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.
I agree that good filtration and a sealed system will prevent the need for duct cleaning. However, when we do get called it is because the duct work has reached a noticeable state of restriction or dust or the homeowner is hyper-sensitive to these pollutants in their home. Most of the time we find that no filter or a cheap (99 cent) filter is being used or they have serious duct leaks in the system. If you are hiring a cleaner make sure they are using professional cleaning equipment which will consist of a rotating brush system and a vacuum source. Be highly skeptical of the contractor with no branded system or the guy who shows up with just chimney brushes and a shop vac. He will not be able to reach around all the corners or all the runs in your system and he will be taking your money for a superficial cleaning at best. Only trust a company that offers VIDEO inspection and more importantly.... a contractor who repairs, installs and seals ducts if a problem is discovered or heaven forbid, created. Good luck and get your ducts sealed if you do have a leak! It is one of the greatest energy losses to a home other than being poorly insulated.
Indoor Fan Motor -- Indoor fans circulate the air from your house and through the system. Age and dust buildup are the two biggest contributing factors to their failure. When they are starting to fail they will often make noise. Failure of the fan will result in no heating or cooling, and if it is not repaired soon, it can cause other components to fail.
In modern buildings, the design, installation, and control systems of these functions are integrated into one or more HVAC systems. For very small buildings, contractors normally estimate the capacity and type of system needed and then design the system, selecting the appropriate refrigerant and various components needed. For larger buildings, building service designers, mechanical engineers, or building services engineers analyze, design, and specify the HVAC systems. Specialty mechanical contractors then fabricate and commission the systems. Building permits and code-compliance inspections of the installations are normally required for all sizes of building.
Although HVAC is executed in individual buildings or other enclosed spaces (like NORAD's underground headquarters), the equipment involved is in some cases an extension of a larger district heating (DH) or district cooling (DC) network, or a combined DHC network. In such cases, the operating and maintenance aspects are simplified and metering becomes necessary to bill for the energy that is consumed, and in some cases energy that is returned to the larger system. For example, at a given time one building may be utilizing chilled water for air conditioning and the warm water it returns may be used in another building for heating, or for the overall heating-portion of the DHC network (likely with energy added to boost the temperature).
Deciding if central air is worth the cost depends on your needs and local housing market. If you live in a hotter climate, it can definitely be worth the price. Not only can it keep your home at a comfortable temperature, but air conditioning can even save lives during extreme heat waves. But in a milder zone without severe temperatures, window units, fans or the breeze from an open window could be adequate.
"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!"