New Vancouver building installs “sauna” for decontaminating bed bug-infested items

by nobugsonme on June 17, 2008 · 12 comments

in bed bug education, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, british columbia, canada, furniture, heat, mattresses, thermal treatment, vancouver

Wendy Stueck writes in today’s Globe and Mail that a new Vancouver apartment building is going to have a sauna for decontaminating bed bug-infested items. Talk about planning ahead:

. . . a housing complex under construction in Vancouver will include what’s been dubbed the “bedbug sauna,” a room where furniture, clothing and other belongings can be heated to a point that kills Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug enjoying a worldwide resurgence.

The idea was born of frustration with the rising cost of treating bedbug infestations and the desire to find some way to get rid of them that wouldn’t force people to throw away their belongings, says George Simpson, operations manager for RainCity Housing, the non-profit group that has ordered the bug room for a 92-unit complex now under construction.

“Inevitably, belongings had to be disposed of that couldn’t be treated or laundered,” says Mr. Simpson, for whom bedbugs have become a major headache in recent years.

The room will be big enough to hold mattresses and other bulky furniture, and equipped with technology that allows contents to be heated to a point that cooks bugs and their eggs.

It’s not a bad idea.

Parakeets fantasized about her idea of an apartment with attached sauna for decontamination purposes repeatedly on the Bedbugger yahoo group. And along similar lines, I spoke about getting items decontaminated (“sauna’d”) here and elsewhere.

I think it’s a great idea that people are thinking about ways to help people get rid of bed bugs in the future, even while constructing new developments.

The planners got advice from pest control firm Steritech:

The concept is sound, says Judy Black, technical director with Steritech Group Inc., a U.S. pest-control company that last year briefed Vancouver hoteliers on the pests.

“Bedbugs are relatively insusceptible to cold, but they are very sensitive to heat,” says Ms. Black, adding that Steritech is investigating heat as a control method.

A blast of sufficient heat – about 55 degrees [editor’s note: 55 C = 131 degrees F], Ms. Black estimates, applied for a matter of minutes, not hours – would kill bugs without using pesticides that can leave rooms uninhabitable for days.

A room to heat large items may be advisable, so long as it meets applicable regulations, says the bedbug-prevention design guidelines from BC Housing. Currently, there are no standard heating units on the market.

The room could help rein in the cost of bedbug control – including compensation for staff members who pick up bedbugs on the job, which can amount to $800 or more. If the room proves effective, RainCity hopes it will become a model for other housing complexes in the city.

I am curious about some of the logistics about how the room will be used in bed bug treatment.

First, the management and tenants need to know how to safely get items to the room. They need to be sealed carefully in order to prevent infesting hallways, elevators, and other apartments en route.

Furthermore, the building needs to educate tenants about avoiding bed bugs in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, where bed bugs are concerned.

Finally, I am wondering about the logistics of decontaminating furniture while treating the apartment. Let’s say I have bed bugs in my apartment. My furniture could be removed and baked, but not all at once (the hot room is not that big). Will it then be placed somewhere else until the room is bed bug free and all the contents are as well?

It’s essential to remember that rooms, as well as furniture and other “stuff,” are infested with bed bugs. Returning uninfested items to an apartment where the structure or other remaining furniture or other items still contain bed bugs would simply mean those decontaminated items can be reinfested.

However, RainCity seems to be on top of their game, and so I assume all of this has been worked out by those doing the planning. It is a great idea to provide this kind of service, and with some forethought and education of tenants, this building is has the potential to deal with bed bugs more efficiently than many others.

I am especially excited that RainCity Housing is leading the way by being the first we know of to install a decontamination room in an apartment building. According to their website, they provide housing to people who are homeless, in transition, have mental health or drug issues, and other challenges. They believe everyone should have a home, and clearly, they believe everyone deserves a home without bed bugs. Bravo, RainCity!

As a side note, kudos are also due to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which is taking steps to help stop the spread of bed bugs. The article reminds us that:

The agency also educates landlords, outreach workers and housing agencies about bedbug control and provides some health care workers with “bedbug kits” that include an oversized Ziploc-type bag to hold briefcases and laptops to prevent bedbugs from hitching a ride from an infested site.

These are the kinds of small steps that can make a huge difference: a little knowledge and a cheap, reclosable ziploc. How expensive or hard is that?

I hope agencies in other cities (hello, New York!) will follow suit.

1 BakedBedBugs June 17, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Yes, this is very, very promising. I worry about the short duration they discuss in the article. Most people belongings can be heated through in a matter of minutes.

2 nobugsonme June 17, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Did you mean “can’t”, BakedBedBugs?

That seemed short to me too.

3 BakedBedBugs June 17, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Whoops, I think faster than I type.
Yes you are right I meant “can’t”. Think about a bag of clothes or a couch or stuffed toys. As I know first hand, if you aren’t diligent you can get cold zones where the little buggers can safely hide from the heat.

4 Cody June 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm

And once they’re all gone you’ve got a nice sauna to relax in 😛

5 Nightrider June 18, 2008 at 8:27 am

[Anonymous and potentially libelous comments deleted. Nightrider, if you want to say unsubstantiated negative things about named people and named companies, please name yourself. –editor]

6 BakedBedBugs June 18, 2008 at 11:29 am

I had a long chat with Rain City yesterday. While very exciting, there is much work to be done before this comes to fruition.

7 Cody June 18, 2008 at 10:05 pm

Lots of apartments here have an actual sauna (ie: a sauna for people). I wonder if people could put actual furniture in there, or if they could be modified.

Oh yeah and one more thing – after decontamination when you’re resting in the sauna yourself, you’ve got a whole bunch of crispy snacks laying about to celebrate your victory 😀

(I wonder if anyone in history has tried to eat a bed bug).

8 Andrew June 28, 2008 at 7:31 pm

My wife and I have been staying in an apartment for two weeks and getting bitten. Not too many bites. 2 or 3 at a time, so I imagine there aren’t to many bugs.

We are leaving tomorrow for a new apartment and are worried about transporting bugs with us.
I had toyed with the idea of heating our suitcases and bags (empty) in the sauna for half an hour or so.
What do you think?

We don’t have much stuff, but it seems the little critters can get everywhere?

Any advise would be appreciated

9 nobugsonme June 28, 2008 at 8:44 pm


How hot does your sauna get?

Killing bed bugs with heat is not as easy as you might think. It takes a certain temperature for a certain period of time. I would question whether a 1/2 hour would be enough; 130 F for several hours might do it. But I don’t know more than is included here:

You might consider posting your question on the forums where it might get more responses:

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