Duct Cleaning May Not Be The Answer To Health And Efficiency Problems In Your Home

by Nicola Temple on January 4, 2012

You have likely received advertising for duct cleaning services claiming to improve the air quality of your home as well as the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems.

If you are considering these services, read on as the information in this article might surprise you.

In the 1990’s, both the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation conducted tests on air quality and duct performance before and after cleaning.

The researchers found no significant difference in the concentrations of airborne particles in the home nor in the duct air flows after cleaning.

So why do so many businesses exist around duct cleaning?

Well, first of all there are absolutely some circumstances where you should consider having your air ducts cleaned, and I outline these in the next section.

Second, air quality in the home is becoming a larger concern due to media as well as increases in conditions such as asthma, allergies, and eczema. Of course, we should be concerned about the air we breathe, however there have been no scientifically proven links between dirty ducts and health issues to date.

Third, there is research that suggests duct cleaning as well as cleaning of other system components may improve the efficiency of your system. It might also result in a longer operating life and reuduce overall maintenance costs. However, this evidence is for whole system cleaning, not just the ducts.

duct cleaning

Although the before and after is dramatic, there is little evidence to show that duct cleaning improves the efficiency or air quality of your home. CC image courtesy of David Bruce Jr. on Flickr.

Fourth, it is a reasonably lucrative business. If you’ve ever looked at the inside of your ducts, you might be shocked at what builds up in there. Some people are quite comfortable paying anywhere from $500 to $1,000 USD to know that the ducts circulating the air around their home aren’t lined with decades- worth of dust, regardless of any scientific evidence of improvements in air quality.

So when should you consider having your air ducts cleaned?

According to the EPA, you should look into air duct cleaning if:

1 – There is substantial evidence of mold growth inside the ducts or other components of your heating and cooling system.

2 – Your ducts are infested with vermin such as rodents or insects.

3 – Your ducts are really clogged with dust and other debris, causing particles to be released into the home from your registers. Keep in mind, however, that it is perfectly normal for dust to collect at the supply registers.

Precautions to take when having your ducts cleaned

  • Like the old saying says, “always get a second opinion”. It’s good advice in medicine, and it’s good advice in duct cleaning.
  • If your house does test positive for mold, ask them to show you where the mold exists. If you are in doubt that it is in fact mold, you can take a sample by simply placing a piece of sticky tape on the affected area (sticky side down of course). Lift the tape off and give it to a microbiology lab to have it tested for around $50.
  • Be sure that the provider cleans all components of the system because if one component remains contaminated, there is the risk that it will just re-contaminate the other areas.
  • Whether you have decided to clean your ducts due to mold or vermin, you have to rectify the source of the problem. Otherwise the solution is likely very temporary. Find the source of the humidity allowing the ducts to grow the mold or the source of the vermin to prevent reinfestation.
  • A poor service provider can actually do more harm than good. If they don’t use a proper vacuum collection system while cleaning, they can actually release more dust into the air. In other words, air quality is actually worse than had they left the ducts alone. Also, if they don’t know what they’re doing they can damage the components of your heating and cooling system, costing you money in repairs or in reduced efficiency.

Final words regarding duct cleaning                              

The most preventative step you can take is to make sure water and dirt don’t enter your heating and cooling system, thereby preventing contamination.

If you are looking for ways to improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system, duct cleaning may not be the answer. A whole system clean may help, but it might be worth contacting the manufacturer of your system to see what information they can give you on this. There are many other ways you can reduce your heating and cooling costs, many of which are covered in other articles here on EcoVillageGreen.

If you are considering duct cleaning for health reasons, have a good look at the EPA website as they have a number of resources regarding indoor air quality.  It is also wise to ask the advice of your health professional.

Lastly, I encourage you to watch this story done by Inside Edition that revealed the truth behind duct cleaning scams. Obviously, there are many wonderful and legitimate providers out there, but it is always wise to be a well-informed consumer.

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