Why Not Just Tent Fumigate For Bed Bugs And Save The Mess?

In America, no other household insect in recent times has been more difficult to keep up with than bed bugs, a blood sucking menace that seems to be advancing across the globe at will. It also seems just as hard to keep up with all of the different methods, chemicals, machines and high tech devices there are to deal with them. Peruse any pest control magazine or go to any trade show and you might think you’re in the ‘bar scene’ of the original blockbuster movie Star Wars. We have freeze guns, special vision wear, UV flashlights, c02 traps, bed bug sniffing dogs of all breeds, heat machines, new & improved chemicals and even specialty monitor traps where the bug can’t climb the slick surface or gets caught in a well thought out pattern of sticky glue dots. But in the end with all our high tech gadgets bed bug work still looks like a hurricane went through the home and the home owner is left to clean up the mess.

Search & Destroy Has Been The Mainstay

Along with the many tools and products, there seems to be just as many methods to employ them but most require the entire dismantling of a room or home in a “search & destroy” fashion so as not to leave even one live bed bug behind. This approach makes so much sense because one live bed bug can and will in all likelihood get back to the same numbers if not more when missed. And since most devices or methods need to make direct contact on the insect to kill it–there is really no way to avoid this major disruption of the home.

Although somewhat anecdotal, I get many e-mails on my Ask The Bug Doctor feature asking why bed bug work has to be so invasive and is there any other way of doing it? I suspect many consumers across the board feel this way and will soon be demanding different approaches. It’s one thing to hand over a check for $1500.00 and have your home treated and then spit shined & polished but quite another to watch it all get turned upside down and discombobulated. Sure most companies try to put things back they way they found it but nothings gonna be the same once you’ve stripped beds down to their nub, overturned couches and furnishings, emptied closets, removed all pictures and even pulled back wall to wall carpets. This is a huge disruption to the home and it can sometimes take weeks for the owners to tuck it all back in nice and neat.

Is There A Better Way?

I’ll say one thing about the bed bug sniffing dogs and other similar devices. They do cut down on this need for dismantling somewhat but bed bugs still need to be exposed for the contact kill. The University of Florida has come up with a partial answer in that they devised a way to build ‘mini heat vaults‘ around dorm room furniture using large Styrofoam insulation boards. Setting electric heat registers and fans up at the entry allows them to control the temp for the right amount of time to assure a complete kill of everything inside the vault. The key words- everything inside the vault and again it still means a major disruption. Another method of note is to use the same heat and fan approach but instead of a vault, Nuvan pest strips are hung in front of fan and heater. This cuts way back on dismantling but the room must be vacated and not re-entered in some cases for days. The vapors permeate the contents of the room killing any and all bed bugs. The link for specific details and the ‘how to of killing bed bugs with these strips is currently down & I’m thinking it is only temporary- it could be this method is no longer recommended by Nuvan so please do your due diligence.’ When you look at these two quasi answers to the dilemma of disruption you can see the wheels of invention are turning. I’m sure there is more out there I’ve not heard of or ideas and ways companies use to help keep this problem to a low roar. I’d love to have you comment below if you have anything worthwhile we can all learn from. Bed bugs are a relatively new bug in town in terms of proportions, population and approach. However here in Ocala Florida, we’re known for horses and roaches as big as horses but not quite yet on the map bed bug wise so your participation would be appreciated.

The 100% Cure Is It Worth The Cost?

Having said all this there is a 100% way to treat the entire home and moving very very little. Vikane is a fumigation product that for eons has only been associated with termites or other WDO’s. For a long time here in Florida there was hardly a week that went by where I didn’t see a home or structure ‘wrapped’ and your first thought was always, “they must have had drywood termites.” Slowly, the way of the tent has given way to more localized and targeted means. Would you be surprised to know however that Vikane is labeled for more than just WDO’s? and guess what is prominently displayed on the first section- You’re right! Bed Bugs!

