Duck, Duck, Duct! How Often Should Ductwork Be Cleaned?

24 May 2022

How Often Should I Clean The Ductwork?

Thinking about having the ducts in your home cleaned? Before you grab one of the many ductwork cleaning coupons that came in the mail, let’s talk about why, when, and who should clean your home’s ductwork.

First, Temperature Control, Inc ., a Rosie-Certified Partner, explains that the ductwork is responsible for delivering conditioned air to the rooms of your home. If there’s any buildup of debris restricting airflow, the HVAC system needs to work that much harder and longer. Equipment wear and tear, the greater chance of malfunction, greatly reduced air quality, and higher utility bills are just some of the consequences.

Among the Top 10 Things Homeowners Do Wrong

Rosie on the House Dirty Duct CoverComing in at number six in Rosie’s “ Top 10 Things Homeowner Do Wrong,” is air duct cleaning.

Homeowners waste money getting their air ducts cleaned – improperly!

Duct cleaning is only one component of a proper system cleaning. It is extremely important that the return air ducts and/or plenum (a box that connects to the HVAC system that brings in, distributes, and removes air) are thoroughly cleaned and checked for air leaks. By the way, Rosie can’t remember ever inspecting an air conditioning system that didn't have some leaking. Yours probably does, too. It is not unusual to find 20 percent leakage or more. We like to see leakage under five percent.

Why, When & Who

Isleys’ Home Service, a Rosie-Certified Partner, suggests per the EPA that it is a good idea to have the ducts cleaned under these conditions:

  • You suspect or have had mold problems in your home.
  • You’ve got evidence of rodents or insects living in or moving through your ducts.
  • Your ducts are clogged with debris.

Additionally, if you have recently remodeled, you may want to consider having your ducts cleaned or repaired. Dust and debris may have built up around your air vents.

For most people, duct cleaning has no benefit unless it's part of a thorough cleaning of your entire air conditioning system by a licensed technician. Without a good cleaning of the air handler cabinet and coils, duct cleaning alone won't make your air conditioner work better or reduce the dust in your house.

Pro Solutions Air Conditioning & Heating LLC, a Rosie-Certified Partner explains, “Some duct cleaners like to clean the A-coil inside and other parts of the HVAC system, calling it part of the duct cleaning. While it is good to have these things cleaned when the ducts are being cleaned, the coils can only be cleaned by ROC-licensed contractors who are fully knowledgeable about the workings of the entire HVAC unit. This is for your protection, to prevent damage caused by someone who is not fully HVAC educated.”

A Proper Air Conditioning System Cleaning

Rosie on the House Cleaning HVAC CoilsDuct cleaning is only one component of a proper system cleaning. Your supply ducts should be checked for leaks or disconnected joints and repaired. The air traveling through your supply ducts re-circulate to your air handling equipment via the return air. If there are unrepaired leaks, a good cleaning is pointless.

The company doing the work should be using an eight-inch diameter vacuum hose and a duct scrubbing device. A semi-rigid air hose that uses approximately 200 psi pressure and a multi-directional pressure tip is a good scrubber. The high-pressure air dislodges the dirt from the inside walls of your ductwork and is vacuumed to a large vacuum unit that is usually mounted on a truck. Handheld units are not adequate and should only be used in areas of limited access.

After sealing and cleaning the return air components, the evaporative coils in your air handler must be thoroughly cleaned. Some disassembly of your air conditioning unit is usually required and should only be completed by a licensed air conditioning specialist. Make sure they use a non-toxic cleaner. Remember, whatever they use will be released into the air after they restart the system.

A knowledgeable technician will be able to tell if you are using the wrong air filter and will recommend the right one. Changing the filter monthly is critical, otherwise, you will promptly undo the cleaning (generally, a one-inch paper pleated filter is safe for all systems). In a properly maintained system, duct cleaning probably isn’t necessary more than every seven to 10 years.

Quack! Quack! Be Wary of Duct Cleaning “Specials”

Rosie on the House Vacuuming HVAC DuctsOpen any circular or envelope of coupons that have been mailed to your home, and you will find a bounty of advertisements for duct cleaning specials. Often those duct cleaning specials are quacks. Why? They are in it to make a buck.

Those duct cleaning companies tend to pull up to your home at 10:00 a.m. The “technicians” remove the air conditioning supply registers in your home (usually 8-12) and use a brush-headed vacuum system to clean as much of the ducts as they can see and reach. Approximately two hours later, they have packed up, cleaned up, collected their fee, and are headed to the next of four or five similar jobs that day. Nothing has been done to improve your home's indoor air quality and you have just wasted as much as $250. You could have purchased a shop vacuum and done the job yourself, though your ducts wouldn't be any cleaner or dirtier. The upside is at least you'd have a good shop vac.

A thorough cleaning and sealing of your return air, evaporative coils, air handler cabinet, and supply registers should take two technicians at least half a day on an average-size home with one air conditioning system. Hence, the cost is at least twice what you see advertised by the discount duct cleaning "specialists.”

Duct cleaning is a common scam. Just because it is dusty Arizona, it doesn’t mean that you need an annual duct cleaning. You don’t.

However, when the time comes and you do need them cleaned, it is important that you hire a ROC-licensed HVAC company. Take it a step further and hire a Certified Air Conditioning Specialist. One poorly done "cleaning" could cost you a new HVAC system.

Hiring the right people for the job, when you actually need it will allow you to breath a bit easier.


Photo Credit

  • Shutterstock


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