware that these companies make their inspectors work on commission, so they depend on their sales to get paid. This may give the inspectors the incentive to lie or bend the truth. Since the bedbug resurgence of the late 1990s, these pesky critters remain a persistent problem across the United States, and a fictitious claim of a bedbug infestation is an easy way to scare people into an expensive treatment.
- Don’t get pressured into a self-renew contract. Some companies attempt to intimidate homeowners into signing a year-long contract, alleging that despite already having completed one treatment, complete eradication will require more applications. Additionally, they might even say that if there’s still evidence of an infestation at the end of the year, the contract will automatically renew. While most states have laws against self-renew contracts, the promise of better pest control can force you into a decision that may not make sense. For most infestations, a one-time treatment should take care of the problem.
Nobody can deny that pest infestations can range from the simply irritating to the truly troublesome, depending on the type of pest. When it comes to pest control, a good rule of thumb is “the sooner, the better.” Manageable situations can quickly get out of hand, and by that point, become much more expensive, and provoke unnecessary health problems. Take the time to research and compare pest control providers. An excellent starting point is our list of the top ten pest control companies of the year.