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.
Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:

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!
Be careful with HVAC change-outs.  Change-outs are only about 15-20% of the HVAC installation industry. Decrease HVAC installation cost by investing in new ductwork now if needed. Your ducts wear out too, and make sure that your ducts are in fantastic shape if you do this. Many contractors push this because it’s easy and cheap for them, with good pay-off. Do your research and replace them if you need to in order to avoid doing it later, as well as avoid potential health hazards from using old, broken ductwork.
I recently replaced my 44 year old furnace. Over the years we have had several construction projects inside the home. For many years breathing the heated air from the duct work caused excessive sneezing, sinus issues, and lung irritation. . The heat smelled like dust. To maximize air quality I added a humidifier, MERV-11 filter, and UV light onto the new furnace. To further improve air quality, I had the ducts cleaned and sanitized. I took before and after pictures of the inside of each return and output duct. They were filthy before, and sparkling clean and fresh after the procedure. Now when running the system, clean sanitized air flows through my whole house. A huge difference. It will make sleeping and being indoors during the winter months far more tolerable. I use window air conditioners, and run the system in the summer to keep the house air clean and fresh on hot summer days too. It works! Great decision!
Unfortunately, manufacturers and contractors don’t publish this information…it’s a secret. Why? Who knows…but we have access to a full contractor pricing database of 1,000’s of different units in our online HVAC installation cost calculator, so let’s choose one for our example calculation. We’ll go with Carrier equipment, since our readers always bother us about them (despite us telling them that they are overpriced):
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.
Pro Tips: Before you buy one of the learning thermostats available, you should beware of their shortcomings. First, many require a c-wire to work properly. A common problem is that the old thermostat might not use a c-wire, and this makes it confusing when swapping wires to the new thermostat. Secondly, if you change your thermostat setting often, you might become frustrated with a nest thermostat or other learning thermostat. It will be constantly trying to learn patterns in your random setting changes, and will therefore change your home’s temperature when you don’t want it to. If you have a fairly consistent schedule or don’t mind overriding the unit either manually or via the app on your way home or when leaving, then you won’t experience this issue.
Air conditioner size is measured in “tons.” However, the tonnage of an HVAC unit is not actually based on its weight. A “ton” is simply a measure of an air conditioner’s ability to cool your home. One ton is the ability of your air conditioning system to cool 12,000 BTUs (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit) in an hour. Likewise, a “2-ton” central air conditioner is able to cool 24,000 BTUs per hour.
And if you have flex duct and/or fiberglass ductboard in your home- the last thing you want is a big brush or anything abrasive running through it. Even high-pressure air can erode ductboard so I wouldn’t clean it with anything. If it becomes contaminated, get rid of it and install real ductwork. If your ductwork is accessible in the basement – the best thing to do is take it down and manually clean it if it’s full of junk. It’s not going to cost a nickel more to do that than to pay $500-1000 for a ‘duct cleaning machine” AKA big blower and vacuum – to do the job.
AC installation in Fort Smith, AR is vital to comfort, safety, and quality of life. The region is infamous for the unbearable heat that can often become debilitating. This is why investing into an AC to improve the overall lifestyle of your family is well worth the cost. Avoid the constant frustration by seeking the assistance of a professional team.
Air conditioner size is measured in “tons.” However, the tonnage of an HVAC unit is not actually based on its weight. A “ton” is simply a measure of an air conditioner’s ability to cool your home. One ton is the ability of your air conditioning system to cool 12,000 BTUs (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit) in an hour. Likewise, a “2-ton” central air conditioner is able to cool 24,000 BTUs per hour.
No one has addressed mfg homes and doesn't seem any of the comments are from people in So CA which of course does make a difference as my dust comes from the outside not from the vents. My windows are open pretty much 365 days a year. Secondly mfg homes don't have basements or attics I keep mine clean with my vacuum as they are only about 2 ft deep. I purchased my home 10 yrs ago and it is a high end home but have never had a problem. I clean my furnace filter about twice a month as I have cats and most everything in there is cat fur. I am not saying they don't ever need to be cleaned but I am questioning mfg homes, I also clean my own filters in my AC unit outside as the HVAC guy told me too he QUATITY they would sell. I use this same company every year now for my tune up and inspection which takes them about 10 minutes. Not a bad return for them and I don't mind the $79 fee. If anyone has more info than this on mfg homes please let me know!
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).
