The unmarked trailer backs slowly into the driveway as the sun rises. Two men step out ready for war. The trailer isn’t marked is because this is a bed bug exterminator company and the customer has asked to remove all signage. The men are outnumbered by hundreds or thousands of six-legged foes, and this battle is going to take all day.
Before they can start they need to define their strategy by walking through the home, examining the layout and asking questions of the homeowner. Most are just to confirm what has been relayed from the sales associate that did the original inspection. The homeowner then leaves for the duration of the process. After a couple of minutes discussing equipment placement the two have established their game plan and head back to the trailer to unload. The equipment is truly impressive; a hydronic system of the highest quality built specifically for killing bed bugs. <i>Hydronics is the use of fluid as a medium to transfer heat – the classic example would be baseboard heating</i>. This bed bug destroying machine, however, is mobile and very high-tech. The heat source is a diesel furnace boiler unit capable of producing 380,000 BTU. The boiler heats food grade glycol (similar to anti-freeze) up to around 190F. An electric pump pushes the heated fluid through a well-orchestrated maze of fluid-filled hoses and manifolds to a series of fan coils to distribute the heat. The fan coils which look to weigh around 75lb each have been wheeled into the house act as the radiators in the system. Internal fans blow air over thin fins to dissipate the heat into the air.
Once set and connected via hoses, the fan coils are turned on. A dozen or so large blue fans are distributed throughout the house but left off for now. A boxful of wireless thermometers are placed throughout strategically the house and labeled. Some are placed with sensors hanging of ceiling fans to measure the air temperature, others are pressed into baseboards to measure the floor and external wall temperature, and a few are pushed into openings in drywall openings after outlet plates are removed to measure the temperature inside the walls where bedbugs are capable of hiding. A thin sheet of plastic is secured over the door where the hoses enter the home to contain the heat and keep it from leaking outside. A side door is used for the remainder of the job.
At this point, there is a bit of a wait to get the ambient (air) temperature of the house up. The techs take advantage of this time to boot up their laptop and explain the process. Waiting for the heat to rise is partly for their own protection. While setting the equipment they’ve avoided touching furniture or any other belongings. The house is considered to be in an unsafe condition until the proper temperature is attained. The instant kill temperature for bed bugs is 122F and the beauty of the heat system is that the bugs are drawn out of hiding and toward the heat. But once the insects realize that it’s too hot for them, it’s too late for them.
Once the temperature has climbed slightly above 122F this is their queue to turn on the aforementioned blue fans. It’s sauna-like in the house at this point, not terribly uncomfortable to stand in. These high-powered are placed to move air around the room along the walls and baseboards to distribute air more evenly. Once kicked on it’s a whirlwind of hot air dust, pet hair, cobwebs etc. Every step is mapped out according to temperature reading based on experience and industry best practices. The bed bug heating industry as a whole is relatively new but extremely effective at exterminating bed bugs.
A brief history lesson on bed bugs heat treatment: The versions of the equipment were originally designed to heat construction sites or warehouses and other structures temporarily. Being that it is a dry eat, it showed great promise drying water damage from plumbing mishaps. While being used to dry basements, it was found that it could kill bed bugs. The equipment was upgraded to support higher temperatures in order to effectively eliminate bugs. The key is in the quality of the equipment and procedures. Fly by night companies are popping up using cheap heating equipment (such as propane heaters), that actually just cause the bugs to hide in walls. A week later when the bugs return to the bed, the company is unreachable.
The next step is to “toss” items within the house. The house is considered safe at this point because no bug could survive the heat and hitch a ride in the technician’s clothing. Mattresses are stripped and placed on their sides. Couches and chairs have their cushions removed and are overturned. Shirts and pants in closets are fanned in front of the fan coils. Garments in drawers are tossed about to expose any cold areas to the deadly heat. At the end of the toss, it resembles a scene from a movie where the mafia had been searching the house. The goal is to eliminate cold spots.
After tossing the “cook” phase begins. Any bugs that have been drawn out of hiding are dead. The rest of the job is just saturating the house, to allow radiant heat to creep into the unreachable recesses within the walls. This cook phase lasts over three hours, and is the most important. The waiting is intermittently interrupted by smaller tosses and inspections with hand-held laser thermometers to search for cold spots. Cold in this case, is a relative term. Any wall surface below 135F is considered cold and equipment is adjusted accordingly.
Once the cook is completed the boiler is unceremoniously shut down, the still very hot equipment is loaded back into the trailer and the home owner is contacted. Windows are opened to help cool the house down. It’s going to be uncomfortable in that house for awhile, but not as uncomfortable as it was for the bed bugs that were defeated on this day.
This article was originally written for Yahoo Contributor Network. RIP YCN.