All of you have dentists, you have doctors, you have preachers, you have mechanics. You don’t have to know everything about everything but you have to have people in your life that you can trust. Don’t just open up the phone book and pick a mechanical (HVAC) contractor. Call your friends and family and ask for referrals. There are no black and white (scam or not a scam) answers here.
Because an air conditioner moves heat between the indoor coil and the outdoor coil, both must be kept clean. This means that, in addition to replacing the air filter at the evaporator coil, it is also necessary to regularly clean the condenser coil. Failure to keep the condenser clean will eventually result in harm to the compressor, because the condenser coil is responsible for discharging both the indoor heat (as picked up by the evaporator) and the heat generated by the electric motor driving the compressor.
These factors are included in a "Manual J" calculation. Contractors who make these calculations before recommending a size can take a couple of hours collecting the information and making the calculation. If your contractor doesn't do it, there are services that will do it for around $99. If you're feeling particularly on the ball, there are also free online calculators.
I have been a plumbing/gas/hvac tech for 19 years, before that I installed ductwork in commercial buildings and office towers. As the article states, unless you have undergone some type of extensive reno, or ducts have become contaminated, paying for cleaning is pointless. Its one thing if you have a 30 year old home that has never had a duct cleaning and you can actually see mounds of dust built up , especially in the return side, then go for it. Keep in mind that most duct cleaning companies will only get 80% of the dust , or less at best. Keep in mind that most of the dust in your home is lint from clothes and linens, and skin cells from you and your pets and is constantly being generated. Dust that builds up in ductwork , generally stays in the ductwork. The power of suggestion, scare tactics, up sell!!!
Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.
If you are replacing your air conditioning system, make sure that the unit is the proper size for your needs and that all ducts are sealed at the joints. A unit that is too big will cycle on and off frequently, resulting in poor moisture removal, particularly in areas with high humidity. Also make sure that your new system is designed to manage condensation effectively.
Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and encapsulate duct surfaces claim that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and may invalidate the manufacturer's warranty.
Internal insulation provides better acoustical (noise) control. Flexible duct is very low cost. These products are engineered specifically for use in ducts or as ducts themselves, and are tested in accordance with standards established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many insulated duct systems have operated for years without supporting significant mold growth. Keeping them reasonably clean and dry is generally adequate. However, there is substantial debate about whether porous insulation materials (e.g., fiber glass) are more prone to microbial contamination than bare sheet metal ducts. If enough dirt and moisture are permitted to enter the duct system, there may be no significant difference in the rate or extent of microbial growth in internally lined or bare sheet metal ducts. However, treatment of mold contamination on bare sheet metal is much easier. Cleaning and treatment with an EPA-registered biocide are possible. Once fiberglass duct liner is contaminated with mold, cleaning is not sufficient to prevent re-growth and there are no EPA-registered biocides for the treatment of porous duct materials. EPA, NADCA and NAIMA all recommend the replacement of wet or moldy fiber glass duct material.
WELL, this summer when I opened them up we had black dust spewing from one of the upstairs vents. It resembled the fuzz that comes off new towels. This prompted us to look into duct cleaning. We heard from someone who had it done several times, said it was worthwhile, and knew of a firm that did a good job. Clean Air America sent a single technician for the appointment and after counting registers and ducts gave me a price of $360.00 which included “sanitizing” the system (a $99 additional fee per can used). The small size of the plenum forced him to connect the 8” round vacuum hose from the truck to the 10” square opening from our humidifier unit. In hindsight, a mistake since it reduced the “negative” pressure in the system.
All modern air conditioning systems, even small window package units, are equipped with internal air filters. These are generally of a lightweight gauze-like material, and must be replaced or washed as conditions warrant. For example, a building in a high dust environment, or a home with furry pets, will need to have the filters changed more often than buildings without these dirt loads. Failure to replace these filters as needed will contribute to a lower heat exchange rate, resulting in wasted energy, shortened equipment life, and higher energy bills; low air flow can result in iced-over evaporator coils, which can completely stop air flow. Additionally, very dirty or plugged filters can cause overheating during a heating cycle, and can result in damage to the system or even fire.
I purchased a Groupon for cleaning of unlimited air ducts and one return vent for $39. I should have checked into their hours first because they only offer services during normal business hours. So, with no evenings or weekends available you have to take time off work. I asked Groupon for a refund when I realized this and they refused because it wasn’t within the three day window. Then they didn’t even show up or call for the appointment. I called them after they were an hour late and they were going to call the local dispatch office and have them call me back within 15 minutes. I did not receive that call. I called again and was told I would get a call back from a manager. That didn’t happen either. So I asked Groupon for a refund again and they gave me Groupon bucks. When the survey came asking if I was satisfied with the Groupon customer service I said no, I want real money. I got my real refund the next day. Seems to me Groupon should stop dealing with these companies.
One of the difficulties encountered by many air duct cleaning service companies is that their attention is not really on air duct cleaning. For example, many heating and cooling companies offer duct cleaning as a supplemental service, but of course their primary business is installing and servicing heating and cooling equipment. For these companies, air duct cleaning is not always given the attention it deserves and is often done by less experienced employees whose interest is not in duct cleaning but in repairs and installs. And it is almost always done with inferior air duct cleaning equipment. Still other firms (like carpet cleaners) offer a large variety of services and claim to “do everything.” Because of their lack of focus they may not actually be very good at many, if any, of the services they offer. They cannot simply buy an attachment for their carpet cleaning machine and magically become a great duct cleaner.
Some research suggests that cleaning heating and cooling system components (e.g., cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers) may improve the efficiency of your system, resulting in a longer operating life, as well as some energy and maintenance cost savings. However, little evidence exists that cleaning only the ducts will improve the efficiency of the system.