Yes, ducts can look terribly dusty. However, that dust will not become aerosolized during the normal operation of your furnace. There is an easy way to test this. Rent a particle counter and test the air flowing out of your registers before and after cleaning. You will not see any improvement in the air quality or any reduction in the airborne dust level. Think of it this way. Duct cleaning companies tell you that you need to clean your ducts when you can see a layer of dust in your ducts. Yet that very layer of dust is proof that duct cleaning is unnecessary, because that dust proves that the air movement in your furnace is not fast enough to re-aerosolize the dust.
Your contractor will do a load calculation to determine the proper central air conditioning unit for your home. This calculation accounts for the climate, size, shape and orientation of your home, as well as its square footage. A professional will also look at the insulation, windows, walls, floors and other materials that compose your home. He/she will then examine any leaks, seals and existing ducts or vents.
Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to HVAC systems, and smaller isn't always more efficient. If you have too small of a system, your system will be running constantly as it tries to keep up with the temperature. If you have too large of a system, it won't run long enough to keep up with the humidity. In order to handle both temperature and humidity efficiently, an HVAC system should run for around 30 minutes at a time. If your system is staying on too long or shutting off after only around 10 minutes, you are not getting efficient performance.
The final cost of this service is best determined after a professional inspection. Many air duct cleaning companies build their prices based on individual services, while others offer package pricing which includes such components as the air conditioning and furnace. The following estimates can give you an idea of prices to expect for various services.

I am very interested by your post. We recently had a lead inspection on our property and one thing the lead inspector suggested was to get the air ducts cleaned out. We had our ducts cleaned last year after we under went a large renovation project (since we have a toddler in the house). This year we decided to go for lead compliance and had all our lead removed (we moved out for the work). Recently, my son had a false positive lead test, which prompted us to get a lead dust inspection around the house (including having the vents dust-wiped on the inside). The levels inside the ducts weren't crazy high (but more than would be acceptable for a floor). As it turned out my son's lead levels are very low (but not zero). Is it possible however that lead dust from the inside of a vent can come out? Would this be a scenario where you think air duct cleaning would be beneficial?
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.
Pro Tips: Before you buy one of the learning thermostats available, you should beware of their shortcomings. First, many require a c-wire to work properly. A common problem is that the old thermostat might not use a c-wire, and this makes it confusing when swapping wires to the new thermostat. Secondly, if you change your thermostat setting often, you might become frustrated with a nest thermostat or other learning thermostat. It will be constantly trying to learn patterns in your random setting changes, and will therefore change your home’s temperature when you don’t want it to. If you have a fairly consistent schedule or don’t mind overriding the unit either manually or via the app on your way home or when leaving, then you won’t experience this issue.
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.
I am very interested by your post. We recently had a lead inspection on our property and one thing the lead inspector suggested was to get the air ducts cleaned out. We had our ducts cleaned last year after we under went a large renovation project (since we have a toddler in the house). This year we decided to go for lead compliance and had all our lead removed (we moved out for the work). Recently, my son had a false positive lead test, which prompted us to get a lead dust inspection around the house (including having the vents dust-wiped on the inside). The levels inside the ducts weren't crazy high (but more than would be acceptable for a floor). As it turned out my son's lead levels are very low (but not zero). Is it possible however that lead dust from the inside of a vent can come out? Would this be a scenario where you think air duct cleaning would be beneficial?
Just had my air ducts cleaned. They used a high pressure air hose in all the heat ducts and cold air returns. He showed me the stuff that came out, the reason for the duct cleaning was the fact that I had a problem. With rodents. There was quite a few mummified rats and mice, and he said I wouldn’t have to have them done again unless I incur another problem or have renovations done. Cost me 345.00 for a 2 storey large old home. Not a bad price as I had them done when I moved in 28 years ago and it cost me 500.00. Lots of dog hair, toys, balls and assorted goodies came out as well. Took them 2 hours. I did have sanitizer put in the ducts because of the dead rodents.
AC units and thermostats have built-in delay features when they're shut down and then repowered. The delay can be as long as 10 minutes. And, if you've subscribed to an energy-saving device from your local power utility, the unit can take even longer to reset. If you've installed the parts shown and reinstalled the disconnect block, repowered the circuit breaker, turned on the switch at the furnace, moved the thermostat to AC mode and lowered the temperature below the indoor temperature, and the unit doesn't fire up after 30 minutes, it's time to call a pro.
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