26 February 2018

Everything you need to know about heat treatments for bed bugs

Buyers guide | PestAware

Heat treatments are a chemical-free method of pest control used to treat bed bugs by raising the temperature of an affected room.

David Hammond is the inventor of heat treatment technologies. He tells us how this treatment works and what to look out for when purchasing this treatment to control bed bug pests.

Don't let the bed bugs bite

Widespread and irresponsible pesticide use has had a massive impact on the environment and the personal health of those exposed to this misuse.

Just as with bacterial resistance to antibiotics, insects have become resistant to many pesticides, and in the public health sphere, none more so than bed bugs.

Notwithstanding resistance issues, it was clear that heat treatment of bed bugs in bedroom furniture and mattresses had to be better than just using toxic insecticides.

Customers who have bed bugs in their home are often highly stressed, sometimes in tears and desperate for an immediate solution. This is totally normal. Make sure your service company spends time with you to understand the severity and length of the infestation and the property involved. They should then run through all the treatment options, so you are fully educated on the options at your disposal.

Gareth Purnell, British Bug Control

How do heat treatments work?

Bed bug biting human skin

Insects, just like us, are made up of proteins. Even enzymes are proteins and the nature of that protein, and its DNA determines its place and function in the body.

When a cell is heated up to around 45°C or more, that DNA starts to break down and so the cell ceases to function as it should.

In laboratory studies, you will see all sorts of claims for percentage kill rates of various species of insect for various times and temperatures. But to deliver full control, you need a target temperature of 50°C for two-hours or 52°C for one-hour. This need to be on the insect and not just in the room or environment being treated.

The problem with cold spots

Watch out for cold spots

Cold spots are the core of all issues relating to heat treatment efficacy. So, how should your supplier deal with cold spots?

There are cases where unscrupulous heat treatment suppliers are simply measuring general air temperature. This is totally wrong and is not relevant to killing the insects and their eggs, which will typically be ‘undercover’ and in insulated areas.

The energy required to heat something up is a formula. It’s a function of:

the object’s mass    X    heat capacity of the material you’re heating    X    the change in temperature required. 

This is very important when it comes to the debate as to whether to try to heat up an entire building or room, or just the contents of that room where bed bugs are typically concentrated. There is a vast difference in energy requirements, type of equipment (and price) between the two techniques.

Look out for a thermolog graph or report from your supplier before they leave. This should show the temperatures of the sensors and their exact location, enabling the identification of cold spots.

Why are heat treatments expensive?

You need to employ the people with the right kit

If someone is charging very little to heat up an entire room, you need to beware!

It’s likely a con, and simply won’t work. You may end up stuck with multiple treatments despite thinking you had booked the best approach.

Whole-room and building treatments are expensive processes and need to be done by specialists with the required the skill set, training and equipment to do the job properly.

David Hammond, Inventor of heat treatment technologies

The energy demand is so high because you have to heat up floors, walls and ceilings filled with masses that may total tonnes of materials with a high heat capacity, whereas beds and furniture may weigh less than 100Kg.

Ryan Overton, of Thermokil said:

“To supply this energy, you need big, powerful heaters that cannot be simply powered off the mains. And if you are thinking of booking heat treatment, the equipment being used is something to ask about as it needs to be fit for purpose.

“Even for smaller heat treatments, I recommend using at least 25kW heat exchange diesel convection heaters. With diesel heaters, the energy for heating comes from the burning of diesel, with the electrically powered fan blowing that heat to where it’s needed. Whole rooms and buildings can be heated up either by using Diesel Hydronic systems using radiators and glycol pipes, or powerful diesel convection heaters, or even some 3-phase 415v 18kW electric heaters.”

I personally cannot condone the use of general fan heaters that plug into a wall socket where the maximum power output is just 3kw. You could leave your hair dryer on and apply similar amounts of energy to your room! However, some suppliers do use a pod system which plugs into the wall and can be effective in treating small beds, furniture or personal effects, but not usually for whole rooms.

In addition to generic fan heaters, I also cannot recommend any form of direct burn propane gas heaters or even steam.

Why not gas or steam?

A key part of the way bed bugs are killed in an adequately carried out heat treatment is by being dried out.

When you burn gas, you put water into the building, so that’s not going to work. And it’s the same with steam-applied heat, which clearly isn’t going to dry anything out.

Plus, as well as helping the bed bugs and eggs survive, when you combine water and heat you the damage risk increases somewhat.

Trained and competent technicians

I won’t let anyone loose on my heat treatment equipment without a minimum of three days training for bed bug heat treatment, and five days for the wider range of heat treatment applications.

If people haven’t had heat treatment training, they are very likely to do something incredibly stupid.

In summary:

  1. If it’s cheap – it’s probably too good to be true. Proper heat treatment equipment and training cost money. Expect your contractor to recoup some of this investment in its pricing of jobs
  2. The contractor should be a member of the British Pest Control Association (BPCA ). You can easily check by calling the BPCA on 01332 294 288 or use their check a member tool
  3. Heat treatment is a new practice and currently unregulated. That means anybody can theoretically buy a heater and call himself a “heat treatment specialist” just as anybody can buy a ladder and call himself a roofer. But if you find a reputable company and they do their job correctly, heat treatment is completely safe and effective
  4. Steam treatments are not ‘heat treatments’. They add moisture to the air instead of drying the air out. Professional heat treatment works by denaturising the proteins insects, nymphs and eggs need to survive.

As a customer you should expect to receive:

  • A full, in-depth telephone appraisal of the situation including how long it’s been going on for and a discussion of other treatment options
  • A detailed preparation checklist of things you must do before the treatment
  • Unless on it’s a really small job, the team should comprise of two trained operatives, simply because one person cannot easily handle proper equipment
  • A detailed survey, not only of the infested rooms but also of adjacent or linking areas to establish the spread of the infestation and possibly the source
  • Complementary techniques such as physical removal methods (harvesting), the application of safe insecticidal sprays with strong residual qualities and the use of dusts
  • Client recommendations to clear loose objects in rooms and wash or tumble dry clothing at 60°C or more
  • Risk items identified and removed or protected. All items should be covered in a preparation document to be signed prior to treatment taking place
  • A thermolog graph of the temperatures the systems sensors achieved, and where they are located - This will show if the supplier is just measuring air temperature or those all important cold spots.
  • Notification that nobody can guarantee 100% pest elimination. We all strive for 100% control and with the right cooperation from clients, that goal can be achieved.

What happens if things go wrong?

If things go wrong or don’t work the first time, it’s how issues are resolved that separates the professionals from the Cowboys, in my opinion. Good service is good service, and the company will not close a job until the issue has been resolved.

BPCA is grateful to members of the public who highlight poor, inadequate or illegal practices and will take action against offenders. So always check the current list of members.

Find someone to control bed bugs

Always use a BPCA member company

You can find a trustworthy pest control company for bed bugs by using the BPCA Find a pest controller tool.

All BPCA members have to be properly trained, audited, and insured.

Find a pest controller

Source: PestAware

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