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How To Bed Bug Proof Your Apartment Or Condo

April 15, 2011

Did you know that bed bugs have been observed crawling out of one apartment and into another one. These hardy critters have even been seen sauntering between buildings outside on the pavement and tightrope walking on utility wires between apartment buildings. Face it, these ectoparasites have been evolving for as long or longer than we humans have. They exist just to feed on us and procreate. If there is a way to get at us they will find it. They aren't lions, they don't think or have complicated strategies, they don't fly, hop or jump, they're just bugs, but very successful bugs.

Remember, Cimex Lectularius is extremely small, especially when it's young or if it hasn't fed in a while. They can fit through the smallest cracks, they can survive months, even up to a year without a meal and they meander in walls and crawl spaces looking for their prey. The idea is to seal as many of these entry points in your apartment as you can.

Before you start the actual sealing there are a few common sense precautions to take when living in an apartment or condo.

- NEVER bring secondhand anything into your home. That means mattresses, couches, stuffed animals etc. If you can fit it into a dryer and it can go through a 1 hour drying cycle on high heat then you can sanitize it and safely bring it home, otherwise forget it.

- Common areas, especially the laundry room, are enemy territory. Sitting in the foyer waiting for a friend can be just the place a crafty bed bug can hitch a ride in your pant cuff or hoody. Treat the gym as you would a hotel room, don't put your towel down, hang it. The same goes for any gym bag or clothing.

The laundry room is particularly susceptible to invasion. This is THE common area where any infested neighbor can transport the enemy to. Although the dryer is your best friend, getting to it and returning home unmolested is the goal. Again, treat this room like a hotel room. Try to load and unload directly from your basket but if you need folding space, then clear a clean space on a hard surface. Keep your basket off the floor. Any items that have been in the dryer for at least 40 minutes on high heat are sure to be free of bugs and eggs. Items that need hang drying or that have been air dried should be inspected and hung. Remember, even a hot water washing does not guarantee a 100% kill rate for bed bug eggs, you need hot air for at least 40 minutes.

- If you store anything in any area of the building,make sure it's in an industrial grade garbage bag that is well sealed. Heavy duty or industrial grade garbage bags are the cheapest, easiest way to prevent infestation, they are bed bug proof as long as they are not torn. Luggage, cushions, seasonal clothes, even when storing in your own apartment, should be packed in a bag. By using the garbage bag method, you prevent infestation and make your life easier if you do acquire a bug problem. Anything in properly sealed bags does not have to be cleaned or thrown out.

- Be aware of what's going on in your building. Who has bed bugs, who is treating for them, who had them, who do you think will have them. What's your landlord's or condo association's pest control policy. If you are social with people in your building make sure they are like-minded with regard to prevention. If you have a friend who doesn't believe that these mini vampires are a problem, well, maybe you should meet him or her outside the building or at least check yourself if you enter their space and limit their exposure to your space.

NON TOXIC PESTICIDE APPLICATIONS

DE - Diatomaceous Earth: DE is your first line of defense. DE is the tiny exoskeletons of diatoms, microscopic sea creatures, ground up to a fine powder. This powder is made up of sharp particles, we can't feel them but when any bug, from aphids to bed bugs, crawls through this powder, the sharp particles scratch off some of the waxy protective coating on the bugs exoskeleton. This causes the bug to die of dehydration. It takes time for DE to work and there have been studies that show some populations of bed bugs have evolved a tolerance to DE, but overall it is an effective completely non toxic method. Make sure any DE you introduce into your home is food grade DE, not the stuff used in pool filters and don't go flinging DE all around, it is still a fine powder which is not meant to be inhaled. Use a cheap face mask when applying DE. Apply DE with a squeeze bottle duster and applicator usually available from the same place you buy your DE.

The concept here it is to have the bug crawl through the DE before it tries to enter your dwelling.

Locate any cracks between base boards, walls and floors. Service entry points like plumbing, electrical, AC, radiators also need to be identified. If you are comfortable with removing electrical switch plates and thermostat control plates you can gently blow DE into these crevices or holes and behind these plates. Any void or crack on any surface that adjoins another apartment is where you must concentrate. If you have the time you can treat interior walls in the same way. Think of the insides of walls as bug highways, if a wall runs from one apartment to another then it is a primary focus point.

If you live in a concrete slab building there will be less entry points than if you live in an old wood framed unit. Older wood floors that have many cracks can be problematic and a professional should be hired to fix and re-seal the surface.

SEALING

The best type of caulking to use for sealing cracks and small holes is silicone. Silicone is waterproof and stays flexible through a wide temperature range, it is also the most expensive. You can use good latex caulk but it will not last as long or be as effective. Some silicone caulking can have a strong smell while it's curing but it doesn't last long. Latex caulking is water soluble so it's easier to clean.

Before applying a bead of caulk along the same cracks you just treated with DE, try to wipe away any excess DE so the caulk will adhere properly. Silicone caulking can be used on holes and cracks up to 1/ 2 inch, anything larger should be sealed with either some type of drywall compound for walls or sealing foam for plumbing or electrical conduits.

If you have no experience with sealing foams, practice outside before attempting interior work. Use non expanding foams as are they are easiest to control and try to get cans that spray from an upright position as opposed to cans that must be held upside down to work.

TRAPS & MONITORS

There are many traps and monitors on the market, some are effective, some are not, some are cheap and some are ridiculously expensive. If you have not experienced any bed bugs in your apartment then spending money on monitors is not needed. The one trapping method which is cheap and easy is double sided tape. Any bug that crawls across the tape gets stuck and eventually will die. Tape can be applied in areas hidden from view like lower kitchen and bathroom cabinets, closets, under beds, behind paintings and head boards etc. Tape can also be used as a threshold barrier at the front door of your apartment but you will have to reapply it periodically.

Double sided tape is almost set and forget, you can apply it and check it once in a while depending on how anxious you are. If a neighbor has been infested then you can accelerate your monitoring times.

Make sure you test the tape on any surface you will use it on. Different manufacturers have different tack strengths. If the tape is too sticky it might damage the surface it is applied when removed.

REPELLENTS

If repellents worked, we wouldn't have a problem. Don't bother.

PESTICIDES

Non Toxic - We have covered DE. What about the myriad of sprays on the market that claim they kill bed bugs but not people. Most of these need to be sprayed directly on the bug and are usually alcohol based. None of them will be effective for more than 1 hour and need to be re-applied, so they would be very expensive to use constantly.

Toxic - There are poisonous pesticides you can purchase. With proper application they can be safe and mildly effective but they also have a short life span and need reapplication more frequently than professional grade pesticides. Again, if pesticides worked perfectly we would not have an infestation problem. Some populations of bed bugs have evolved resistance or outright immunity to pesticides, even the dreaded DDT will not wipe out some populations.

Professional pest control companies use a variety of pesticides, applications and methods to treat infestations, that's why you pay them the big bucks, and I mean big bucks.

It's better to be proactive when it comes to protecting your apartment or condo. A little time and money can prevent the huge costs in time, money and peace of mind associated with a bed bug infestation.
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