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 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.
Venice warns homeowners to beware of air duct cleaning scams, especially the sort where unscrupulous cleaners offer a $49 special deal but start piling on extra fees. “It’s a bait and switch scam where they say they’ll offer unlimited cleaning, but then they throw around terms you might not understand, such as extra fees for a ‘main duct line,’” he says. “And many times, these cleaners end up walking out the door with twice the amount of money a reputable duct cleaner would charge. They’ve gotten very sophisticated at upselling.”
If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold (no musty odor or visible mold growth), having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through the grate. This does not indicate that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris; the registers can be easily vacuumed or removed and cleaned.
My best advice has always been that a proper duct cleaning is a valuable investment when moving into a home (new or old), after major renovations and if the ducts have never been cleaned before. It is unlikely that there will be increased air flow, as finding major blockage is unusual, but this will eliminate this as a possible concern if there are air flow concerns. It is also true that the "dust" that is cleared out will most likely never have been distributed through the house unless there has been some work done on the ducts. What is cleared out will be pet hair, toys, clothes, construction material, and biological material (small carcasses and/or feces). Once a proper cleaning is done a follow-up is rarely necessary, but up to the home owners discression.
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.