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Bedbugs have jumped the shark

Posted: January 4th, 2011 | Author: | | Tags: , | No Comments »

I just received the January-February issue of Money, and I have no business receiving this magazine. What can I say, I like to laugh at the anecdotes about people with inappropriate asset allocations. On page 56, they have an article titled “5 Things You Need to Know About The Price of Bedbugs.”

1. “Smart defense is worth the price.”

Yadda yadda, bedbugs in movie theaters, hotels, gyms. Wait, gyms? Bedbugs in the steam room is a new one on us. With possible sexy results. But anyway, you will get bedbugs; certain doom. They suggest ClimbUp Interceptors and mattress and box spring covers for prevention. Mind you, ClimbUp Interceptors aren’t going to do a world of good if you come home from vacation and plop a bedbug infested suitcase right on your bed. They didn’t mention that bit, but I let you have it for free.

2. “Spotting Bugs Early Can Pay Off.”

They point out that you can save $200-300 on the cost of a trained bedbug sniffer dog inspection by just using your eyes. Imagine that, you can actually see bedbug signs, and you should check around your bed. Considering I spent time under a hotel bed with a flash light last week, this is not news to me, but I suppose it might be to some people. So get with the program: eyes before paranoia. If you can’t see anything, and you’re not being bitten, chances are you don’t need a dog. Put that money you would have spent on an inspection in a high-yield (haha!) savings account instead.

3. “Debugging is no DIY Project.”

Plenty of internet dwellers would beg to differ, but they make the point that if you don’t start off right, you merely prolong your agony and eventually you will need a pro for an even worse infestation. Then they gamely offer tips on how not to start off right: “You can try to battle bugs yourself by washing infested items or spot-treating them with a hot blow dryer or steam cleaner.”  Yes, that does sound rather unspecific and incomplete. The spot-treating with a blow dryer is a new one on me. Here, hold still, bedbug, I’m going to murtalize you!

4. “Some Pros Like it Hot. Others Go Cold.”

More possible sexy results! We’re not the only ones who can pun around here, I see. They suggest that a professional fix can range in cost from $400 to up to $2,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home. This is the only real info on the actual price of battling bedbugs, as alluded to by the article title. They mention that standard treatments may include heating or freezing or pesticide application. Apparently heat treatment is 20-30% more expensive due to the equipment involved. Clearly they have never heard of the bedbug Christmas Lights Killer.

5. “You’ll Get Little Help With the Cleanup Bill.”

This bit is sadly true. Most homeowners insurance policies will give you nada, as things like pests and mold remediation are considered to fall under maintenance. Some cities, including Boston, New York, and San Francisco, require landlords to pay for extermination, but we’ve all heard stories where this just hasn’t happened.

Then, possibly the most hilarious sentence in the entire article: “If you bring bedbugs home from the office, your boss should let you take time off to remedy the situation; some may pick up the tab.” A real example, please? Is this the kind of thing that goes on a Goldman Sachs?



‘Tis the Season for Murder

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sweet, sweet bedbug murder, that is. Ingenious Instructables.com contributor marcgr brings us the project Kill bedbugs with your Christmas lights. And to think we’ve just been using Christmas lights to spell rude words in the yard.

We all know that the holidays yield opportunities for unpleasant little gifts like fruitcake and travel-related bedbug infestation. Marcgr was inspired to create a bedbug death chamber for luggage after his own brush with bedbugs during business travel. His first project, Kill Bedbugs in Your Luggage, is a DIY version of the PackTite, but he was looking to simplify the amount of wiring required.

Why Christmas lights? I needed a heat source that could put out between 350-400 Watts of evenly distributed heat. Hotplates and hairdryers put out too much heat; and things like room heaters don’t have thermostats that go up to 125F. Christmas lights are perfect for the job!

Your goal is simple: heat your luggage or other awkwardly sized item to 125 F, sit back, and imagine the tiny screams of any bedbugs latched onto the seams and crevices of your luggage.

You’ll need a large metal trash can, Christmas lights, thermometers, a Christmas light timer, and various other simple electrical implements, as detailed here. Bear in mind you are using electricity and repurposing the lights for a situation the manufacturers did not intend, and you should read all steps carefully and proceed at your own risk if you want to try this, at least dialing the 9 and the 1 on your phone. Our money is on the regular PackTite, but this is certainly a novel seasonal alternative.

Hat tip for the link to my dad, who apparently still holds a grudge against bedbugs.



Bedbug & Beyond

Posted: December 4th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Well, it was bound to happen. For all your holiday giving needs, Bed Bath & Beyond is featuring a “Bedbug Protection” badge on their home page. It links to their bedbug protectors section.

