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.
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.
Some of the research I have done suggests to have your ducts cleaned when you first purchase a new home to remove drywall dust. Maintain your system well and you shouldn't have to do it again until you want to sell. Those are the two times cleaning was suggested. So for peace of mind maybe it is a good idea to do it even if you buy a used home and then maybe every 5-10 years.
Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing (See diagram).
Some of these components can be repaired or replaced by the homeowner, such as filters, fuses, and clogged up drain lines. Coils, compressors and the other components are best left to a professional. In some cases, you may have a system that is so old that parts are no longer available or else they aren't up to code. In this case you will have to consider replacing the entire system.

As you can see, if we know what the contractor is actually paying for specific equipment, we know what their labor rates are, and we know what they bid the project for, then we can also use some basic algebra (or just let the program do it for us because we’re lazy) to figure out how much of a profit they are making off of us (you) at different bid prices:
I paid $49 for a groupon. When the guy came today, he did an inspection first and said the ductwork first needed to be treated for mold; $348 for a spray that would last 8 months or $680 for an UV light purifier that would last 2 years. Also, the furnace needed to be cleaned for another $260. When I told him to just clean the ductwork, he said I would owe an additional $305 because the groupon was only good for 1 return and I had 2. I sent him packing with no services performed. Thankfully I am only out of $49! I will complain to groupon.

A thorough visual inspection is the best way to verify the cleanliness of your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with the naked eye. Show the Post-Cleaning Consumer Checklist to the service provider before the work begins. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed satisfactorily.
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