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Bed Bug Treatments: Chamber Heat vs Whole Room Heat

Serving Families Throughout Atlanta

I have recently received quite a few questions on the merits of different heat methods.  I have addressed a few of the others in prior blogs, so here we can dig deeper into the issue of chamber vs. whole room.

Chamber heat involves taking the contents of a room and stacking them up on the mattress and then building an insulating box around the items.  The box can be created from a variety of containers and sealed as appropriate.  Small heaters (theoretically) can be used, so the equipment necessary is less costly than whole room heat.

The advantages of this procedure weigh heavily on the side of the pest control professional.  The investment necessary to perform this chamber heat treatment is about 1/4 the cost of the equipment for whole room heat.  Less manpower is necessary and the success of the treatment is better than spraying alone but does not compare to the success of whole room heat.

The big disadvantage to chamber heat is that you are missing bugs!  It is well known that if you are treating with pesticides that wall voids, cove bases, etc must be treated too.  This means that the bed bug will live in places besides furniture and belongings.  Common sense will tell you that the chamber misses bugs, so a chamber heat treatment still requires pesticide application in the room, driving bed bugs to other locations and deeper into hiding.  This will greatly increase infestation spreading.  In addition, the treatment misses other critical areas such as curtain valances, AC units, etc. that cannot be placed in the chamber.   If the chamber is external to the structure (a truck or container not in the treated space) the opportunity to spread bugs to other units in the transport of the furniture to the chamber is very high.  So needless to say, I have not bet my future on chamber heat.

In digging further on this issue I came across an article from the University of FL that studied the use of chamber heat back in 2008.  It is interesting to see what was being explored in 2008, but what it really tells me is that if chamber heat was really successful back then, it would be everywhere now.  It is not.  Whole room heat is the standard for first-time success.

Remembering that hindsight is 20/20, here are a few thoughts on the study.  It is amazing how far we have come in just a few short years.

  1. It took between 2-5 hours to get to the appropriate temperature, very long considering it was a small box and not a whole room.  In comparison, most whole room hotel heat takes about an hour to heat the whole room.  Then in the study, they did not hold the kill temp for any period of time. Once the kill temp was reached, they shut it down.  This is a good way to determine the length of heat time, but not effective in killing 100% of bed bugs.
  2. Naturally, all their bugs tested were in vials to contain them.  While this is important to the test, it is not real life.  Bed bugs will panic as the heat rises and search for cold pockets.  If your heat takes a long time to rise, is not evenly distributed and cold pockets are available, then bed bugs will run, hide and survive.  Their bugs in vials did not have this opportunity to hide, so they died.
  3. They only used a few temp gauges which gave an overall temp, but as discussed in #2 did not measure where the cold pockets existed.
  4. The heaters they used were oil home heaters and after 11 attempts the temps reached kill temp within 3 hours.  The right equipment is critical.

Why I like whole room heat better:

  1. The equipment is expensive but it is specifically designed to heat a whole room for bed bugs.  It is extraordinarily effective at its job – which makes me very good at my job.  We have less than a 2% failure rate with ONE treatment, which is unheard of in this industry.
  2. An average hotel room will get to the kill temp in 1 hour.  This short duration is critical to not letting bugs escape and efficiency of the remediation.
  3. Once kill temp is reached you leave it running for 2-3 hours to ensure full permeation of the heat deep into every piece of furniture.  We have a great laser thermometer that I can shoot at a piece of furniture and tell what the temp is after a few hours in the heat.  Typically the furniture is hotter than the room because it absorbs the heat. The laser helps me find cold pockets too.
  4. Electric heat is easy to regulate and safe, not the same as propane.  We have auto-shutoff mechanisms that kick in when heater intakes reach 135 degrees.  This ensures that temperatures will not reach too high.  Over 150 degrees will start to affect electronics, wall coverings and sprinkler heads, but this is not an issue for electric whole room heat.
  5. We have 24 wireless temperature sensors that we place all over the room.  This identifies cold pockets and allows me to re-direct the airflow to ensure kill temp uniformity across the whole space.  It ensures complete room remediation – it gets ALL the bugs, even the ones in the curtain valance, the baseboards, etc.
  6. With excellent temperature monitoring, easy methods to balance temps and automatic safety triggers there really is no comparison.  There is no need to utilize pesticides when treatment is done correctly. Whole room heat can literally be pesticide-free and bed bug-free all at the same time.  I don’t even own a sprayer!

Well, I think that should cover it.  Chamber heat is more effective than pesticides but a 75% success rate is very different than a 98% success rate with whole room heat.  Can you imagine going back to 25% of your sites and having to redo the treatment all over again?  That is not an effective model in my book.

May the heat be with you!

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