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Battling household pests

Don't take it personally. Even if your home is squeaky clean, you still may have a pest "problem."

Preventing or eliminating destructive bugs, birds or rodents calls for knowing their biology; what attracts them; where they hide and how they gain entry, says John P. Burnard, manager of Compass Pest Management in Mira Loma, Calif.

When all else fails, it's time to call a pest control company.

"You've got to know exactly what you're dealing with because different species need different types of treatment," Burnard says.

When looking for an exterminator, the lowest price isn't always the best choice, says Dave Albaugh, manager of Truly Nolen of America Inc. in Riverside, Calif. "This is your least concern when dealing with your family's safety," says Albaugh.

Albaugh and Burnard offer the following tips for finding help in getting rid of whatever is "bugging" you:

Don't procrastinate: Do-it-yourself sprays and treatments may stop a minor problem. But a major infestation --- especially termites --- should be handled by a pro. If you suspect termites, seek a contractor with heavy experience in termite control.

Pest control companies usually offer home inspections at no charge.

Ask people you trust: Many qualified companies advertise in the Yellow Pages. Better yet, ask friends or relatives for names. Also, visit consumer referral services at the National Pest Management Association Web site (www.pestworld.org/ homeowners).

Obtain at least three quotes: Spend a few days getting written estimates. Each should include the nature, extent and sites of infestation; treatments and time required; locations of bait stations; needed repair of woodwork, warranties, copies of pesticide labels and costs.

Beware of bargains: Seek value, not price. A cheap but incomplete or sloppy job may have to be repeated or can expose family members and pets to toxic chemicals.

Some pest control outfits have carpenters who for an additional fee can repair walls, woodwork, window screens and cracks.

Look for state-of-the-art methods: Avoid exterminators who only spray chemicals. The industry uses an Integrated Pest Management approach that reduces risk by getting rid of food, shelter and water pests need to survive and sealing routes of entry. It employs a minimal amount of necessary chemical treatment both inside and outside the home.

Check credentials: You want a company that is licensed and bonded. Membership in national and state associations is a good sign a contractor uses the latest technology and adheres to a strict code of ethics. Licensed pest control workers must undergo special training and continuing education.

Look for professionalism: A representative should arrive on time neatly dressed or in uniform. The exterminator should be polite, listen attentively, take notes, show good judgment and impress you as trustworthy.

Read the fine print: Ask the salesman to explain anything in the contract that makes you uncomfortable or you don't understand.

Other details to look for: Bi-monthly or quarterly followup inspections; a guarantee; an exclusion clause allowing you to cancel without penalties; an arbitration clause for settling disputes and liability insurance.

Determine your chemical tolerance: Professional pest management products are tested and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Used properly by licensed professionals, they pose little threat to humans or pets. Still, chemical treatments are poisons placed in and around your home.

Show product labels and material data safety sheets to your doctor before the contractor begins a job, especially if anyone in your household is very young, old, chronically ill or chemically sensitive.