Winnipeg landlord bakes bedbugs dead

A Winnipeg landlord who had bedbugs in his suites has come up with his own solution for destroying the pests — he bakes them to death.

A Winnipeg landlord who had bedbugs in his suites has come up with his own solution for destroying the pests — he bakes them to death.

Leon Wieler took an old equipment trailer, installed heaters and fans, and now heats the inside to a temperature that's fatal to bedbugs.

Bedbugs in Leon Wieler's apartment block may soon be a thing of the past thanks to his baking technique. ((Alex Brandon/Associated Press))
Wieler calls that temperature the "thermal death point."

"It was a matter of necessity," said Wieler, who owns a 36-suite building. "I had my first case of bedbugs about four years ago. I'm a very hands-on landlord. I do my own repairs, that's what I do. And the response I was getting from my exterminators wasn't adequate.

"So I did my research and I became an exterminator, and I built my bedbug oven because the research has found that heat is the Achilles heel of the bedbug."

After learning extermination, Wieler says, he needed a way to treat furniture, mattresses, TVs and computers.

He tried putting various furnishings in the trailer and eventually discovered that bedbugs die when the temperature hits 50 C.

Precise heating required

It sounds simple, Wieler says, but it took nearly four months of experiments to get the process right. Too high a temperature in one spot can start a fire or melt something; too low in another might mean some bedbugs survive.

He also had to figure out how long it would take the heat to penetrate various types of furniture.

"If you're just heating mattresses and couches, you can make the temperature go very high with no difficulties. If you're wanting to treat TVs and computers and VCRs, you have to concentrate on a very, very high air flow and a minimum of heat," Wieler said.

"I don't have an engineering background so I had to learn this all by trial and error. But trial and error is a good teacher."

For mattresses, he turns the temperature up to about 55 C and bakes them for about four hours. He bakes electronics at a lower temperature for up to 20 hours.

Manitoba plans strategy

Cities across the continent have seen a surge in bedbugs, partly because of an increase in international travel but also because of a ban on highly toxic pesticides such as DDT and a growing bedbug resistance to lower-strength insecticides.

Earlier this month, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced his government is developing a strategy to fight bedbugs that will include marshalling each municipality in the fight and co-ordinating techniques to exterminate them to stop the infestation.

Ontario recently rolled out a $5-million plan to educate and fund public health agencies across the province to help fight bedbugs.

Wieler says his cooker is only one component of his bedbug control strategy. He says he still must make sure tenants are careful not to reintroduce bedbugs to his building, but he says the cooker has helped keep the apartments bedbug-free.

His cooker wasn't cheap to build: Wieler says he spent about $14,000 just for materials, including industrial quality heaters.

As well, he adds, about one per cent of items don't survive the trailer treatment. Unusual types of plastic are usually the problem.