What’s in My Heat Pump?

Tens of thousands of Nova Scotians have installed ductless heat pump systems in their homes. You’re probably one of them, or at least thinking about becoming one, if you’re reading this.

The benefits are BIG with a mini split heat pump. They provide savings on our often astronomical heating bills each winter and cool, crisp air conditioning during our humid summer months.

Did you know there is an underbelly to these miracle machines?

They get dirty.

In many cases so dirty the efficiency of the machine drops 20% or more and can cause health issues in the home.

What the Heck is in my heat pump?

From the outside, most heat pump indoor units are an off white clean looking machine. When you open up the front and pull out those filters, you will find a mix of dust and debris (skin cells, pet hair, human hair, etc.). However, those filters don’t catch everything, nor are they the only place you have to be concerned about cleaning (more on that in a moment).

Over time a thin layer of dirt will build up under those removable filters. This dirt, which builds up on the coil, reduces airflow. Less airflow means a reduction in the amount of heat or cool that can be extracted which reduces total efficiency.

Studies have shown that as little as 0.25mm of dust and dirt, the equivalent of two pieces of paper, on the coil will cause energy consumption to jump by as much as 20% in heating or cooling mode.

Having the coil professionally cleaned when this build up occurs ensures you maintain top efficiencies from your heat pump.

Molds Perfect Environment = Darkness and Dampness

More dust and mold inside of a heat pump

Dust and dirt on the coil of your machine is one concern, the other can actually be worse for you and your health.

If you run your machine on air conditioning for any length of time, the typically dark interior of your heat pump also becomes damp due to condensation. This dark and damp environment is the perfect setting for mold growth.

You can check your machine for mildew and mold growth by using a flashlight and looking in through the louvers of your machine. If you notice black spots on the fan, louvers or inside back of the machine you’re probably looking at mold.

Mold can cause anything from sniffles and sneezing to mild headaches or even asthma attacks and respiratory disorders.

Mold growth is hidden to the naked eye. Units are most often installed higher on the wall, so it isn’t easy to peek in to see what’s going on inside.

The only way to effectively rid your machine of mold is to have it professionally cleaned with proper coil cleaner and pressure spray. Mold adheres to all of the plastic parts, including the fan, inside your heat pump. So wiping with a rag, paper towel or even a scrub brush is near impossible with such tight to reach spaces inside the machine.

A Heat Pump Deep Clean

A professional cleaning is the answer for ensuring your machine gets and stays clean.

At Breathe Clean we use a 100% biodegradable coil cleaner to loosen and remove dirt, grime, and mold from the internal components of your mini split heat pump.

Then, using a pressure spray to remove the cleaning agent along with all of the dirt and mold from your machine catching it in our proprietary cleaning bag.

A deep cleaning takes approximately 1 to 1.5 hours. After which we treat your machine with a mold control spray which aids in the control of new old growth between cleanings.

Cleanings of a single machine start at $139.00 + HST. To learn more or to book your cleaning click here or give us a call at (902) 332-3406.

What Does Your Maintenance Package Provide

Many companies provide to their customer’s maintenance packages. Generally, they list a number of check or test services which they will provide on a yearly basis. Todays minisplits will provide error codes which will tell you when there is a fault in your system that requires a technician’s attention.

The most important item that you should look for in any maintenance package you purchase is a complete coil cleaning. If this is not included yearly than the most basic and important service item is not being provided. In fact most major manufactures recommend a yearly coil cleaning to maintain warranty rights. The reality is that the number one cause of premature breakdown is overheating of components caused by a dirty coil. Whether in heating or cooling mode it is the coil that heats or cools the air passing over it. When you set the thermostat to your desired temperature your heat pump will respond to your request. Unfortunately in a dirty machine, it does this by running faster at higher temperatures for longer periods of time. This makes your heat pump less efficient, creates maintenance issues and reduces the overall comfort of your home. We have cleaned heat pumps that are showing error codes which indicate that the compressor fan is running over the factory set limits. It is running to fast because it is attempting to meet the temperature request. After a deep clean when we turn the system back on the error code is gone.

