Bed bugs, Housing Inspectors, and Homeowners

by nobugsonme on June 18, 2010 · 8 comments

in bed bug detection, bed bug treatment, bed bugs

An article on the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) website entitled “Inspecting for the new ‘House Herpes'” (nice), written by Nick Gromicko and Rob London, argues that

[Home] Inspectors should learn the telltale signs of these pests and be capable of providing information to their clients.

I agree 100%!

House inspectors need to know what bed bugs and their signs look like, what clients with bed bugs need to do, and even how to avoid bringing bed bugs home after the inspection.  I am glad InterNACHI is making members aware of the bed bug pandemic.

However, I was surprised to see some of the advice that the authors recommended to inspectors in this article.  They write:

Inspectors may want to recommend the following tactics before homeowners hire a bed bug exterminator:

*Thoroughly wash, vacuum and clean all surfaces and bedding.

* Wash or dry-clean bedding and affected clothing. Use hot water and a dryer on the hottest setting possible.

* Vacuum mattresses, seal them in plastic, and leave them outside in the hot sun for as long as possible.

* Steam-clean carpets.

* Remove bed skirts, as they provide easy access for the bugs to travel from the floor to your bed. If you must have bed skirts, make sure they do not reach the floor.

* Move your bed away from the wall. Bed bugs cannot fly, but they can climb walls in order to fall onto the bed.

* Place furniture legs in tin cans, since the bugs cannot climb metal. They also have difficulty climbing glass and crossing petroleum jelly.

* Place a strip of duct tape at the base of furniture with the sticky side out. This tactic can be used to confirm the presence of bed bugs because it will trap them in place.

* Spray cracks and crevices with an insecticide designed to control bed bugs. Follow the label’s directions carefully. However, do not treat bedding, towels or clothing with insecticide.

[Emphasis added.]

Actually, some of the steps which are bolded and italicised should not, be done before homeowners contact a pest management professional, or PMP — and  specifically one with knowledge and experience in eliminating bed bugs, and one who actually takes time to do a thorough inspection.  Still others of these bolded and italicised steps should probably not be undertaken at all.

Washing and cleaning all surfaces and bedding before a pro inspects for bed bugs is a bad idea.  So is steam cleaning your carpets.

Why?

Because the PMP needs to inspect your home and find where the evidence of bed bugs is located before anything is done.

Many people “wash away” evidence of bed bugs, making it hard for PMPs to treat.

Some people even spread their bed bug problems around the home by trying to clean up.  Throwing things out can spread bedbugs en route to the curb.  Nothing should be cleaned away or moved around the home before a pro inspects for bed bugs.

I also do not recommend rushing to encase the mattress.  Encasements can be useful, and you may want to research them and purchase good ones, but applying them should happen after the PMP inspects — in many cases, s/he will want to treat the mattress or box springs before you put the cover on.

Placing mattresses in sealed bags in the hot sun will not necessarily kill bed bugs, and consumers should be aware that many experts recommend against this because it is not reliable.

The New York State IPM bed bug FAQs warn:

Don’t wrap items in black plastic and leave them in the sun: it needs to get hotter than that to kill bed bugs, and heat needs to evenly penetrate the entire item.

And Dr. Michael Potter says, in the PCT article “Killing them softly: battling bed bugs in sensitive accounts” (1/19/2007):

Lethal outdoor temperatures have long been employed in the battle against bed bugs. In the tropics, infested bedding is often left out in the sun and such methods can also be used during warm seasons in this country. It’s risky, however, to rely on ambient heating to achieve lethal temperatures in all harborage locations. Wrapping items in plastic before placing them outdoors in a sunny location (preferably on pavement), produces higher internal temperatures. It also pays not to over pack — more trash bags with fewer items make it harder for bed bugs to find cooler places to hide. Monitoring with a thermometer is also prudent, with a target internal temperature of at least 120° F.

In other words, sealing a mattress and placing it in the sun may work if you live in a very hot climate (think the southwest desert in July, rather than just-about-anywhere in July). I would not rely on it unless I was certain the item’s core temperatures had reached 120 and maintained this temperature (or higher) for an hour.

