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Air Duct Cleaning Frequently Asked Questions and Answers


To help answer your questions about air duct cleaning, below are some frequently asked questions and answers from the Duct Cleaners Network.  If you have any other question, please contact us and we'd be happy to help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most people do not know much about the process of air duct cleaning, much less how to find a reputable company. We have tried to address several of the more common questions and concerns heard over the years, but please do not hesitate to contact us if we do not answer your specific question. Consumer education is the key to quality in the air duct cleaning industry. Your interest is appreciated and vital.

How do I know if I need my air ducts cleaned? or How often should I have my air ducts cleaned?

Do you know if the air ducts in your home have ever been cleaned? If not, it may be good to have it done. Even with new homes, there is often construction debris in the ductwork, and fine particles like drywall dust can affect your furnace and its performance. One way to check whether or not the ducts in your home have been cleaned is to look on or near your furnace for a sheet metal panel (approximately 9" x 9" or larger). This may have been where a vacuum hose was attached during an air duct cleaning.

Another thing to check is your return ductwork. Your return or intake pulls air back to the furnace, therefore, this ductwork is usually the dirtiest. Your return is also usually larger, and easier to visually inspect than your supply ducts. You can remove the grill, and look inside with a flashlight. Do you see a heavy coating of debris? If so, you probably want to have it removed.

Other reasons people decide to have their air ducts cleaned include: visible evidence of mold growth in the ventilation system or on registers; infestation of rodents or insects; installation of a new furnace or air conditioning unit; home improvements that have caused debris from sanding and cutting; pets that shed large amounts of hair; odors from cigarette smokers; allergy or asthma sufferers in the home.

It is difficult to say how often a cleaning should be performed. It is really dependent on the lifestyle and preference of the homeowner. Once the air ducts in a home have been thoroughly cleaned, proper maintenance of your filter and furnace will help keep the overall system clean. It is certainly not necessary annual maintenance, but some people are very fastidious about making it a regular part of their housekeeping every few years.

How should the duct cleaning be performed?

This diagram can give you an idea of how a ventilating system in a home is set up. There are many variations, but this may help you have a better idea of what you are talking about with a prospective duct cleaning company.

  • Upright Indoor System
    w/gas furnace.
  • *Type (e.g., heat pump, gas, electric), size, position
    and location of system components will vary.
  • Components of a Typical*
    Residential Heating and Cooling System

Methods of cleaning can vary widely. The term for proper cleaning techniques is "Source Removal." Generally, a specialized vacuum collection device is attached to the system, and special tools are used to dislodge debris inside the ductwork and push it to the vacuum. Some means of agitation should be used inside the ductwork to ensure debris is loosened from the walls of the ductwork. Any access cuts should be closed according to industry standards, and the service technician should verify that your system is operational before departure.

What is the difference between a truck mount and portable equipment? Which is better?

First, bear in mind, equipment does not clean your ductwork … people do. The technique and procedure used for the cleaning is far more important than the type of equipment used. Most types of equipment are capable of effectively cleaning your ductwork as long as proper procedures are followed. That being said, here is a basic explanation of the different types of equipment commonly used for air duct cleaning:

  • Truck Mount: A truck mounted vacuum is run from a large truck. A hose is run from the truck into the house so material is drawn outside.
  • Gas Portable: Portable gas vacuums generally use a large bag to collect and contain the debris during the cleaning. They can be maneuvered close to the home for easy access while still exhausting outdoors.
  • Electric Portable: Portable electric vacuums are special HEPA filtered collection devices that can be used indoors. The vacuum can be set up near the furnace or other connection point so very little suction is lost. These vacuums are also ideal for homes or buildings presenting difficult access, or for high-rise apartments and condominiums.

How long does it take?

This question could yield different answers from different air duct cleaners. One man working alone may take longer to complete the cleaning than two technicians working together. A company with a truck vacuum may have a quicker set up time than a company with portable equipment. However, the most important variable is your unique home. Homes with the air handler unit in the attic or a crawlspace may take longer because of difficult access. A home with 35 vents will usually take longer to clean than a home with 15 vents. A home with more than one furnace may take several hours or the better part of a day, whereas a single furnace home may take only two or three hours with well-trained technicians and the right equipment. You should ask how long it will take.

What should I expect to pay for a proper air duct cleaning?

