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Manitoba landlord converts old trailer to put the heat on bedbugs

WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg landlord who had bedbugs in his suites has designed and built his own solution for ridding the pests: He literally bakes them to death.

WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg landlord who had bedbugs in his suites has designed and built his own solution for ridding the pests: He literally 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.

Wieler calls that temperature the "thermal death point."

"It was a matter of necessity. 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," explains Wieler, who owns a 36-suite building.

"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."


Wieler said he learned extermination himself but needed a way to treat furniture, mattresses, TVs and computers.

So, Wieler tried putting various items of furnishings in the trailer and eventually discovered that bedbugs die when the temperature hits about 122 degrees F.

It sounds simple, but Wieler said it took nearly four months of experiments to get the cooker right. Too high a temperature in one spot can start a fire or melt something. Too low in another spot 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 more than 160 F and cooks them for about four hours. He bakes electronics at a lower temperature for up to 20 hours.

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

The cooker wasn't cheap. The heaters are industrial quality, and Wieler said he spent about $14,000 just for materials.

Also, about 1 percent of items don't survive the trailer treatment. Unusual types of plastic are usually the problem.

"We once had the plastic turntable ring of a microwave warp. So, the owner put a plate on it and put it in his toaster oven and flattened out and it was fixed," Wieler said.

"Some kids had Lego that didn't appear to be damaged, but the fit wasn't as tight as it used to be," he adds.

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