Hugh Cairns: Pet urine in heat ducts

Hugh Cairns: Pet urine in heat ducts

Now, I’m not an expert on pets and their owners, and certainly want to steer away from commenting on human and pet relations, but I can tell you that there are pet owners that live in homes where they can no longer, or turn a blind eye to the odors being created by their pet. Not too long ago, one of my pet loving acquaintances talked about an article in a major magazine about a scientific study confirming cats and their human owners form unbreakable strong social bonds and a mutual understanding based on affection.

This pure devotion can go a long way to explain the blind eye that is often turned to pet damage in the home. Devotion and love can go a long way to explain how pet owners they get accustomed to indoor odors and therefore think they are of no concern. However, if you are new to the indoor environment of a home where pets have been active, you may instantaneously develop a heightened sense of awareness towards the odor. In most cases, the odor issue is rarely discussed.

Indoor air quality is fast becoming a burgeoning industry, and for good reason. In fact, one of my recent home inspection clients included a separate pet urine inspection because the potential buyer has a significant reaction to pet odors. When odors are present, it is wise to have the house professionally analyzed to help determine the locations and severity of the problem.  Pet urine inspections can reveal areas that will need strategic cleaning, encapsulation, flooring replacement and even structural repairs.  If you are thinking about buying a home that has had or has pets, or if you know if the home is contaminated, a pet urine inspection can give you an idea of how bad the problem is and an idea of what the cost to have it rectified.

Pet urine odors are distinctly unpleasant and hard to ignore. In the home pictured above, the occupant pets employed the floor registers as a kind of urinal. The amount of the cat urine deposited was substantial enough to eat right through the galvanized heat ducts.

How are pet urine inspections performed?

First, a general observation is made with a simple smell test. You know, the one where you get on your hands and knees and smell. Urine can cause color loss in carpet and other flooring products so the finished flooring is closely looked at throughout the home. Moisture meters are sometimes used on flooring where current activity is suspected.

Pet urine inspections should include the use of high intensity, long wave, ultraviolet inspection light on suspected wall, flooring and furniture areas that are visually accessible during the inspection. In order for the light to work effectively, the room must be dark – and the darker, the better. Sometimes thick black sheet plastic is used to block the light where daylight enters. When the light is shone areas of pet urine, a dull fluoresce is detectable.

Removing pet odors

Starting to deal with the problem begins with what not to do. Do not spray chemicals into your air ducts. The air duct system is designed to move are around your home with the intention of filtering it and adding fresh air. Spraying chemicals in your ducts will only distribute chemical fumes throughout the home. 

In my opinion, the surface use of commercial odor eating products or homemade recipes only mask the pet odors. They may help, but in most cases they are temporary and require wasted time and energy.  In most circumstances treating contaminated carpet is futile because of low success rates.  The best way to remove the smell is to remove the contaminated materials. Remove both the carpet and the carpet pad and treat the subfloor with a sealing germicide. Sealing the subfloor will impede the urine from damaging the new carpet and the pad.