Pets can be found in millions of homes. You probably consider your dog or cat a beloved family member and want to have them around for many years.
Regrettably, pet hair can be a constant struggle as it affects your air conditioning system. But with routine maintenance, you'll help preserve steady airflow and protect the cooling equipment from harm.
How Does an AC Filter Work, and Why is It So Important?
A filter is an important part of any forced-air HVAC system. Your air filter captures airborne contaminants, such as dust, pollen and pet hair, preventing these contaminants from circulating in your home. Various designs can be used effectively, including fiberglass, pleated and electrostatic. Your filter's effectiveness can be illustrated with its minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV), which could be anywhere from 1 to 20, with higher ratings indicating better filtration.
Your filter is primarily responsible for protecting the evaporator coil, blower motor and other delicate hardware from dirt and debris that could cause damage. At sufficient efficiency, the air filter also improves indoor air quality by minimizing particulate matter, which often contribute to allergies, asthma attacks and similar conditions.
How Does Pet Hair Affect the Air Filter of My HVAC System?
When pets shed, their hair becomes airborne and can eventually get into the HVAC system through the return air ducts. Without a filter installed, pet hair accumulates within the evaporator coil, blower motor, fan blades and other components, slowing them down and reducing efficiency. Hair can also mix with condensation formed during air conditioning, creating a breeding ground for mold and bacteria that can generate foul odors and lower indoor air quality.
Even when the filter is already in place, pet hair isn’t harmless. When return airflow reaches the main HVAC system, the filter captures the hair as it passes, keeping it from landing on vulnerable cooling components. That being said, eventually the filter will clog, putting extra strain on the HVAC system. Without maintenance, you may experience higher energy bills and more frequent breakdowns.
What About Animal Dander?
Pet dander, made up of microscopic skin flakes and saliva particles, is a common cause of respiratory problems for those suffering from allergies or asthma. Filters with higher MERV ratings are more likely to effectively capture and remove dander, which is much smaller than pet hair.
How to Care for Your AC System and Filter with Pets
Fortunately, it isn't hard to protect the efficiency of your AC, even with pets living in your home. Here’s how:
- Change the filter regularly: Depending on the number of pets and the filter's specific design, you might need to replace it every 30 to 90 days. Keep an eye on it every month and replace it if you notice weaker airflow or can see evidence of a clog.
- Clean your air vents and ductwork: Pet hair gradually piles up against the air registers and grilles, reducing airflow. Clean these with the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner as often as needed. Then, hire a professional to remove built-up pet hair, dander and dust in the air ducts every few years.
- Bathe or brush away excess pet hair: Regular brushing and bathing is a great strategy for reducing pet hair. Keep the brushing outdoors and sweep the area after you've finished to keep any hair from getting back inside.
- Consistently vacuum and dust: While it affects your HVAC system, pet hair can be found all throughout your home. A lot of it settles on surfaces or under furniture. Keep up a regular cleaning routine that includes vacuuming, sweeping, dusting and laundering your pet’s bedding.
- Keep the area around the outdoor unit clear: Central air conditioners feature an outdoor unit mounted to a concrete slab outside your home. Clear away any accumulated debris, including pet hair, grass clippings, dead leaves and similar materials. This encourages normal heat transfer for more efficient operation.
- Don't ignore preventive maintenance: Ideally, your local HVAC professional will inspect and maintain your air conditioning system every year, preferably in the spring. They'll know how to identify and fix small issues, clean internal components and provide recommendations about how to keep your cooling system running efficiently with pets.
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