Savvy Consumer: How to check out pest control companies

04/18/2014 11:34 AM

04/18/2014 11:35 AM

This week’s cold snap may have slowed them down a bit, but right now in Tarrant County termites are on the move.

“This is swarm season,” said Ed Doyle, service manager for Western Exterminating in Haltom City. “The conditions are right for it, and I’m getting a lot of calls.”

Termites take flight to find new areas to colonize when winds and warmer temperatures hit, said Roger Gold, chair of the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University. If your house hasn’t been hit yet by these wood-eating bugs, it likely will be.

“If you did not have your house pre-treated when it was built, it will eventually become susceptible,” he said “Texas has a subtropical environment which favors termites. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Fortunately for consumers, the pest control industry is regulated in the state and it is easy for consumers to check up on whether companies are trained, certified and licensed.

Local exterminators say there are not too many bad apples in the business, but one person was arrested this week in Fort Worth for posing as an exterminator and stealing valuables from homes. Police are asking the public to come forward if they also were victims.

The Texas Department of Agriculture said it received 37 complaints last year regarding unlicensed exterminators, but there are likely more scammers beyond those who are reported, said Lindsey Pope, spokeswoman for the agency.

In total, there are almost 3,800 commercial pest control businesses licensed with the department, including an estimated 270 in Tarrant County, she said.

To obtain a license, a contractor must take a variety of educational courses, log on-the-job training experience and pass an exam with at least a 70 percent score. Consumers should look for several things when hiring a termite inspector or exterminator, she said.

First, check to see that the Texas Pest Control license number is visible on the fenders or lower door panels of the contractor’s truck.

Next, ask to see an individual’s license or registration, which the contractor should carry, Pope said. Also, double-check that the license is valid by using the search tool on the agriculture department’s website, www.texasagriculture.gov.

By law, licensed pest controllers for termites should provide several sheets of information at the time of an inspection or bid, Pope said. These treatment documents should include:

•  A diagram depicting the structure that includes the address, perimeter measurements, areas of active or previous termite activity and areas to be treated.
•  Label of the pesticide to be used, along with the concentration of the termiticide used and definitions of treatment types.
•  Complete details of a warranty, if there is one.
•  The signature of a licensed technician or certified applicator. Apprentices can’t draw up disclosure documents for termite treatments.

Each pest control business must also carry at least $200,000 in insurance coverage for bodily injury and $300,000 in property damage coverage, Pope said. The agriculture department checks on this and that the company’s customer paperwork is being done properly in audits conducted at least every four years.

In addition to swarms around your house, homeowners can initially spot termites with mud tunnels coming up from the ground onto their homes. But most termite activity is underground, said Doyle.

“Ninety-nine percent of the colony is underground,” he said. “It’s like an upside octopus with the colony building out to form tentacles.”

Gold suggests homeowners should get bids from multiple contractors. “It takes a little time, but is well worth it,” he said. “You should be able to compare bids.”

The average cost of a full perimeter termite treatment is $1,500, he said, adding that the price will vary depending on the size of the house and the complexity of the problem. The process can include digging a 6-inch trench around the house for termiticide, as well as drilling holes into any concrete around the perimeter to inject the termite killer. Also, work is done inside, spreading the chemical around plumbing in bathrooms, kitchen and washroom.

Gold said that when a homeowner sees termites swarming they have already been around at least five years.

Although some contractors might offer a less costly spot treatment, Gold said he wouldn’t recommend it.

“We see a lot of abuse in this area,” he said. “But spot treatment is merely a means of putting off the inevitable. It’s inexpensive, but it’s not going to be effective for protecting the whole structure. The termites just move to another area.”

Doyle, the contractor in Haltom City, agrees.

“Spot treatment is like a Band-Aid,” he said. “You won’t take care of the whole colony that way. Don’t let price be the deciding factor on which company you choose. Do some research.”

Doyle is a member of the Greater Tarrant County Pest Control Association, the local branch of the Texas Pest Control Association. He said members meet monthly to become further educated on treatments and new products.

“Fifty years ago, you made your own products and you kept it a secret,” he said. “But today we share treatment and procedures. There’s enough work for everybody.”

The association chapter helps consumers find local members on its website at www.gtcpca.org.

Gold said that liquid termiticides are required by law to last a minimum of five years. After that, he recommends annual inspections. Bait treatments are another way to tackle termites, but the bugs have to be very active to take the bait back to the colony, he said.

He also recommends homebuyers hire a licensed, registered third-party inspector to conduct a termite inspection before buying a house.

If you have any problems with your exterminator, the Texas Department of Agriculture will take your complaint at 866-918-4481, or online at www.texasagri culture.gov.

Common complaints include operating without a license, failure to honor the contract, incomplete or inaccurate inspections and reports, and practices that are harmful to people or the environment, Pope said.

So take a look around your house this weekend and see if this is year that termites have found your house.

Join the Discussion

Fort Worth Star-Telegram is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQ | Terms of Service