Contact/Relay -- Relays are electronically controlled switches that activate the various components of your HVAC system. They manage everything from the power going to the motor to automatic dampers, humidifiers, etc. Most of them are controlled by the thermostat. The most common failure for a relay is being stuck in the "open" position. Separated from its assigned contact point, it fails to complete the connection and send the message to whatever it was supposed to operate. This failure usually occurs from use over time. Each time a relay connects and sends its signal, the electrical arcing from point to point eventually causes wear and tear.
Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
There are many interesting comments from several informed individuals. The question that has not been answered is how do duct systems get dusty and dirty? As a RESNET Home Energy Rater, I perform pressure tests on homes and duct systems, and the one common thread is . . . most air delivery sytems have large amounts of air leakage. The solution is to seal the duct system, and pay particular attention to the return duct system and ductwork near the air handler (the 'blower'). As others have said, a captive (sealed) duct system with proper filter maintenance should be more then adequate for most occupants. For those who have allergy, asthma, or other breathing problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating (number should be listed on the package) or a HEPA filter are good choices. These filters will capture smaller particulates and should improve the indoor air quality. Again, make certain that the entire duct system is sealed, preferably with mastic, second choice UL-181 foil tape - never use cloth duct (also known as duck) tape.
He proceeded to clean each heat register by removing the grille and blasting it with an air pressure hose toward the duct opening thinking that the dust would magically be sucked inside. In one room this caused a ceiling smoke detector to go off because the excess dust fooled it into thinking there was smoke. I put my hand in front of a register he wasn’t working on and could hardly feel a suction. Although we discussed how I open and close damper doors, I realized later that he never checked, opened or adjusted them during the cleaning. He could have closed all but the one he was working on in order to increase suction results. His next step was to blast air into the duct and then attach a “squid-like” device that slapped around inside the duct as far as he could reach. This is important! In a newer house, ducts have long straight runs from the furnace. In older houses like mine they can turn and twist. In fact, the duct we have a problem with runs straight up from the basement inside a wall and turns 90 degrees into a soffit for three feet then into two 90 degree turns to get into the floor joist area for another two feet and finally a 90 degree turn up to the second floor register. When he cleaned this one he could only get three feet into the register with the hose or squid because of the turns. That was the case with most. Hardly what could be described as a decent cleaning.
As I type this, I am having my ducts cleaned. About 30 including returns and the furnace. $543.00. I am watching the team do it and can see the clear vacuuming tubing and how dirty it has become. I like the gentleman’s comment on “stick your head in your vacuum and breath”….I get it. The team showed me the machine and it’s filtration system…and they will show me it again after the cleaning. However, like I said before, I am actively seeing the tubing that is clear before they start and how dirty it is once they begin and continue cleaning. Reputable company and not a “fly by night” coupon service. People don’t be so cheap, that is your problem.
Having the most energy-efficient system ever built won't matter much if it's not maintained. Lack of maintenance is the number one killer of HVAC systems. Before each cooling season, it's recommended that your system get a professional tune-up. However, there are things you can do in the meantime to make sure your system runs efficiently throughout the year.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
Metal is way better than flex duct or ductboard. It gets better airflow, holds up to critters and duct cleaners. I know of no hvac company here that cleans ductwork. (there probably is one somewhere) The mfg's of duct cleaning equipment keep trying to sell us hvac people on their benefits and profit potential but most all hvac people know that unless you have metal ductwork you are NOT doing the customer any favors.
1. Ducts need cleaning mostly because they were not installed properly. There should be regulatory inpection and approval of clean and proper duct works on new houses. I was extremely unpset when I looked and found significant amounts of construction dust in parts of the ducts in my new house. There is apparently no way to hold the bullder to be responsible for clean ducts.