It starts small: waking up with a few itchy red bites on your skin, and maybe finding some of their empty shells in your bedroom. But a bedbug infestation can eventually get really, really bad, costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars to resolve and potentially torpedoing your home’s value in the process.
“For most people, bedbugs are more of an annoyance,” says Scott Armbrust, an urban entomologist and pest control expert. “However, there are some who have allergic reactions, and there can be a great deal of emotional stress involved with a bedbug infestation.”
Some of that emotional stress and annoyance, says Armbrust, comes from the fact that getting rid of bedbugs, once they are discovered, can be costly and time-consuming. The right approach, though, can reduce the costs associated with bedbugs, and proper preventative measures can help you avoid the problem altogether.
Cost of killing bedbugs adds up quickly
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  don’t provide an exact dollar estimate for the economic cost of bedbug infestations. However, the CDC does point out that economic losses come from health care, lost wages, lost revenue (for business impacted), and reduced productivity are likely to be substantial. CBS went further, and estimates that between 2006 and 2010, it cost more than $250 million to eradicate bedbugs  nationwide — and that doesn’t even include the indirect costs related to bedbugs. The City of New York includes the cost of combatting bedbugs in its annual budget, setting aside $2 million a year .
And, of course, there are costs that add up on a more personal level. The largest cost is likely to be the eradication of the threat, according to Armbrust.
“Many people spend a couple hundred dollars on DIY chemicals at first,” he says. “But these methods don’t usually work, and an exterminator has to be called anyway. It usually takes an exterminator multiple visits to get rid of a bedbug infestation.”
Armbrust points out that bedbugs are very difficult to get rid of. “You have to treat every crack, everywhere. Bedbugs even live in the screw heads of furniture.” That’s why it can cost between $500 and $600 to treat a one-bedroom apartment, and thousands of dollars to get rid of bedbugs in a house.
On top of the cost of exterminating the bedbugs, there might be costs associated with replacing furniture (especially mattresses), as well as health care, especially if the bedbug bites result in allergic reactions. The cost of treating the bedbug bites isn’t likely to be huge, but it’s still there.
“The CDC says that bedbugs don’t transmit disease, but there can still be issues related to the bites, including stress and anxiety,” Armbrust says.
It’s most difficult to get rid of an infestation in multifamily housing. This is because many units share ventilation, or there might be ways for the bugs to move through the walls.
“If you just treat one rental unit, the bedbugs will scatter, trying to get away,” Armbrust says.
Landlords can spend quite a bit to get rid of bedbugs, since all the adjoining units need to be treated as well as the first infected unit in order to limit the spread of the infestation.
When it comes to home values, you have to be especially careful. Some buyers might not be interested in buying a home that has been subject to a recent bedbug infestation. In order to sell, you might need to offer a warranty, agreeing to pay for extermination if the bed bugs return within a year of the purchase. It might also help if you document the treatment steps you have taken with regard to eradicating the bedbugs. If you live in a co-op, you might have trouble selling your unit if the units around you have been affected. Even if your unit was clean, an infestation in neighboring units could damage your property value.
Preventing bedbug infestations
If you want to avoid the costs associated with eradicated with bedbugs, the best course is prevention. “When you travel, never leave your suitcase on the other bed,” Armbrust says. “Put your suitcase in the bathtub, far away from the bed. Keep your clothes in bags inside the suitcase so that you don’t have to worry about anything other than the suitcase.”
Armbrust also points out that it’s possible to purchase bedbug ovens. These can be large enough for a suitcase or for small pieces of furniture, like chairs. They cost close to $500. However, they are effective.
“Heat kills bedbugs, no question. These ovens can be nice tools,” Armbrust says. For the frequent traveler concerned about bring an infestation home, an oven can offer peace of mind. But it’s also possible to quarantine the suitcase by wrapping it in a plastic garbage bag and leaving it in the garage.
If you do discover bedbugs in your house, it may be wise to call an exterminator rather than waste time trying to get rid of the pests on your own, Armburst says.
“Get multiple quotes,” Armbrust says, “but also pay attention to the techniques used. Different techniques can vary in price and you want to make sure you are comparing apples to apples.”
He also warns against unscrupulous exterminators who can cost you more in the long run. “Watch out for someone who doesn’t offer a guarantee, but promises to do it real cheap,” Armbrust says. “Such an exterminator might come back over and over, rather than taking care of the problem in a smaller number of visits. If done right, it should take no more than three visits to get rid of your bedbugs.”
In the end, the cost of bedbugs depends on what has to be done to get rid of them, and to prevent them from coming back. But it’s not uncommon for the costs associated with bedbugs to run in the thousands of dollars.
(Photos: Flickr users Orin Zebest, MedillDC)