Most of the products are typically accepted as handy and dandy, like mattress encasements and pillow encasements (although some experts note these are not specifically necessary since bedbugs tend not to congregate in areas that get squished and squashed about). They offer some detection products, including the ClimbUp Insect Interceptor. They also offer a number of sprays, which we have not evaluated. Let’s just say we approach such things with a dose of skepticism, especially the magic travel sprays.

They’re offering Space Bags and BugZip luggage encasements. But what really piqued our interest was this: the Allergy Luxe Bed Bug Storage Bag. It’s nice to know that when we finally get our scientific bedbug colony, our little darlings will have a swanky home! At last, a place to store your bedbugs! Isn’t that what we all really need? Stop using your beds; that is so 2000 and late. If only Prada would throw a hat in the ring and create one.

Thanks to alert reader LBC for the tip!



Link Rodeo 11/13/2010

Posted: November 13th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Dogs are able bedbug busters, but only when backed by humans, via The Vancouver Sun
There goes my theory that I should just buy a trained beagle as a house pet. It turns out you need as astute handler to perform visual inspections in order to confirm any infestation. Some dogs may be “inventing” bedbugs in order to gain a reward such as a treat. That would be just my luck; I’d end up assuming I’m drowning in bedbugs when Sparky just wants some Snausages. As always, it seems our eyes are one of our best lines of defense in the bedbug battle, although dogs do have uncanny abilities to sniff out the little pests. According to the article, it can sometimes be tricky to confirm visually if the dog hits along a baseboard or wall. It’s certainly possible for bedbugs to live in out of the way places like those. And most handlers swear that their training protocols are impeccable.

From Blackfoot to Boise, Idaho bit by bedbugs, via NECN

I thought Boston was always busy spending time trying to prove it’s as good as New York, but apparently Idaho has gotten in on the action. Is travel to blame in bringing bedbugs home to Idaho? That’s one theory proposed in the article, which reports that local pest control companies are seeing a 400 to 500% increase in bedbug-related calls.

Does Pestilence Threaten Our Portfolios?, via Fool.com

Are bedbugs a boon for pesticide manufacturer and all around 800-pound gorilla Monsanto (MON) and Orkin, a unit of Rollins (ROL)? This article points out that about $258 million may have been spent last year on bedbugs, but sadly, no direct proof of a boost to the bottom line for these companies is provided. The money must be floating around too wildly, like in one of those hurricane machines at the mall.

And while some companies may benefit, others clearly stand to lose, such as those in the hospitality industry. This post mentions Alison Trainer’s lawsuit against Hilton in 2007 for about the 746,319th time that the internet has helpfully cited the case while providing no update on the outcome. We’re going to have to look into that one. Did Hilton really have to shell out the $6 mill? Was it settled? Dropped?  I am left positive that I should apply for a job with Fool.com, if no actual reporting is required. I can do that!

School district finds bedbugs (Anchorage, Alaska), via KTUU.com

More with the bridge and tunnel action! First Idaho, now Alaska? Is there no place in America that’s safe? Have they fashioned little rafts and headed for Guam and Puerto Rico yet? The Anchorage school system is using heat treatment on the affected schools after a handful of students have been complaining of bedbug bites since the start of the school year.

The article also helpfully suggests checking beds for “specks” and hanging clothing far away from the bed in hotels (since closets are normally right above beds, eh?). Frankly, we think our advice on hotels and visual inspections is a little better.



Psychological Reappraisal of Bedbugs

Posted: November 12th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

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But What Would Steve Jobs Say About Traumatic Insemination?

Posted: November 1st, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Well, nerds, now the New York Times tell us there is in fact an app for bedbugs. Wish I’d thought of that one! It’s a Google map using GPS to identify bedbug-riddled areas, informed by media reports, governement agencies, and users of the service.

Will seeing little red pins all over New York make you any more cautious than you already are? I say semper paratus, like a good scout. You don’t need a map to tell you bedbugs are everywhere. Of course they are! You should use the same caution no matter where you go, from the fancy places bedbugs like to go like nice hotels to the dive theater where you take the date you don’t like to take out where real people are.

Am I the only one above carrying a tiny Maglite on my keychain for a quick look-see into the potential habitats of bedbugs? Spend that $1.99 for the app on your poor hideous date instead.



Bespoke Bedbugs

Posted: October 27th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Wow. Looks like you can advertise your sexy bedbug-free status wherever you go!

Bedbug Free Sweatshirt

Bedbug Free Hat

Bedbug Free Mug

Bedbug Tie

I don’t know. They are cute, but what would Anna Wintour do?



