Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically — but not always — range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on:
I live in a 1950's ranch house in the South. The prior owners were smokers. Based on recommendations from one of the local conservation organizations, I decided to have a home energy audit done. As part of their findings, they recommended additional insulation in the attic and duct cleaning and sealing. This turned out to be a very problematic process. In terms of the ducts, it was necessary to remove the metal grates. However, these grates had been painted over many times and shoe molding covered the bottom of the grates. The vendor was not able to remove the grates without damaging them in the process. Because these grates dated back to the 1950's, it was difficult to find appropriate replacements. The ones I finally discovered were correct except they were 1/4" wider. This meant that the shoe molding had to be carved out. The duct cleaner could not provide any assistance with this problem. It took me a month of long evenings replacing the vent covers myself, carefully chiseling out the shoe molding and repainting. In terms of the extra installation in the attic, the same vendor used blow in insulation. Unfortunately, they did not recognize that the 13 floodlights whose mounting extended into the attic were not designed to be buried under insulation. The problem manifested itself in terms of expensive flood light bulbs failing continually. So, I had to have all of the light housings replaced. Yet another unexpected expense. Despite the expense, pain and suffering, I cannot report any improvement in my heating costs or the "quality" of the air. To be fair, I do not have any allergies and did not undertake this for air quality improvements but rather heating efficiency improvements.
Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide can be lethal at concentrations of 1000 ppm (0.1%). However, at several hundred ppm, carbon monoxide exposure induces headaches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the blood, forming carboxyhemoglobin, reducing the blood's ability to transport oxygen. The primary health concerns associated with carbon monoxide exposure are its cardiovascular and neurobehavioral effects. Carbon monoxide can cause atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries) and can also trigger heart attacks. Neurologically, carbon monoxide exposure reduces hand to eye coordination, vigilance, and continuous performance. It can also affect time discrimination.
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Natural ventilation is the ventilation of a building with outside air without using fans or other mechanical systems. It can be via operable windows, louvers, or trickle vents when spaces are small and the architecture permits. In more complex schemes, warm air is allowed to rise and flow out high building openings to the outside (stack effect), causing cool outside air to be drawn into low building openings. Natural ventilation schemes can use very little energy, but care must be taken to ensure comfort. In warm or humid climates, maintaining thermal comfort solely via natural ventilation might not be possible. Air conditioning systems are used, either as backups or supplements. Air-side economizers also use outside air to condition spaces, but do so using fans, ducts, dampers, and control systems to introduce and distribute cool outdoor air when appropriate.
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2. If air quality is so important and duct cleaniliness is so uncertain, why not adopt doubling filtering; that is, in addition to the existing main furnace filter, add a filter at each air outlet. I understand replacing so many filters would be a burden, but air outlets can be designed for easy filter replacement. The builders and home design engineers should bear responsibility to provide good and low maintenance homes, rather than prioritizing on fancy or costly featuers for homes.
Many homes have a forced-air HVAC system. Both the heating and the central air conditioning units share a ductwork system where they either push in or pull out warm or cooled air. There are also heating and cooling systems that don’t require ductwork — such as ductless mini-splits — but work on the same principles of heat exchange. The national average to hire an HVAC specialist is $2,920-$3,670, with costs varying depending on the work you need done and the equipment you are installing.
The short answer is yes, duct cleaning, done right by a reputable company will help with the smell. It is likely though the smell is coming from another source, ie the crawl space. It could also be that another rodent is dead in the duct work. A visual inspection would be in order to check for any breach in the duct system. A duct pressure test would be able to tell you how much air is leaking from the system over all. A hole large enough for an animal to enter would loses a great deal of air, over 300 CFM. It would be worth looking into having this test done and it should cost around $200. Cleaning the air handler and evaporator coil will greatly improve the performance of the air conditioner. Dirt and dust on the evaporator acts as insulation and reduces the amount of cooling done be the coil. Any quality duct cleaning should include cleaning the air handler and coil, and the tech should allow you to watch him perform the work as it is done.
But Tim, doesn’t this mean that a less-than-honest air conditioning company can just charge what he wants and say that it’s a difficult job? No. You see, dishonest contractors, typically, aren’t the brightest people (I figure if you’re still reading this, you’re warming up to me so I’m taking off the training-wheels). They aren’t smart enough to take difficulty into account, and will probably get confused if you ask them about it. They will tell you things like, “that’s how much the unit costs,” or “California has a new law that magically adds $5,000 to the price.” Trust me, follow your gut, and you’ll be able to tell who the honest contractors are...or just use one of our ASM-approved contractors.
Although HVAC is executed in individual buildings or other enclosed spaces (like NORAD's underground headquarters), the equipment involved is in some cases an extension of a larger district heating (DH) or district cooling (DC) network, or a combined DHC network. In such cases, the operating and maintenance aspects are simplified and metering becomes necessary to bill for the energy that is consumed, and in some cases energy that is returned to the larger system. For example, at a given time one building may be utilizing chilled water for air conditioning and the warm water it returns may be used in another building for heating, or for the overall heating-portion of the DHC network (likely with energy added to boost the temperature).
If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold (no musty odor or visible mold growth), having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through the grate. This does not indicate that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris; the registers can be easily vacuumed or removed and cleaned.