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.
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.
Consider what kind of heating and cooling system you want installed for the square footage of your home. Do you want a full system with a thermostat or a specific machine for the summer like a swamp cooler? Do you need a new furnace just for the winter? For any of these projects, the cost will vary depending on the quality, style and machine size you choose. If you have a tight budget, think of going smaller and upgrading over time. For example, if you can't afford to convert your entire home to solar power, you may want to consider only utilizing it to heat your water. Some other types of heating systems are:
This company deserves more than five stars. They didn't just replace my heater and air conditioner, they built me a new system for my house. Going above and beyond is a understatement. Steve's staff were 2 of the nicest workers I've come across in a long time. Friendly, knowledgeable, and very clean. Truly a top rated company. Thanks Steve.   Great job.
So, the total price to a contractor for this project is $7,195.77 (Carrier is expensive), which we’ll use to calculate a fair HVAC installation cost. As I said, we typically use 40% in the industry to cover our own personal profit, as well as our insurance and other expenses. Let’s take a look at page three of a Final Report from our own online HVAC calculator, the HVAC Design & Consultation Program.
Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide can be lethal at concentrations of 1000 ppm (0.1%). However, at several hundred ppm, carbon monoxide exposure induces headaches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the blood, forming carboxyhemoglobin, reducing the blood's ability to transport oxygen. The primary health concerns associated with carbon monoxide exposure are its cardiovascular and neurobehavioral effects. Carbon monoxide can cause atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries) and can also trigger heart attacks. Neurologically, carbon monoxide exposure reduces hand to eye coordination, vigilance, and continuous performance. It can also affect time discrimination.[15]
The bottom line is: no one knows. There are examples of ducts that have become badly contaminated with a variety of materials that may pose risks to your health. The duct system can serve as a means to distribute these contaminants throughout a home. In these cases, duct cleaning may make sense. However, a light amount of household dust in your air ducts is normal. Duct cleaning is not considered to be a necessary part of yearly maintenance of your heating and cooling system, which consists of regular cleaning of drain pans and heating and cooling coils, regular filter changes and yearly inspections of heating equipment. Research continues in an effort to evaluate the potential benefits of air duct cleaning.
The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers is a body that covers the essential Service (systems architecture) that allow buildings to operate. It includes the electrotechnical, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration and plumbing industries. To train as a building services engineer, the academic requirements are GCSEs (A-C) / Standard Grades (1-3) in Maths and Science, which are important in measurements, planning and theory. Employers will often want a degree in a branch of engineering, such as building environment engineering, electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. To become a full member of CIBSE, and so also to be registered by the Engineering Council UK as a chartered engineer, engineers must also attain an Honours Degree and a master's degree in a relevant engineering subject.
HVAC professionals in the US can receive training through formal training institutions, where most earn associate degrees. Training for HVAC technicians includes classroom lectures and hands-on tasks, and can be followed by an apprenticeship wherein the recent graduate works alongside a professional HVAC technician for a temporary period.[33] HVAC techs who have been trained can also be certified in areas such as air conditioning, heat pumps, gas heating, and commercial refrigeration.[34]
Since the 1980s, manufacturers of HVAC equipment have been making an effort to make the systems they manufacture more efficient. This was originally driven by rising energy costs, and has more recently been driven by increased awareness of environmental issues. Additionally, improvements to the HVAC system efficiency can also help increase occupant health and productivity.[23] In the US, the EPA has imposed tighter restrictions over the years. There are several methods for making HVAC systems more efficient.
The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles[26] is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted. Instead, the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) has traditionally been used to characterize the performance of many HVAC systems. EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), or in Europe the ESEER, is used. SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 14 SEER.[27][dead link]
The next step was cleaning the cold air returns. He found a good spot to drill an 8” hole for his vacuum hose. The procedure matched the other air ducts except that when he finished at the two cold return registers he drilled several holes in the cold ducts in the basement and blasted air into them. Because of our houses age and the upgraded return system, I noticed that the main sheet metal return duct had no top but was just butted up against the ceiling in the basement. When he blasted air in, dust and crap shot out the edges along the ceiling. Once he finished that he removed the filter and “swept” out anything at the bottom of the return with his hand into the 8” hose.