Ice, Ice Bedbug

Posted: October 25th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The weather is getting colder, and people may be getting lulled into a false sense of security by the temperature with regard to their bedbug treatment needs. The other day, I heard someone advise someone else that bringing home used furniture was OK as long as you “put it out on the porch for a few cold days.” Alas, the mighty little bedbug is tougher than that.

Don’t be tempted to rely on cold weather or even your home fridge/freezer to rid yourself of bedbugs or prevent bedbugs unless you are prepared to follow some guidelines. Just how long do you need to freeze something to kill bedbugs, and how cold is cold enough?

Pest control professionals may be using techniques like Cryonite, which is an icy freezing spray created with liquid CO2. The spray temperature is about -110 ºF. The surface of the target will be brought down to about -20 º to -40 ºF, and theoretically, the spray clings long enough to effectively crystallize the water in the pest’s cells and kill it. The advantages to a technique like this are that there is no residue or chemical hazard left behind, and the spray vapor can penetrate into crevices and cracks, like baseboards.

However, you can rest assured that you aren’t about to replicate this technique at home by loading your dustbuster with ice cubes and setting it from suck to blow. You’ll often hear suggestions to “just” throw something in the freezer for a day, and of course anytime there is a “just” in a suggestion, you can begin to guess at its effectiveness.

Bedbugger points out that entomologist Lou Sorkin (who is fast becoming our hero) froze bedbugs for 5 days at -29 ºF. Some first instars (a bedbug moulting stage prior to sexual maturity)  lived after the first 4 hours and took up to 5 days to die. The average home freezer operates at about 0 ºF. If it’s the one attached to your fridge, chances are you are also opening it several times a day, which creates temperature fluctuations.

You can bet that your porch is not going to remain below zero for up to 5 days at a time unless you live in an incredibly punishing climate. Maybe if you can see Russia from your house.

Home cold treatment is certainly better than no treatment at all, but consider leaving any items in the freezer completely undisturbed for up to 2 weeks prior to considering them free and clear. Check your manufacturer’s booklet for details on your particular model. You might consider testing that claim with a thermometer as well. A freezer that is full is more efficient in cooling than one that only contains a few items, so that’s another thing to consider.

It’s possible to buy ultra-low temperature freezers, but of course you have to weigh out whether the cost of something like a separate chest freezer justifies not replacing the item in question. And these freezers take up extra space, which just may not be an option in a city apartment.

And freezing electronics would fall under the “never a good idea” category. We also do not advise freezing household pets and children, which should go without saying, but one never knows. This is the internet.

In short: the data on DIY home freezing is not great. We’d probably gamble on 2 weeks at 0 ºF, undisturbed completely, in a packed freezer if there were no better options. And we wouldn’t take things out of the freezer without leaving them sealed them up tight in plastic bags until we were sure the rest of the infestation in the home were contained. We definitely would not rely on “just” leaving something on a porch or “in the car in winter.”



Science Corner: Eastside, Westside, Carbon Dioxide

Posted: October 17th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

By now we all know bedbugs come running for the great taste of people juice, but do you know how our new blood sucking overlords find us in the dark?

In a line so precious I had to lift it straight from one of our source articles, those parasitic little bundles of fun are attracted to us gravy trains by our exhaled “plumes of concentrated carbon dioxide” (PLUMES oh I love you bedbugs).

But JRN, I hear you mumbling between gooey handfuls of drug store mac & cheese, what can I do with this information? Well don’t you worry your pretty little head, that’s what smart people from other countries come to American universities for! True to form, Wan-Tien Tsai and Changlu Wang of Rutgers have taken this fact and created a makeshift bed bug monitoring rig worth a look.

Dry ice; check. 1/3 gallon jug; check. Cat food dish; check. Talcum powder; check. Paper to make itty bitty bedbug ramp (for serious); check.

What do I have to work with?

We're trapped in a bedbug infested bedroom with a fire extinguisher and 18 tampons...but the lease isn't up for MONTHS!

By placing the dry ice in the jug and keeping the spout just slightly open, the small carbon dioxide stream of an exhaling mammal (PLUMES!) may be simulated. This jug is placed atop the overturned cat dish, the inside walls of which have been treated with the talcum powder for extra slipperiness. An adorable ramp is added, half to assist the bedbugs up the side of the dish and half to assist you in narrowing your eyes and cackling away in anticipation of luring dozens of small ignorant creatures to their deaths. Well, capture anyway.

If this detector comes across as a little too…Rube Goldberg for your tastes, consider the cost: a startling $15. Add to that the possibility that this little number may actually outperform professional monitors, and I’m sold.

For complete instructions to the bed bug monitor devised by Wan-Tien Tsai and Changlu Wang, visit the Detecting Bed Bugs Using Bug Monitors page at the Rutgers University website, and download the accompanying 3 page PDF.

