Turning Failure into Success: Bed Bug Management in Affordable Housing

Presenter: Rick Cooper, PhD - Rutgers University, Cooper Pest Solutions, Terminix

Presented on: July 11th 2018

Chronic bed bug infestations and severe bed bug infestation rates in multifamily buildings are becoming more common due to the lack of effective bed bug management programs. This webinar presentation will increase housing professional’s understanding of how bed bugs are successfully controlled with examples of assessment-based management plans. Participants will learn 1) how and why bed bugs spread throughout living communities resulting in high infestation rates and escalating management costs, 2) why bed bug management has been largely ineffective in affordable housing communities 3). what methods are most effective for controlling bed bugs, 4) to apply a scientifically proven method for complex-wide management of bed bugs in affordable housing communities that results in long-term cost savings and improved quality of life for residents.

If you work in affordable housing you don’t want to miss the opportunity to register for this free training to hear Rick Cooper. Rick worked in the pest management industry before earning his Ph.D. at Rutgers University where his research focused on bed bug management with an emphasis on affordable housing communities. He is currently the Director of Special Programs at Terminix and is also serving as Technical Director for Cooper Pest Solutions. His unique background combining industry perspective and real-world experience with scientific research will provide you with realistic and effective solutions specific to the challenges found in the affordable housing environment.

PDF of the presentation

Certificate of Completion

BedBug Central's RFP for bed bug service

BedBug Central's Affordable Housing Resource Guide and Documents Package


Questions and Answers from the live webinar

If you have any remaining questions send a message to stoppests@cornell.edu

What should be done when new tenants arrive and state their former place had bed bugs? Normally, we cannot delay the transfer of belongings by a day for heat treatment in the moving van.

If you have new tenants who had bed bugs in their previous home, an inspection and if needed, a treatment should be scheduled as soon as possible. I think it would be a good idea if all tenants had the interceptor traps but if purchasing these for everyone is too expensive, perhaps a few that could be placed in the homes of new tenants and people who have a current or past infestation.

Another possibility is a heat chamber. The ZappBug chamber is about $1500, it’s portable, can fit a small couch and the majority of the tenant’s items could be heat treated right then and there. It takes a few hours but often can be done right in the tenant’s home. This is only necessary if items have visible signs of bed bugs. Offer a free inspection. It’s preferable to heat treat before the furniture gets carried through the hallways. Tenants could also be given free laundry tokens to “heat treat” items that would fit in a dryer. Some housing sites have a dryer kept separately, just designated for bed bugs and needs no tokens or coins. There are also smaller heat chambers about the size of a chest freezer. Freezers are also an option for small items when in a pinch. Freeze items 4 days at zero degrees. Another option to consider – steam cleaners. It doesn’t have to be a fancy commercial steamer, just a consumer grade steamer is fine. There is skill and technique involved. Find out more about using steam here: https://www.bed bugs.umn.edu/bed-bug-control-in-residences/steamers

The good news is, if they report, you are on to the issue before it becomes a big problem. If a visit from the pest control technicians is done early, they have a head start and knowing and responding early is half the battle.

Is Freezing effective?

There are two kinds of freezing. One is placing things in a freezer and other is the rapid freeze technology, which essentially is applying rapid freeze directly to the insects. A household freezer can be effective for destroying bugs and eggs but you need to leave the items in the freezer set at zero for at least four days to get proper penetration. As far as the rapid freeze technology goes, it is effective on contact. The bugs that you hit will die from the rapid freeze but there is a lot of skill and technique involved and if it’s not applied correctly, the bugs can recover or the bugs can be blown off of the treatment surface. So, yes, it’s an effective tool for a direct kill but requires a lot of technique and does not penetrate surfaces as steam does.

Are interceptors a one-time use? Can they be used more than once? Is there a recommendation as to how many pitfall traps are needed per bed and do you need one per bed or do you need one under each bed leg?

