Heating entire home to kill bed bugs – electric versus external boiler

As chemical treatments become less effective in killing bed bugs the concept of heating the bugs to death will gain traction. To date there are two heat source options – electric heaters and external fuel fed boilers. The electric heaters are limited to a maximum output of 145f by UL rules. The average temperature in the room is only 135f because of heat loss and contents absorbing heat. One of the reasons for these limits is that electronics often have a maximum long term storage temperature of 140f (cheap wiring is also rated to 140f) and exceeding this temperature would cause the electronics (and cheap wiring) to lose their UL rating. Should electronics be heated beyond the UL specification and subsequently cause a fire the bed bug heating contractor could be held liable.

To date I have been very reluctant to recommend the electric contractors because of the 145f output limit and subsequent 135f average temperature. Though 135f average temperature would seem to be adequate (bed bugs reliably die within one minute at 122f) bed bugs are often hiding in dense walls, mattresses, and furniture that are difficult to penetrate with heat. In my own experiments I have found that the core temperature of a mattress typically follows 20f behind the average temperature. 135F minus 20f is not hot enough to kill the bugs. Therefore the electric contractor aims the 145f output at the dense items to get the heat to penetrate. Unfortunately the baseboards are also often infested and the 145f output must be directed to these places as well. And if the building is poorly insulated or there are gaps for escape the bugs will not be killed. If the contractor is to be successful the process is painfully slow. And the risk of failure is high.

The external boiler folks, I have noted, pay no heed the the UL designations of the electronics and regularly input 185f and attain average temperature of 155f. Though the success rate for killing the bugs is much higher the electronics have lost their UL designation due to overheating. To me it seems inevitable that the contractors using these types of temperatures will cause insurance losses and disputes – even if they are not to blame for the inevitable fires. Once the electronics have exceeded their UL temperature designation the insurance company will use that information to deny claims. The argument will be that the heating company deliberately and negligently caused the electronics to lose their UL designation and any subsequent fire can and will be blamed on that fact. Insurance companies are in the business to make money – if they can find a reason to deny a claim or shift the losses to other parties they will. An insurance dispute would likely bankrupt the contractor.

The external boiler folks could request that the electronics be removed from the home prior to heating but that has its own problems. Firstly the fridge, stove, washer, dryer, and dishwasher all have electronic components. Are you going to remove all of them? Secondly, though electronics typically do not have bed bugs harbouring in them, the wide spread use of RAID or KONK pushes the bugs into odd locations which includes electronics. Therefore removing the electronics introduces another vector for failure.

To date I have recommended the external boiler contractors to folks contemplating whole home heating because of their ability to penetrate dense items with heat. I will, however, probably never purchase one of these boilers for my own business – the risk of insurance disputes for the inevitable fires (even if not caused by the contractor) is beyond my risk tolerance.


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