Beware of companies offering whole-house specials for one low price. Air duct cleaning is not a regulated industry so it is very easy for people to get into business using substandard equipment, and inexperienced laborers and/or subcontractors. These types of companies (blow-n-goes, as they have come to be known in the trade) may use subcontractors so they do not have to be responsible for any insurance, worker's compensation or any problems encountered or caused on your project. They offer very attractive prices, and then schedule as many jobs in one day as possible. Other factors that can affect price might be type of equipment, location of company (those with a commercial place of business are generally more expensive), insurance, certifications, etc. An average single furnace home may vary from $400 to $700 depending on a variety of factors, and larger homes may reach upward of $1000 or more.

Do you have to cut into my ductwork?

Usually, yes. Think of it this way ... if you want to paint a room, you have to go inside the room to do it. If you want to clean ductwork properly, you have to be able to access the inside of it to do that. Cutting an access hole to attach the vacuum hose then working everything to that one connection point is more efficient than going from vent to vent with the vacuum hose. That method will not get all the debris, and may stir up irritants that could come back into your home when the system is turned back on. Any access opening made in your ductwork should be sealed in a manner that returns the ductwork to the same or better condition. Some types of duct systems cannot be cleaned from the furnace so the technician must attach the vacuum to a vent opening. Specific procedures are used during this method of cleaning, which involve zoning off certain parts of the ductwork in order to clean all sections. Your air duct cleaning service provider can explain more about this to you.

Is it a messy process?

As a "cleaning" company, it is the job of your technician(s) to leave your home in as good as or better condition than when they arrived. Extra care should be taken based on varying weather conditions. Drop clothes may be used if hoses need to be laid on carpeting. Any large collection vacuum used inside your home should have appropriate filtration so as not to allow debris back into your indoor air. Certainly, there may be some debris that falls loose when a vent cover is removed, or when dust is disturbed on the top of exposed ductwork. But your service technicians should take the time for a "general clean up" upon completion of the duct cleaning.

Is it loud or noisy?

Even though much of the equipment is usually outdoors, the motors of the vacuum and compressor may be heard quite clearly. You probably don't want to schedule your cleaning while the baby is taking a nap, and you might even want to take the baby for a stroll during the louder parts of the procedure. You may want to give special consideration to small children or pets affected by loud noises.

An additional note about household pets:

Most companies have procedures to accommodate your pets during the cleaning. Technicians may clean one room first so you can place your pets in that room for the remainder of the cleaning. Or you may want to put your pet in his/her crate or outside during the cleaning. Cats seem particularly stressed by the hissing noise of a compressor air line. Additionally, the technicians may have their vacuum hose running in to the house from outdoors, which would present an opportunity for your pet to escape. It is important to consider what you want to do with your pet during the cleaning.

Should I have my ductwork sanitized?

This is an issue of debate. It is not uncommon for mold, fungus or bacteria to be present in ductwork. It is a dark, confined space, and moisture can be present, which may create an ideal breeding ground. However, most spores can be removed with a thorough cleaning. It is also important to evaluate why mold or other contamination is present. Is the condensation from the furnace not draining properly? Is a build up of moisture contributing to the problem? Is the humidifier in need of maintenance? Is insulation in the ductwork degrading or holding moisture? The cause of the problem should be identified, or the mold will likely return.
Applying a sanitizer is not part of a routine air duct cleaning. If your technician advises it, then have him/her show you why they think it is necessary. Some sanitizers require occupants not be present during the application, and for a period of time after it has been applied. Any chemical has what is called an MSDS, a Material Safety Data Sheet. It gives detailed information about the chemical, precautions, risk of exposure and how to handle varying levels of exposure. You can always ask for a copy of the MSDS. Only certain chemicals are registered by the EPA specifically for use in non-porous ductwork (sheet metal). If mold or moisture is present in porous ductwork, such as fiberglass or insulated ductwork, it should be removed and replaced.

You should ask questions of your potential service provider. You may want to ask for references, proof of insurance and if any special licensing is required in your state. This is an investment in the maintenance and improvement of your home. Our members have agreed to a certain standard and quality of work, and have made a commitment to serve their customers in a professional manner. We feel that you can be confident a DCN member will provide you with the level of service you desire. Please do not hesitate to contact us directly if we can provide further assistance or information.

Have more questions, just give us a call at 724-693-5978

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