Interceptors can be used repeatedly. Sometimes they need to be replaced if they are damaged and as they get dirty, they need to be cleaned. The ClimbUp® interceptors have a talcum powder inside that needs to be reapplied periodically, usually every couple of weeks. The blackouts are designed to not need that level of maintenance and volcanoes to require very little maintenance. So as long as there are not a lot of particles or things that create bridges for the bed bugs out of the interceptors, then its going to be working. So, maintenance varies between different types and they only need to be replaced if they reach a point where they are too dirty or too damaged.

In terms of the number to use, there is a recent study by Karen Vail at the University of Tennessee where they looked at how many interceptors are needed. In her study, she found that you can detect bed bugs with a single interceptor underneath or next to the bed. However, I would still recommend placing multiple interceptors depending on the type of interceptor you are using. If you are still using under legs interceptor, I would recommend under each corner of the bed and under each leg of the furniture. Sometimes the furniture has sixteen legs, so you do not necessarily want to do all sixteen legs but you certainly want to do the outer legs at a minimum. So, it again comes back to what you can afford to do. The more interceptors you put out, the more likely you are to detect infestations. The volcanoes and the active volcanoes are of the leg interceptors, typically recommending two interceptors under the bed and two inceptors under the upholstered furniture. There is not a hard and fast rule and again comes back to what are your financial resources and in what kind you invest.

Does it matter if encasements are plastic or cloth?

Initially, years ago I would have said that plastic encasements are a bad idea because they tear. But we are finding that plastic encasements are very difficult for bed bugs to remain on. They don’t have sticky pads on their feet but they have claws. So they can’t really navigate the slippery surface of the plastic encasements and we find that a lot of people in affordable housing are using plastic, so we are actually doing research on that now and trying to look at the impact of plastic vs fabric. At this point, we don’t have answers for that. But one thing that I can tell you now is that if you do a plastic encasement on beds, it drives bed bugs off of beds.

What about residual pesticides in lieu of encasements?

I haven’t been an advocate of applying pesticides to sleeping areas. Some of them are labeled and as long as the label permits it, it’s legal but it’s a poor choice. Encasements are more effective and we all know that these pesticides are not going to work 100% in the first place and sleeping areas are sensitive areas. Encasements are far more effective tools. While they may be more expensive, I think it’s the more appropriate tool to be used for beds.

Do you need a special vacuum or does a standard vacuum works for pest control?

A standard vacuum will work just fine. However, we don’t know what the implications are for allergens. We know that when vacuuming for cockroaches, we want HEPA vacuums to contain the allergens. We don’t know what the impact is for bed bugs so a HEPA filter is recommended but it’s not absolutely necessary. The strength of the vacuum doesn’t really matter. Any vacuum will be sufficient to remove bed bugs from surfaces. You’re not going to remove bed bugs from cracks and textured surfaces like wood and that’s where steam takes over for where vacuums have limitations. The biggest concern with vacuums is you have to be careful about vacuums becoming infested. There is a lot of care that goes into using the vacuum and how you’re handling it afterwards– immediately removing the bag, checking the vacuum for bed bugs, containing the vacuum bag and discarding it. You should have a dedicated vacuum that you use for bed bug work and nothing else because you don’t want dispersal or movement of bugs. So, there is a little bit that goes into the use of vacuums.

What’s more effective heat or pesticides? How effective and how long to use for and what’s the temperature to maintain?

Heat is the most effective way of destroying bed bugs and their eggs. With pesticides, you never know what you are going to get. I would recommend a heat approach over a pesticide approach because we have had a resistance which impacts how effective pesticides are going to be. That being said heat is not considered a standalone solution either and its used in conjunction with pesticides, usually in conjunction with pesticide dust like silica dust, sometimes with pesticide sprays. So whole structure heat treatment for apartments is a very effective tool but you have to recognize that it won’t overcome clutter problems because the heat is working with airflow and if you have a lot of clutter and things are on the floor, the bed bugs are going to move to those areas where the clutter exists because the heat won’t penetrate those areas. So, when you have highly cluttered apartments or if you have infestations that are insides of walls, heat is prone to failure. Heat is also prone to failure in solid concrete construction as compared to wood construction. It is a very long process but very effective process when done correctly.

