Duct clean­ing gives some homeowners peace of mind

The Progress-Index - At Home - - Front Page - AMY LORENTZEN,

John San­tos of Los An­ge­les wants his home to be a healthy gath­er­ing place for fam­ily and friends, some of whom are re­cov­er­ing from ma­jor ill­ness. As part of his ef­fort, he re­cently had his home’s duct­work pro­fes­sion­ally cleaned.

“I wanted to make cer­tain the air that they were breath­ing was as clean as it pos­si­bly could be,” says San­tos, 54, a high school tech­nol­ogy teacher. “Es­pe­cially liv­ing in a city like Los An­ge­les, where the air qual­ity can really be poor and clean­ing the air sys­tems can pro­vide value.”

Although many homeowners con­sider duct clean­ing a way to make their in­door air cleaner, re­search on whether it can really cre­ate a health­ier home is in the early stages.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency rec­om­mends look­ing into duct clean­ing af­ter fires, floods, pest in­fes­ta­tions and in haz­ardous waste sit­u­a­tions, or if you can see par­ti­cles coming out of your ducts. Oth­er­wise, the agency says it’s not nec­es­sary for the av­er­age house­hold.

Tom Keys, pres­i­dent of At­lantic Duct Clean­ing in Ster­ling, Va., says his com­pany has done more than 80,000 duct-clean­ing jobs, and that many cus­tomers report back that they have bet­ter air qual­ity, a cleaner home and lower en­ergy costs. Cus­tomers of­ten are sur­prised at how much de­bris col­lected in their duct­work over the years, he says.

“Most of the peo­ple who do it, do it for peace of mind,” Keys says. His com­pany has found all sorts of items in duct­work be­yond dirt and grime, in­clud­ing class rings, rare base­ball cards and con­struc­tion de­bris from when the home was built.

Keys en­cour­ages homeowners to ask duct­clean­ing tech­ni­cians for ev­i­dence that there is dirt in the ducts that should be re­moved.

Jodi Araujo, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Air Duct Clean­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, says homeowners can tell when ducts are dirty by sim­ply re­mov­ing a reg­is­ter cover, in­sert­ing a cam­era and click­ing a photo.

On the other hand, John DeSil­via, a con­trac­tor and host of DIY Net­work’s “Res­cue My Ren­o­va­tion,” premier­ing Feb. 27, doesn’t gen­er­ally rec­om­mend duct clean­ing to homeowners. It’s nor­mal for dirt to ac­cu­mu­late and stick to the sides of air ducts, he says. The ex­cep­tion, he says, is if there’s vis­i­ble mold growth.

If you do have duct­work cleaned, he ad­vises get­ting a few es­ti­mates and en­sur­ing that the ser­vice you hire uses high-pow­ered equip­ment to cap­ture what they dis­lodge. Oth­er­wise, the ef­fort could back­fire.

“Any dust and dirt not col­lected will be dis­trib­uted through­out your home, caus­ing a big­ger prob­lem,” DeSil­via says.

If you de­cide to get your home’s duct­work cleaned, ex­pect to pay be­tween $400 and $800 if there’s one HVAC (heat­ing, ven­ti­la­tion and air con­di­tion­ing) sys­tem. If you have more than one zone, you could pay more. That’s be­cause duct clean­ers don’t just clean the ducts; they also clean the fur­nace and air han­dler for each unit, which could ex­tend the life of your ap­pli­ances.

In ad­di­tion, they can iden­tify any places where a duct has be­come un­sealed, torn or flat­tened, prevent­ing good air­flow. Many pro­fes­sional duct clean­ers rec­om­mend hav­ing a sys­tem cleaned ev­ery five to eight years.

Keys says con­sumers should ask about any hid­den charges, such as ex­tra fees per reg­is­ter, and check con­sumer sites such as Angieslist.com for re­views of duct-clean­ing com­pa­nies.

He also notes that for clean­ers to gain ac­cess, the duct­work must be cut, and trained tech­ni­cians need to know how to re­seal the point of en­try cor­rectly so you don’t lose en­ergy. His com­pany uses a prod­uct that seals any leaks through­out the sys­tem. Duct clean­ing has be­come “a much more com­pre­hen­sive, tech­no­log­i­cally driven process — not two guys and a vac­uum cleaner,” he says.

DeSil­via says homeowners can do a lot on their own to im­prove their HVAC ef­fi­ciency by clean­ing dirty coils, fans and reg­is­ters, en­sur­ing drain pans are emp­ty­ing prop­erly, and chang­ing air fil­ters at least three times a year. He also rec­om­mends a yearly pro­fes­sional tuneup.

“Think about your heat­ing and cool­ing sys­tem like you do your car,” he says. “You main­tain your car at least once a year.”

Duct­work is usu­ally in the base­ment of at­tic, so homeowners who de­cide to call in the clean­ers need to move any fur­ni­ture or other ob­sta­cles to cre­ate ac­cess, Keys said. You don’t have to leave home dur­ing clean­ing be­cause the dust and de­bris should be go­ing di­rectly into con­tain­ment sys­tems. Ster­il­iza­tion chem­i­cals gen­er­ally aren’t needed un­less you have an un­usual sit­u­a­tion such as mold or sewage backup.

To com­ple­ment duct clean­ing, Keys rec­om­mends hav­ing car­pets and draperies cleaned too.

San­tos, the home­owner from Cal­i­for­nia, says that af­ter his home’s duct­work was cleaned, he has to dust less and his home smells fresher. His fam­ily and friends feel “a whole lot bet­ter” know­ing the air sys­tem is clean.


This un­dated pub­lic­ity photo pro­vided by NADCA shows a tech­ni­cian cut­ting an ac­cess hole in duct­work. If you want to freshen up the air in your home and make your heat­ing and cool­ing sys­tems work more ef­fi­ciently, you might con­sider hav­ing the duct­work...

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