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.
PickHVAC Tips: Oil burns dirty, so it is important to have your plenum and ducts checked to see if they should be cleaned when replacing an oil furnace. If you don’t clean the plenum and ducts when replacing the furnace, the new furnace might not run as efficiently and comfortably as possible due to restricted airflow. This can also reduce the oily smell sometimes associated with oil furnaces.
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.
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!!!
While you consider having your air ducts cleaned, it is a good idea to take a look at your dryer vent. If your dryer vent is clogged, you could be losing energy efficiency. Worse yet, you could be increasing the risk of a house fire. Having your dryer vent professionally cared for costs about $130 on average, and could save you a bit of money and a lot of headaches in the future. For more information on the benefits and cost of having your dryer vent cleaned, take a look at our comprehensive cost guide.
Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
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