Air Duct Cleaning 101

Air Duct CleaningIn addition to making resolutions and plans, the New Year ushers in chilly temperatures in much of the country. A heating system that is working well is essential to the comfort and health of homeowners.

If you haven’t done so, it’s a good idea to have the heating system inspected to ensure everything is working smoothly. While this is best handled prior to winter’s arrival, in the midst of the holiday hustle, it can be easy to forget about home maintenance.

The National Fire Protection Association says that half of all home-heating fires in the U.S. occur in December, January and February. Failure to clean equipment, primarily creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment and chimneys, is a leading cause of home-heating fires.

While the majority of homeowners are safe, it cannot hurt to inspect and clean the elements involved in most home furnaces and other equipment. Not only will this help prevent possible fires or help pinpoint possible problem areas that could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, this maintenance can help produce cleaner indoor air.

In addition to routinely replacing the air filter on the furnace, it is commonly recommended to have the air ducts and venting throughout the home cleaned. Although there is no proven evidence that trapped dust and other debris in air ducts can pose a risk to personal health, many people prefer to keep the ductwork clear in the event particles may be hazardous or contribute to asthma or other breathing difficulties. This cleaning can be done once a year or every couple of years, depending on personal preference.

The EPA does recommend duct cleaning if any of these factors are present:
* There is substantial visible mold growth present.
* Ducts are infested with vermin.
* Dust or debris are literally clogging the ducts.
* You can see dust or debris blowing into the home through supply registers (vents) in the home.

There are many companies today that will service furnaces and heating systems and provide duct cleaning. As with any business, their reliability and honesty will have to be checked by the homeowner. When seeking a company to clean the ducts in your home, first ask friends and family members for referrals. Also, utilize customer review Web sites such as or simply conduct a Web search for the company to learn of its reputation. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau or see if the business is registered with the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).

Research has not demonstrated the effectiveness of any chemical additives or sealants placed in or on ducts for the prevention of bacteria growth or inhibition of dust formation. It is adviseable to steer clear of companies that try to push additional services or chemical applications that actually may hinder health more than dust.

An untrained person can actually damage the ducts or heating and cooling system. That is why it is important to do your research. A properly done job should include cleaning all of the components of the system, including coils and condenser parts of the HVAC system itself. The job should take between 3 and 8 hours and will range in cost from $450 to $1,000, according to EPA estimates. The “blow and go” specials advertised for $100 are likely a waste of money and may inadvertently cause damage or dislodge dust inappropriately.

The NADCA says the most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ “source removal” methods of cleaning. This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum. While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.

Although there are no proven health benefits, air duct cleaning can help improve indoor air quality and may help an HVAC system operate more efficiently.

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