Your heating and air conditioning systems process the air you breathe every day. Over time, dirt, pollution, and illness-causing bacteria and virus particles can accumulate in filters, ducts, and other equipment components.
Since your HVAC system is hidden out of sight, it may get neglected when it comes to cleaning. However, it’s important to realize that the nasty things lurking in your HVAC system can contribute to health problems. That’s just one reason why HVAC system cleaning is so important.
Case in point: in 2015, New York City was affected by health scare known as Legionnaires’ disease. This dangerous sickness was reported in certain large buildings and offices, and was eventually linked back to contaminated HVAC water cooling towers. Since then, legislation has been introduced to keep water cooling towers clean and prevent further infections.
This situation goes to show that it’s not just fear mongering; HVAC system cleaning is a vital part of keeping your space healthy. (Check out these articles here to learn more: Making Sense of NYC’s New Cooling Tower Regulations and HVAC Cooling Tower Maintenance Checklist)
And now, with the risk of COVID threatening to spread within our spaces, HVAC cleaning is more important than ever.
Read on to learn about 5 nasty things that could be lurking in your heating and air conditioning system, and the steps you can take to get a clean HVAC system.
1. Bacteria and viruses
Contaminants that get into your air conditioner can quickly spread in the air throughout the space. When an entire building is served by a common HVAC system and ductwork, this can lead to what’s called Sick Building Syndrome; when your building is sick, then everyone in it could get sick.
Learn more from this article: Sick Building? Try Air Conditioner Preventive Maintenance
Once bacteria or viruses contaminate your AC system, they can quickly spread throughout the building (via your ductwork) along with the cool air. Periodic HVAC system cleaning and maintenance (specifically changing filters, cleaning coils, and cleaning the ductwork) helps to remove contamination sources from your system.
If the spread of COVID is your big concern at the moment, there are additional air quality solutions that can do even more to keep your space safe. To learn more, get our Guide to HVAC Strategies for COVID.
2. Mold and mildew
Most contaminants are aggravated by humidity, but mold relies on it. If your AC is having trouble removing enough moisture from the air, it creates the perfect conditions for mold. Most types of mold can cause allergic reactions in some people, particularly children, the elderly, and asthma sufferers. Some types can even create dangerous toxins. Regular maintenance and HVAC system cleaning will keep your ventilation clean and mold-free.
3. Chemicals and VOCs
There are many things within your average office building that emit chemicals, known as VOCs, that can impact health.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are gases emitted by a variety of building materials. VOCs include ozone and formaldehyde. While naturally occurring in the upper levels of the atmosphere, ozone is harmful to breathe. Ozone can be emitted by office supplies such as:
- Permanent markers
Formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds are emitted by:
- Cleaning supplies
- Cigarette smoke
Most emitted chemicals are not a cause for concern in low doses, but can become dangerous in high concentrations. Chemicals accumulate in poorly ventilated and sealed-off buildings, causing the concentration in the air to increase.
VOCs can be as much as ten times more concentrated inside than outside, according to the EPA. This is all the more reason to remember that HVAC system cleaning takes care of more than just your AC. It’s vitally important for maintaining good indoor air quality.
Getting HVAC system cleaning could mean the difference between a healthy work environment and a dangerous one. Conditions like poor ventilation and high humidity can worsen the affect of chemicals trapped in the air. Get rid of these chemicals by making sure your HVAC system can properly ventilate the building.
When you live and work in a big city, it can seem like going inside is a refuge from the pollution and smog-filled air on the streets. But pollution can also cause air problems indoors. An HVAC design that works well in rural areas can be wrong for urban environments, and even draw pollution in from outside. Pollutants can wind up trapped in air conditioner filters, making HVAC system cleaning an important part of keeping these pollutants out.
Poor ventilation is a major cause of interior pollution. If vents can’t circulate or filter air well, contaminants will build up in the system in high concentrations. Humidity makes pollution linger in the air as well.
5. Dust mites and pet dander
If you’re allergic to dogs or cats, you probably know that an animal doesn’t have to be in the same room to stir up your symptoms. This is because animals tend to shed and leave behind fur and dander. That’s just one example of something you can’t see that could be making your air dirty.
Dust mites are another reason you might need HVAC system cleaning. Dust mites are tiny, usually microscopic insects that feed off of dust and thrive in warm, humid environments. HVAC ductwork can accumulate lots of dust if not properly cleaned. At the same time, parts of an air conditioner are warm and collect moisture. This makes it the perfect habitat for dust mites.
If your space has animals, a clean HVAC system is a must. Make sure to clean or change filters often to help collect pet dander more efficiently. Duct cleaning services can help you avoid getting dust mites. (More on duct cleaning in a minute.)
Physical symptoms of neglected HVAC system cleaning
Not having a clean HVAC system can be harmful to your employees or inhabitants of your building. Here are some “sick building” symptoms the people in an infected building might experience:
- Nasal congestion
- Eye irritation
- Skin irritation and rashes
- Muscle cramps
- Dizziness and headaches
- Worsened asthma symptoms
Building symptoms of neglected HVAC system cleaning
The air quality conditions of a building are directly related to how well treated its HVAC system is. Here are some problems you might notice that’ll signal you to get HVAC system cleaning.
- Musty or chemical odors
- Leaks and water damage
- Stuffy air
- Excess humidity
- Dust coming through the vents
- Poor functioning AC
HVAC system cleaning: services to look for
Check humidity levels
As we’ve seen, humidity is possibly the greatest factor in the development of HVAC contaminants. Malfunctioning air conditioners create a build up of heat and moisture in the ducts, which is the perfect setting for mold, mildew and bacteria. It can worsen pollution, and in the worst cases can even lead to symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome. If your space is consistently too humid, call a qualified HVAC service company for advice.
Learn more from this article: HVAC & Humidity Control: 5 Reasons Your AC Is Ineffective
Get furnace and air conditioning duct cleaning services
One of the important parts of HVAC system cleaning is duct cleaning services. The ducts that serve your furnace and air conditioner can harbor many nasty things, and circulate those things throughout the house. There are many signs you might need air conditioner and furnace duct cleaning, including seeing mold, bad smells, and seeing dust coming out of the vents. If an inspection discovers that your HVAC has dust mites or mold, duct cleaning is the best option to take care of that problem.
Learn more about duct cleaning services from this informative guide: FAQ: Duct Cleaning and Your Indoor Air Quality.
Getting a preventative maintenance plan will help you keep your HVAC system clean, so you don’t have to worry about any of these problems developing. As part of a preventative maintenance plan, filters will be changed regularly to prevent a buildup of debris that can harbor bacteria, viruses, and mold. And your coils, drains, pans, and other system components will be cleaned as well.
It’s true that things like dust, mold, and pollution can build up in your ventilation, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Regular inspections will reveal a potential problem and warn you if your system has the potential to become contaminated due to humidity or airflow problems. That’s why consistent maintenance and HVAC system cleaning helps to stop contamination before it begins.
Find more details on preventative maintenance plans here: HVAC Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find The Right One For Your HVAC Infrastructure.