In Pest Control The Common Sense Of The Common Denominator Is Not So Common

common demominator’ve never been accused of being the sharpest knife in the drawer and honestly, that’s ok. But you’d think after almost 3 decades of doing pest control I’d be the last one lulled into sleep over a minor problem and miss the answer to a pest mystery that LITERALLY was in front of my face for the past two years. (this being the third) Well, if you’ve tuned into this article thinking it was a really smart guy writing it I won’t blame you if you skip away. Go ahead, it’s ok.

Oh, you’re still here? Great, now the pressures really on and I’ve got to deliver some real wisdom really quickly or you’ll bolt for sure! How bout this?

Finding the common denominator can solve 95% of most pest problems 100% of the time. Common sense says that your client has this information at least 9 times out of 10 but only 50% of the time do they even know it, and of that only 3 out of 10 volunteer the common factor. For the remaining 7 out of 10 only 75% of the most skilled technicians (that’s you) will be able to even drag it out of that customer 1/2 the time while the remainder is left up to you to find and then only 5% of your customers (roughly) will believe you that what you found could even remotely be the cause.

Oh boy–Did I even pass my state cert test? I think I’m a moron.

K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid

I’m a BIG believer in common denominators when it comes to solving pest problems. Friends visit with pets = fleas, roof leaks= ants invade, leaf piles galore and Asian roaches pop up, etc.etc.etc. Nothing new right and we as professionals know to look for these things. Ask the pertinent questions and then look like the hero when with a stroke of our spray wands (caulk,duster,steel wool insert your cure here) the problem is solved. So why did it take me 3 years to figure out a seasonal ant problem for a client? Why do you have most likely the same thing happening in one or more of your accounts?

It’s simply because for whatever reason, you did not find the cause, contributing factor or ‘shield’ that keeps you from success.—the common denominator.

Now I realize there are gaps in this theory- for example, the german roach account you picked up that will never end. Who cares what the common denominator is? They’ve got em and you just can’t seem to put it to bed. Knowing how they got them rarely helps right. Ahhh, but what’s keeping those little suckers alive? Could it be the constant supply of moisture? Why not move the coffee maker for a month or so? Only run the dishwasher during the day? Have them do a “moisture sweep” before bed making sure there’s not one drop they can get to. Can you say COLONY CRASH? Think you’re gel bait might work better now? But I digress….. Common denominators–even AFTER the fact of how the pest was introduced can be crucial to pest elimination.

My Dilemma

In my most recent failure, I was at fault more than any other factor. A regular client had little ants swarming out of some light sockets every spring like clock work. Then, as a good company does we send our man out and bada bing all went quiet. However the next year the same thing, and the next year and the next. That’s when I was called in. You know, the big boss with all the answers. Uh, and the next year and the next and the next……ugh

Now I tried to ask the right questions, I scoured the house but I relied too much on my tools like non repellants, dust in the walls and not enough on the most simple, most effective factor–the common denominator. Like I said I tried to ask but customers so many times have no clue how to put things together pest wise. To them, the things just showed up out of the blue and nothing they did or had happen could possibly influence that.

In this case there were no live ants (all 3 years) inside or outside. No fence line to search, utility lines are buried, no trees or bushes touching the home, not even a hint of a roof leak or stopped up could there be, there isn’t a tree within 50 yards.

So after 3 years of my barrage of the usual questions I sort of resigned myself to thinking these ants were traveling the underground lines and my focus was on soaking the areas where I “guessed” would be most helpful. It wasn’t. And so each year I saw my credibility slip away and my ‘bag of tricks’ getting emptied with no results and no real hope for the desired end result.

The Common Denominator Out Of The Blue

In the beginning of this article you’ll remember I said “I was lulled to sleep” and that is unfortunately a big reason we as professionals miss quite a few common denominators. This woman is quite articulate, an educator who is very detailed. (and nice) We’ve spent much time going over every detail of her problem and she could rehearse every episode of where the ants were and where they went and where they eventually died. I’ll admit, it was kind of like watching paint dry but she thought every detail was so important. So, I listened, asked questions and hoped I’d hear that one clue that would send me off on the trail to eliminating the problem but alas……just another rendition of how ant #53 died in the corner while ant # 42 made it all the way up the wall but ants 27 through 41 fluttered around the nightstand lamp. zzzzzzz. However, this was a real problem to her and rightfully so.

So today, a year has passed and the call comes in and I’m back out so sure I’ll waste another 2 hours looking at dead ants and hearing about this unsolvable mystery of the annual ant swarm. However this time, I decided since my current approach wasn’t working I’d ask permission to poke a few holes in the wall near the plumbing of the near by bathroom so I could treat. Anythings better then what I’ve done for the last 2 years right? That’s when she smiles and say’s, “I’m one step ahead of you, I have an access panel and I was gonna ask you to spray in there this time.” AN ACCESS PANEL????? WHAT?????

So with that she proceeds to tell me that this is the THIRD bathroom shower she’s had installed over the last 5 years and all the trouble she had with moisture. (and contractors–ugh that took over 45 minutes for her to detail) Everything from leaky shower pans to mold on the walls. Just then her husband pipes up and say’s with a chagrined look, “Yeah, we call this our $10,000.00 dollar bathroom. Even with this information it still took me several tries to help them connect the dots that the ants started showing up when the problems with their bathroom occurred…”Ohhhh, that’s a common denominator you keep talking about isn’t it?” she said with a not so sure tone. They then begin to unpack the 3rd highest shelf in a closet behind the shower and sure enough–a big ol 12×12 removable access panel. (why so high? I’m not sure) Do you wanna guess what we found? C’mon, guess!

Now I’m not sure WHY my leading questions over the past 2 years didn’t register with her nor HOW this most applicable common denominator could have possibly been overlooked when I pointedly, matter of fact asked her, ”Are there any known moisture problems?” but man o man it was.

So, to get to my point (thank God cus I’m starting to sound like her describing ant #51–boy he was a doozy–(15 minutes worth)common denominator

Pest control customers, common denominators and common sense rarely go together. In fact, it’s a 50/50 crap shoot and it’s only your skill and perhaps a little bit of luck that’ll tip the balance. The only thing that’s most common is, when you find it, it’ll work almost 100% of the time. Well, mostly, at least the odds are in your favor.


About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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  • stuto1

    Its seems some peoples brains shut off when the professional arrives.

  • Lol–Actually I think some people ‘over’ think it while just excluding the obvious cuz somehow that just doesn’t seem ‘smart’ enough…. wait a minute…that’s exactly what you said…OMG… I”m turning into what I wrote about..ahhahhhhahahahahah..