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.
As one of the duct cleaners that do it right it disgusts me to hear the horror stories some of my past customers have had with the companies using scare tactics, bait and switch schemes, and just plain intimidation to make a fast buck. The Ductz franchise as a whole has gone behind other "duct cleaners" in the last year to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million dollars. All of this expense could have been avoided had the customers been able to do some background research before hiring. NADCA is a great organization and should be a minimum requirement for finding a duct cleaner. Other great questions include "How long does the service take?" (2 techs, 4-5 hours for a small house, 7-9+ hours for a two system house), "Do you clean the entire system including all trunk lines and the air handler (blower motor and evaporator coil)?", "How do you validate the job you have done?" (before and after picture reports work great). Beware of duct cleaners that say their process will solve all your air quality concerns. Duct cleaning is one of several steps to take to rid your home of unwanted dust, dirt, mold, and other allergens.
All these pro duct cleaners answer with "it's common sense, everything operates better when cleaner" etc. But your explanation is correct. Especially so with flex tube ducting where dust gets "stuck" between the lowest valleys (between wire coil supports) where air flow is drastically reduced -- which is more than 50 pct of the entire interior surface area of the flex ducting. That sounds like a bad thing but also has a good effect of trapping dust from escaping.
As a person with severe mold allergies, I live in a the South where the climate naturally breeds molds.We noticed a difference when we had our ducts cleaned.The company used a vacumn type system and covered all of our vents with plastic that was held up by the suction. We had no damage, no leaking dust/dirt back into the house and it took several hours. I think if you use a reputable company it makes the world of difference. Now we use better air filters and also have a UV light to prevent mold growth on ours system.We 'd do it again when the time comes. From your car's air filter to your dryer...anything works more efficiently when it is not filthy dirty.That's just common sense.
In some older homes, there was a grey Mylar flexible duct. After years of use, it started to decompose. A duct cleaning company can come out and find why your air is so dirty and why your building doesn’t heat or cool like it used to. This is a savings on your part. You could also be sucking in Hot, dirty attic air. However, sometimes when a duct cleaning company comes out to clean it, the old duct can be destroyed and have to be replaced. Someone with little experience can replace this ductwork but if it isn’t done right it can ruin a lot of things and cost a lot in repairs.
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after cleaning. This is because much of the dirt that may accumulate inside air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to health.
The jury is out on whether or not cleaning your air ducts and vents has a significant enough impact to be necessary. A proven connection between immaculate duct systems and air quality in the home has not been made. However, if your vents display any of the signs listed above, cleaning would certainly be in your best interest. Allowing mold, debris and bacteria to fester could create bigger problems down the line. If having your system disinfected is within your budget, you may prefer to take care of these issues rather than ignore them.
The A/C System Cleaning and restoration industry has become a very lucrative bait and switch industry that many Carpet cleaning companies, Maid services, as well as plumbing or handyman service companies are adding on to there services. These add-ons are not fully certified, trained or even have any experience in the HVAC industry. These companies are the reason prices and quality of work are all over the place. If you are looking to make a smart decision for your home a professional Duct Cleaning service will protect you for 5-7 years. This info comes from NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaning Association) which is the closest thing to a license we have for duct cleaning. They have a great site that explains this process and pricing much more in depth and factual than what has been written here. This organization is working very hard to get these bad companies exposed and out of this industry. So in saying that do your research! Green Duct Decontamination is a certified company with certified technicians that take this work very seriously. We can not have these low rated unprofessional companies paste a bad name for an entire industry. Stay away from anything under 250$ for a full duct clean this is not feasible, go look at NADCA.com and you will understand why and what these companies are doing to rob you of your dollar.
I replaced all the ducts but the trunks in my 1969 home when I replaced the horizontal furnace under the house with a gas pack. I got advice from a friend who was an HVAC contractor. I was surprised to find the trunks and other ducts very clean. I replaced the individual runs with flex primarily for the insulation. I wrapped the trunks with insulation also.
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You might also want to check your home for thermal insulation if you live in extreme heat or freezing temperatures. Insulation keeps the heat and cool air in your home, which can lead to a lower electric bill. If the heated or cool air leaks out, your system turns on more often. There are various types of insulation that you can install in your home and a home energy auditor can point out the best places for it in your house.
