Selecting a Termite Control Service

If you think or know your house is infested with termites, or if property in your neighborhood is infested with termites, you may be in the market for a professional termite control service. (Do-it-yourself termite control is possible using chlorpyrifos insecticide concentrate available at the local garden center or hardware store. However, because of the difficulty of doing a thorough job and the risks associated with an improper treatment, professional treatment is recommended.)

The following points should be considered before you make a decision and sign a contract for termite service.

  1. Do not panic. Do not be frightened or unduly alarmed. Termites work slowly and your house will not be ruined overnight.
  2. Take your time. Do not be rushed or pressured into purchasing termite control service. Take the time to purchase service wisely and at your convenience.
  3. Deal with reliable firms. Shop with the same care that you would use when making other major purchases. Deal with established firms in your area. Check their references and consult the Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau. All termite control applicators in Iowa must be certified with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
  4. Comparison shop. Get several inspections, opinions and estimates. The termite control business is highly competitive but also highly variable. It is not unusual to receive bids as much as $1000 apart. Double-check if the prices quoted seem too high or too low.
  5. Read the written termite control proposal carefully. The proposal should include an inspection report indicating if termites are present and the exact location where they were detected; the name and amount or rate of control chemical (termiticide) to be used; a specific description of the parts of your building to be treated and how they will be treated; a statement explaining follow-up inspections and retreatments (if needed) by the company; and a clear and complete warranty. Also understand what your obligations will be following treatment.
  6. Watch for scams. Beware of firms that have no listed phone number, offer to trim trees and do other repair work as part of the "deal," claim to have a secret ingredient, or claim to have excess chemical left over from another job and offer a reduced price if they can treat immediately.

Termite Treatment Options. Should I treat to prevent termites or wait until I have termites and then treat?

There is no one "right" answer for the question of treating to prevent termites before they are found versus waiting to cure an infestation after termites have attacked. The method of treatment, amount and kind of pesticide used, and methods of application are the same for both prevention and cure. The major difference between prevention and control is the risk of damage that may occur before the infestation is detected.

The uncertainties and vagaries of termite activity lead me to generally recommend that high risk properties be treated on a preventive basis. This would include properties with known termite presence (e.g., termites in a tree, stump, firewood pile, etc.), or properties adjacent to active termite infestations. However, this is a personal choice for which the alternative, waiting and watching for the termites to attack, is chosen by many people because of financial considerations, expected time in the property, ease of detecting termites such as in unfinished basements, and other factors.

This article originally appeared in the April 15, 1992 issue, p. 59.


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