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mouseIt isn’t something most homeowners like to think about, but it is more common than you might think.. From time to time, small animals work their way into your home’s duct work. Attics, basements, and wall spaces are attractive places small animals to hide, and air ducts are perfect pathways for them to move around and even nest.

These animals can wreak all kinds of havoc on your air ducts. They often scratch and chew holes in the duct walls, allowing air to escape. These holes will negatively affect the energy efficiency of your system and drive up your heating and cooling bill.

Many small animals also leave behind feces in your air ducts. This can cause a breeding ground for mold and disease that could negatively impact your family’s health.

When an Animal Dies in Your Ducts

However, if one of these small animals dies inside your duct work, it can be an incredibly unpleasant experience. The smell of the rotting animal will circulate through your home every time the system kicks on.

Decomposition of the body will take about a week for small animals like rats or mice, although it may take even longer for a larger animal like a squirrel or possum, with the smell lingering for up to a month. Not only is the smell of a rotting carcass difficult to bear, it also attracts maggots and insects, and promotes mold, mildew and other fungi that are harmful to your health.

The good news is that the body can be removed and the area affected cleaned and sanitized. While this process is unpleasant, it is often a job you can easily do yourself. If you just can’t stomach it, however, you can hire a professional to take care of the problem for you. Consult your local HVAC professionals and explain the situation. Most companies will send out a technician to help you right away. If the case is serious, however, they may refer you to animal control.

Locating the Carcass

To locate the body of the dead animal, all you really need to do is follow your nose.

First, turn off your HVAC system, open your windows and allow your rooms to air out. Since your HVAC system circulates the air inside your home, it can distribute the rotting smell into every room in the house. By shutting off the system and allowing fresh air in, you can isolate the offensive smell to the area that is generating it.

After you have allowed your home to air out a bit, walk around the house and follow your nose, Find the room or areas of the home where the odor is strongest.

You may have to smell each individual air register and return in the affected area in order to closer pinpoint the location of the dead animal. The carcass will be closest to the vent with the strongest odor.

Removing the Carcass

Once you have located the dead animal, you can either call in the professionals or remove it yourself. If you decide to take matters into your own hands, you’ll need a screwdriver, flashlight, garbage bag, rubber gloves, paper towels, and disinfectant cleaner.

First, use a screwdriver to remove the register cover. Next, use your flashlight to look inside the air duct to see if the carcass is visible. If you are unable to see the body, you may need a telescoping inspection camera to maneuver the twists and turns of your duct work.

If you can see the carcass, but it is outside of your reach, you may need another tool to get to it. This might be as simple as a bent clothes hanger, or you might need a long hose attachment for a shop vacuum cleaner.

If the carcass is out of reach, you will need to hire a professional to assist you with removal. They will have specialized equipment to locate and remove dead animals from awkward, hard-to-reach places in your air ducts.

If the offending animal is within easy reach, carefully use a gloved hand to grab the carcass and place it in a plastic garbage bag. Immediately remove the dead body from your home. If the animal is large, like a raccoon or possum, you should contact your local waste disposal authorities to ask about specific policies regarding disposal of dead animals.

Cleaning Up The Mess

After you have removed the source of the smell, clean the area and all areas the carcass touched with disinfectant cleaner. If the animal was initially out of reach, this process will be slightly more difficult. Use a small mop with a long handle to reach all the affected surfaces of your duct work. This will help prevent the growth of dangerous mold and bacteria.

After the animal has been removed and the area cleaned, there are a few follow up steps to take. To ensure another animal doesn’t crawl up inside and cause more damage, your duct work should be thoroughly inspected.

You can schedule a regular inspection with a HVAC technician to find and seal any holes the animal has made in your air ducts.

You may also consider scheduling a professional duct cleaning. This service will clean any feces or other animal waste from your ducts, as well as further disinfect the surfaces, scrubbing away any lingering odors or bacteria.

While removing a dead animal from your ducts is usually easy, it is never pleasant. If you have any concerns or need help from a professional, contact your local HVAC experts immediately.