The key to the continued and efficient operation of your heating and cooling system is periodic maintenance. Cleaning the air duct vent system, and servicing you heating and cooling equipment will keep the system operating at its peak performance. Air ducts are cleaned for two reasons. One: to prevent debris from entering furnace and air conditioning components. Two: to prevent debris from cycling through the home. The air duct cleaning contractor needs to employ cleaning methods which successfully removes debris, and ensures that debris does not enter the occupied space. Most contractors can verify the results of the cleaning through video or pictures.
I originally took off one star because of the SNAFU with getting the part ordered.  When Alberto called me on the phone he admitted the person had "gotten busy with other things" and apologized.  THAT was taking the high road and I was impressed by that.  Sadly, for reasons I won't guess at, Alberto has decided to take the low road in his comments and imply that they got the part as quickly as possible.  Well, we called at 2:30 so did someone spend six and a half hours finding the part??  That seems very doubtful.
Do not hire duct cleaners who make sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning — such claims are unsubstantiated. Do not hire duct cleaners who recommend duct cleaning as a routine part of your heating and cooling system maintenance. You should also be wary of duct cleaners who claim to be certified by EPA. Note: EPA neither establishes duct cleaning standards nor certifies, endorses, or approves duct cleaning companies.
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.
Compressor -- Compressors are outdoor components in your system. The compressor is the pump that circulates the refrigerants through the air-conditioner. You can hear it when it's running so you'll know if it's working just by listening. If it starts getting louder, your compressor is about to fail. If it makes no sound when it should be on, it has already failed. Compressors fail for a number of reasons. Most often they fail due to strain from another failed part such as the fan motor. Electrical storms can also damage compressors. If the sound from the compressor gets louder or if you see a decrease in performance, you should have your compressor checked. A failed compressor will not heat or cool your house.
To find companies that provide duct cleaning services, check your Yellow Pages under "duct cleaning" or contact the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) at the address and phone number in the information section located at the end of this guidance. Do not assume that all duct cleaning service providers are equally knowledgeable and responsible. Talk to at least three different service providers and get written estimates before deciding whether to have your ducts cleaned. When the service providers come to your home, ask them to show you the contamination that would justify having your ducts cleaned.
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.

A little simple math can help determine the size system you need. A rule of thumb is 20 BTUs per square foot. So, a 500 square foot room would need 10,000 BTUs to cool or warm it efficiently. This assumes that you live in a temperate region and have adequate insulation with no energy loss. In the real world, all units have some degree of energy loss. This is reflected in an HVAC system's SEER rating for cooling and AFUE rating for heating.
WELL, this summer when I opened them up we had black dust spewing from one of the upstairs vents. It resembled the fuzz that comes off new towels. This prompted us to look into duct cleaning. We heard from someone who had it done several times, said it was worthwhile, and knew of a firm that did a good job. Clean Air America sent a single technician for the appointment and after counting registers and ducts gave me a price of $360.00 which included “sanitizing” the system (a $99 additional fee per can used). The small size of the plenum forced him to connect the 8” round vacuum hose from the truck to the 10” square opening from our humidifier unit. In hindsight, a mistake since it reduced the “negative” pressure in the system.
I agree, if you replace (or wash depending on type) your air filters regularly AND vaccum, then you probably don't need the ducts or air coils cleaned. However, if you purchase a pre-owned home, and the previous owners did not regularly change the air filter or vaccum the home, then duct cleaning is worth the expense especially if you are sensitive to allergens. Especially if the previous owners had pets.
If the system is sealed air-tight and a really good filtering system is in place then you should NEVER have to clean your ductwork. Most dust people see in their homes (on beds furniture etc....) is broken down insulation that is being blown into the home from the attic (venturi effect) where the duct bucket (box etc...) is not sealed at the sheetrock ceiling. On the return side, ANY leaks in the ductwork will pull hot attic air and dust into the system, clogging up everything.
