When “The Best Option” Isn’t The Best Option

North Carolina Cooperative Extension trailer fumigation

We can all imagine the frustrations and hardship that can come from having a few bed bugs, let alone an entrenched infestation. Waking up night after night to bites is enough to make anyone want to take the “nuclear option” of fumigation.

Not to be confused with the setting off of a fogger in one’s house (which is not recommended for bed bugs), fumigation involves the release of insecticide in a structure or container that is completely sealed with a tarp. As the fumigant penetrates through everything—cracks, crevices, wood, boxes—it can kill everything if the fumigant is at the right concentration for the right amount of time.

If done correctly, bed bugs in the residence are killed after one treatment.

Despite being highly effective, however, this method of treatment isn’t for everyone. That’s because, depending on which part of the country you live in, fumigation services can be prohibitively expensive.


Structure Fumigation and Geography

“Fumigation is typically done in the South, the Southeast and Southern California,” said Jeff White, technical director of BedBug Central. “The reason for that is because they have a type of termite that can only be treated with fumigation. In Northern states, it’s rare to conduct structure fumigations.”

While companies in the South can routinely do fumigations, the rare nature of it in the Northern U.S. can make it extremely expensive and hence, price-limiting. For instance, fumigation for a single home could cost 3-5 times as much in the North as it does down South.

Those prices are, of course, for stand-alone structures, as one major limitation with fumigation is that it is “very difficult to near impossible to do in multi-family housing situations,” according to entomologist Rick Cooper, the vice president of Cooper Pest Solutions.

Cooper recalls a pest management company in Reading, Pa. that circumvented that issue with a high-rise by having the entire structure sealed off and fumigated.

Though it could have worked beautifully, he said, the tenants brought bed bugs back into the building via bags they had taken with them prior to the fumigation.


Problems Associated with Fumigation and Viable Treatment Options

Another major downside of fumigation is that once the structure is aerated, there are no lingering effects—meaning the building is still susceptible to bed bugs unlike other methods of treatment that use pesticides with residual effects.

The sheer cost and the absence of any lingering impact on bed bugs is what makes customers and pest management companies pursue alternatives to fumigation. Also when conducting a whole structure fumigation, residents are faced with the inconvenience of having to cram in with relatives or rent a hotel.

“When we discuss bed bug treatments with clients, we typically examine a couple different treatment options,” said White.

At the opposite end of the cost spectrum is integrated pest management (IPM), which uses pesticides and non-chemical forms of bed bug treatment, such as monitors, mattress and box spring encasements, as well as vacuums.

Another treatment option for bed bugs is heat treatment, which uses very high temperatures to kills bed bugs and their eggs.

“That is the mid-point between a traditional form of pest control and fumigation,” White said. “With heat, you can sometimes get rid of bed bugs in one treatment. However, when the problem gets a little more advanced, it can also get more expensive.”

Though heat treatments may only involve 1-2 treatments spread out over a few weeks, the cost can be significantly higher than IPM, which may involve 2-4 treatments over the course of a month or two.

How much higher?

Heat treatment can cost double that of integrated pest management—and fumigation can cost 3-5 times as much.

As with fumigation, heat treatments have the potential to fail.

“It can be compromised based on the construction type, clutter and whether the insects are entrenched in the structure,” Cooper said. “Fumigation would address all those issues but it’s really only a practical option if you’re in a part of the country where fumigations are done routinely.”

Cooper notes that the only time fumigation may be practical for people in Northern states is when you’re moving from an infested location to a new home.

“Then, you can do a trailer fumigation where you pack your belongings into a truck and have it fumigated,” Cooper said. “Trailer fumigation is much less expensive than that of a complete structure fumigation. It could be under $1,000.”

This scenario is similar to the portable fumigation that helped the offices of Buzzfeed get through their nightmare bed bug infestation earlier this year.

That said, fumigation wasn’t Buzzfeed’s only option. Frustrated office managers and homeowners can turn to more cost-effective solutions that utilize monitoring to prevent bed bugs from reestablishing themselves.

Integrated pest management and heat treatment can be highly effective when part of a comprehensive bed bug treatment plan. Aspects of IPM can even be combined with heat treatments if the situation calls for it.

For instance, after a heat treatment, the use of mattress and box spring encasements as well as bed bug interception devices, can be used proactively to monitor for potential bed bugs in the event that any survived or have been reintroduced. Likewise, SenSci™ ActivVolcanos® can be installed in cubicles in office buildings to help monitor when and where bed bugs are being introduced into a previously sterile environment.

For more information on the SenSci Product line, visit www.SenSciOnline.com.