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Heat Treatment Rids Apartments of Bedbugs — by Sending Them to Neighbors'

Tom Soter in Board Operations on August 28, 2012

Manhattan, New York City

Heat Treatment Bedbugs
Aug. 28, 2012

Soon afterward, at our next board meeting, we talked about this bug-frying operation, along with the resident's report that he had gotten a clean bill of health from his exterminator. The bedbugs (also commonly spelled "bed bugs") apparently were gone.

The board was relieved, but we knew it was our duty to check it out and confirm, so we made one of the directors a one-man bedbug committee, tasked with getting bed-bug-sniffing dogs in to inspect the subject apartment and all the surrounding units as well.

Wishing for Mosquitoes

Before any of that could be done, however, my girlfriend and I — who lived directly above the subject apartment — started noticing itchy red welts on our arms and legs. And there were more of them every day. Hoping against hope that they were mosquito bites — we had actually seen a mosquito or two in the apartment — we were relieved when the welts seemed to stop. In retrospect, we realized that the non-appearance of new welts coincided with a cold snap that broke a heat wave, and that cold weather was just the sort of condition that would make bedbugs go undercover.

And sure enough, with the return of the heat came the return of the welts. My girlfriend began searching the apartment, and she discovered a bedbug, which she promptly scotch-taped into place as evidence for the exterminator. When that individual arrived, he pointed out that the bug was not only female and bloated with blood but was also carrying eggs.

It rarely gets hot enough

to kill them and they just

travel up through the

walls to another location.

I was stunned. The mark of Cain (so to speak) was to be put on our heads. We were marked as afflicted, and very shortly afterward, we were about to descend into our own personal hell. The exterminator was named Levant (I never knew whether it was his first or last name, or whether he was related to Oscar Levant), and although he was friendly and sympathetic, he was also quite blunt: The heating of the apartment below us had been a bad move. "It rarely gets hot enough to kill them," he explained, "and they just travel up through the walls to another location."

That would be us.

Almost apologetically, he told us what we had to do: remove every book, CD, DVD, or record and place them in air-tight, double-strength clear plastic bags. I have a lot of stuff I've accumulated after 25 years in the apartment. Almost everything had to be bagged and laid out on the floor for two weeks. A little plastic strip was placed in each bag, releasing fumes poisonous to the bugs (but reportedly harmless to humans).

In the Bag

It was horrendous. If you've never bagged your life, let me tell you, it's excruciating work. Levant said it was like spring cleaning. Except it was done at the point of a gun — er, bug. Since space was limited, we were forced to throw away our couch, countless books, tapes, CDs, DVDs and other personal memorabilia. Ultimately, I expect it will be liberating, but at the time it was just heartbreaking. And exhausting. We just kept at it for hours on hours, trying to get it all finished on the weekend. Needless to say, there were a number of emotional breakdowns along the way.

Another article will explore our board's bedbug strategy. For now, keep in mind that a resident's unilateral heat-pump "solution" may simply spread the problem around.


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