Millions of households in the U.S. have pets, most of which are cats and dogs – and millions of pet owners are allergic to their animals. A glib, unreasonable for most animal-lovers, solution is to get rid of the pets, but there are other solutions including a well-designed HVAC system.
Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are designed to provide a comfortable indoor environment in all weather conditions. They remove pollutants and the effects of contaminants from the air and keep the indoor environment clean and fresh at an agreeable temperature that will keep us warm in winter and cool in the hot summer months.
More than simply air conditioning, HVAC systems help to keep us and our pets healthy as any professional offering HVAC engineering services in Chicago, New York, Calgary, Toronto, or any other city in the world will tell you.
Pets & Allergies
People and their pets develop allergies, though pet owners probably suffer more than their furry friends – simply because animals are so frequently a cause of rashes, wheezing, watery eyes, hay fever, and even allergic asthma.
Even though the hair and fur from animals tend to make people cough and sneeze, according to the American Lung Association, this is not generally a trigger. Rather, pet dander, which is flecks of skin that furry animals and birds shed, is what commonly triggers allergic reactions, as well as proteins found in the urine, feces, and saliva of pets, dust mites, mold, cockroach and other bug droppings, and even pollen that makes its way inside buildings.
The Association points out that while furry animals are more likely to carry and transmit allergens from other sources, including dust, short-haired and hairless animals carry dander as much as long-hair animals do. They and other organizations emphasize that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic breed of dog or cat; all spread allergens. However, researchers have found that cats are a bigger problem than dogs when it comes to allergic reactions in humans, even though about 32% of U.S. homes have dogs living in them, while cats are only kept in about 27% of homes. Also, for some reason that is not entirely clear, female cats produce larger quantities of allergens.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), as many as three in ten people who suffer from allergies find cats and dogs are a trigger, with cat allergies counting for double the allergic reactions in total.
Because pet allergens are tiny and very light they tend to remain airborne for longer periods of time than other allergens, even dust mites. They also stick to furniture and soft furnishings and are easily spread through the home.
Organizations like AAFA and the Lung Association advise that people with allergies keep pets out of their homes, but many wouldn’t dream of doing this. So what is the answer?
While regular grooming of animals and general cleanliness, including scrubbing and routine vacuuming, obviously does help to get rid of pollutants and in this way minimize allergies, HVAC systems can play a major role, and in fact, can be a lifesaver.
Pets & HVAC Systems
Pets or no pets, the reality is that indoor air pollution is regarded as one of the top five environmental health hazards. For this reason, it’s a good idea to install a whole-home air purification system that will combat germs, bacteria, airborne particles, and chemical odors and vapors, including pet dander, dust, and pollen. A good system will also destroy a large percentage of household odors, including the inevitable smells that our beloved pets produce.
There are various types of HVAC systems, each with their own advantages and possible disadvantages. Before you decide exactly which system is best for your home do some research to find out what is available. Reputable manufacturers offer different types, giving you a choice, but you might want to consult a company that provides engineering solutions in Chicago, Calgary and so on, depending of course where you live.
There are four main types of HVAC systems:
- Split systems that incorporate separate indoor and outdoor units for heating and cooling. Most have humidifiers and purifiers built-in to keep the environment comfortable all the time.
- Hybrid systems that switch between gas and electric power and use traditional ducts with thermostats. Similar to split systems, they are more energy-efficient, but because they rely on ducts and vents, they can spread pollutants.
- Duct-free systems, also known as mini-splits, that have high upfront costs but they can be used in individual rooms, offering greater special control. They also conserve energy and, because they don’t have ducts, they are a good option for pet-friendly homes. On the downside, they do need quite intensive regular cleaning and maintenance.
- Packaged heating and air systems that are compact and commonly kept in attics. They are better suited for warmer climate areas because the heating system is not particularly powerful. Most are electric but some combine gas and electrics.
More specific air quality solutions include:
- Air purifiers and air cleaners that break down and remove contaminants and pollutants.
- Air humidifiers that add moisture to the air when it gets dry, maintaining a comfortable and healthy environment.
- Ventilators that introduce fresh air and eliminate contaminated air, which is particularly useful when homes have been designed with good insulation and a tightly sealed thermal envelope.
- Air filters that are suitable for pollutants like pet dander. Some standard filters may not be heavy-duty enough. Many people prefer reusable filters that can be flushed clean with water rather than those that have to be replaced when they get clogged up.
A solution for pet lovers who have ductwork already installed in the home is to have it sealed from inside. Not only does this add to energy efficiency, but it also prevents dirt, dust, pet dander, and all those other allergens from contaminating the home. This must, though, be carried out by a specialist duct seal company.
Maintaining HVAC Systems in a Pet-Friendly Home
Regular maintenance of all HVAC systems is important, but when there are pets in the home it pays to do more frequent checking.
HVAC filters often get clogged and matted with hair and pet dander that adds to the normal dust and other particles that accumulate. A good rule of thumb is to check filters monthly in a pet-friendly home rather than every three months.
If you have a system with ductwork it’s important to have the system professionally cleaned every couple of years – at least.
It’s going to be more time consuming and inevitably a bit more costly, but it will be worth it for you and your furry companions.
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.