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.
When central air conditioning service fails during a heat spell, you may have to wait days for an HVAC repair technician or an ac contractor to show up, and you'll probably pay at least several hundred for the repair. But if you're comfortable working around electricity and are willing to spend about $50 on parts, you can probably repair your air conditioning service yourself in about two hours and save about $225 on parts markup and labor.
A dehumidifier is an air-conditioner-like device that controls the humidity of a room or building. It is often employed in basements which have a higher relative humidity because of their lower temperature (and propensity for damp floors and walls). In food retailing establishments, large open chiller cabinets are highly effective at dehumidifying the internal air. Conversely, a humidifier increases the humidity of a building.
On the other hand, if a service provider fails to follow proper duct cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems. For example, an inadequate vacuum collection system can release more dust, dirt and other contaminants than if you had left the ducts alone. A careless or inadequately trained service provider can damage your ducts or heating and cooling system, possibly increasing your heating and air conditioning costs or forcing you to undertake difficult and costly repairs or replacements.
Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and encapsulate duct surfaces claim that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and may invalidate the manufacturer's warranty.
I just bought a home, and the sellers clearly never had the air ducts cleaned. This is, unfortunately, typical of their neglect of the home, so I am not surprised. I was cleaning around the wooden floor registers, and I took the registers off. I found nests of some sort...all kinds of really gross stuff!! I am calling now to schedule duct cleaning for my new home. Anyway, it is very easy to check to see if you really need duct cleaning. Remove the floor registers and use a flashlight if necessary to see if there is dust or debris in the ducting. If these look bad, I'd definitely have the system cleaned. I would also do it after a construction project, after installing a new furnace, etc. I have found that once I had my previous system cleaned, it seemed to remain spotless for 3 years. So it seems that if you just change your filters on time (I have an iPhone alert set for every 3 months), the system will stay clean for years. Hope this helps!
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