Tuesday Tips: How to Hire an Exterminator

I had an unwelcome visitor to my home the other day. And he brought 20 of his closest friends. Yes, I'm talking bugs. It's that time of year when they and their rodent friends start coming out of hibernation, looking for food and warmth on cool spring days. And you are the unsuspecting party host. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. So I talked to a couple of professionals to get some tips on how to hire a pest control company:

Tip #1: Ever wake up with a mysterious bug bite and you can't figure out how you got it? Or have you ever wondered what walks across your kitchen floor when the lights go out? Use double-sided tape or glue boards around windows, doors, headboards and kitchen countertops to see what sticks. Then you can decide if you have a problem that needs a professional. These strategies will also help a pest control company figure out what kind of bug is coming into your home.

Tip #2: Knowing when to hire a pest control company is all about tolerance. Can you stand the occasional fly making its way through your house? Or is it too much to imagine that it's landing on food preparation areas and toothbrushes? The professionals say to call them if you can't stand a single bug in the house. If you don't mind the random march of ants through your living room, then don't bother. But if you have termites or bed bugs, better call a professional.

Tip #3: What if you find a mysterious bug in your house and you don't have an entomologist in your circle of friends? Put that bad boy in a small jar of alcohol and take it to your local cooperative extension office. This is a university-based service that offers research-based programs, including experts that can answer questions like "what kind of bug is this?" (Virginia, Maryland and the District have cooperative extension services.)

Tip #4: Professional pest control can be a considerable investment so it pays to ask the right questions when hiring a company. Ask to see their license, how their technicians are trained and screened and how long they've been in the community. "You really want honesty and trust, like choosing a physician or dentist," said Ron Harrison, director of training at Orkin and head of the Orkin Training Center in Atlanta. "These people are coming in your home, looking in your drawers, checking under your bed, looking to find pests."

Tip #5: Ask about their overall approach to ridding your home of pests. You want them to be using integrated pest management or IPM. This is a relatively new approach to dealing with bugs and pests that minimizes the use of pesticides and uses a more analytical approach to figuring out why a home has pests. For example, a technician using IPM may seal up cracks and holes in the house rather than immediately turning to chemicals.

Tip #6: Many pest control companies offer a one-time fix or a quarterly service where they'll come out every three months to treat general pest problems. How do you know which service you need? Again, it's all about tolerance. You could just have them take care of pests as they come or you have them come every three months so the pests never or rarely make an appearance. Just make sure that a quarterly service will take care of pest problems free of charge if you have an unwelcome visitor between scheduled visits. "Some people can put up with a few [pests], others say no," Harrison says. "That's how you can make your decision."

Tip #7: Termites can be a very serious issue to homeowners. These bugs are often hard to see but they'll munch through wood aggressively, enough to cause structural damage to your home. Scary, huh? Don't panic, says Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. You have time to get a few estimates before your house comes crashing down. "Don't let somebody scare you into having to do this today," she says. "If you wait two or three weeks, it's not going to matter."

Tip #8: Most pest control companies offer two types of contracts, according to Mannes. In one type of contract, the company will re-treat a problem for no extra charge if they've already treated it once and the pest has returned. In another kind of contract, the company will not only re-treat a pest problem they've already treated but they'll also take care of any structural damage in the home because of that returning critter.

Tip #9: Get at least three estimates when choosing a company to tackle your pest problem. And don't automatically jump at the lowest price, especially if it's dramatically lower than the other estimates. "Go by value and not price because you get what you pay for," Mannes says.

So, have you ever had a pest problem? How have you handled it? What lessons have you learned when shopping for a pest control company? Post a comment below.

Also, what are your shopping conundrums? If you have any ideas for what you'd like to see in Tuesday Tips please send me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  April 22, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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We've had great experiences with Home Paramount. We had ants in our town house years ago and HP came every 3 months to spray. Usually, we saw no ants in between treatments. But occasionally, we'd have an "outbreak" and would have HP come a few weeks early. The quarterly contract was definitely worth it.

Now in our single family home, we get box elder bugs. They are very common in the New Market area and will basically swarm a sunny side of your house on those weird 50-60 degree January days. They find a way inside and are just annoying. They are not destructive or "dirty" in any way, but they literally crawl all over the outside walls and windows on sunny days. We've also had those really creepy jumping spiders in our basement. You know, the ones that look like a cross between a spider and a mutant cricket. So we called HP again in 2005. They've been coming every 3 months for 3 years, and we are doing well. Still get a few creepy spiders in the basement and an outbreak of box elders in the winter, but it is always a couple of weeks away from our next treatment. All the bugs are gone within 2-3 days after the treatment.

Posted by: LBH219 | April 22, 2008 9:42 AM

Highly recommend Western Pest. We have an annual service contract which covers quarterly exterior treatments along with annual interior and exterior inspections. They will also send a technician with 24-48 hours to deal with "emergencies" like ants in the kitchen or a bees building a nest in a tree or under the roof of our front porch. The cost is roughly $350/year and they will re-treat as necessary.

Very professional and thorough staff. I like the fact that they will start any remediation treatment (especially indoors) with the least noxious/toxic product and go up from there as necessary. We have never need to resort to a "nuclear" option in order to get rid of pests which we really appreciate, especially since we have dogs, a bird and fish.

Posted by: Mike Sorce | April 22, 2008 10:51 AM

Connors Pest Protection is the ABSOLUTE BEST. There prices are reasonable and they have the best techs in the industry. I have them protecting my house and my office. The customer service is Top Notch (Maybe the best in the business). I've even heard that they now have a dog that will come in and search for BedBugs,He was trained as a puppy to do this. If you don't beleive that Connors is the best then give them a call and find out.


Posted by: Itsme | April 22, 2008 1:00 PM

Way back when...I had termites and I remember how I felt I really could not trust these guys. I chose a local company, because I felt they would have more accountability then a national one. I have used Triple 'S' Pest Management for 12 years at my Vienna Home. They offer a great service. But what really helped is that I got to know our serviceman and when he retired acouple of years ago, I realized that he was really great and I miss him. Our new technician is very thourough and we love him too, but it means alot to trust someone and be free of pests to boot!
Grady Marshall
Vienna, VA

Posted by: Grady | April 22, 2008 5:44 PM

If you are looking for a reliable, professional pest management company that provides service in Virginia, log on to www.vpmaonline.com for a searchable list of members of the Virginia Pest Management Association.

And, I would add one other tip for finding a pest management professional. Ask your friends, family and neighbors for their recommendations for reliable, professional and effective pest management companies.

Andrea Coron
Executive Director
Virginia Pest Management Association
Fredericksburg, VA

Posted by: Andrea Coron | April 23, 2008 12:11 PM

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