Wiring up the thermostat is usually pretty straightforward if an old one is being replaced. If a thermostat is being put in where one had never been before, that could involve running new wiring. The placement of the thermostat is also important so that its sensors can get an accurate reading of the temperature. A thermostat that is blocked by a bookcase or other large furniture will not get a good reading and will not perform efficiently.
Be careful of dishonest HVAC contractors. There’s no magical formula to see if an HVAC contractor is scamming you, unfortunately, but remember that they typically do this in one of two ways: first, they are charging grossly low prices (far below everyone else), or second, they aren’t including what everyone else is. In the first situation, they will charge you change fees, other hidden fees, or they stole the equipment and are passing themselves off as legitimate contractors (very common in California these days). In the second situation, they are charging you a very fair price, but aren’t including what the other contractors are (i.e. charging $10,500 for the installation which is fair, but not including the ductwork which is a scam unless there is some other, complex stuff going on there).
Though this installation is not always complicated, it's best to work with an air conditioning contractor to ensure it's done correctly. Permits are usually required for this type of work and can be obtained by a state-licensed contractor. You should not attempt to install central air conditioning on your own since you need a license to handle the refrigerant chemicals (Freon) involved.
PickHVAC Tips: Oil burns dirty, so it is important to have your plenum and ducts checked to see if they should be cleaned when replacing an oil furnace. If you don’t clean the plenum and ducts when replacing the furnace, the new furnace might not run as efficiently and comfortably as possible due to restricted airflow. This can also reduce the oily smell sometimes associated with oil furnaces.
I just had my blower module replaced because my AC coil was frozen over. The underside of my coils had a thick mat of dust because I had never had it cleaned. I cleaned it myself by using a soft brush attachement on a shop vac. The inside of the blower appears to have a white/green growth, and I am sure the ductwork of my 30 year old house can’t be in good condition.
One of the difficulties encountered by many air duct cleaning service companies is that their attention is not really on air duct cleaning. For example, many heating and cooling companies offer duct cleaning as a supplemental service, but of course their primary business is installing and servicing heating and cooling equipment. For these companies, air duct cleaning is not always given the attention it deserves and is often done by less experienced employees whose interest is not in duct cleaning but in repairs and installs. And it is almost always done with inferior air duct cleaning equipment. Still other firms (like carpet cleaners) offer a large variety of services and claim to “do everything.” Because of their lack of focus they may not actually be very good at many, if any, of the services they offer. They cannot simply buy an attachment for their carpet cleaning machine and magically become a great duct cleaner.
Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
We bought 2 top of the line Lennox HAC for $29,000 less about $3,500 rebates, thinking they would at least last 10 years. Well, after 6 years, the system leaked. We are paying $1,700 to fix that leak. We thought at least it is still under warranty - yes BUT - the warranty covered $15 & the rest we were up for ,even though they advertise 10 year warranty. We are trying to sell & move out of high cost southern Calif & have looked at 20+ places in Arizona. Most of the houses we looked at were built from 1998 to 2005. We asked if the HAC was original & in most case it was - even though the highs were 115 to 120 & the lows 90F - versus where we live the highs run 85 to 95 & the lows are in the 60s. I asked the repairman WHY ours went out at 6 years. He replied that they just do not build them the same anymore. In Arizona, I did not see any Lennox - mostly Trane or Carrier. We had Fujistu in Australia which were fantastic - nothing went wrong in the 9 years we had them. Also, they had full induction motors not like the energy consuming 2 stage motors in Lennox. Maybe the Japanese built Fujusita still builds quality & the warranty is meaningful?
If you believe that the AC's not working or you're getting little or no cold air, check these three things first. Make sure all the registers in the house are wide open. Then be sure the furnace filter is clean. Then go outside and clean off the condenser coils (Photo 2). If several registers were closed or the filter was clogged, the reduced airflow could have caused the evaporator coil to ice up and stop cooling your home. If you've changed the filter and opened all the registers and you're still not getting airflow at the registers, deice the A-coil. Move the thermostat mode switch from “Cooling” to “Off” and move the fan switch from “Auto” to “On.” Let the blower run for at least 30 minutes or until there's good airflow at the registers. Then turn the AC back on to test it. If it works for the next 12 hours, you've solved the problem.