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.
If your non metal ductwork is that dirty you should just have it replaced AND sealed. Also most duct systems are not very well designed. Look for proper sizing and do not go cheap with one or two intakes (return grills) You need them through-out the house. Here in Austin the duct cleaners are carpet cleaners and chimney swifts. (this is who the duct cleaning equipment mfgs call on when the hvac people do not get on board. They DO clean other types of ductwork and we (the hvac guys) have to fix them. I am not aware of any of these non hvac guys cleaning and servicing the actual equipment. Here in Texas it is against the law for them to do so. Treat the entire house as a system, not just the ductwork and /or hvac equipment. Home performance really does work to increase comfort and air quality while reducing operating costs.
The number of years an HVAC system lasts depend on the type and brand of components that make up your system. The lifespan of an air conditioner averages between 15 and 20 years. The life expectancy of a tankless water heater is approximately 20 years, while a storage water heater is closer to 10-15 years. Ducts may need replacing within 10-15 years. Your equipment will have a longer life if you have regular tuneups and maintenance to keep everything in good working order. If you’re having repair problems and your HVAC system is over 10 years old, it’s a good time to consider the costs and benefits of repairing vs. replacing. provides the following tips to help you decide whether to repair or replace:
If the system is sealed air-tight and a really good filtering system is in place then you should NEVER have to clean your ductwork. Most dust people see in their homes (on beds furniture etc....) is broken down insulation that is being blown into the home from the attic (venturi effect) where the duct bucket (box etc...) is not sealed at the sheetrock ceiling. On the return side, ANY leaks in the ductwork will pull hot attic air and dust into the system, clogging up everything.
"Customer service was great, and the price was in-line with other places, and fast service. We had a whole replacement of the outside and inside. I would have liked to see a better install for the furnace and new thermostat - the new thermostat should have gone where the old one was, and even tho the new furnace was a tight fit, they didn't offer to come back and repair the case molding, or give me a discount on the damage done, and I believe they should have put a disconnect box on the outside of the home, to make it easier for any future repairs needed. Other than that, am very happy with the cooling and heating!"