For instructions that have nothing to do with bedbugs yet still may prove useful in life or death situations, try this: MacGyver – The Complete First Season



Your Pest Control Operator, Your Ideally Trustworthy Friend

Posted: October 16th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

So you think you have bedbugs, and your first instinct is KIIIIIILLLLLLL.

Sailor at the Naval Air Base wears the new type protective clothing and gas mask designed for use in chemical warfare, Corpus Christi, Texas. These uniforms are lighter than the old type (LOC)

Sailor at the Naval Air Base, 1942, Corpus Christi, Texas. Via Library of Congress.

Now, you definitely identified, the pest, right? If not, do not pass Go, do not spend $200+. OK, you really have bedbugs. Not lingering house guests, not termites.  Well, that sucks, we agree.

Your landlord may already have someone on speed dial, so you may not have a choice as to who you use.  Or you may be going it alone.  You may find references to an exterminator as a pest control operator, or PCO, so do not be confused by the terminology as you search for the best.

If a landlord is involved, make sure you know in advance who will be footing the bill! Sure, bring on the bedbug sniffing elephants and panthers, you might say, until you find out you are on the hook.

Obviously there are large, national services like Orkin. We suggest asking friends and family for referrals to pest control services that they may have used and liked. You could crowdsource and ask the Facebook, although this definitely potentially outs you to a wider audience, so consider this is a solid maybe. Do not choose this method without filtering it down to your most trusted list of friends.

Review sites like Angie’s List may cover your area. There is a small fee for Angie’s List, but we’ve used it successfully and feel it may be a good trade-off.  Often businesses will be reviewed on sites like Yelp or Citysearch as well, but take into account that you are likely to hear the loudest complaints from people with a bone to pick. Don’t be put off by one bad review if the company sounds otherwise solid.

The three interview/estimate rule is a good one for the ages, so stick with that. Research and call at least three places for screening.  Take customer service into account: are you on hold forever, or is the person answering the call rude? Click. You may find yourself in a lengthy relationship with your PCO, depending on the scope of your problem, and you want someone reliable and courteous.

Here is a synopsis of some great tips from UC Davis:

  • Evaluate the types of services the company offers. For example, do they provide monthly spray contracts or do they offer an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach that includes nonchemical methods?
  • Find out if least-toxic alternatives are available to control the pest. Ask the company if these least-toxic pesticides or baits are used when appropriate.  How important is using nonchemical methods to you? Make this clear up front if it is.
  • Make sure the company has the required licenses, registration, certificates, and insurance [within your state – your state’s Secretary of State or general portal website should have links to looking up license standing].
  • Ask the company to inspect the site. There may be a small fee, but you will get to meet a company rep, and you should receive confirmation of your infestation and a written estimate and treatment plan, including how long it will take and how many visits may be required. You’ll also want them to tell you safety info in case you have pets or children in your home.

Once you have your three estimates, you’ll want to focus on the services suggested. Some people give a big advantage to a service that has sniffer dogs for maintenance/follow-up. There are other basic questions to consider.  UC Davis suggests:

  • Ask how any pesticides will be applied and where. Chemicals sprayed around the home perimeter may be washed away by irrigation or rain, especially if concrete walkways or other water-repelling materials surround the home. Avoid this type of spraying as it is considered ineffective, costly, and may cause contamination of our waterways or drinking water.
  • Avoid companies that offer only calendar chemical treatments featuring automatic monthly or quarterly perimeter sprays. This may or may not be necessary, as the pest may or may not be present at the time of application, and it is not an integrated or long-term pest management approach.

Any reputable establishment should provide a written contract once you decide to proceed. You should have access to the company’s name, contact information, treatment plan, length of service, total cost and dates when installments are due, and any guarantees about service.

On price: your costs will vary based on where you live and what type of service is being offered. Services like sniffer dogs are significantly higher, but some people swear they are the most thorough option. Ideally, you will end up with three estimates or more, and you will find the prices are all in the same ballpark. A really low estimate can be a red flag, as can a really high one. Be prepared to ask the operator to break down the costs in detail if you feel they are unreasonable. You may feel desperate, but you can keep your cool and stand up for yourself and potentially even negotiate. Be polite!

You should also verify that they hold current general liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance so that you are not liable for anyone being injured in your home. Some condo associations require written proof of these details before you’ll be allowed to begin service.

Once you’ve selected a service, then it’s up to you to follow their instructions to the letter. If anything seems strange or you don’t understand an instruction, ask!

Get a second opinion if you become uncomfortable at any time in the process. Bedbug extermination in particular requires many home precautions, and if you’re going to all the trouble, you want to do it right the first time.
If you make or notice changes in your home environment between treatments, call right away
and let your rep know so the next visit can be productive.