HVAC Duct Cleaning: Service or Scam?

man opening air conditioning filter in ceilingTrue or False? A buildup of debris in ductwork and/or a dirty HVAC system can cause your energy bills to go up.

True. Your air ducts are one of the largest systems in your home. If they are excessively dirty, or if the ducts are poorly sealed or insulated they are likely contributing to higher energy bills.

An unexpected or mysterious rise in your energy bill may indicate that you have a buildup of debris, a problem in your ductwork that is impeding the flow, or leaks which are costing you money!

True or False? Getting your home’s ductwork cleaned will certainly alleviate environmental allergies and sicknesses.

Inconclusive. There is much anecdotal evidence that a compromised HVAC and duct system can be releasing contaminated breathing air, leading to such possible consequences as coughing, sore throat, congestion, eye irritation, asthma attacks, and flu-like symptoms.

However, there is no blanket recommendation about whether cleaning the air ducts in your home directly affects these allergies or illness. That is because knowledge about air duct cleaning is in its early stages, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In a comprehensive report the EPA recommends air duct cleaning if one of the following factors are present:

  1.  There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system.
  2.  Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects).
  3.  Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

The EPA report also warns that if mold is present in your ductwork, then the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place must be corrected, or it will reoccur. Similarly, if animal debris or evidence of critters nesting in your ducts or HVAC system is found, the animals must be eliminated prior to cleaning.

True or False? Just because you renovate your home, or install a new HVAC system, doesn’t mean you need to think about your existing ductwork.

False. If your home was recently remodeled the work may have released asbestos, lead paint or significant dust that will need to be removed from your air ducts.

If you are accessing, or have recently installed a new HVAC system, be aware that many older ducts were designed for 10 SEER rated units. The minimum required today is 14 SEER. That means the ductwork design needs to be considered for the system to achieve that efficiency. If you buy an even higher SEER rated air conditioner it is even more important to consider ductwork. In addition, many new HVAC systems have an electronically controlled motor that is sensitive to air restriction and power surges. A problem, such as an undersized return air duct, can put a strain on that motor and may cause it to fail early. Custom Climate Concepts recommends installing an inline surge protector to help failsafe the motor.

True or False? It’s easy to clean ductwork, so there is no reason to pay a service provider.

False. Cleaning air ducts is a job for professionals. Custom Climate Concepts warns against any DIY attempt at duct cleaning: ductwork is porous and can be damaged without professional equipment and methods.

True or False? Every duct system has some leakage.

True. According to Custom Climate Concepts’ 20+ years of experience, almost every duct system has at least 18 inches of leakage. The EPA puts that number at as much as 30 percent of energy lost to duct leakage. That is why the Custom Climate Concepts conducts its duct leakage tests using a variety of methods and tools such an infrared camera.

Plus, if your home’s duct system is leaking cool or heated air into spaces that don’t need climate control you can reduce that loss by sealing and your ducts. Insulating ducts in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost-effective.

True or False? The benefits of professional duct cleaning are clear.

True. While it is easy to ignore what may be lurking inside your walls, what you don’t see may very well be hurting you in significant ways. Cleaning your home’s ductwork and HVAC system will not only breathe new life into your entire HVAC system, it will also restore energy efficiency and performance, while significantly improving your indoor air quality. Be careful though a dramatic change in ductwork sizing or routing needs to be matched by your AC equipment.