About Hiring a Pest Control Service Provider

Roaches, mice, rats, termites, carpenter ants, ants, fleas, ticks, spiders and silver fish. These are the ten most common household pests, and according to the National Pest Control Association (NPCA), every house in America has been visited by at least one of them in the past year. The rational conclusion? Exterminators are one service provider you probably can’t manage without.

Even though do-it-yourself pest-control kits are readily available, they are not as effective as the services offered by professional exterminators. The application of pesticides is just one part of a total pesticide management program which typically includes safety considerations, prevention methods and structural modifications. Whereas untrained homeowners may be able to apply pesticides with varying degrees of success, professionals rely on training, expertise and sophisticated techniques to control pesticide infestations in an efficient, economical and safe manner—protecting the long-term interests of the homeowner’s family and the environment simultaneously.

Not all exterminators are alike. While most exterminators work to eliminate a wide range of infestations, termite abatement requires a different kind of training and licensing and, therefore, a different kind of exterminator than most other pests. In addition to eliminating bugs from your living space, a lot of exterminators also specialize in removing birds and rodents, persuading squirrels to nest elsewhere, etc.

Generally, exterminators advocate that homeowners practice prevention to the greatest extent possible to minimize disease and damage to property. In fact, most reputable exterminators will happily provide training on standards of cleanliness in order to prevent infestations and mating, as well as to counsel on clean-up of eggs and droppings.

Where Do I Start?

The first step involved in seeking the services of an exterminator requires that you perform a preliminary inspection of your home yourself. Beware of exterminators who arrive at your doorstep unsolicited and offer free inspections. They tend to prey on homeowners’ general ignorance about pests by intimidating them into authorizing immediate and expensive treatments. It has been rumored that some such exterminators are known to bring bug specimens with them and release them into the premises of unsuspecting homeowners (a clever variation on the "fly-in-my-soup" routine).

When seeking an exterminator, be sure to have ready a list of the kind of infestation you have or suspect you have, the number of pets, children and adults that inhabit your home, any allergies these inhabitants have and the number of rooms in your home. These factors will determine the kind of exterminator you need to hire and the processes that will ultimately be used to eliminate infestations.

A Variety of Extermination Methods

Exterminating is a highly specialized industry and the jargon sported by the industry may be confusing. Be sure to ask the exterminator for a description of each project and a success-rate estimate for each procedure. If, for instance, an exterminator advises fumigating your home with toxic gas to get rid of termites, ask for a detailed description of the method and its possible hazards. Not every extermination, however, requires you to leave the premises for a few hours and subsequently air out your home. New technology, such as microwave and electro-gun systems, may be safer for families with pets and children. Work with the professional to choose which option best suits your needs.

On Cost

Once you’ve conducted a preliminary inspection and suspect the presence of a residential free-loader, contact a licensed exterminator. Since large projects are often costly and require skill, expertise and knowledge, it is generally suggested that you get several bids from multiple vendors for large projects.

Exterminators charge varied rates, depending on: 1) the scale and nature of the project, 2) the complexity of the infestation and 3) the potential need to remove walls and other structures. While there are no standard hourly or per-room charges, most exterminators are usually happy to give free estimates when they perform preliminary inspections.

Contracts and Guarantees

Once you decide on an exterminator, negotiate a contract and get it in writing. In the contract, specify the nature of the infestation, the extent of the infestation and the resulting damage, the exact services to be provided, description of guarantees, the desired end-result (abatement only or continuing control) and how long the treatment is expected to last.

Some exterminators do offer guarantees with their contracts. Be realistic about guarantee provisions that promise a one-time total solution! Cockroach abatement, for instance, needs to be renewed every six months in order to be completely effective. While this may seem a little excessive, remember that roaches are the only living creatures slated to survive nuclear holocaust—one electronic or chemical application will only humor them.

Important Issues About This Highly Regulated Industry

Because exterminators handle highly toxic products they are required to undergo rigorous training to practice their profession. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulates the pest control industry in New York. In addition to handling the licensing of individuals as professional exterminators, the DEC is also primarily responsible for certifying an entity as a Registered Pesticide Business, without which designation no business is allowed to administer certain pesticides. The DEC also regulates a continuing education requirement that mandates that all practicing exterminators take regular classes and exams in order to remain certified. Any background-check involving an exterminator should begin with the DEC. Licenses and permits can be verified either on the DEC’s homepage on the world wide web (www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dshm/pesticide/appman.htm) or via telephone at (518) 457-7482. You may also contact the DEC’s Regional Office to file a complaint concerning the misapplication of a pesticide.

An exterminator’s membership in national or regional professional pest control associations is usually a good indicator that the professional has access to the most cutting-edge technical information and is committed to ongoing education. Inquire about a service provider’s affiliations and follow up by verifying membership with the professional organization. The NPCA is one of the largest and best known national organizations in the field and can be reached on the world wide web (www.pestworld.org) or by calling (703) 573-8330. State organizations include the New York State Pest Control Association (www.nyassoc.com; 518-463-6333); New York State Professional Applicators Coalition (516-399-4541); and the Long Island Pest Control Association (same number: 516-399-4541).

Insurance

Permits and licensing are not the only business issues to verify before hiring an exterminator. It is crucial to find out whether or not the exterminator carries liability insurance to cover potential damage to property and/or to people in the course of the exterminator’s work. If the exterminator doesn’t carry such insurance, check your homeowners’ policy for coverage. In the absence of both, consider buying insurance to protect your belongings and yourself from liability.

What’s Bugging You? A few precautions to help prevent pest-nesting in your home.

  • Termites: Wet wood is every termite’s favorite meal. Get rid of old tree stumps, form boards and wood debris around your house and rid your home of excess moisture, making sure gutters are unclogged and all pipe leaks promptly fixed.
  • Rodents: Take out the trash. Daily! Garbage is a rat’s favorite nesting ground, and they begin to mate at the tender age of five weeks to produce up to 48 spawn a year. Also, be vigilant about keeping all the entry points into your home clean and clear, including ducts, vents and chimneys.
  • Cockroaches: While it is very hard to combat a cockroach infestation without professional help, a few tactics will go a long way toward keeping them at bay: proper ventilation, fitting all holes with screens, sealing around pipes where they come through the floor and ceiling and storing and/or covering your and your pet’s food.
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