It’s not necessary – or it should be done regularly – depending on who you ask
Talk about confusing. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says studies do not conclusively demonstrate that duct cleaning prevents health problems or reduces dust levels in the home. But if that’s true, why is there something called NADCA, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, a nonprofit global trade association devoted to promoting standards for – you guessed it – cleaning HVAC duct systems?
Should you get your air ducts clean? And how often? Although the trade association was created to assist the business growth of air duct cleaners, NADCA’s own FAQ says it depends, and it’s mainly up to the preference of the homeowner. According to NADCA, “if your air ducts look dirty, they probably are.” The organization says that contaminants such as dander, dust, and chemicals are pulled into your HVAC system and recirculated five to seven times a day – which over time causes a build-up in the duct work. Let’s look at this a bit closer.
The EPA doesn’t say you shouldn’t do it
The EPA says there’s no evidence that a light amount of particulate matter in your air ducts poses any risk to your health, but the organization advises you to consider getting the HVAC ducts cleaned if you see visible mold growth. The EPA also makes this recommendation if you discover insects or rodents in your ducts and if you actually can see particulates released into the air from vents.
Otherwise, the EPA says that regular cleaning is unnecessary. Today’s Homeowner agrees with the EPA, pointing out that people have become more concerned about indoor air quality – which has made it easier for companies to convince them that their ducts need this service.
They state that it shouldn’t be on your regular home maintenance list, and you likely should consider it only if you had your home remodeled and the ducts weren’t sealed off during the renovation. Another reason for consideration might be if a family member has begun to experience unexplained allergy-related illnesses that aren’t resolved by removing allergens from your home.
What’s involved in air duct cleaning
Your HVAC system is more than just the ducts. The EPA features a checklist on its website that runs through everything you should check to decide if a duct cleaner has done a thorough job. This includes visibly inspecting – before and after – things like the heat exchanger, the air conditioner’s cooling components, the blower, and the vent access doors.
The Today’s Homeowner founder, Danny Lipford, points out that there are professional and reputable duct cleaning services, and they should follow the standards of the organization created to support their own industry. He warns not to be fooled by the condition of an intake duct, as these often don’t have filters. It’s the supply ducts delivering air back to your rooms that should be given a before-and-after examination.
Lipford also echoes the EPA’s warning about having only the ducts cleaned. He notes that an abbreviated service like this is often how a less-than-reputable company gets away with a low price offer. Both Lipford and the EPA agree that this service should cost from $450 to $1,000.
The EPA and the NADCA advise you not to let a duct cleaner spray anti-microbial or biocides into the ducts after cleaning. Some services may feature steam cleaning, which may be harmful to ducts containing fiberglass lining or made of fiberglass duct board.
How to keep your ducts clean
The EPA reminds you that preventative maintenance is the best course of action, regardless of whether you decide to have your air ducts cleaned. This includes regularly changing air filters and replacing them with what’s recommended by your HVAC system’s manufacturer.
You should also have your HVAC system regularly inspected to make sure it’s working properly, and that’s the best time to also have drain pans and cooling coils cleaned. The coils remove moisture from the air and deposit into the drain pans. This can be a source for mold growth.
The duct-free option
True to their name, a ductless mini split system lets you skip the whole conversation about whether it’s necessary to spend the money on air duct cleaning. One of the key benefits of these super energy-efficient cooling and heating systems is that they don’t require the air duct infrastructure to deliver precise environmental control. You don’t have to worry about cleaning something that doesn’t exist.