Placing legs of beds or other furniture in cans or glass containers is not recommended.  Bed bugs can, in fact, climb metal (many people with metal bed legs can confirm this).

Some people recommend a can or jar containing oil (mineral oil, for example), which should trap bedbugs.  But this tactic may unfortunately also deter bed bugs.  Wrapping bed and furniture legs in duct tape or petroleum jelly also may deter bedbugs from climbing up, and deterrence does not help the situation.  Deterring bed bugs from climbing on the bed with bed legs wrapped in duct tape or petroleum jelly may cause bed bugs to spread and take up harborage elsewhere.

Here’s an alternative idea: ClimbUp Interceptors are an inexpensive new product which experts recommend for placement under bed or furniture legs, if available.  Not only can they be purchased for around $20 per bed or other 4-leg item, but ClimbUp Interceptors trap bed bugs that climb onto or off of bed or furniture legs, rather than deterring them (as jars of liquid, tape, or petroleum jelly can do). This allows for continued monitoring of the presence of bedbugs and also shows which direction a caught bed bug was moving in (climbing on or off), which is helpful to know for treatment purposes.

Anyone wanting to try and avoid bed bug bites in bed should read our FAQ about protecting the bed, which gives step-by-step information.  However, keep in mind you want to follow your PMP’s advice and make sure your plans fit in with theirs.

Finally, if you have actually confirmed the presence of bedbugs, I strongly advise against do-it-yourself bed bug treatment.

To put things bluntly, from a home inspection perspective, if you want bedbugs gone, sooner, in order to maintain the home’s value, do not jump in with a DIY bed bug treatment program.

Bed bug treatment is mostly about skill and knowledge of this creature, and less about the tools used (and good bed bug pros will have access to better tools in many cases, and knowledge of how to use various tools together).

Rushing in with DIY treatment can make the problem worse, can cause health problems for your family and pets, and can mean you are living with bed bugs longer.

Home Inspectors and their clients may find our Bedbugger FAQs helpful.

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1 Lou June 21, 2010 at 4:53 am

I wrote a person (Director of Communications) on the website (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI)- didn’t have the email addresses of the authors- and hopefully she will forward the information to them. Actually located the second author’s address later and forwarded email to him.

2 Lou June 21, 2010 at 5:06 am

Just an addendum to previous post. Located senor author email address, so forwarded the message to both.

3 nobugsonme June 21, 2010 at 8:27 am

Thanks, Lou!

I can’t praise highly enough your patience and persistence in trying to correct information about bed bugs in the media.

4 Toronto Real Estate June 21, 2010 at 11:50 am

I can’t believe they would recommend some of these things BEFORE the inspector comes, wow! Thanks for the advice, this is crucial information that new home buyers and sellers need to inform themselves on.

5 Lou Sorkin June 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

The authors said that they are updating their site to reflect changes. Sent them more info so they should update it again.

6 Jane June 24, 2010 at 2:57 am

I think that you may have overlooked the fact that the quoted article refers to steps that a homeowner should take before the exterminator arrives to kill the bugs, not before the inspector arrives to confirm their existence.

7 nobugsonme June 24, 2010 at 3:06 am

Hi Jane,

The article did not say the homeowner should do these things after having a pest pro inspect, but before having them treat the home, as you seem to be implying was the intent. It said,

“Inspectors may want to recommend the following tactics before homeowners hire a bed bug exterminator…”

While it is possible to get a bed bug inspection without hiring a pest pro in some cases, I think that most people would interpret this, as I did, as suggesting people start with these steps.

In any case, after receiving feedback on these issues from Dr. Louis Sorkin, and perhaps after also reading this post, the InterNACHI editors have updated the article.

I don’t have more time to comment on it right now, but clicking on the link above will show the updates.

8 CiLecto June 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Who is “NACHI” anyway? There are at least three “trade organizations” for home inspectors; ASHI, NIBI and now, I guess, NACHI. A few years back, I was in the market for an inspector, and ran across ASHI and NIBI and recall their people throwing barbs at each other, questioning each other’s competence and independence. Wonder how those two respond to this one.

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