Now tenting is not without it’s challenges and there are things inside that need to be removed because they react to the gas– a pet fish or bird comes to mind. I’ve done both bed bug and tent work and both are somewhat labor intensive. Tenting however requires far less on the homeowner and your home doesn’t look like it was just burglarized and ransacked. Add to this that the fumigation gets to every tiny crack or crevice and will kill any and all bed bugs no matter where they’re hiding is a big plus. No worrisome thoughts of what if they didn’t get them all. Maybe the biggest factor is that from most of the information I’ve seen, both tenting for bed bugs and non tent bed bug jobs are pretty close in price. It’s not that tent work is cheap mind you- it’s just that bed bug work is very high. I’ve seen prices of $3000 for whole house treatments using any number of the methods described earlier in this article. Tenting, at least in Florida where it has been a staple service for years isn’t even that much for termite control on most regular sized homes. I just sold a tent job of 33,000 cubic feet (two story) for drywood termites for under $1500. That same house for bed bugs might easily cost double at the going rates around town. (350 per room) The beauty of fumigation for bed bugs is that once that tent goes on, everything still in the house dies and when it’s taken off you have zero population with much less disturbance.

So, just a thought on bed bug work and an alternative that is being done to some degree already but I’m simply asking why not more? What say you?

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. Pestcemetery.com 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

    Wow! I’m charging too little for Bedbug  jobs. 350 per room!  I don’t think most of the people with bed bugs can afford that. I think fumigation is an interesting idea but not on a residential level.  In the  ghetto 4-plex I service the tenants keep bringing back the German Roaches and they will bring back the bed dugs too. How many owners are going to fork over the money for a bedbug job more than once?     

  • Exterminatorsrock

    we get $550 per room, but it includes a 2 week follow up. we hit them with just about everything that has bed bugs on the label.

    we dismantle everything, dust walls, hepa-vac, steam, b+g’s (packed with either repellants/IGRs/knock-downs or non repellants and IGRs depending on visit), aerosols, mattress encasements, climb ups…freakin’ everything.

    we just got a 8plex apartment that 2 different companies have tried to control the severe bed bug problem and failed. the 1st one used the “heat truck”, and zero pesticides. the 2nd one had “baxter the bed bug dog” (he missed 2 active rooms btw) and used …ahem…space heaters for 3 days. the owner of the plex had to put up the tenants in a hotel for those 3 days during treatment. then the PCO “sprayed something”, (guess certain companies don’t have to document). 

    as of the time of this writing…there is no “silver bullet”. bed bug treatments remind me of the old school roach treatments where it actually took time, thought and procedure to control the infestation, not just a couple dabs of gel with some super non-pellents.

    as for the fumigation idea, it is interesting, but i’m a mere P & W licensee, so at the moment, it’s not an option for us.

  • Stuto1

    I too use multiple pesticides such as dusts, non repellents,  and repellents. I just started to include vacuuming. Not sure if the Shop Vac is considered a  hepa-vac but its got to go anyway, too big. I’m currently using Prostrips in a 4-plex having sealed off some bed rooms. I hope these work because half these bedbug infestations are also pigsties packed solid with stuff. I also used a repellent in those rooms too.

    I just renewed my insurance and they asked me if I did bedbugs and then if I used heat. Though that was interesting. No heat for me. I’d rather get my fumigation license.

  • Exterminatorsrock

    we use an Omega Plus hepa-vac.  it is incredibly portable, just hook it over the shoulder and go, it also has pretty decent suction.  i stick a Nuvan strip inside the filter just to make sure once they get in it, they stay in it.  this vac works great on German roach jobs too

    the only problem is when a customer hasn’t cleaned in a while. if you spend a lot of time sucking up skittles, cheerio’s and cigarette butts, you will be changing filters quite regularly.

    i wanna say it was around $200 for the vac and $30ish for hepa filters

  • I don’t have a fume cert either but I use a company on extreme drywood jobs. I may suggest them now for bed bug work. Love the info on ‘heat trucks & space heaters’. lol I’m sure certain new fangled remedies have worked for some folks but I’m more of the old school myself but the time factor REALLY comes into play in bed bug jobs.  If I’m going to spend that much time I’m going to charge because I can and often do- make more money doing regular service jobs in the same amount of time. That’s why fumigation could make sense. Sure you only get a fraction in the form of commission but you do no work besides the sale and while the house is tented-you’re across town making money doing what you do.

