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Duct cleaning, and is it worth it? | TLC Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

What is Air Duct Cleaning?

Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home’s indoor air quality. These services typically — but not always — range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on:
the services offered

  • the size of the system to be cleaned
  • system accessibility
  • climatic region
  • level of contamination

If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so.

Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing (See diagram).

If not properly installed, maintained and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home’s living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.

In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the ductwork and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to encapsulate or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe it will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.

Note: Use of sealants to encapsulate the inside surfaces of ducts is a different practice than sealing duct air leaks. Sealing duct air leaks can help save energy on heating and cooling bills. For more information, see EPA’s Energy Star website.

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You should consider having your duct cleaned if

There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. There are several important points to understand concerning mold detection in heating and cooling systems:

  • Many sections of your heating and cooling system may not be accessible for a visible inspection, so ask the service provider to show you any mold they say exists.
  • You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.
  • If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be removed and replaced.
  • If the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place are not corrected, mold growth will recur.
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Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects).

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Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

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How to Prevent Duct Contamination

Whether or not you decide to have the air ducts in your home cleaned, committing to a good preventive maintenance program is essential to minimize duct contamination.

To prevent dirt from entering the system:

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Use the highest efficiency air filter recommended by the manufacturer of your heating and cooling system.

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Change filters regularly.

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If your filters become clogged, change them more frequently.

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Be sure you do not have any missing filters and that air cannot bypass filters through gaps around the filter holder.

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When having your heating and cooling system maintained or checked for other reasons, be sure to ask the service provider to clean cooling coils and drain pans.

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During construction or renovation work that produces dust in your home, seal off supply and return registers and do not operate the heating and cooling system until after cleaning up the dust.

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Remove dust and vacuum your home regularly. (Use a high-efficiency vacuum (HEPA) cleaner or the highest efficiency filter bags your vacuum cleaner can take. Vacuuming can increase the amount of dust in the air during and after vacuuming as well as in your ducts).

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If your heating system includes in-duct humidification equipment, be sure to operate and maintain the humidifier strictly as recommended by the manufacturer.

Whether or not you decide to have the air ducts in your home cleaned, committing to a good preventive maintenance program is essential to minimize duct contamination.

To prevent ducts from becoming wet:

Moisture should not be present in ducts. Controlling moisture is the most effective way to prevent biological growth in air ducts.

Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:

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Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage.

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Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.

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Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces (e.g., attics and crawl spaces). This will help to prevent moisture due to condensation from entering the system and is important to make the system work as intended. To prevent water condensation, the heating and cooling system must be properly insulated.

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If you are replacing your air conditioning system, make sure that the unit is the proper size for your needs and that all ducts are sealed at the joints. A unit that is too big will cycle on and off frequently, resulting in poor moisture removal, particularly in areas with high humidity. Also, make sure that your new system is designed to manage condensation effectively.

If you have any further questions please feel free and contact us at tlc-airconditioning.com and someone will gladly get back to you or call us at 480-969-3651

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