While the conditions under which technicians worked in 2020 were different, their approach to managing bed bugs was consistent with previous years. Insecticides continued to be the go-to treatment protocol, with 97 percent of PMPs reporting using them and 77 percent adding that insecticides were their primary means of control. The latter figure represents a 6 percent increase over our 2020 report, perhaps reflecting continuing improvements in efficacy. Meanwhile, the number of PMPs using heat as their primary treatment has declined slightly to 13 percent (compared with 15 percent in 2020 and 16 percent in 2019).

“How we treat depends on the level of infestation and the customer’s budget,” says Patrick Wyman of Epcon Lane Pest Control. “If a home is overpopulated with bed bugs, we recommend heat. Not everyone goes for that because of the cost (property managers are especially cost-conscious), and so we’ll offer them the same three-visit treatment program we recommend for smaller infestations. We use a liquid pesticide, dust and possibly steam during the first two visits and use the third visit to inspect. At that point, the home should be clear of bugs.”

Gary Andrews decided three years ago to take a different tack from the multiple service call model. After a single pesticide treatment, customers of Prudential Pest Management are told to wait 20 days before reporting any active bed bugs. “We had noticed that customers would call saying they saw bed bugs in the 20 days following treatment, but after that point, calls stopped. So now we do a one-time treatment with a three-month warranty and set customer expectations for the 20-day wait. Only two out of 10 customers call back after that time period, so we do a second treatment for them. But we’re saving eight trips we would have automatically made previously. That frees up a significant amount of time for other service calls,” Andrews says.

David Poplin prefers the one-and-done approach as well, but Legion Pest Management’s protocol of choice is fumigation. “We use a variety of treatments, but for single-family homes, fumigation is often the best. It offers immediate control and is the only all- encompassing treatment approved in our state,” he explains. “It’s more expensive than liquid applications, but 30 percent of our customers choose it anyway, in part because with California’s drywood termite problem, they see it as a means to eliminate both pests with one service.”

Low Prep Eases Burden

Historically, it’s been tough for PMPs to get customers to do their part in controlling their bed bug infestations. Prep lists could get overwhelming in a hurry, so you never really knew what you might be walking into for that first treatment. Today, low-prep treatments, which 46 percent of survey respondents said they use, can minimize potential frustration for both parties.

“With the initial service, we don’t want to disturb the bed bugs, so there’s no prep involved,” says Ashley Roden of Sprague. “We surround the feeding area — treating around the bed, couch or other areas where the bugs are getting their bloodmeals — using dust, aerosols and other liquid treatments. We may leave a prep sheet for the second and any subsequent service calls.”