Temperatures in Texas swing from an average high of 94 degrees in July to an average low of 35.8 degrees in January. Having an HVAC is a necessity, not a luxury. However, you could encounter a variety of problems if your HVAC’s air ducts aren’t clean.
So, how do you know if you need to clean your air ducts?
If you’re generating dust faster than you can remove it, this is a sign that your ductwork is dirty and should be cleaned, according to Russ Harlow, a franchise owner at AdvantaClean in Windham, CT. “Homes with pets and hard floors (hard wood, laminate, tile etc.) tend to allow more dust and debris into the duct system,” he said.
Dander, dust, and chemicals are generated through the process of daily living in the home. “These contaminants are pulled into the HVAC system and recirculated 5 to 7 times per day, on average,” said Harlow. And over a period of time, the contaminants build-up in the ductwork.
You might assume that an old home would be more likely to need its air ducts cleaned, but this is not always the case. “Construction is messy and even when contractors are neat, the dust and debris get circulated and into your HVAC system,” explained Harlow. This dust can come from a variety of sources, like cutting sheetrock, sanding, and extra foot traffic. “All of this ends up going through your HVAC system and will need to be cleaned out of your ducts,” he said.
It’s never good to have mold, and this is one condition that definitely warrants cleaning your air ducts. “Your HVAC system is the ‘lungs’ and circulatory system of your home,” Harlow said. And if mold is found in the system or in your home, he says, failing to clean your system could make the problem worse by spreading mold to other areas that were previously unaffected.
When dust and debris build up, Harlow says it can cause your HVAC system to work a lot harder than it would normally would – which leads to higher energy bills. “Having the interior of the air handler, e.g. A/C coils and blower housing, cleaned can help your whole system run more efficiently,” Harlow explained. This helps the HVAC be more cost-effective, because the system doesn’t have to work so hard to maintain the set temperature.
It’s not advisable for homeowners to try to clean ductwork themselves. “You may get some stray cereal or toy pieces out of your air return duct, but that’s it – and you could even make the ductwork issues causing the dirt even worse,” warned Ken Summers, vice president of training at Aeroseal.
He explains that certified professionals use high-pressure vacuums and specialty brushes to clean the ducts. “Note, there is a huge difference between duct cleaning companies who simply bring in portable hand-held devices and say they are cleaning your ducts and a professional duct cleaner,” Summers said. “A professional duct cleaner will spend a significant amount of time making sure the ductwork and a home’s HVAC equipment is cleaned, and this is not what usually happens with low-cost duct cleaning.”
Harlow agrees that the best way to clean air ducts is by employing the services of a professional. “This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum,” he said. “While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.”
Another option is to have the air ducts sealed. “If a duct system is designed properly, well-sealed, free of any leaks, and has good filtration, it should only need to be cleaned every ten years,” said Summers. However, most duct systems don’t meet that criteria. In fact, he says the majority of duct systems have leaks.
Often, when there are allergies, air quality concerns and excessive dust, it’s actually a leaky duct system, he explains. “Leaky ducts pull contaminated air and dust from attics, crawlspaces, and garages. So after the ducts are cleaned, he recommends sealing them to keep them clean.
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.