Trouble with Bed Bugs
Posted on Sunday January 03, 2021 at 09:07PM in General
Trouble with Bed Bugs
To top off all the unexpected news of 2020, my year started with a bedbug infestation so horrific I would have preferred it to be a nightmare. I own several rental properties across town and have had my fair share of horrifying occurrences, but none quite like this one. One of our rental properties has two eight unit buildings separated by a dumpster. In those buildings, we were in the process of removing carpet and installing wood or tile floors in between tenants. Once one of our current tenants moved out of the building, we called a tile guy to install tile floors in the unit. Almost immediately after he entered the unit we received a call from him frantically telling us that he could not go into the unit because there was a bedbug infestation. I was a little shocked by the news, because the tenant had neglected to tell us of any issue at the property. Thinking it probably wasn’t too bad at this stage, I called my property manager to take a look. Once again, I received a frantic phone call and my property manager had gone to buy medical booties because he couldn’t stand to go into the apartment without them. At this point I decided it was best to call an exterminator. When the exterminator arrived he confirmed there was an extensive infestation and suggested inspecting the adjacent apartments to see if the bedbugs had decided to explore. Sure enough, they were in multiple units in the building. I knew exterminators were expensive, so it was horrifying to think of treating the entire building instead of just a single unit. Once that building was inspected and the first round of treatments began, I began to feel a little better about the situation. Then I began to receive complaints from tenants in the next door building. Another wave of shock hit me with each phone call. How in the world did the bedbugs jump buildings? The answer became clear when we discovered the infested mattress of the vacating tenant in the dumpster between the buildings. I was frustrated that the tenant didn’t bother to tell us about the bedbugs problem while it was still contained and manageable. The bedbug inspector discovered that there were indeed bedbugs in many units in the other building. I continued to receive unhappy calls from tenants requesting that we replace their beddings, mattresses, and reduce rent. Once bedbugs are in a mattress, it is almost impossible to get them out. These two buildings went through not one, not two, but five rounds of bedbug spraying. Each time the exterminator sprayed, there were still some parasites who hid and multiplied. Two months later after spending $3,900 on five rounds of spraying every bedbug was dead and the infestation was finally gone. As a property manager, since these are deductible business expenses, make sure you keep images of all receipts on your rental property management software to make tax time easier.
What to do if you’re a tenant with bedbugs in your unit
If you discover you have bedbugs in your unit, it is essential to tell your landlord as soon as possible. The sooner the infestation is discovered, the more likely you are to be able to prevent the spread of bedbugs. As you have seen from my personal encounter with them, bedbugs can be extremely difficult to kill, and it is important to begin the process as soon as you can.
Most states consider bedbugs infested units to be uninhabitable. Landlords are required to provide tenants with habitable housing, so landlords will be responsible for extermination costs to create a habitable unit. The only exception is if tenants have introduced the bedbugs to the unit, in which case the tenant will be responsible for extermination costs.
What do bedbugs look like? Do they look like a cockroach?
In society’s imagination, bedbugs and cockroaches look about the same. In reality, once you see a bedbug you will know that it is not a cockroach. Adult bedbugs are about 5 mm in length and are the size of an apple seed. They are oval shaped and have a reddish-brown color as shown in the picture above. See additional pictures on WebMD. The key differences between bedbugs and cockroaches are that cockroaches have wings and are larger than bedbugs.
What do bedbugs eat?
Bedbugs are parasites and drink the blood of warm-blooded mammals and cockroaches are scavengers and will eat anything. Cockroaches can inhabit a unit because of tenant behavior such as leaving food out or having a messy apartment, but bedbugs aren’t as easily prevented because they only want blood. They prefer to eat when their host is unaware and immobile because of the lower risk that they will be squished. Their favorite hiding spot gives them their name, bedbug. The trouble with bedbugs is not that they aren’t easy to kill, they are very easy to squish compared to cockroaches who are the tanks of the bug world. The real problem with bedbugs is that they are excellent at hiding and catching a ride to different living spaces. All they need is a male-female pair to create an infestation.
How do bedbugs infest a property?
Bedbugs like to hide or hitch a ride. The primary way that they travel from place to place is through catching a ride on something. If you are staying at a hotel with bedbugs, they can stow away in the seams of your luggage or even on your clothes. They can travel through second hand items such as furniture or clothing. In a house or apartment, they can travel through walls to different units or rooms. They also love to hide with the bed being the ideal place. Bedbugs can also hide in chairs, tables, clothing, bedding, pillows, couches, shelves, bed frames, box springs, nail holes in the wall, and in areas where the carpet meets the wall. They aren’t nocturnal like cockroaches and won’t be deterred by bright lights or stop feeding in the daytime.
How to prevent bedbug infestations
From personal experience, I know that bedbugs are a pain to get rid of once they have infested a unit or building. But how do you prevent these infestations? To protect your bed you can use a protective mattress cover. This encases the mattress and box springs and limits hiding spots for bedbugs. A lighter colored cover will make them easier to see, and a high quality fabric will be more resistant to tearing. Another preventative measure is to replace your mattress and box springs every 2 to 3 years. As you may know it is extremely difficult to remove bedbugs from your mattress once they have infiltrated it.
To protect your unit in general, it is important to check secondhand furniture for signs of bedbugs. You can also reduce clutter and vacuum frequently to prevent hiding spots. If you live in a multi-family home, you can ask your landlord if you can install door sweeps under your doors to discourage bedbugs from coming in though the hallways. You could also seal cracks around the baseboards to help prevent them from moving through the walls.