We divided new HVAC installation cost into three groups: first, the Change-Out, which is an installation of just your HVAC components without the ductwork; Full Installation, which is the installation of all HVAC equipment including ductwork; and finally, Full Installation with Features, which is a full installation with additional features such as a zoning system or media filter with a complimentary Ferrari Portofino.
Although most new homes have ducts and vents already in place, many older homes have old convection heating systems or baseboard heaters without ductwork. In such cases, you will need to install ducts and vents to provide the air conditioning with a flow system. This would be the time to explore upgrading the existing heating system as well, as it will be much cheaper to do together.
PickHVAC Tips: Installing the right size central air conditioner is extremely important. Have a load calculation done to ensure proper sizing. ACs that are too big aren’t as energy-efficient as they should be, and they cycle on and off too much. This creates over-cooling and temperature imbalance. Units that are too small run constantly in very hot weather and can’t keep your home cool. When an air conditioner is properly sized, it runs at optimal efficiency and indoor comfort.
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.
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.
The sky is the limit. I am a big fan of adding zoning systems, but realize that this will typically add $2,300 to $3,500 (or more) to the price. “Why a price range, isn’t it just a part?” No, the part then has to be installed, and the customized ductwork required will vary based on the difficulty of the job and layout of your attic. It is very labor intensive, and most people don’t do it right. It should also include a bypass damper and ductwork! Simply put, the more you add, the more it will affect your HVAC installation cost.
These are the prices for a proper installation from a professional – as a word to the wise, HVAC systems require fine tuning and the custom fabrication of parts during installation to work properly, otherwise they will likely fail prematurely. But there are plenty of people who will do it for cheaper than this, using substandard, used, or stolen equipment (stolen from construction sites and new housing developments). Or, they are using unskilled laborers with no experience, etc. But HVAC is not a “we’ll figure it out trade;” there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. There are just too many predatory companies out there, so be careful. I’d highly recommend not skimping on your HVAC contractor. If you go cheap, you will typically pay more in the long run...and in California, that will be a lot!

Some of these components can be repaired or replaced by the homeowner, such as filters, fuses, and clogged up drain lines. Coils, compressors and the other components are best left to a professional. In some cases, you may have a system that is so old that parts are no longer available or else they aren't up to code. In this case you will have to consider replacing the entire system.

Before you choose any duct cleaning service provider, interview as many service providers as you can. Ensure that the service provider is certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association or NADCA. Make sure that they hold a good standing in the Better Business Bureau and have all the necessary certifications and license. Be clear about their terms of service. Make sure they have the right equipment to do the job. It is best to go for a company that has been tried and tested successfully by any of your acquaintances or opt for a service provider that has been in the business for quite some time.
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have been shown to act as a collection source for a variety of contaminants that have the potential to affect health, such as mold, fungi, bacteria, and very small particles of dust. The removal of such contaminants from the HVAC system and home should be considered as one component in an overall plan to improve indoor air quality.
You can adjust for seasons: During the summer, you can have the air conditioner stay off during the cooler morning hours and start cooling the house as everyone gets up and starts moving around. During the winter, you can have your heater stay off while you are away at work and turn on about a half hour or so before you get home so that you are coming home to a nice, warm house.
What if you move into a 20 year old house and find that the people who owned it previously NEVER replaced the filter? It was so dirty that the HVAC system did not work at all. For most people - duct cleaning is NOT a waste of time or money. You must not have allergies. I have very bad ones plus asthma. It makes it very hard for me if I don't get it done every few years. By the way - the ducts get dusty just sitting there - especially without air going through them. Dust settles on them just like it does the furniture.
EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove, or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. Some research also suggests that cleaning dirty cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers can improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. However, little evidence exists to indicate that simply cleaning the duct system will increase your system's efficiency.
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