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How can I verify that a (whole unit) heat treatment for bedbugs was or will be effective? More generally, what is the best way to verify that an apartment is (likely) free of bedbugs?

Background:

We signed a lease for a new apartment and then found out it has bedbugs (after moving some of our possessions in).

The landlords hired an exterminator who applied heat treatment to the entire unit (and checked for bugs afterwards using dogs), but when one of us moved in 4 days later, they immediately started getting bites. A few weeks later, we found eggs in one of the traps we laid. So the apartment will now be retreated (by the same exterminator).

Now, given that the treatment failed the first time, we are concerned that the treatment will fail again. We're making sure to follow best practices, and looking into whether neighboring units may be responsible.

More Questions:

What else can we do to make sure that the apartment is free of bugs before we move in? Ideas I have are:

  1. Have an independent exterminator check with dogs (although they would have a perverse incentive to find bugs)
  2. Place some form of thermometer in hard-to-reach locations, to ensure that the exterminator's treatment is reaching high enough temperatures
  3. Set C02-baited traps immediately after treatment (for detection purposes)

What do you think of these ideas? Are there other things we should do? Can someone recommend products and placement for idea #2?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about home improvement – mmathis Aug 21 '17 at 15:28
  • @mmathis Pest control has always been on-topic here. – Niall C. Aug 21 '17 at 15:58
  • @mmathis you know there is a pest-control tag? – capybaralet Aug 21 '17 at 19:46
  • @NiallC. Pest control may be on topic, yes, but this question is not how to control pests. It's about verifying the procedure(s) used, and smells like a contract issue to me - which is off-topic. In addition, it's rather broad. My close message could have been better, sure. If no one agrees, mine will remain the only close vote I guess. – mmathis Aug 21 '17 at 20:09
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First, I'm not a lawyer. Second, I know 100% that a landlord is required to provide habitable living spaces if they are renting for occupancy purposes. A proven existing condition such as a bedbug infestation is near certain proof that he has not (yet) provided habitable living accommodations and there is already precedent set when the rental is not habitable; therefore it would be advisable to seek legal counsel to ensure you are paying only if you should be. Further, if I recall correctly, for a situation like this the landlord only needs to prove they are taking the correct actions to resolve the issue. E.g., using extermination services is such an action. Now, it is questionable whether your business relationship is off to the right start, you be the judge, and let legal counsel assist.

The real answer to your question is that you cannot be reasonably certain. There simply is no way.

Also, if everything you've said above is on the table and nothing is left out or massaged, then technically it is not your job, nor should you really want it to be your job to solve the problem. Unfortunately, bedbugs are hitchhiker bugs and they can get anywhere, any number of ways. The landlord could have successfully exterminated the issue in the apartment, and one of your belongings could have brought it in, even if you didn't have any issue where it came from. Far fetched? Sure. But still possible.

Numerous articles and research identify heat treatment as a sure thing, presuming the heat gets to the bugs, and it has to be at the right temperature for the right length of time. A series of treatments with different chemicals may be employed, dust in outlets and switches, with the covers off. And now that you have possessions on the premises, these should be treated as well. Also, most exterminators will recommend a re-inspection and re-treatment around 20 days after the initial treatment to get any that have since then hatched, and a second shot at what could have been missed the first time. If there was truly "an easy" way that was not obtusely cost prohibitive to detect success, exterminators would employ it, or be required to employ it by the paying clients.

I have experienced the unfortunate gift these pests brought me by finding their way into a duplex. Of course while it had been occupied by the same people for a very long time, the fingers were pointed in all directions. I chose the path of whole house as to avoid misses and while clearly I didn't introduce the problem, I was going to be stuck with it no matter what. It was extremely costly, and the job was not performed well at all. On the second treatment I had the owner of the company involved and they had two people perform the work and took their time. Like I said, it was not cheap, but the problem is thankfully gone.

Your ideas are all fine, but they are not fool proof and there aren't any foolproof options, so any suggestions you get are only that - suggestions. At the end of the day the only SURE PROOF you get is TIME, the longer they have no food the more die off, but even then I have read of people seeing them months afterwards *(no idea how, but still, you read about it).

  • The eggs can apparently live up to 1.5 years, and the adults 1 year WITHOUT food, IIRC. – capybaralet Aug 22 '17 at 2:43
  • I've heard something to that effect but never gave it much credence since that is nowhere near their normal cycle, I'd suspect the eggs would have to be "cold" to do that. Its like saying a woman can give birth in 3 years, not 9 months. A bit silly, but give or take a few months can happen. (I realize its not a real relatable analogy, just the point that their cycles are MUCH faster than a humans, so 1.5 years is .... also hard to swallow) scientificamerican.com/article/top-10-myths-about-bed-bugs – noybman Aug 22 '17 at 4:13
  • thanks for the link, but I didn't see anything about how long the eggs can live in that doc; it does say that they can live up to 1 year (e.g. in colder climates) – capybaralet Aug 22 '17 at 20:09
  • It states the eggs hatch in ten days. It then goes on to mention that its 5-6 weeks to develop into adults, and 3-4 months without a meal. That is their normal development pattern in a standard climate. Granted, it then discusses reports of up to a year without food in colder climates. I realize that doesn't answer if an egg can survive cryostasis,,but You don't live in the arctic do you? (Sometimes I think I do hehe) – noybman Aug 23 '17 at 3:07
  • I have the impression that eggs might hatch only when there are signs of humans (e.g. C02), and otherwise may not hatch for a long time (e.g. in a vacant apartment). – capybaralet Aug 25 '17 at 0:59
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All your drawers have to be emptied, open, closets cleared, etc for heat treatment to work. Some exterminaators will let you leave them on the floor loosely so they are treated as well, some do not.

The personal items are your responsibility, typically. Without treating the personal items, the problem will return.

Also, to note, extermination is not a black and white science. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In all my years of maintenance work, I have never seen a first treatment completely work, always took a followup.

That's just the bricks.

Other than that, I think your own suggestions are spot-on, nothing to add. Bedbugs suck.

  • I'm pretty confident the exterminator service will indeed treat the personals in the home provided the prep sheet is adhered to. (at least that is their standard practice). They sell it as included. – noybman Aug 22 '17 at 0:31

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