In our blog titled, Research Proves The Benefits of Coil Cleaning, we sight scientific research regarding efficiency gains resulting from yearly coil cleaning by a number of sources. BC Power commissioned an independent report which found that .25 mm of dust and dirt on the tiny fins in the coil can reduce efficiency by 20%. To help you better visualize this .25mm is equal to the thickness of two pieces of computer paper! In case you don’t know what the coil is, it is the surface of tiny aluminum fins you see when you remove your filters. The space between each one of these fins is 1 mm. So if each fin has .25mm of dust and dirt on its surfaces than the space between each fin is reduced by .50mm. This means that the coil is 50% blocked!

One final thing to remember. If your maintenace package doesn’t include a deep cleaning with the covers removed then the mold accumulation in your heat pump will continue to pose a risk of unhealthy air quality for your family.

Breathe Clean service is the best investment you can make to ensure efficient and longer performance life for your expensive investment.

Self Clean or Auto Clean – What Do These Terms Really Mean ?

Many people have asked why they need to have their Mini Splits cleaned when they have Self Clean or Auto Clean options. The terms Self or Auto Clean are somewhat misleading. Most people assume that some type of active mechanical cleaning system is cleaning and sanitizing their Mini Split. In actual fact all that happens is the fan will run for a period of time, generally 30 minutes after operating, to try to dry the coil which is covered by condensation after use. No cleaning takes place. The dirt, DNA, and microbial still become attached to the coil, fan and interior surfaces promoting mold growth and reducing energy efficiency as described in our blog Article- Education Is The Key – How does my Mini Split work?

Nothing can replace the kind of deep clean your Mini Split receives during a Breathe Clean service.

Education Is The Key – How does my Mini Split work?

The question we get from virtually all our clients is ” Why wasn’t I told when I purchased the mini split that it should be deep cleaned regularly.” The diplomatic answer is that we as a population have little experience in the maintenance and operation of ductless air conditioners. The industry has promoted the sales and marketing of these systems, which are extremely efficient and practical. Less has been promoted on the maintenance side of mini splits other then the suggestion to regularly clean the filters. Maintenance is important and necessary in any piece of equipment with moving parts.

The first thing you need to know is how your mini split heat pump works. Simply put, a barrel fan roughly the length of the head, pulls air through filters on the top of the machine. This air then flows over the coil where it is either warmed or cooled. From there it is returned into the room. The air coming back into the room is unfiltered. This is an important point which you should remember as you read forward and we will come back to it.

The filters in your mini split are designed to catch large particles. However the air going through them can contain mould spores, fungi, DNA, pet dander, dust mites, viral microbials and dirt. These particles, which are microscopic, are smaller than a human hair and easliy pass through the filters. They are both organic and inorganic and they become attached to the coil, barrel fan and other surfaces inside your mini split. This is the first ingrediant of the mould growth recipe,food.

So how do these particles attach to the coil and fan? The answer is that moisture can be present on the coil and fan. This moisture results from the natural occurence of warm humid air passing over the cold coil , in air conditioning mode, where it condensates to water. Now we have the second ingrediant of the recipe. The organic and inorganic particles and moisture now form a paste or a biofilm that sticks to the internal surfaces of the mini split. Add to this, you have a perfect environment of warmth and darkness. Now the mould has the food and environment required to grow and flourish.

Remember earlier we mentioned that the air coming out of the mini split into the room is unfiltered. This is when that fact becomes important. The air now flowing over the coil and through the fan can pick up mold spores and distribute them into room as airborne particles unfiltered. This is a very efficient system to introduce these microbials into the air we breathe.

We recently had a call from a client complaining of a dirty sock smell radiating from his less than two year old mini split. Taking a flashlight he looked in through the louvers and was horrified with what he saw. The entire barrel fan and interior of his mini split was black and covered with what he assummed was mould. He called his installer and although the installer did not come to check he suggested that this was not possible. Frustrated he disassembled the machine himself, even removing the barrel fan completely. He quickly discovered that he was not capable of cleaning the mini split himself. Ready to have the machine removed he found our site and contacted us. In the meantime he ordered a testing kit from a mould testing labrotory and had a sample tested.

He was kind enough to provide us with a copy of the report and we agreed to not use his name, as he wished to remain anonymous. This is an excerpt of what was found:

Harmful Health Effects of Mold Exposure

In our last blog entry, we explained how mold can grow in your mini-split. Now we need to talk a little about the potentially harmful effects of mold exposure. Obviously, we are not experts in the health effects of mold exposure. So let’s review the research and opinions of those who are..

