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Consumer Information

Buyer Beware

Since air duct cleaning is not a regulated industry, it is relatively easy for shady contractors to get away with poor workmanship, deceptive advertising and bait-n-switch tactics.  The old saying "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" provides a good rule of thumb for selecting a service company to clean your air ducts.

You have likely seen the coupons advertising service such as "Unlimited Vents for $69!" or "Whole House Duct Cleaning for $99."  One of two things usually happens when consumers schedule: they get the $99 cleaning, which is a terrible effort that may cause more problems than it solves, or they get the bait-n-switch where $99 becomes $799 shortly after the "technicians" arrive.

Most of these coupon companies count on the consumer being completely unfamiliar with air duct cleaning.  Look for things like "We also offer: main cleanings, return cleanings, furnace cleaning..."  

Your main is the main trunk line that comes off of the furnace, and to which all of the ductwork in the house is attached.  The mains should be included because they are an integral part of the duct systems, and they are where the vacuum hose should be attached.  Companies will often say "The main is extra."  Since you will have at least two main trunk lines, this will add an extra $100-$200 per main to the cost of your job.

The returns should always be included.   The return side pulls air back to the furnace.  Since it is pulling in air, it will be the dirtiest part of the ductwork.  It is also the filter side of the ductwork, which means most furnace filters are on the return side to catch debris before it goes into the furnace/air handler.  In fact, if a company is only going to clean one part of the ductwork, it should be the returns and not the supplies. 

The bait-n-switch company will then add the return side for another few hundred dollars.  The same is true with the furnace, which is in the middle of all of the ductwork.  Loose debris should be vacuumed out of the furnace so it is not redistributed into the supply ductwork as soon as the system is operating.  Adding the furnace will likely increase the price another $100+.

Of course, the company may just do the $99 cleaning.  This usually involves simply hooking the vacuum hose to the main trunk line or to the furnace, and then blowing air over the tops of the vent covers throughout the home.  If vent covers are in the floor and lift up easily, the $99 cleaning may involve them just going from vent to vent with a shop vac to vacuum the ductwork at each opening.  Either method will just stir up debris, which will blow back into the home when the furnace is operating.

So when calling to inquire about service, ask lots of questions.  How long does the cleaning take?  An hour?  Find another company.  Are vent covers removed?  No?  It will not be a thorough cleaning.  How do they hook up the vacuum hose?  Is it just attached in one spot?  Then they will be pulling dirt through your furnace during the cleaning, and possibly causing damage to the coil and motor.  Ask for references.  Ask if they will take before and after photos for you.  If a company is confident in the quality of its work, they will be happy to answer any and all questions.

Air Quality in Your Home

The air quality in your home is affected by much more than the debris in your heating and air conditioning air ducts.  Certainly, clogged air ducts can restrict air flow, put more dust into your home and affect allergy sufferers.  However, the habits and lifestyles of those living in a home contribute to the quality of the indoor air, as well.

One of the most important factors affecting indoor air quality is humidity.  If the humidity level is too low, you will feel dry and itchy.  If the humidity is too high, the air feels clammy and has a musty odor because of too much moisture in the air.  Extended periods of high humidity will eventually cause structural damage since moisture is absorbed by everything from the wood and drywall in a home to the furniture and fabrics.

One person's breathing produces 1/4 cup of water per hour.  Showering puts 1/2 pint of water into the air.  Cooking for a family of four produces an average of 5 pints of water in a 24 hour period.  Adding only four to six pints of water to the air raises the relative humidity in a 1,000 square foot home from 15 to 60 percent, assuming the temperature is constant.

As much as you would like to save on your utility costs, avoid setting your thermostat too high during the summer months.  Circulating air is necessary to help condensation evaporate.  So also make sure you are adequately running exhaust fans after showering, and also when cooking.  If your bathroom is not equipped with an exhaust fan, open a window to help water dissipate.  Otherwise, mold will develop on the walls and ceilings in bathrooms. 

Excessive moisture and condensation can lead to mold.  We often see this with homes where the air handler is located in the attic.  The ambient air temperature in the attic will usually be much higher than the surface temperature of the cold (air conditioning) air handler.  This can cause the air handler to "sweat," which then introduces more moisture into the ductwork.  

If a sweating air handler is a problem in your home, you can talk to your heating and air conditioning company about recommendations for this.  Conditioning the attic air can sometimes help the condensation dissipate.  Ask your hvac company about putting supply vents into your attic to combat this problem.  Yes, you will be providing air conditioning in a living space nobody occupies, but it is far less costly than having to clean-up a mold problem or water damage caused by excess moisture.

One of the best ways to combat air quality problems in your home is to open up doors and windows as weather permits to allow fresh air to circulate.  Fresh air, especially after a thunderstorm, contains ions and ozone that naturally control contaminants and mold.  Air tight homes are more energy-efficient, but sacrifice the natural benefits of fresh air.  Take advantage of this "free" purifier when the weather is nice.  It will cut down on air quality issues in your home.