I agree, if you replace (or wash depending on type) your air filters regularly AND vaccum, then you probably don't need the ducts or air coils cleaned. However, if you purchase a pre-owned home, and the previous owners did not regularly change the air filter or vaccum the home, then duct cleaning is worth the expense especially if you are sensitive to allergens. Especially if the previous owners had pets.
Unfortunately, manufacturers and contractors don’t publish this information…it’s a secret. Why? Who knows…but we have access to a full contractor pricing database of 1,000’s of different units in our online HVAC installation cost calculator, so let’s choose one for our example calculation. We’ll go with Carrier equipment, since our readers always bother us about them (despite us telling them that they are overpriced):
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
An example of a geothermal heat pump that uses a body of water as the heat sink, is the system used by the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Illinois. This building is situated on the Chicago River, and uses cold river water by pumping it into a recirculating cooling system, where heat exchangers transfer heat from the building into the water, and then the now-warmed water is pumped back into the Chicago River.
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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!!!
Is duct cleaning worth it? There is not a yes or no answer that suits everyone. On an Air Force base, the system was not air tight and there was leakage around the filters. The system got dirty. A professional company was called out. The Duct was big enough that a technician could go inside the metal duct and clean it. There was a new Air Handler installed and things were sealed up better. in this case it was worth it.
At the state level the rebates are still substantial. For example, switching to a zoned system can get you a $100 rebate from various A/C companies, and state rebates are also included. In Pennsylvania a high-efficiency air conditioner alone can get you up to $300, and a high-efficiency complete HVAC system can see up to $1000. Maryland's incentives get up to $1,250, with a $100 rebate on a tune up of an existing system.