With springtime comes refreshed weather, more time outdoors, and those inevitable flyers and ads for air duct cleaning. The concept sounds useful enough, but you may be asking yourself — is air duct cleaning really worth it?
Angie's List members anecdotally report increases in air quality after a cleaning. However, the Environmental Protection Agency says no scientific evidence shows that air duct cleaning improves air quality. That said, a proper air duct cleaning can result in improved HVAC efficiency and a longer lifespan for your equipment. So, it's a worthwhile purchase — provided you hire the right contractor.
HOW TO AVOID AIR DUCT CLEANING SCAMS
Treat any claim of a cheap duct cleaning with great skepticism. A company with a flyer promising a $49 duct cleaning will almost always end up tacking on hundreds of dollars of hidden fees and extra services once workers actually arrive.
The work involves more than just sticking a vacuum hose up to your ducts. A proper air duct cleaning addresses all aspects of an HVAC system, including the coils and the central unit. The task involves at least a couple of workers, specialized equipment and several hours of labor, which is why a good cleaning costs hundreds of dollars.
A reputable contractor will provide you a solid price quote before they begin the work. Indeed, most good contractors will offer to do an inspection beforehand for a nominal charge, if any, to determine whether you even need a cleaning.
WHEN SHOULD I HAVE MY DUCTS CLEANED?
The EPA recommends cleaning your ducts as needed, such as when mold, pests or excessive debris clutter the system. The leading professional organization, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), recommends doing so every three to five years, or more often if you have allergies or asthma.
Air duct cleaning professionals call the task an essential part of home maintenance, akin to changing the oil in your car. Debris in your ducts and on your HVAC components force the system to work harder, and removing that debris leads to energy consumption savings. Studies have shown that dirty coils and blowers can cut efficiency by more than a third.
HOW DO I HIRE A GOOD DUCT CLEANER?
If you hire someone to clean your ducts, make sure they know what they're doing. A poor job is worse than no cleaning at all, as it can kick up particles or even break portions of the HVAC system. Since most states and localities don't license air duct cleaners, you need to check their professional credentials. The EPA recommends that all duct cleaners follow NADCA standards. NADCA requires member companies to keep at least one technician on staff who has passed a rigorous test and earned a certificate. Member companies commit to a list of standards for proper work, including using agitation devices to break loose debris in the ducts and applying continuous negative pressure to remove particles as they become airborne.
In addition to certification, make sure your cleaner is an established company, maintains appropriate insurance, and is registered to do business. Ask for references, and check them. It takes a little longer, but this is a costly job addressing a mission-critical part of your home, so it's worth the extra research. A reliable company will be glad to provide both proof of professional certification and a list of references.
Paul F.P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie's List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.