There are many interesting comments from several informed individuals. The question that has not been answered is how do duct systems get dusty and dirty? As a RESNET Home Energy Rater, I perform pressure tests on homes and duct systems, and the one common thread is . . . most air delivery sytems have large amounts of air leakage. The solution is to seal the duct system, and pay particular attention to the return duct system and ductwork near the air handler (the 'blower'). As others have said, a captive (sealed) duct system with proper filter maintenance should be more then adequate for most occupants. For those who have allergy, asthma, or other breathing problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating (number should be listed on the package) or a HEPA filter are good choices. These filters will capture smaller particulates and should improve the indoor air quality. Again, make certain that the entire duct system is sealed, preferably with mastic, second choice UL-181 foil tape - never use cloth duct (also known as duck) tape.

After major damage to a small addition on our home was damaged in the windstorm in May, the insurer’s preferred vendor sanded drywall without taping off the area. They relied on heat from the furnace to dry the mudding compound. They claimed they shut the furnace off while sanding and regardless of whether they did or not, they never cleaned up the drywall dust before turning the furnace back on. I now have drywall dust everywhere and my husband took photos to verify our concerns. They even sanded right above a cold air return. Vents were never covered either. The same company that created this mess is cleaning my ducts today. They have refused to clean the furnace. Their are health concerns for my almost 85 yr old mother who resides with us. I’ve tried 3 times in the last 7 days to escalate to a manager and they will not return my call. They just keep sending it back down to my adjuster. There are many other issues we’ve encountered since May as well. This is a major insurance company who has the resources to fix this mess but refuse. Please help!
This article was very good. It should be noted that the EPA building in Washington, DC, was cited years ago as one of the worst "sick building syndrome" buildings. Wish you had mentioned about having people's dryer vents cleaned since they can cause so many fires in homes. Most homeowners forget to check the air flow on the dryer vent. Our company, which cleans by NADCA standards, does both air ducts and dryer vents. Thanks again for keeping the public informed, especially regarding the cost of air duct cleaning...you get what you pay for...don't be fooled by the lowest cost out there. Frequently these are bait and switch companies or will keep adding on features they say a customer needs until the price is so high it's ridiculous.
There is a lot of good, general information in the article. As with anything, the homeowner should do their due diligence in getting enough information to make an educated decision. Should duct-work be cleaned? YES! Does it need to be cleaned annually or even every second or third year? Not necessarily. It all depends on a bunch of variables. You're right that a well designed and balanced system will deliver the right amount of air flow, but sometimes conditions outside the home/business, make it a necessity to get the ducts cleaned. As for mold? NO filter is going to address a mold issue. If you have mold, you have a moisture issue that needs to be addressed. Also, in my 38 years of experience in the HVAC and sheet metal industries, washable filters are one of the reasons ducts need to be cleaned. They are no where near efficient in cleaning/filtering the air to the level that they should.
A thorough visual inspection is the best way to verify the cleanliness of your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with the naked eye. Show the Post-Cleaning Consumer Checklist to the service provider before the work begins. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed satisfactorily.

The short answer is yes, duct cleaning, done right by a reputable company will help with the smell. It is likely though the smell is coming from another source, ie the crawl space. It could also be that another rodent is dead in the duct work. A visual inspection would be in order to check for any breach in the duct system. A duct pressure test would be able to tell you how much air is leaking from the system over all. A hole large enough for an animal to enter would loses a great deal of air, over 300 CFM. It would be worth looking into having this test done and it should cost around $200. Cleaning the air handler and evaporator coil will greatly improve the performance of the air conditioner. Dirt and dust on the evaporator acts as insulation and reduces the amount of cooling done be the coil. Any quality duct cleaning should include cleaning the air handler and coil, and the tech should allow you to watch him perform the work as it is done.

Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold), and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.
Monday the following week, no phone calls, or follow up.  I call to get an update and am told that they cannot install my system because they don't have time.  I ask what does that mean, one year? One week? Until the end of summer they say.  What does that mean I ask?  They say at the end of September.  I say thank you for wasting 1 month of my time.
The EPA is so far behind on useful knowledge because of the lack of funding so don't be mislead. The Hvac old timers were left at the dock so to speak and missed out on the IAQ movement. The ones that are savvy and up to date on the information do Air Duct Cleaning, even tho that will lead to a few less service calls its the right thing to do for their customer. Please take a look into a return duct that has never been cleaned, I dare anyone to say it does not need to be cleaned.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
I live in Port Orange, FL. I purchased a double wide mobile home and was saddened to learn that the previous owners were HEAVY smokers! They did a good job “hiding” the smoke smell the day we viewed this place. I did not have a home inspection done unfortunately. My question is: can duct cleaning remove the smoke smell from this place. The ceilings have been treated with Kilz and paint. I personally scrubbed down every wall, floor or surface. I also purchased a ODORFREE OZONE machine. It seemed to remove the odor for a short period of time but my friends are again complaining about the “smoke” odor in my home. The Ozone machine was $400 and I’m terribly upset that it didn’t clean the air as was promised.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold), and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.
My mom just received service from this company. She paid $609 to have her frion replaced. After two uses the AC stops working. A young rep comes out to the house again and notifies her that her entire AC unit and furnace need to be replace for just shy of ten grand, though when her frion was refilled she was told that her system should last another five years. When they came back to tell her how her entire system needed to be replaced, they were generous enough to offer her a $300 credit on the nearly $10,000 estimate of replacing the entire system that was working fine until they touched it. My best assumption would be that there is a mishap with the system is due to their negligence. Id suggest using another company other than these scam artists.
Some of the research I have done suggests to have your ducts cleaned when you first purchase a new home to remove drywall dust. Maintain your system well and you shouldn't have to do it again until you want to sell. Those are the two times cleaning was suggested. So for peace of mind maybe it is a good idea to do it even if you buy a used home and then maybe every 5-10 years.

Filtration systems -- A second-stage filter is sometimes inserted & used to remove particulates such as pets, smoking or cooking, as well as other odors, gases, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). A HEPA filter is also available to remove spores, pollens, bacteria and lung-damaging particles. There are also systems that use ultraviolet (UV) light to protect against bacteria and germs.

DIY: We don’t recommend a DIY approach. Depending on the system, working with gas, electricity and refrigerant create dangers. Beyond that, it is essential that split system components be selected for compatibility. DIY installation of an HVAC system will void the warranty of most brands. The manufacturers won’t stand behind the warranty when anyone other than a certified installer does the work. This is true since improper installation is the main cause of poor system performance and mechanical breakdowns.
"Customer service was great, and the price was in-line with other places, and fast service. We had a whole replacement of the outside and inside. I would have liked to see a better install for the furnace and new thermostat - the new thermostat should have gone where the old one was, and even tho the new furnace was a tight fit, they didn't offer to come back and repair the case molding, or give me a discount on the damage done, and I believe they should have put a disconnect box on the outside of the home, to make it easier for any future repairs needed. Other than that, am very happy with the cooling and heating!"
×