If you are sharing laundry facilities, it is important to be vigilant if you suspect a bedbug problem could arise. You could carry your items in washed plastic bags and fold them at home once they have come out of the dryer. High heat dryers can kill bedbugs, and if you don’t further expose your clothes at the laundromat, then your risk of an infestation will go down.
Does temperature affect bedbugs?
The preferred temperature for bedbugs is 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit when they are able to most successfully and quickly reproduce and progress through their growing stage. In temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it would take approximately 4 days for them to be killed. In temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they might remain in nymphal (youth) stages in the cold. If they are exposed to colder temperatures, they will go dormant into a state of semi-hibernation called diapause which causes their metabolism to slow and they begin interval energy conservation. Like humans, bedbugs prefer to be indoors in cold temperatures. Many people have tried to kill bedbugs by placed them in their freezers, but most freezers don’t reach a temperature cold enough to kill them instead of sending them into hibernation.
What makes the cost of an exterminator so expensive?
Most people know the outrageous costs of exterminating bedbugs in a property. But why are these costs so outrageous? Exterminators use specialized equipment and product, and the process is very lengthy. For heat treatments, they use specialized heaters that heat a room to over 130 degrees Fahrenheit while not causing a fire or other heat related hazards or damage. The product used has to be rated and labeled for living spaces and mattresses, and it is very expensive to create something that has effective kill rates while also being applicable to living spaces.
Another component to the expensive cost is the time the service takes. Bedbug exterminations take longer to walk the customer through the process and make sure they are comfortable with the procedures than other types of extermination. The actual extermination service also takes much longer. Ant and cockroach services usually take only 20 to 30 minutes to complete, while bedbug heat treatments take 6 to 12 hours. Additionally, bedbug heat treatments also require two technicians to be at the site. The high prices are ultimately worth it because the professionals will be able to cease the infestation, unlike home DIY efforts. Exterminators have the professional experience to know where to look for bedbugs and have the essential tools to kill the ones hidden in odd places.
Factors that affect the cost of extermination
The first step of an extermination is the inspection. In most situations only a visual inspection is required. This involves the exterminator looking for physical signs of bedbugs including bedbug excrement, bedbug eggs and eggshells, rusty red stains, live bugs, and shed bedbug exoskeletons. If it is necessary, your property could receive a canine inspection where a trained bug-sniffing dog searches for areas that are infested, this provides greater precision in the inspection process.
Most exterminators charge based on the size of your space. This could be by square footage, room, a flat fee, or by individual visits or a package deal. You should usually expect to pay more for a larger space. There are other factors that can add to the cost of space such as the severity of the infestation and clutter that also needs to be treated. If the infestation is more dense or severe you can expect a higher price for the extra materials and labor.
Location also has an effect on the price of your extermination. Larger cities are more prone to infestation and will have higher prices. Some of the highest prices based on location are in New York City, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Your home type and how your home was constructed could have an influence on your price as well. If the construction of your home offers more hiding places, then the cost will increase. Additionally, if it is necessary to treat the area under your house, it will cost more.
While cleanliness does not decrease the likelihood you will have a bedbug infestation, it does influence how much you would have to pay for extermination. If your home or unit has a lot of clutter it can provide more places for the bedbugs to hide (which increases your cost). You are able to clear some clutter before your treatment to reduce the cost and make it an easier process for your exterminator, but it is essential that you don’t remove anything that could be infested. If you reintroduce infested items into your unit or home, then it will cause another infestation, and you will have to begin another extermination process.
What to do before your exterminator arrives
Prior to a heat treatment, there are some items that you should remove from your unit or home. These items include pets, plants, fire extinguishers, photographs, VHS cassettes, pressurized cans (soda, hairspray, etc.), wax products (crayons, candles, lipstick, etc.), guns and ammunition, vinyl records, and film negatives. Depending on your heat service, you may need to remove portable electronics (phones, charging cables, laptops, etc.) and other electronics (but not appliances) need to be unplugged. You should place medicine and vitamins in the fridge along with other perishable foods (including wine and liquor). Paintings and frames should be taken off the walls and put on the floor, and if necessary you can speak to your exterminator about removing valuable artwork from the unit. You should keep personal items in your home or unit including clothing, diaper bags, computer bags, backpacks, purses (but remove your wallet), and wheelchairs and mobility devices. If it is absolutely necessary for you to have something with you, place these items in a shopping bag and wear freshly laundered clothes when entering the unit to avoid carrying bugs out from the house on you. It is also important to secure loose papers if high powered fans are used during treatment.
How to find the best exterminator
Do your research and verify their certification. It is important to find our if the company is trusted and referred. You wouldn’t want just anyone entering your house and killing bugs with chemicals that could potentially harm you. You should make sure that the company you choose has been reliable and safe in the past. Additionally, your exterminator should be licensed or certified in pest extermination. To be licensed, exterminators need to go through proper training which is essential to ensure that they are qualified to perform the extermination in your home.
Don’t rely on price. It is important to know how credible a company is, and not always settle for the cheapest option. Bedbugs are very difficult to remove, and you don’t want to waste money with a cheap extermination company who won’t do a thorough job the first time. If you discover a company who charges low rates and has great referrals, then it might be a great company! But it is important to know what you should expect.
Ask about treatment methods. It varies based on your particular situation, but it is usually the best option to use a variety of treatment methods. Addition information can be found at the EPA and CDC. You should be able to ask your exterminator if the methods are safe and if they are pet and human friendly.