  • bdplus3

    As a consumer who has had bed bug infestation, in my opinion, the only sure fire way to kill all stages is with tenting with triple Vikane. We have a 1700 sq ft house and it’s about $1100.00 to treat

  • All in all, about 1/2 of what some charge for that size home. I wonder why this way of treating isn’t catching on more?

  • Confused

    Can a townhome be tented for bed bugs??

  • Since it’s ‘connected’ and the tent is used to contain the fumigant it would only work if you did the entire structure. Sorry

  • Alyssa

    Tenting for termites will kill bed bugs in all stages including the eggs? would you recommend opening everything up to be sure all are killed? what about steam cleaning the carpet after the tent is removed? is this method usually 100%? Are planning on trying this method after having two heat treatments within 2 months, those awful bed bugs were back within a few months

  • Tent fumigation should be 100%–100% of the time. Your fumigation company will do an inspection to help you prep. Once done, you shouldn’t have any live bed bugs, eggs etc…. The only way to get them again is by reintroducing them which can happen–the same with heat and or chemical treatments

  • Angela

    We had a Vikane treatment last November (2x gas, and left on a day longer than a termite treatment, to equal a 4x dosage), but we felt there was still a problem immediately after the tenting (saw blood spots on bedding first time back in the bed). We practice extreme measures. Had a Packtite ready to go as soon as we returned to the house. Everything is heated before it enters the house. Zipperless, hard-sided suitcases to travel. Change clothes in the garage and shower immediately. All our clothes and shoes are in sealed plastic bags! Now, 9 months later, we feel certain there are still bugs. Just this week, I’ve seen blood spots on nightclothes and black fecal lines on sheets. By the way, we’ve never seen a bug in the house. What do you suggest we do now, seeing as the “100% way” of extermination has seemingly failed? Another tenting?

  • Have you contacted the company about this?

  • Angela

    As soon as we saw the blood spots after the tenting, we took photos and emailed them to the pest company. A few days later, the owner came to our house to talk to us. I had, by then, laundered the bed linen, but there were still visible stains. His response was that this wasn’t enough evidence, and I shouldn’t have washed the linen. As I said, I’ve never seen a bug in the house, before or after the tenting, but I feel that would probably be the only piece of evidence that the pest company would have deemed conclusive. We are now awaiting the arrival of a trap to see if we can lure any possible bugs out. If we do find some, I guess the only thing we can do is find another exterminator, but I will definitely contact the original company and tell them what’s happening. At the time I saw the owner after the tenting, he said that it was just not possible that anything could have survived the fumigation, he was monitoring the gas levels personally, but I have since read of other people who even after two or more tentings still have bed bugs. Maybe the process isn’t as perfect as we would all hope it would be!

  • Stuto1

    Are you getting bit?

  • You could also consider having a dog service come in to verify areas of concern.

  • Angela

    All I have ever noticed are the red pinprick marks on my skin. It’s very hard to keep track of them all and to know exactly when I get new ones!

  • Angela

    Thank you. Yes, I’ve thought that that could be an option, especially if I trap nothing but the blood marks continue.

  • Kevin Campbell

    contact the bed bug guru out of Gainesville. 100% success rate, CERTIFIED K-9’s, Bed Bug Exclusive company and 12 month warranty.

  • Not sure she’s in his service area…besides that not really her issue right now Kevin.

  • jason

    a fumigation can fail for numerous reasons..guys forgeting to do a seam..blown open by wind..not using enough (vikane) (zythor) (masterfume) gas. bad ground seal. failure to patch hole in the tent ..but if done correctly it will be 100% effective.

  • You’re right of course. I don’t see many bad tent jobs though. Most around here wrap it up like a Christmas present. my company does very little bed bug work. Far to much work with way to much for error. If I were to get serious about it, I’d truly consider tent fumigation as my number one approach

  • RK

    Great info! I will post my personal experience. After a vacation we came back several weeks later and noticed we had a bed bug issue. We were mortified to say the least. We had her home tinted and fumigated. The company did not offer any type of guarantee. After about 8 months I just discovered another bed bug. I’m not sure what the gestation period is from egg to bug but it seems like this may have been brought in again?? I was curious your thoughts on this. Thank you

  • 8 months seems a stretch for noticing bedbugs after a job. My “guess” is, you brought it in somehow.

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  • Kari Whiteaker

    What about the yard?