Hello, I read your comment and I know it was two years ago but I hope you see my message. I am trying to figure out what to do as I was told that there is some cat odor in the finished basement. I think with the air conditioning running that it may carry odor. The litter boxes are always kept clean. I wonder if odor can be trapped in the ducts, if Air Duct Cleaning could help, but it is quite expensive plus I'm concerned that it may not help. Please elaborate as to why you think it doesn't work that well. Do you have any other advise? Did you work in the field of Air Duct Cleaning? Thanks so much!

Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
PickHVAC Tips: Don’t be sold on systems with features you don’t want or need. Called “upselling,” it is rampant in the HVAC industry. Some features are nice – if you want them. If your single-stage furnace was loud and pushed out cold air at the start of the cycle, then a two-stage model will improve those issues. If you didn’t notice them, the upgrade will be a waste of money. That’s just one common example.
I am NADCA Certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist. Over the years I have learned on simple answer to this questions: there air duct cleaners and there are pretenders. There will be no benefit at all if you use on the very cheap pretender because they will not really clean anything. On the other hand if you call a qualified air duct cleaner with a NADCA Certification you will, like 99% of my customers, report improvement with your respiratory problems, you will see less dust and the job will pay for itself with energy savings and repair prevention.
In most modern homes with up-to-date heating and air conditioning systems, filters are changed regularly through the year, so you may not even need to hire a professional. However, keep your eyes open for the accumulation of dust, dirt, dander and mold. If you see it despite regularly changing your filters it could be an indication you need a high-pressure cleaning.
I live in a 1950's ranch house in the South. The prior owners were smokers. Based on recommendations from one of the local conservation organizations, I decided to have a home energy audit done. As part of their findings, they recommended additional insulation in the attic and duct cleaning and sealing. This turned out to be a very problematic process. In terms of the ducts, it was necessary to remove the metal grates. However, these grates had been painted over many times and shoe molding covered the bottom of the grates. The vendor was not able to remove the grates without damaging them in the process. Because these grates dated back to the 1950's, it was difficult to find appropriate replacements. The ones I finally discovered were correct except they were 1/4" wider. This meant that the shoe molding had to be carved out. The duct cleaner could not provide any assistance with this problem. It took me a month of long evenings replacing the vent covers myself, carefully chiseling out the shoe molding and repainting. In terms of the extra installation in the attic, the same vendor used blow in insulation. Unfortunately, they did not recognize that the 13 floodlights whose mounting extended into the attic were not designed to be buried under insulation. The problem manifested itself in terms of expensive flood light bulbs failing continually. So, I had to have all of the light housings replaced. Yet another unexpected expense. Despite the expense, pain and suffering, I cannot report any improvement in my heating costs or the "quality" of the air. To be fair, I do not have any allergies and did not undertake this for air quality improvements but rather heating efficiency improvements.
I to had an odd layer of white'ish dust building up especially during seasonal periods when the HVAC ran a a lot. I carefully swept up the fine dust into a small pile and had it analyzed. Turns out it was very fine fiberglass powder dust. It turns out it is the insulation form the attic! (My attic has blown in insulation). Turns out if you (I) had small gaps around my HVAC registers in the ceiling whee the airs blows into the room. What occurred in my case was that the exiting air at that seam creates a vacuum effect at the grate vent cover and draws and then blows fine insulation dust from the attic into the house. Removing each register grate and sealing each tin outlet gap with calking between the dry wall ceiling and tin fixed the issue. A couple were so bad with bowed gaps I had to screw down the bowed tin to the attaching stud better. Checking the very same glass top desk that catches and shows any dust accumulation now shows only very small amounts of normal house dust build up over several weeks. A big, big improvement. You might have a look by simply removing a couple vent covers yourself.

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Did not realize cost had gone up so much for this service. Two years ago I had furnace and ducts cleaned at my old house and it was under $400. Now the cost is $700 for this house. I will keep looking for someone to offer a lower price, check them out, and have it done. Or will find the paperwork to see who did it before. I liked this article and did learn some things. Thanks.
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