Duct cleaning is a band aid, like washing you hands is. Under your description, why wash your hands more than once? If it gets cleaned once, it shouldn't get dirty again. Well that is, unless they touch something dirty. Keeping your hands completely clean is virtually impossible. Same as keeping dust out of your home. You clean your ducts and over a 3-5 year span they get dirty again. Also, duct cleaners are not licensed but should be certified by NADCA(National Air Duct Cleaning Association).
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I've been in business in Florida for 25 years and purchased a $12,000 duct cleaning system 4 years ago. In the last four years I've cleaned 5 duct systems charging around $400 each. Not a very good return on investment. What I have been doing most the time is I get a call by someone panicked because they called some low priced company to inspect their system and were told they have dangerous black mold. Then they call me to have a look. Most the time they don't have mold, ducts look very clean. However the coils are dirty and the inside of the air handler cabinet needs cleaning. Keep in mind not every system can handle supper high efficiency filters! These filters can block air flow quite a bit right out of the package. Many older systems can't handle pleated filters due to increased static pressure. "Back rooms with low air flow". I have taken many hours of classroom study on indoor air quality. Never got any certification because I don't want to pay another organization dues yearly. I think the problem with duct / system cleaning is most people are suckers for low priced scams that are rip- offs . People call me all the time and ask how much? When I tell them average $400 they hang up. I know I do the job correctly and honestly, and they are going to get racked over the coals by the scam artists by calling $79 whole house duct cleaning guys. People need to check internet, angies list and BBB reviews. But keep in mind even reviews need to be sifted through your rational person filter.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.

In addition, the black dust was found in most of the heat registers. He could rub it off on his fingers but did nothing but spray compressed air on it which didn’t make it disappear since it wasn’t loose. Also, in the register in the basement he described the black dust as being oily. The reality of that situation is that I had the AC on until the morning of the service and minutes after he snaked the hoses in my back door it started raining. The basement register had condensation from the humidity all over it. It was not oily but wet. He asked for an old towel and wiped it out. Never saw anything so black – because I never had to clean soot. That is what I have in my ducts. Soot from years of the old coal furnace.
PickHVAC Tips: Oil burns dirty, so it is important to have your plenum and ducts checked to see if they should be cleaned when replacing an oil furnace. If you don’t clean the plenum and ducts when replacing the furnace, the new furnace might not run as efficiently and comfortably as possible due to restricted airflow. This can also reduce the oily smell sometimes associated with oil furnaces.
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.

The jury is out on whether or not cleaning your air ducts and vents has a significant enough impact to be necessary. A proven connection between immaculate duct systems and air quality in the home has not been made. However, if your vents display any of the signs listed above, cleaning would certainly be in your best interest. Allowing mold, debris and bacteria to fester could create bigger problems down the line. If having your system disinfected is within your budget, you may prefer to take care of these issues rather than ignore them.
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