Can Bed Bugs Migrate Out of an Electric Heat Treatment?
by Dr. Michael R. Linford
March 9, 2018
Compared with our Titan propane-fired bed bug heaters that achieve lethal temperatures within 15 minutes, our ePro 400 portable electric bed bug heater and ePro 600 electric portable bed bug heater reach lethal temperatures at a slower rate and treat up to 400 square feet and 600 square feet, respectively. I train many of our new customers, and I’m often asked if they treat one room at a time, what prevents bed bugs from moving to another room?
As Tommy discussed recently, individuals trying to discredit heat propose a mostly-false premise that bed bugs will quickly migrate out of the heat. Obviously, portable electric bed bug heaters are different than direct-fired propane heaters in that it takes longer with electric heat and the increased heating time allows the bed bug and other insects to search for cool pathways more easily—but fleeing to cooler pastures is not a slam dunk!
Let’s talk about scale to help put things into perspective. If a bed bug were the size of a person, a typical 400-square-foot room would cover nearly 300,000 square feet—about the size of 6½ football fields! Keep in mind that bed bugs aren’t that bright, either.
In order for a bed bug to escape the heat and migrate out of the treatment area, the insects would have had to travel out of the treatment zone at least once before the treatment began or they would have to be on the fringes. When seeking cooler areas, bed bugs will move about ¼ of an inch. If it is cooler they will move another ¼ of an inch. These insects will continue in this fashion as long as the new location continues to be cooler. As the perimeter of the room heats, the cracks, crevices, and carpet padding bed bugs may harborage in will heat and the bugs will die in their hiding locations.
Here is a tip for heat treating an infested room with portable electric bed bug heaters: direct the air low to the walls around the perimeter of the room and use fans to keep it moving around the room and recirculate back into the heater. Each time the energized air recirculates through the system it gains more energy. With fans and heaters moving the heated air around the room, it will become increasingly difficult to find a cool path—and the outer parts of the room will heat first, forcing any insects lucky enough to migrate back towards the center of the room.
On the other hand, propane heat energizes the treatment area so rapidly it would be highly unlikely for the insects to escape unless it is already on the fringes of the heat-treatment zone like inside a plug receptacle, or under a baseboard, on the outside wall of a treatment area. For example, you have your primary duct directed at a bed with 16°0F to 180°F treatment air exiting the ducting, how would a bed bug migrate to an outside wall, or into a plug receptacle—let alone two feet across a heating floor to possibly cooler areas.
The rest of the structure will syphon heat into various rooms with the use of fans as it exists the structure and will not heat up as fast as where the primary duct is dispersing energized air into the treatment area. If you’re worried about bed bugs escaping through the electrical outlets, remove the plates and let the treatment air enter and heat the wall voids.
A properly-conducted and monitored heat treatment will kill 100% of all bed bugs and their eggs in a single treatment. GreenTech Heat has a list of customers in pest control, property management, hospitality, and camps treating homes, apartments, multi-unit housing, hotels, and cabins with heat. They routinely tell us they achieve a 100% kill in one day. Every time. Temperature measurement is key.
I spoke with one of our clients regarding a friend of his who bought thermal-flow pyramid-shaped heaters (which are not effective) who told him that the manufacturer of that heater suggested he should heat slowly until temperatures got over 108°F. Rather than admitting their heaters did not produce enough thermal energy and therefore heated slowly, they prescribed the slow heating as the most effective way to treat for bed bugs.
We’ve always taught to heat the room as quickly—yet safely—as possible... especially when treating with portable electric heaters. Your time is money and waiting around for inefficient equipment is not cost effective.
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