Duct Cleaning: What’s Involved and When It’s Right for Your Sykesville Home

duct-inspection-200x300If you’ve been reading up on home maintenance, you’ve probably heard a little something about duct cleaning. It’s one of those less common professional services that’s not always easy to understand. While some shady contractors push cheap duct cleaning services and overstate the potential health benefits, other sources suggest duct cleaning is all but useless.

In truth, duct cleaning is highly beneficial when it’s truly needed and when it’s performed correctly. You’ll gain cleaner indoor air and a more energy-efficient heating and cooling system. When performed unnecessarily or incorrectly, however, cleaning the dusts is a waste of money at best and, at worse, could reduce your indoor air quality.

By learning when duct cleaning is needed and how it should be done, you’ll be able to decide for yourself if this service can benefit you, and determine which heating and cooling company you want to hire for the job.

To decide if you’re ducts are in need of a cleaning, look for any one of these signs:

Dusty furniture – When dust accumulates in your ducts, more dust hangs around to circulate through your home. You may notice when you’re using your furnace or A/C, you have to dust your furniture more often than other times of the year. Registers with caked-on dust also suggest the ducts are overdue for a cleaning.

Ongoing health complaints – In some cases, a chronic cough, headaches or other health problem may be caused or worsened by something in the ductwork. Mold and debris from pests, such as cockroaches or mice, are two potential causes.

Duct invaders – Take a look inside the accessible parts of your sheet metal ducts. If you notice animal droppings, hair, nests or large number of dead insects, chances are you have or had a pest infestation. Cleaning will remove any leftover debris. Splotchy discolorations, which are likely to be mold, also warrant a cleaning. Moisture in the ducts increases the chance of mold growth, so if you notice any, schedule an inspection.

You’ve just moved in – In a previously owned home, there’s no way to know what kind of potentially harmful debris could be hiding in the ducts. Recently built or renovated homes are also at risk. During construction, contaminants such as drywall dust and carpet fibers can enter the ducts to be blown into your rooms when you turn on the heat or air conditioning.

Because dirty ducts don’t always give you warning signs, it’s a good idea to have your ducts inspected every five years. Many homes will still have clean ducts after this time, but on the other hand, even well-kept homes can end up with an excess of dust and debris in the ducts within just a few years.

A heating and cooling professional can inspect parts of your ducts you can’t reach, let you know if there are any problems, and if necessary, suggest solutions that fit your budget.

Your Ducts and Indoor Air Quality

A buildup of debris in your ducts does more than leave you with extra dusting to do. Dirty ducts can lower the overall quality of the air in your home. The air is so full of contaminants in many homes and businesses, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ranked low indoor air quality fourth in the list of environmental threats Americans face.

At particular risk are people with respiratory conditions, including allergies, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as those with compromised immune systems. Common allergens that can end up in your ducts include:

  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Pet dander (skin flakes)
  • Cockroach debris

Healthy people can also suffer ill effects from these allergens. American Lung Association experts suggest exposure to airborne biological contaminants, such as mold and pest debris, increases risk of respiratory tract infections even in healthy adults.

Having your ducts cleaned rids your home of one source of harmful air contaminants. That said, duct cleaning is just one possible step in the process of improving your indoor air quality. To enjoy truly clean air, you’ll also need to control any indoor sources of pollutants, install efficient HVAC air filters, and possibly add a whole-house air cleaner.

Because cleaning ductwork has never been proven to alleviate symptoms of respiratory or other health conditions, beware of contractors who try to oversell the potential health benefits of this service.

Clean Ducts Can Save You Money

Keeping your air ducts clean is good for your heating and cooling system’s health, not just for your own. Your system was designed to work with clean, obstruction-free ducts, and keeping your ducts that way gives you two main benefits.

  1. Greater energy efficiency – To work properly, your system needs to move air at a certain speed. Debris buildup interferes with airflow and forces the blower fan motor to work harder in order to maintain the correct. Clean, clear ducts let your system work at top efficiency.
  2. Longer component lifespan – Debris that finds its way into your ducts is liable to end up in your motor, air conditioner evaporator coil or another part of your system. Enough debris over time could cause the component to fail early. Keeping debris out of your ducts protects every part of your system from damage and early failure.

What’s Involved in Professional Duct Cleaning

If there’s enough debris in your ducts to warrant a cleaning, you’ll want to leave the job to a professional experienced in duct maintenance. While it may seem easier and cheaper to clean out your ducts with a handheld vacuum, doing so may be counterproductive. A haphazard attempt at cleaning stirs up settled dust and releases stuck-on debris, allowing even more contaminants to enter your home’s air.

A professional brings both the skills and the tools needed to completely remove debris without allowing any to pollute your indoor air. The inspection and cleaning process happen in several steps.

Accessing the ducts – Your ducts may already have access panels a technician can open to inspect hard-to-see parts of the ductwork. If not, your technician will carefully cut access holes that can be sealed and reused later.

Inspection – A video camera attached to a long hose is one of the tools many technicians use to view deep inside the ducts where mold, pests or obstructions may be lurking. The images taken by the camera are displayed on a monitor so both you and your technician can see exactly what the camera finds.

Cleaning out the debris – Several different methods are available for cleaning ductwork. In the most common method, the technician starts by hooking up a portable or truck-mounted negative air machine to your ducts. This creates a suction throughout the ductwork.

The technician then uses an agitation device, such as a rotary brush, to dislodge debris inside the ducts. The negative air machine immediately sucks the debris out of the ducts so it never has a chance to enter your living space.

Other professionals use a single piece of equipment that simultaneously breaks up debris and sucks it out of the ducts.

It’s also essential that the technician clean the other components in your heating and cooling system. If these parts aren’t cleaned, the dust and debris remaining on them can recontaminate your system. This is particularly dangerous if mold has been found in the ducts. Components your contractor should clean include:

  • Air registers and vents
  • Blower fan assembly
  • Fan motor housing
  • A/C evaporator coil
  • A/C drip pan

Finding a Skilled Contractor

Not all HVAC professionals are equally capable of getting your ducts into top form. Instead of going with the first contractor you come across, take the time to shop around for one with the right skills and equipment.

Get personal referrals – Ask any neighbors, friends or family who’ve had duct maintenance done recently if they would recommend the contractor they hired. Try to get at least two recommendations.

Look for NADCA membershipNADCA, which stands for National Air Duct Cleaners Association, is a trade association for HVAC professionals. To be a member, a company must have at least one employee who’s undergone training in duct maintenance. Contractors agree to perform duct cleaning to NADCA’s standards using approved equipment. Member companies must also agree to a Code of Ethics that protects customers from common problems such as false advertising and careless cleaning jobs.

Ask questions – Find out what equipment the contractor plans to use and what steps are involved in the cleaning process. There are several ways to get the job done effectively, but the contractor should use equipment specially designed for cleaning ducts. Also make sure the contractor plans to clean all your system’s components, not just the ducts.

Whether you’ve just moved into a new home and need your ducts checked or you’re dealing with an ongoing air quality problem, contact us at Air Experts. We’re happy to help you find heating, cooling and air quality options that work for your needs.

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