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Should You Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned?

We hear a lot these days about keeping air ducts clean. We're told that if we don't have ductwork cleaned regularly, our indoor air will be polluted with everything from toxic mold to viruses. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no evidence that failing to have duct work cleaned regularly will cause health problems.

However, for someone who suffers from allergies, regular duct cleaning can reduce the presence of allergens and pollen, thereby creating a healthier environment. Another reason to have ducts cleaned is if you notice visible mold growth in or around the air vents and ducts. In this case, it's best to have a duct work inspection sooner rather than later to determine the extent of the problem.

Air ducts do get dirty, so it makes sense to have them cleaned from time to time. The EPA recommends that ductwork be cleaned "as needed," and that because "conditions in every home are different, it is impossible to generalize about whether or not air duct cleaning in your home would be beneficial." In some cases, there are duct systems that get so heavily polluted that they create a health hazard. On the other hand, a small amount of dust is normal, and it does not pose a problem.

How Do I Know Whether My Ductwork Needs Cleaning?

Most reputable HVAC companies will perform an air duct inspection for a nominal fee. Using high-tech detection equipment, a technician can determine whether or not duct cleaning is necessary. But here are a few red flags that can alert you to potential problems:

  • Visible areas of duct work show mold growth or are clogged with excessive dust and debris
  • Fecal droppings indicate possible rodent infestation
  • Ants, spiders, wasps or other insects are emerging from vents
  • Onset or worsening of allergies and/or respiratory problems
  • Musty odors are coming from air vents
  • Small particles, dust or debris are blowing out of vents

If none of these conditions are present, it doesn't necessarily mean your ducts are clean. The problem is that most of your ductwork is not visible. While visible areas may look fine, there's no way to know whether contaminants are lurking beyond view.

What About Mold Growth?

Mold thrives in dark, damp environments, and the spores can be blown out through air vents. This can cause allergic reactions while mold spreads to other areas of the home. When there is visible mold growing in your air ducts, around vents, or on any of your heating and cooling components, it's time to get professional help.

After mold is removed, make sure your HVAC company corrects the problem that caused it, otherwise mold will simply grow back. For example, if duct work insulation becomes wet and moldy, the insulation will need to be removed and replaced. Sometimes mold can result from ductwork that's been improperly installed; this too must be corrected. It's important to keep water and dirt from getting into ductwork, as this is an open invitation for mold to take up residence.

How To Keep Air Ducts Clean

To avoid problems, the EPA suggests that "a good preventive maintenance program is essential to minimize duct contamination." Here are some suggestions to keep your ducts clean and free of pollutants:

  • Use only high-efficiency air filters
  • Replace or clean filters regularly
  • Make sure filters fit snugly into holders
  • Keep cooling coils and drain pans clean
  • Vacuum air vents regularly
  • Keep your HVAC system well-maintained
  • Use in-duct humidification systems according to manufacturer's instructions
  • Keep moisture from getting into ducts
  • Have cracks and leaks sealed
  • Repair any plumbing leaks or water damage promptly
  • Ensure that the condensate pan is draining properly

Benefits Of Professional Duct Cleaning

If you schedule duct cleaning, make sure your HVAC company will clean and inspect all system components. A reputable heating and cooling company will clean not only ducts but also registers, diffusers, grilles, heat exchangers, drip pans, fan motors, fan housing, air handling units and coils. Also, be careful to hire only a well-established, professional duct cleaning company. If the technicians don't follow proper procedures, ducts may become even more polluted, and your HVAC system can be seriously damaged.

Studies indicate that keeping HVAC components clean improves heating and cooling efficiency and extends the system lifespan. There's also evidence that regular HVAC maintenance lowers energy bills. And if your ducts have cracks or leaks, having them sealed will definitely save on heating and cooling costs.