I live in South Carolina where the mosquito is the unofficial state bird. There are at least 61 different types of leeches here, and I detest each and every one of them. Aside from the itching, they spread serious illness and can even transmit heartworms to cats and dogs. I’ve tried everything to fight off the biters, but I’m still being eaten alive in my backyard. I think it’s my rare English blood they love. (My husband barely gets a bite.)
When I heard about Thermacell’s $699-plus Liv Smart Mosquito Repellent System designed to protect your backyard, I was immediately intrigued, despite its jaw-dropping price tag. Over the years I’ve tried a number of ways to fight the suckers, including some Thermacell wearable products like the $30 patio lanternwhich have proven to be very effective.
Thermacell portable devices heat a small mat soaked in repellent which then spreads a protection zone around you, and are a great alternative to flooding yourself with bug spray. But they have their limitations including the range, they have to manually enable them and then wait for the protection to kick in, during which time the suckers have probably found you.
The advantage of the new Liv Smart Mosquito Repellent System, Thermacell’s first connected, on-demand product, is that it is permanently powered so you can enable it remotely via Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only) with a smartphone or voice control from your home. It is also designed to work with multiple units to create a larger conservation area in your backyard – up to 1,575 square feet.
In the two months that I tested the system, it was very effective in keeping the mosquitoes away from my patio. But even the largest system wasn’t big enough to cover my entire three-quarters acre yard, and while you can set up multiple systems to cover larger areas, that gets expensive very quickly.
Designed to be permanently installed outside your home, the Liv is fully weatherproof so you can set it up once and leave it out all year round. It’s run by a hub that plugs into an outdoor outlet and powers up to five repellers: foot-tall black turrets that contain a heating element and a replaceable insect repellent cartridge. (The starter kit comes with cartridges for 120 hours of use, and you can buy six packs of 40-hour refills for $120.) The repellers are connected to the hub by 24-foot cables, which you can bury underground and run in series. . chained so only one has to run to the hub.
The system can be adapted to the area you want to protect: $699 for the starter kit with three repellers for approximately 945 square feet; $799 for the four-repeller kit for 1,260 square feet of coverage; or $899 for the five-repeller kit for just under 1,600 square feet. It comes with bases that you can attach to a deck or stakes that you can secure in the ground, or you can buy hardscape bases for $18 each. It is undeniably an expensive solution to this problem.
Installation was really easy, although it did require some digging to hide/protect the cables. If you have a paved backyard, you may need to get creative to avoid tripping hazards. All cabling is plug and play, there’s no wiring to mess with and, including digging to bury the cables, took about 45 minutes to set up.
The repellers themselves feel solid and seem very durable – made of die-cast aluminum. They also look good and seem a bit bigger than usual path lights. An LED ring light is activated when you use the system and the color is customizable in the app. It’s not task lighting, but it’s enough to cast a nice glow around an evening cocktail on the patio.
Once you’ve installed the insect repellent cartridges in each repeller and the system is turned on, it works by heating up the agent, which spreads into the air to create an invisible and odorless cloud around you. Each unit casts a zone of about 20 feet, and takes about 15 minutes to warm up. (The app can notify you when it’s ready.) I tested the largest system — five repellers — and my 1,200-square-foot patio and porch were fully protected.
Thermacell says the cloud is 93 percent effective. I’d say that’s a conservative estimate. I saw maybe one mosquito breaking through the zone while I was testing it. It also only seemed to deter mosquitoes as I saw a few flies and the occasional other buzzing insects.
The active ingredient of the repellent is 5.5 percent metofluthrin, a synthetic molecule modeled after a naturally occurring repellent found in chrysanthemum flowers. The system is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use outdoors where children and pets may be present, and Thermacell says the EPA and the World Health Organization have concluded that “there is reasonable assurance that no harm will occur.” to bees or other terrestrial wildlife when using the product according to label instructions.”
Where I live, it’s common for a pest company to spray your property with pesticides on a monthly basis to deal with mosquitoes, and some people install permanent nebulization solutions† Compared to this practice, I prefer the Thermacell repellent to mist and then dissipate, rather than sprayed directly onto foliage where bees, butterflies and other beneficial pollinators like to hang out.
The system is also on-demand, which means a smaller impact on the environment, especially compared to a misting system. This does mean planning ahead, though, and that quick trip to the garden to pick some tomatoes or feed the rabbit will result in a few bites.
The biggest selling point of the Liv system is ease of use. Compared to spraying yourself and your family with bug spray, lighting citronella candles (which never seem to work but smell great!), or manually turning on a portable Thermacell device, the Liv system can easily be turned on from the inside with its smartphone app or Alexa or Google voice control. The app also lets you set schedules to automatically turn it on and off at set times each day, or activate a timer to turn it off automatically.
The schemes proved to be the most useful; I set two for each day from 6:30 am to 8:00 am and from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm. Early morning and early evening are the best times for mosquitoes and also the best times to sit outside in the South Carolina summer. The schedules allowed me to go out without fear at these times.
The downside to schedules is that you’re wasting the repellent if you don’t go outside, and it’s very expensive. The system comes with enough cartridges to last 120 hours, which, based on my three-hour schedule, would last 40 days. Refills cost $120 for a six-pack of 40-hour refills, which would give me just under two weeks in the five-part system I tested. With a three-unit system, three hours a day would get you closer to a month of use.
For a mosquito season that lasts as much as six months in South Carolina, that’s an expense between $700 and $1,500 for three hours of protection a day. Of course, you can save money by using it less often and only turning it on when you know you’ll be outside. But in terms of ease of use, the schemes allow you to set it and forget it – at a price.
I have the perfect environment to put this system to the test, a large, vegetated backyard in a sandy, swampy part of the country where summer relative humidity hovers around 70 percent with daily thunderstorms; it is a mosquito paradise. And while the Liv did a great job of protecting me while I was in the zone, the moment I stepped outside it turned into a mosquito free for everyone.
Seriously, it’s like they were all just waiting for me. Imagine the battle scene in the Harry Potter finale, where all the Death Eaters are behind the protection spell, and you’ll get the idea. Here’s where carrying bug spray or having your yard sprayed by a professional company will be more effective – it’s not just limited to a permanent space.
Even if you don’t have a large yard, you probably need to protect both a front and a backyard, meaning you want two systems. While each Liv hub can support up to five repellers, you’ll need a second system to protect a second room.
Plus, its on-demand nature means that unless you’re willing to waste some repellent using schedules, remember to activate it before you plan to go outside.
Voice control helps make this a bit easier and worked reliably in testing. (Liv appears as a smart plug in both the Alexa and Google Home apps. Just name it something you remember and say “Turn [name] on/off.”) In addition, you can set reminders in the app to notify you when the system is on for more than a certain amount of time so that you can turn it off. It also turns off automatically after six hours.
Ultimately, while the system does a great job of protecting you when it’s warmed up and you’re in the zone, it’s just way too expensive to fully recommend, especially considering you’ll still get mosquito bites if you don’t spend your entire can cover the outside area. Plus, you can get a few Thermacell’s $20 . Wearable Products and get 30 feet of comparable protection for $40 (plus refills). It’s not as convenient and odorless as the Liv system, but it works, and for a lot less.
If Thermacell could come up with a smart immune system that could stay on for six hours a day without costing thousands of dollars for a season, I’d rather recommend it. But as it stands, since you still have to use alternative methods to completely keep the bites at bay, this is definitely more of a luxury addition than a complete solution.
Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge