Treat or retreat: Tackling termites every year

What's wrong with this joke? A termite walks into a bar in Alaska, sits down next to another termite, and says, "Is the bar tender here?" "The other termite replies, "I don't know– I haven't tried it yet."

Answer: There are no termites in Alaska (I suppose because it's too cold). But there were definitely termites in a wooden structure attached to Howard Goodman's house. Orkin treated the house for termites 14 years ago, and he's been paying an annual fee ever since to maintain the protection.

When Goodman discovered the termites early this June, he called Orkin and asked for an inspection. "The inspector who came out," he claims, "didn't find any termite activity until I pointed it out." The employee's response was that only the affected area– and not the whole house– would be treated.

Goodman claims that nothing happened until he called the office a week later. The area was finally treated on July 13, but Goodman was not happy.

"I pay Orkin to protect my house and have for 14 years," he says. "They will not re-treat my house unless there is an obvious sign of termite activity. What kind of protection is that?"

The Orkin inspector, Goodman says, told him that federal and state law prohibit re-treatment without proof that termites are at work. But, as Goodman points out, by then "the damage will have been done"– damage, he adds, that "they don't pay for."

Orkin's website states that "Termite treatments break down over time... In five to six years, treatments may have to be re-applied." That seems to be at odds with what Goodman says he was told– i.e., that Orkin was prohibited, by law, from re-treating areas that didn't have active termites.

I asked Martha Craft, Orkin's director of public relations, about the discrepancy. "Orkin uses EPA-approved termiticides," she explained in an email. "The instructions on most termiticides prohibit reapplication of the product unless there has been evidence of termite activity, or the treatment barrier has been broken (for example, the treated ground has been disturbed)."

Craft confirmed that Goodman had originally been told that "his home was not legally eligible for re-treatment. Ultimately, this proved to be an honest error on the part of the local Orkin branch." Further examination of the situation, she continued, had confirmed that "the location of the structure where termite activity was found is close enough to the home to warrant re-treatment of the entire home."

Craft claims that the "outbuilding" (which Goodman claims is attached to the main house) "was not included in the original treatment 14 years ago, so it was not technically part of the treatment agreement." In any case, Orkin will treat the structure at no extra cost.


Another joke?


"How many Lethal trucks does it take to change a flat tire?" That's the question Donna DeGroat asked on July 13, after her Honda had a flat tire on Route 29 and she called AAA for assistance. Lethal Wrecker (as the primary AAA contractor for Charlottesville) was called, and the first truck arrived.

Unfortunately, the driver brought the jack that, DeGroat theorizes, "is reserved for the soapbox derby." In any case, it was too small for her Honda.

So a second truck was summoned, and this time the driver brought... the identical jack. But wait! He also had a 2 x 4, and the two drivers wedged it under the jack. It was still too short, however, so Driver #2 produced "yet another piece of greasy wood" and started wedging. That's when Driver #3, their alleged supervisor, arrived, and DeGroat posed her question to him.

I tried to put the same question to Lethal owner George Morris, but he was unavailable for comment.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.