How to Choose a Pest Control Company
Termites are chomping away at your house. Roaches are taking over your kitchen. Mouse droppings dot your dresser drawer. Gypsy moths are eating trees in your front yard. Your lawn needs a major overhaul. You’ve got a pest control problem and you’ve decided that it’s too serious for you to solve on your own. You’ve decided you need a professional applicator. If you find yourself in a situation like this, what can you do to be sure that the pest control company you hire will do a good job?
How to Choose a Pest Control Company
Seek the answers to these questions before hiring or signing a contract:
- Does the company have a good track record? Don’t rely on the company salesperson to answer this question; research the answer yourself. Ask your neighbors and friends; have any of them dealt with the company before? Were they satisfied with the service they received? Call the Better Business Bureau, Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) - Office of Consumer Affairs or the VDACS Office of Pesticide Services, to check if they have received any complaints about the company.
- Does the company have insurance? What kind of insurance? Can the salesperson show some documentation to prove the company is insured? Contractor’s general liability insurance, including insurance for sudden and accidental pollution, gives you as a homeowner a certain degree of protection should an accident occur while pesticides are being applied in your home. Contractor workers' compensation insurance can also help protect you should an employee of the contractor be injured while working in your home. In Virginia, pest control companies are required to carry liability insurance. You should never contract with a company that is not insured. As a safety net, make sure you are adequately insured.
- Is the company licensed? In Virginia, all pest control companies are required to carry a pesticide business license. All employees are required to be trained and certified as either registered technicians or commercial applicators. In addition, these applicators are required to be recertified every two years. The law requires that a certified commercial applicator be available to supervise the application of pesticides in your home. This direct supervision requirement means that the supervisor must be in direct contact with the applicator, but he or she does not have to be on site. This is not the case with untrained applicators (registered technicians who have not completed training). These individuals must be under the direct on-site supervision of a certified commercial applicator at all times during the application. Ask the company manager and the applicator to show you these credentials; both their pesticide business license and their current pesticide applicator’s certificate before signing the contract. Companies must keep records of all pesticide applications conducted by their applicators in Virginia.
- Is the company affiliated with a professional association? As a member of a professional association, these companies can keep up-to-date on the latest information on pest control methods, safety, training, research, and regulation. Most associations also have a code of ethics that members agree to abide by. The fact that a company chooses to affiliate itself with a professional association is evidence that they are concerned about quality and professionalism in their work. For pest control operators (PCO’s or exterminators) these associations include the National Pest Management Association, the Virginia Pest Management Association, and several regional groups. Lawn care companies also belong to many local and regional associations. The national and state associations affiliated with these groups are the Professional Lawn Care Network (PLANET) and the Virginia Turfgrass Council (VTC). The Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association is also affiliated with many landscape firms who apply pesticides for hire in Virginia.
- Does the company stand behind its work? What assurances does the company make? You should think twice about dealing with a company unwilling to stand behind its work. Be sure to find out what you must do to keep your part of the bargain. For example, in the case of termite control treatments, a guarantee could be invalidated if you make structural changes to the treated building without notifying the pest control company. In addition, many companies require an annual inspection or maintenance contract to keep the guarantee valid. Read the fine print in your contract and ask questions.
- Is the company willing, and able, to discuss the treatment proposed for your home? Selecting a pest control service is just as important as selecting other professional services. Look for the same high degree of competence you would expect from a doctor or lawyer. The company should inspect your premises and outline a recommended control program, including what pests are to be controlled; the extent of the infestation; what pesticide formulations will be used in your home and why; what methods will be used in the application; what alternatives could be used instead; what special instructions you should follow to reduce your exposure to the treatment (such as vacating the house, emptying cupboards, removing pets, when you can reenter a treated area, etc.); and what you can do to minimize your pest problems in the future.
Other important points:
- Contracts should be developed jointly with the customer. Any safety concerns should be noted and reflected in the choice of pesticides to be used. These concerns should include the health of occupants (including allergies), age of occupants (infants and elderly), or pets.
- You may want to get two to three bids from different companies—by value, not price. What appears to be a bargain may merit a second look. Don’t always settle on the lowest bid, look for quality.
- Even after you hire a company, you should continue to monitor the work closely and evaluate results. If you have any reason to believe that something has gone wrong with the pesticide application, contact the company and discuss it with them. If you are not satisfied and continued negotiation does not work, contact the VDACS Office of Pesticide Services for help. Don’t let down your guard in these matters, document all details, and ask detailed questions. Often little misunderstandings about the outcome of a job can end up in court or can cause great distress because the parties involved didn’t communicate properly at the onset. Make sure you understand all the details before you sign the contract, especially those concerning the risks of using pesticides.
- Remember, your risk is related to the toxicity of the pesticide vs. the potential for exposure. Just because a pesticide is being sprayed in your home doesn’t mean you are at great risk, if you minimize your exposure to the chemical. Make sure you know what is being done to minimize this risk before you commit to the treatment. If you need details on the chemicals being used, ask your contractor to review the product labeling and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)* with you. If the contractor refuses, you should look elsewhere for service.
*An MSDS is not primarily intended for use by the general consumer, focusing instead on the hazards of working with the material in an occupational setting. Therefore, please make sure that you take this into perspective in using this information. Consumers do not have the same risk of hazard as a person working with chemicals in an occupational setting because their exposure is generally casual. However, the information in an MSDS is a valuable resource of information if one understands their use and meaning. So be careful not to jump to conclusions when using an MSDS to determine hazard.