Tent Fumigation For Structural Pests

- Expensive, hazardous but sometimes needed -

Summary: Tent fumigation involves using a poison gas or hot air to eliminate insect and/or fungal pests from a structure. Both methods are expensive and may be hazardous. But, for some pests, and certain situations, it may be the only method available.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Tent fumigation with poison gas or hot air

Fumigation is a method of pest control in which a pesticide gas, or sometimes just heated air, is used to eliminate an infestation of insects or decay fungi. Fumigation is commonly used in agriculture to control insect pests and diseases in the soil and grain storage facilities. Tent, or structure fumigation is used to treat infestations of certain pests that such as drywood termites that are not easily controlled any other way (see What are Drywood Termites?). In this case the entire structure is enclosed within a gas-tight tent made of coated tarp or plastic sheets (see photos).

fumigation tent on warehouse

Tarp-style tent fumigation of a small warehouse. Photo by Art Antonelli


Structures are first enclosed in an airtight plastic or cloth "tent" (see photos) that have their edges carefully sealed. Pesticide gas is then released into the enclosure and allowed to remain for a specified time, after which the tent is opened and allowed to vent. In recent years techniques have been developed that use hot air instead of pesticide gas as the fumigant. Hot air fumigation is not available in all areas but is a safer alternative to poison gas fumigation for some applications.

fumigation tent on house

Clear plastic fumigation tent covering house. Photo by USDA.

Cost of tent fumigation

As you might guess, the cost of tent fumigation varies by region and size of the structure but is generally measured in the thousands of dollars. This does not include costs associated with living elsewhere while the treatment is being done. Cost is one reason why we recommend this type of treatment only in cases where less drastic measures may not work.

Disadvantages of fumigation

Fumigation in general suffers from several drawbacks. It is very expensive and must be performed by an experienced pest control operator. It is also inherently hazardous, especially fumigation that uses poison gas. Structure fumigation may also require vacating the property for one to several days. And, since it leaves no residual protection behind so structures may become re-infested at anytime after the job is completed.

Despite these drawbacks, fumigation is sometimes the only practical approach that will eliminate an existing infestation of certain insect and fungal pests. The decision whether or not to fumigate is complex but usually comes down to balancing the cost of fumigation, often thousands of dollars, against the cost of additional damage if you do nothing. See Selecting Pest Control Services before making the decision to hire these services.

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