World Health Organization (WHO) 2009 GUIDELINES FOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY

” The variety of respiratory symptoms and diseases observed in damp and moldy indoor environments suggests that the airways are the primary route of entry for agents. ”

5. Evaluation of Human Health Risks and Guidelines

5.1 Summary

” Sufficient epidemiological evidence is available from studies conducted in different countries and under different climatic conditions to show that the occupants of damp or moldy buildings, both houses, and public buildings, are at increased risk of respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections, and exacerbation of asthma. Some evidence suggests increased risks of allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although few intervention studies are available, their results show that remediation of dampness problems can reduce adverse health outcomes. There is clinical evidence that exposure to mold and other dampness-related microbial agents increases the risks of rare conditions, such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis, chronic rhinosinusitis, and allergic fungal sinusitis. Toxicological evidence obtained in vivo and in vitro supports these findings, showing the occurrence of diverse inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms including their spores, metabolites, and components isolated from damp buildings. While groups such as atopic and allergic people are particularly susceptible to biological and chemical agents in damp indoor environments, adverse health effects have also been found in nonatopic populations. The increasing prevalences of asthma and allergies in many countries increase the number of people susceptible to the effects of dampness and mold in buildings.”

5.2 Conditions that contribute to health risks

” The prevalence of indoor dampness varies widely within and among countries, continents, and climate zones. It is estimated to affect 10–50% of indoor environments in Australia, Europe, India, Japan, and North America. In certain settings, such as river valleys and coastal areas, the conditions of dampness are substantially more severe than the national average. The amount of water available on or in materials is the most important trigger of the growth of microorganisms, including fungi, actinomycetes, and other bacteria. Microorganisms are ubiquitous. Microbes propagate rapidly wherever water is available. The dust and dirt normally present in most indoor spaces provide sufficient nutrients to support extensive microbial growth. While mold can grow on all materials, selection of appropriate materials can prevent dirt accumulation, moisture penetration, and mold growth. Microbial growth may result in greater numbers of spores, cell fragments, allergens, mycotoxins, endotoxins, β-glucans, and volatile organic compounds in indoor air. The causative agents of the adverse health effects have not been identified conclusively, but an excess level of any of these agents in the indoor environment is a potential health hazard. Microbial interactions and moisture-related physical and chemical emissions from building materials may also play a role in dampness-related health effects. Building standards and regulations for comfort and health do not sufficiently emphasize requirements for preventing and controlling excess moisture and dampness. Apart from its entry during occasional events, such as water leaks, heavy rain, and flooding, most moisture enters buildings in the incoming air, including that infiltrating through the envelope or from the occupants’ activities. Allowing surfaces to become cooler than the surrounding air may result in unwanted condensation. Thermal bridges (such as metal window frames), inadequate insulation and unplanned air pathways, or cold water plumbing and cool parts of air-conditioning units can result in surface temperatures below the dew point of the air and in dampness. ”

5.3 Guidelines

” Persistent dampness and microbial growth on interior surfaces and in building structures should be avoided or minimized, as they may lead to adverse health effects. Indicators of dampness and microbial growth include the presence of condensation on surfaces or in structures, visible mold, perceived mold odour, and a history of water damage, leakage, or penetration. A thorough inspection and, if necessary, appropriate measurements can be used to confirm indoor moisture and microbial growth. As the relationships between dampness, microbial exposure, and health effects cannot be quantified precisely, no quantitative, health-based guideline values or thresholds can be recommended for acceptable levels of contamination by microorganisms. Instead, it is recommended that dampness and mold-related problems be prevented. When they occur, they should be remediated because they increase the risk of hazardous exposure to microbes and chemicals. Well-designed, well-constructed, well-maintained building envelopes are critical to the prevention and control of excess moisture and microbial growth, as they prevent thermal bridges and the entry of liquid or vapor-phase water.

