A family pet is part of millions of families. You probably consider your dog or cat a beloved family member and want to have them around for many years.
However, pet hair usually has a negative impact on the efficiency of your air conditioning system. But if you keep up with maintenance, you can avoid impacting airflow and protect your air conditioner from harm.
How Does an AC Filter Work, and Why is It So Important?
Air filters are one of the most important parts of any forced-air HVAC system. Your air filter captures airborne contaminants, such as dust, pollen and pet hair, stopping them from spreading through the ductwork. There is lots of variety in the materials they use to accomplish this, 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 cooling system components from dirt and debris capable of damaging them. At sufficient efficiency, the air filter also improves indoor air quality by minimizing particulate matter, which could lead to allergies, asthma attacks and other respiratory issues in sensitive individuals.
How Does Pet Hair Affect Your HVAC System and Filter?
When pets shed, their hair becomes airborne and is drawn into the HVAC system through the return air ducts. If there isn't a filter in place, pet hair accumulates within the evaporator coil, blower motor, fan blades and other components, slowing them down and reducing efficiency. Hair can also become clogged with moisture found in the cooling system, creating a breeding ground for microbes like mold, which give off foul odors and lower indoor air quality.
Even with a filter 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. At the same time, this quickly clogs the filter up, limiting airflow and placing additional strain on the HVAC system. Without exchanging or cleaning the filter, higher energy bills and more repair visits could be likely.
What About Animal Dander?
Pet dander, which consists of microscopic skin flakes and saliva particles, is a common cause of respiratory problems for those suffering from allergies or asthma. You need a filter with a high MERV rating to effectively capture and remove dander, which is much smaller than pet hair.
How to Care for Your AC System and Filter with Pets
Maintaining an efficient, properly functioning air conditioner is certainly possible, even with pets living in your home. Here’s how:
- Change the filter regularly: Depending on the total number of pets as well as the filter's efficiency, you might need to replace it every 30 to 90 days. Check it every month and replace it if you notice weaker airflow or can see evidence of a clog.
- Periodically clean the return air ducts: Pet hair collects on the air registers and grilles, limiting circulation. Trying cleaning these using the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner as often as needed. Then, call a professional for cleaning out the collected pet hair, dander and dust inside your ductwork every few years.
- Groom your pets: Regular brushing and bathing minimizes the hair your pet leaves behind. Keep the brushing outdoors and sweep the area after you've finished to keep any hair from getting back inside.
- Consistently vacuum and dust: Not all pet hair ends up in the HVAC system. A lot of it settles on surfaces or under furniture. Keep up a regular cleaning routine that includes vacuuming, sweeping, dusting and washing any pet beds.
- Keep the area around the outdoor unit clear: Central air conditioning systems come with an outdoor unit mounted to a concrete slab outside your home. Keep the area around this unit free of debris, including pet hair, grass clippings, dead leaves and other forms of yard waste. This helps maintain consistent heat transfer for more efficient operation.
- Don't ignore preventive maintenance: Ideally, your local HVAC professional will inspect and maintain the air conditioner annually, preferably in the spring. They'll know how to find and resolve any small issues, clean key components and offer tips to keep your air conditioning running efficiently with pets.
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