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 have worked cleaning HVAC in my area for almost 5 years. I always do a thorough inspection and cleaning, providing before and after photos. I have completed some jobs where I felt that it was not entirely necessary, but ultimately what the customer wanted. With that being said, I have endless photos of unspeakable horrors. Hotels are usually nasty, post construction mess is certain, pets and kids create lots off debris, bugs congregate and die, then spiders set up and die, I have even had one supply that was nearly plugged with sand!
I recently did some remodeling and figured I’d get the air ducts cleaned in our 12 year old home. After obtaining 4 estimates between $572 and a whopping $3,075 for 25 vents and 2 air handlers, I knew I was in for a ride. I read through this blog and decided to use a $79 inspection camera I just found online (Home Depot) to take a look at all my ducts by removing the ceiling grilles first and then try to get into the ducts from the other end. From what I have just learned here, I believe that will take care of my “concerns”.
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 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.
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.
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.