For much of the southern and east coast of the nation, March brings warm weather, longer days and those dreaded words, “I have termites.” So what does the homeowner do now? Simple, they call a local pest control company. But if the desperate homeowner is not careful this phone call may have just made their problem bigger.
For almost twenty years, each February/March I have gathered in the meeting rooms of pest control companies to plan for what is commonly referred to as “Swarm Season”. When all the conditions are just right, this pesky wood eating insect begins to propagate their colony by sending reproductive termites, or alates, out into the world. The termites swarm from their castles in incredible numbers, quickly falling to the ground, dropping their wings and begin looking for a mate. If this happens on the exterior of your home it is unlikely that you would ever notice it. But when it happens inside, in your kitchen or the master bath, the overwhelming fear of termites destroying your home or business crowds in with the same explosiveness of the Termite Swarm. Pest control operators greedily anticipate this biological and psychological event every spring. Knowledge that the phone will ring and monies brought in wets the appetite of owners and technicians alike. Now there is nothing wrong with this, providing protection for your homes is how these businesses prosper. But for the homeowner knowing how to choose the right company can be critical.
Termite treatment options have evolved greatly over the last 10-15 years. The products, termiticides, have increased in efficiency while decreasing the negative impacts to the environment and health of the applicator and homeowners alike. The average cost of treating a home has actually come down, almost on an annual basis over the last 10 years. This being a direct result of less labor and less chemical required in protecting the home. The invasive treatments that included drilling many holes in your home and applying hundreds of gallons of smelly chemicals are all but gone. There are a handful of single-operators that have a hard time adjusting to the new sciences. They are easy to recognize by the nervous twitches caused by chronic exposure to unneeded and outdated pesticides.
If you think you have termites the first thing to do is shop smartly for a company that can meet your needs. Initially call at least 2 different companies to schedule and inspection and provide you with a written estimate. Calling a third company can mean surrendering some of your own precious time, but if you can afford the time, a third is certainly recommended. Below is a list of what you should expect from the inspectors. Don’t waiver on these; the list is not lengthy and definitely not unreasonable to demand from the company of your choosing. The cost of treating your home will vary from region to region, but within your own community the quotes you receive should be with 3-5% of each other as long as you are comparing apples to apples. Throw out the high and the low; pest control companies spend time and money knowing what their competitors are charging and what the market is bearing. So if someone’s quote is too low or too high when compared to the others you can bet that they haven’t done the research needed to run a successful business. Do you want them “protecting” your home?
The Inspection-A good inspector will take his time learning your home. An inspection on a 2000 square foot home built on a slab should take about an hour. If you live on a crawl space (pier and beam) home, the inspection could require an additional hour depending of the accessibility of the crawl space. If the inspector does not get into the crawl space, all the way, (not just his head) thank him for his time and move on. The same rule applies for the attic, especially if you live in a region that is susceptible to drywood termites.
The Report-The inspector will provide you with a written report that includes a graph of the home. If his drawing appears to be done in haste and without the aid of a straight edge, move on to the next inspector. The graph of your home is how the inspector communicates with the technician that will ultimately treat your home. It should look professional and include every treatment specification that the inspector promises you they will do. The graph of your home tells a story, make sure it is a not a fairy tell.
The Proposal-Many states dictate by regulation what is required to be included in the proposal, such as the chemicals that will be used, cost of treatment and future renewal costs. Also and just as important, the length and conditions of the warranty must be clearly communicated to the consumer. This is where it is most important for you to ask questions. Chemicals and methods of treatment are very similar from company to company; we all go to the same trade shows and buy from the same distributors. But when it comes to how a company responds to a warranty situation there should be no uncertainties. A good warranty is only good when its design is responsive and written to ensure a long time relationship between consumer and provider. Ask the inspector what happens if the termites come back. After he answers ask him to show you on the Agreement where it states that, be sure it reads the same as what he has told you. Also ask what happens if damage occurs to your home as a result of a re-infestation. Wait for his answer and again ask him to show you where it is written on the Agreement. Most good companies offer some type of Damage Repair Warranty; you do not need to settle for less than that. The construction of your home may dictate the level of restitution, but this too should be very clear in the Agreement.
Last but not least, if the inspector urges your decision to be made quickly because of possible termite damage, invite him or her to quickly leave your home. First, termites are slow eaters; your home is not going to suddenly collapse. Second, the inspector is probably not qualified to assess any structural damage that may already exist. If he shows concern in this area then the professional course would be for the inspector to recommend a structural engineer be called. And third, rushing you to make a decision shows little respect for your time. Ask yourself what else does he disrespect?
I hope you didn’t, but if you do or have seen these swarming pests this season keep in mind that the only person that really wants to protect your home is you. For all the others it is how they make a living, the strength of what they provide is in the paper they want you sign…READ IT.