20 Years of Service May Add to Zero

Times Staff Writer

Question: This letter is about termite-control service provided by a termite company. My mother-in-law has paid for such a service with the same company for 20 years. The gist of her agreement is that the termite company will inspect her home annually, and if any signs of termites occur, the company will chemically treat wood-destroying organisms found in accessible places at no extra cost.

During recent years, evidence of damage reportedly has been minimal and has been treated. Suddenly, as the result of an inspection for termite clearance needed for the sale of the property, the company came up with a list of repairs that will cost hundreds of dollars. If their open-end recommendation is accepted, the cost could be $2,000-$3,000.

I cannot imagine that all this damage would have occurred since the last inspection in 1984. A telephone call to the company has yielded no satisfaction--just rhetoric. What good is termite-control service on one's home?--S.C.

Answer: That's a charitable question, at least: Just what in the world has your mother-in-law been spending her hard-earned money for all these years if her house now flunks the all-important termite inspection required at the time of sale?

Both the State of California and the professional organization representing the pest-control industry find it a most tantalizing question and one that both of them promise to pursue.

"Why pay out that money, year after year, and then find yourself in a situation where more has to be done? Why?" Doug Crutchfield, director of eduction for the Pest Control Operators Assn. of California, asks rhetorically.

Unlikely Explanations

There are a couple of possibilities that might explain it, Crutchfield adds, but they are both a shade on the unlikely side.

"Escrow instructions, of course, call for certification. In other words, certification that there's been an inspection of the property and that there is no active evidence of infestation," he says. "So, there can be instances where there is structural damage present, even though there are no active termites present at the time of the inspection."

But since the same company has been in charge of the termite inspections for 20 long years, it's highly unlikely that any damage noted would predate their responsibility, Crutchfield adds.

Another unlikely thesis is that your mother-in-law's contract with the company covered only one of the two or three types of termites most commonly found in California (the two most common are the dry-wood and the subterranean termites).

"But the standard contract calls for basic termite control," Crutchfield points out. And it covers termites, period.

Depending on the geographic location of the house and, of course, its size, the normal annual termite-inspection package falls either in the $50-to-$60-a-year range or, for large houses, in the $150-to-$200 range. Your mother-in-law's service, according to our later conversation, was $45 a year. Whether this slightly lower-than-the-norm price is suggestive of a stripped-down form of service can't be determined until Crutchfield has had an opportunity to study your mother-in-law's contract.

Looking Into It

"What we're interested in," he adds, "is the good practice of pest control, and we don't care if this company is one of our members or not; we'll definitely look into it."

Send a copy of the contract and a copy of the report outlining the damage to Crutchfield, Pest Control Operators Assn. of California, 3031 Beacon Blvd., West Sacramento, Calif. 95691.

A complaint form is already in the mail to you from Mary Lynn Ferreira, executive officer of the Board of Structural Pest Control, which falls under the California Department of Consumer Affairs and which has jurisdiction over the contractor's license held by your extermination company. Ferreira would also like the complaint returned with a copy of both the contract and the damage report.

For the type of service you've had from this pest-control company, it would seem that your mother-in-law might just as well have done the job herself by luring the termites out with a trail of sawdust and hitting them over the head with a ball peen hammer.

Good luck.

Q: Some time ago we stored a woolen blanket wrapped in a plastic bag containing mothballs in one of our better pieces of luggage.

We've removed the contents, but the suitcase still smells strongly of mothballs, even though we've aired the case outdoors for over two weeks. We also tried getting rid of the smell by enclosing baking soda, but without success. Washing the removable plastic pockets did not help either. Neither the dry cleaner nor the luggage dealer could help.

Is there some way this suitcase can be treated to remove the odor so we can again use this nearly new luggage?--J.L.

Answer: I suppose that it could be worse--like putting a Liederkranz sandwich in your home safe and then forgetting the combination.

We took your problem first to Nick Gomez of Terminix Exterminators, which has long been active in the mothproofing business. After checking with the company's technicians, Gomez says by all odds the procedure you've been following should have solved the problem. Obviously it hasn't, so a commercial dry-cleaning solvent would seem to be the next logical path for you.

And, according to Steve Brooks, owner of Classic Cleaners at 2714 Griffith Park Blvd., "A dry-cleaning solvent will take out mothball odors in about 99% of the cases. The problem is: How do you dry-clean a piece of luggage?"

No dry cleaner, for rather obvious reasons, is going to sell you a vial of either a petroleum-based or synthetic solvent, such as perchloroethylene, to use on a do-it-yourself basis because it's tricky stuff.

Commercial Product

"There is, though, a commercial product on the market," Brooks adds, "that is supposed to neutralize a wide variety of obnoxious odors by attacking the bacteria causing the odor."

But, again, it should be applied by a professional, and Brooks has volunteered ("no charge") to give it a try if you'll bring in the luggage. Better coordinate with him first, however, at (213) 660-0514.

Don G. Campbell cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to consumer questions of general interest. Write to Consumer VIEWS, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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