Temperatures typically need to be raised to about 120° to kill bugs and eggs. You need that temperatures to be slightly above 120° and then a lot of manipulation with the furniture for the heat to penetrate through all areas. The whole process takes about a good 6 hours or potentially longer to do an effective heat treatment.

Whole unit heat treatments can be very expensive. An IPM approach that utilizes pesticides and heat tools like steam or heat chambers can be a cost-effective option. It’s all about how thorough the treatment is.

How often do you recommend treatments?

Treatments are typically recommended to be about two weeks apart according to the cycle of the bed bugs because one week apart is too soon and three weeks apart is too long.

Have you had experience using the new bio pesticide and if so, did you have success?

I haven’t personally worked with Aprehend® but I know that Jeff White with BedBug Central has done some work with it and he may be doing some more work with it. It may be a bit too early for me to comment. But it sure looks promising and seems to have a future in bug management, I am just not sure what that place is going to be.

What about the permethrin mattress liners?

These are chemically impregnated mattress liners that get placed on the mattress and over box springs. I have never been a fan or advocate of putting an impregnated cover on a mattress. The manufacturers have started using these more for the box springs and less for the mattress. So that it is not near where the people are sleeping. I know people are still using them on mattresses. But I still suggest that non-chemical encasements have more benefits than a chemically impregnated liner.

Are IGR not really effective for bed bugs?

There have been conflicting studies done. So no real consensus on the roles of IGR and it's used as a bed bug control product.

Do bed bugs carry disease?

Not that we know of right now. But there is new evidence that they may trigger allergies.

How are pesticides dusts different as compared to how liquid pesticides are used?

Liquid pesticides are considered residual materials. They are applied through low-pressure spray application equipment and there’s also aerosols. These products work best for contact kill. Once they dry, the effectiveness can be variable from effective to not effective at all. Their effectiveness depends on the product and population and their level of resistance.

The dust materials can be compared (in texture) to talcum powder. They are very fine dusts. There are both chemical dust and non-chemical dust like the desiccant dust. There is a product called CimeXa, a silica-based dust, which is considered to be highly effective. One of the advantages of the dust is that they offer a residual effectiveness. They are physical kill. They dehydrate the insect and cause water loss. So they have less issue with resistance. We haven’t seen any resistance to date with the desiccant dust. They are also desirable because they are not a toxin. But the challenge is that they are very light and difficult to apply so there is a little bit more time and skill in the proper application of dust than there is to liquids.

Does the flooring material impact dispersal like carpet vs wood or tiles? Did you observe any patterns?

We didn’t specifically look at the flooring in regards to dispersals. But we had many apartments with tile floorings while others with carpets. But I don’t think the flooring made any difference.

How do these pitfall traps work in detail? What causes the bed bug to climb into the trap?

When pitfall traps are placed under the bed legs, they interrupt the bed bugs which travel from the room to the bed. All bed bugs need to eat so they will eventually make their way to a sleeping human. If you have encased box spring and mattresses and made the bed, bed bugfree with laundering bedding, and you pull the bed away from your walls, the bed bugs only have one way up the bed legs. They climb up because their instinct tells them they need to climb up for food and they get caught in the slippery cup where they will eventually die. Some models use talc powder to make it more slippery. All of them have to be cleaned periodically because dust build-up will allow them to gain footing and climb out. What if you have no bed legs? Bed bugs still have the instinct to climb up in search for food and when they approach a vertical surface they always climb it. In addition, they are constantly moving, they will eventually run into an interceptor that’s placed by a wall near a bed. Won’t work as well as those placed under the bed legs but they still tend to catch bed bugs. I recommend placing them next to a bed if there’s no bed legs, next to the wall on the head end of the bed.


Contact stoppests@cornell.edu  for more information.