Brands like American Standard, Trane and Lennox cost the most. Goodman is the cheapest. The rest populate the middle of the spectrum. Here’s something to know: The quality among brands isn’t as great as price differences. The difference in prices reflect that some customers want “bargain” equipment to save cost and others want “premium” equipment they believe will run longer with less trouble. Therefore, each manufacturer has priced to meet consumer perception.
As a homeowner and an owner of rental property I can tell you that the air ducts sometimes need to be cleaned. If you have had pets or anyone smoking in your home (even a visitor) for any length of time, having the ducts cleaned is really good idea. I had a tenant who did not smoke, but got married to a smoker more than year after moving in. When I realized someone was smoking I had them move out, but the smell was awful. I had the ducts cleaned and sanitized (it was a bit extra). The ducts were shiny like new afterwards. I left the windows open for a few days and we cleaned the place super clean and then replaced the carpets. The duct cleaning was worth every penny because the house looked, smelled, and felt new afterward. I plan to have my own house ducts cleaned again this year as we have two cats. We had them cleaned about 12 years ago and they found building materials in the ducts! If you move into a house that has never had them cleaned, it is good to do it. If you have allergies, clean the ducts to see if it helps. You never know what is in your ducts if you have never had them cleaned.
Equipment used to clean ducts varies widely. The cheaper the equipment used the more you are just wasting money. This is why it's typically not worth doing. In some situations it may be beneficial, but only after determining and investigating the duct system. This should be done by a licensed HVAC contractor and not a duct cleaner that typically do not hold and HVAC license. (Duct cleaners aren't required to be licensed in HVAC in many areas.)
I replaced all the ducts but the trunks in my 1969 home when I replaced the horizontal furnace under the house with a gas pack. I got advice from a friend who was an HVAC contractor. I was surprised to find the trunks and other ducts very clean. I replaced the individual runs with flex primarily for the insulation. I wrapped the trunks with insulation also.
Fast forward 1 year and 1 week and the circuit board that HVAC Service had installed has failed again. They came out and said that it failed from water condensation dripping onto it, so we needed to replace it and reroute the pipes to prevent future water damage. That would cost double what I paid last year. Why didn't they fix the problem last year at the initial repair instead of putting in a circuit board that was bound to fail again?!? They were strongly recommending that the furnace be completely replace for a huge fee to avoid the same thing happening again. I paid $59 for them to tell me they didn't fix it right last year. This didn't feel right, so I sought a second opinion.
You may be familiar with air ducts that are constructed of sheet metal. However, many modern residential air duct systems are constructed of fiber glass duct board or sheet metal ducts that are lined on the inside with fiber glass duct liner. Since the early 1970's, a significant increase in the use of flexible duct, which generally is internally lined with plastic or some other type of material, has occurred.
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.
Consider what kind of heating and cooling system you want installed for the square footage of your home. Do you want a full system with a thermostat or a specific machine for the summer like a swamp cooler? Do you need a new furnace just for the winter? For any of these projects, the cost will vary depending on the quality, style and machine size you choose. If you have a tight budget, think of going smaller and upgrading over time. For example, if you can't afford to convert your entire home to solar power, you may want to consider only utilizing it to heat your water. Some other types of heating systems are:
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts as a means to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. They may also propose the application of a "sealant" to prevent dust and dirt particles from being released into the air or to seal air leaks. You should fully understand the pros and cons of permitting application of chemical biocides or sealants. While the targeted use of chemical biocides and sealants may be appropriate under specific circumstances, research has not demonstrated their effectiveness in duct cleaning or their potential adverse health effects. No chemical biocides are currently registered by EPA for use in internally-insulated air duct systems (see Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?).