Cleaning Your Air Ducts

Although this is a rather unpleasant subject, it’s one that our technicians encounter from time to time, and is something we felt eh need to educate homeowners about. Customers sometimes complain about a strong, nasty odor permeating their home. On occasion, it’s due to an animal that has died in their ductwork.

The first challenge is to determine exactly where the odor is coming from. Ailing rodents, squirrels, birds and other wild critters seek out warm, dark enclosures when they sense the end is near. That may be ductwork but more commonly it is an attic, crawl space, behind a wall, under the floor, or in just about any other nook and cranny in the home. To pinpoint the source, you basically have to follow your nose and determine where the odor is strongest.

If the odor seems strongest in a single room or in a particular spot in a room, concentrate your sniffing at nearby heating/cooling grates. You can usually tell if the odor is emanating from the vents, which is a good indication that a dead animal is in the ductwork, or near your furnace and air return. Otherwise, sniff along the walls, floor and ceiling if possible. The smell from a rotting carcass will seep through wood, sheetrock and other seemingly impenetrable household barriers.

If there is no particular area where the smell is strongest, it may be that the animal is under the house or in an attic, often having crawled underneath insulation to die. Sometimes the smell may seem strongest when you turn on the heating or air conditioning.

If you cannot pinpoint the source, it may be better to call an animal control specialist rather than our HVAC technician to solve the problem. While our technicians are happy to help in any way they can, we hate to charge you for a service call that has nothing to do with your HVAC system.

If the critter has indeed passed away near your furnace fan, air return or inside a duct, we’ll of course help you get rid of the carcass and the odor. This may require a thorough duct cleaning. Put this aside if you are reading while eating – the fact of the matter is that if an animal has been decomposing for a while – and if it smells, that’s probably the case – the surrounding area may well be infested with maggots and body juices. The nasty odor may linger even after removal of the carcass. A thorough cleaning with special disinfectant may be required.

Another important consideration is to determine how the dead animal got into your ductwork. Obviously, there must be a hole or disconnection somewhere. Our technicians can pinpoint the source(s) and seal them to prevent future occurrences. Leaky ducts not only provide gateways for unwelcome house guests, they waste energy that costs you money!