Management of moisture requires proper control of temperature and ventilation to avoid excess humidity, condensation on surfaces, and excess moisture in materials. Ventilation should be distributed effectively throughout spaces, and stagnant air zones should be avoided. Building owners are responsible for providing a healthy workplace or living environment that is free of excess moisture and mold, by ensuring proper building construction and maintenance. The occupants are responsible for managing the use of water, heating, ventilation, and appliances in a manner that does not lead to dampness and mold growth. Local recommendations for different regions with different climates should be updated to control dampness-mediated microbial growth in buildings and to ensure desirable indoor air quality. Dampness and mold may be particularly prevalent in poorly maintained housing for low-income people. Remediation of the conditions that lead to adverse exposure should be given priority to prevent an additional contribution to poor health in populations who are already living with an increased burden of disease. ”

CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Facts About Mould and Dampness

” There is always some mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. Molds have been on the Earth for millions of years. Mold grows where there is moisture.”

Mold and Your Health

” Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects or none at all. Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These people should stay away from areas that are likely to have molds, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas.

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.

In addition, in 2004 the IOM found sufficient evidence to link exposure to damp indoor environments in general to upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people and with asthma symptoms in people with asthma. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking exposure to damp indoor environments in general to shortness of breath, to respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children and to the potential development of asthma in susceptible individuals.”

Mold and Your Home

“Mold is found both indoors and outdoors. Mold can enter your home through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to clothing, shoes, bags, and pets can and be carried indoors.

Mold will grow in places with a lot of moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or where there has been flooding. Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products. Mold can also grow in dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.”

The University of Toronto published its study Fan Coil Contamination of Growing Concern: The effects of mold growth within fan coil units in Canadian high-rise buildings. http://www.mcintoshperry.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Fan20Coil20Mould20White20Paper20Final20-20Urvashi20Vyas-1.pdf

When they refer to fan coils they are referring to the same type of coil in your mini-split. Many new condos and apartments are using mini splits for their heating and cooling requirements. This information should be particularly important to tenants, condo owners, and apartment owners.

Hopefully, you have found this information helpful in understanding the many ways in which mold can negatively affect your health. There are hundreds of more articles available regarding the adverse effects of mold exposure. The reports from the WHO and CDC best represent non-biased large studies.

Our Service Promise to Our Valuable Customers

After we remove your minisplit cover if you don’t agree it requires a deep cleaning, Breathe Clean will reinstall the cover and leave with no charge.

Research Proves The Benefits of Coil Cleaning

Many of our customers have asked how we know that coil cleaning your Mini Split can achieve the savings benefits we claim. Consider the following articles and research which substantiate the benefits of regular Mini Split cleaning and sanitizing. Live Smart BC states that as little as 0.25 millimetre build-up can reduce efficiency by 20%. http://www.prismengineering.com/sites/default/files/upload/Prism-Livesmart-Factsheet-Coil-Cleaning.pdf

In 2008 the National Air Duct Cleaners Association NADCA initiated a project with researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder to conduct an in-depth study of this issue. The University has extensive research experience and is home to the Larson Building Systems Laboratory, one of the world’s most technologically advanced facilities for researching heating and cooling systems.

Their conclusion:

“When it comes to having a productive, energy-efficient heating and cooling system, airflow is everything. Increased airflow equates to better performance. But when systems become fouled, airflow is reduced. Dirty filters, clogged coils, fouled blowers, and other components – all of these things impede airflow and lead to increased energy costs. The solution is to have the heating and air conditioning system professionally cleaned.”

The research showed an 11% decrease in energy consumption on “…. slightly fould machines…”. Cleaning coils in heavily fouled machines resulted in a 30% improvement in airflow. http://nadca.com/sites/default/files/docs/2016/energy_research_2012.pdf

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), major utilities, and other experts, dirty condenser and evaporator coils can significantly increase HVAC energy usage and associated utility costs. The U.S. DOE says that “a dirty condenser coil can increase compressor energy consumption by 30 percent.” A dirty evaporator coil decreases airflow, resulting in reduced heat transfer and a degradation of the dehumidification process. These can cause overall air quality to decline and systems to fail, and decrease the life expectancy of motors due to increased heat while running.

Our experience with mini-split heat pumps under 2 yrs of age has shown that most of these machines would fall into the heavily fouled category.

Homeowners make a large investment when installing Mini Splits. A major part of their investment is calculating the rate of investment return. Don’t waste your energy savings on a dirty inefficient machine.

Contact Breathe Clean today to arrange for your cleaning appointment. Your wallet and your health will thank you.

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