Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium

Heat treatments for bed bugs have become a commonly accepted alternative (or addition) to conventional pesticide treatments. Consumers frequently feel heat is the “green alternative” that eliminates potential product, dermal or inhalation exposures to people and pets. Fear of pesticides can lead to bodily injury claims from alleged injuries from contact with products used in treatments.

However, the use of heat creates new property damage exposures. The most common claims are damage to personal property, especially fragile plastics, wax, cosmetics, electronics and other items left in the heated environment. The use of a preparation checklist for heat treatments, signed by the customer and retained in your files, can help protect you in these cases. These checklists require the customer to cooperate by removing items, washing clothing and bedding, and eliminating clutter that provides safe, cooler harborage for bed bugs during the treatment. If bed bugs are “protected” during a heat treatment, continued infestations become more likely.

Bed bug (and all general pest) agreements also should include a Bodily Injury disclaimer for insect bites and stings. If you are offering any type of guarantee against reinfestation, remember that heat treatments leave no residual effects and bed bugs can be reintroduced immediately after a hotel room (or any treated area) is put back into inventory or use. The only guarantee that you can make is the elimination of bed bugs in the treated area at the time of treatment. The next hotel guest, subway passenger or movie theater customer can transport bed bugs and start a new infestation.

Bed bug guarantees should be similar to backyard mosquito treatment guarantees in that they promise to reduce populations only on the customer’s property. They do not guarantee against being bitten by mosquitoes or contracting vector-borne illnesses from sources that cross neighboring property lines. You cannot control infestations from sources beyond your control and overpromising a bed bug heat treatment’s future efficacy will create claims exposures.

It is likely you will experience a certain rate of callbacks in high-turnover, high-traffic environments such as hotels. You should be very restrictive in offering any guarantee, especially for sites that have frequent overnight stays by transient customers. You should clearly state the possibility of reinfestation from sources beyond your control in agreements/contracts and expect to perform a certain number of callbacks and treatments at no charge.

SPRINKLER SYSTEMS. Sprinkler deployment is the most expensive and most common property damage arising from bed bug heat treatments. Costs to evacuate water, repair walls, ceilings and floors, replace personal property and subrogate with the customer’s insurance company is costly. These claims often exceed several hundred thousand dollars, especially when they occur with multiple claimants in apartments, hotels and resorts.

You should identify, and have customers deactivate, sprinkler systems prior to treatment and reactivate systems after treatment. Where building codes and system zoning do not allow full deactivation, the use of the manufacturer’s “thermal boots,” should keep temperatures below the trigger point. You should know the thermal calibration for sprinkler sensors in your area, and keep the ambient air temperature below 155°F and the temperature inside the thermal boots below 100°F (especially if conducting heat treatments with active sprinkler systems). Bed bugs and eggs have demonstrated mortality within 90 minutes at 118°F or immediately at 122°F.

During a heat treatment, the air temperature in the room is typically between 135°F and 145°F. Increasing the temperature at the end of the duct work so that ambient air temperature in the treated area rises above 145°F does not kill bed bugs faster or more efficiently and only increases the likelihood of damage to contents and furnishings. Unnecessarily high temperatures also will damage sprinkler sensors, overwhelm protective practices and lead to accidental deployment.

Continuous, remote temperature monitoring in the thermal boots and in the room will ensure proper temperature maintenance while treating rooms with “live” sprinkler systems. It also creates accountability of treatment crew actions similar to GPS reporting for drivers, and ensures maximum heat compliance in the most sensitive area of the treated space. The safest course of action, and the way the vast majority of heat treatment companies now operate, is simply to avoid treatments in “live” sprinkler systems.

Don’t let bed bugs put your firm in the hot seat.
Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium

ALSO THINK ABOUT… Other factors that greatly affect claims for heat treatments include:

  • Use of a dedicated, experienced crew guided by a thorough checklist of preparation and operational procedures.
  • The brand and model of thermal equipment (fully integrated systems outperform “piecemeal” equipment).
  • The heat sources used. Electric, propane and diesel have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on access to the treated space, building exterior and trailer configuration. Electric sources avoid potential combustion fumes and fire risks posed by diesel and propane, and the units need less ventilation and there is no transportation of flammable fuels. However, electric heat requires large amperage power sources, often requiring external power generators. Direct propane heating can produce air at high temperature very quickly and can create excessive hot spots if duct work is not properly placed and air temperatures are not monitored and adjusted. There is also a temptation to set temperature higher than the range needed to kill bed bugs in order to “expedite” the treatment process. This can lead to temperatures in excess of tolerances and can damage unprotected and protected sensors.
  • Heat treatments sites. Single-family dwellings, hotels/resorts, multifamily housing, offices/commercial buildings, retail businesses, transportation conveyances and homeless shelters/halfway houses/group homes have very different risk profiles. They also differ in their likelihood of generating callbacks/treatments and any resulting claims. Single and multi-family homes have stable residents who are less likely to transport bed bugs after treatments. All other treatment sites listed have large numbers of transient guests, residents or users and pose a greater risk of redepositing bed bugs. The sheer number of potential human transporters creates more opportunities for reinfestation and the greater potential for claims.

The author is director of risk management for Xterminator Pro, a Division of Houston International Insurance Group (HIIG) Xterminator Pro. Loss control resources can be found in the “Client Area” of the Xterminator Pro website. He can be reached at afugler@hiig.com or 407/241-3037.