Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing (See diagram).
I can't believe the number of people saying a good properly installed central heating system never needs to be cleaned. Maybe they live in hermetically sealed cells? One look into a cold air return and you can see that it definitely needs periodic cleaning. The air in the house "always" has some dust in it and that's where it ends up. We just had ours cleaned and I saw what came out of it, disgusting. But always ask if they use the "air whip" to sweep/beat the inside of the metal duct. If not, don't bother. These folks used a little whip on the end of a pressure hose and swept the entire length of all the ducts. I have lighted bore scope that allowed me to see into the duct after he was done and it was spic and span. But do change your filters often, 2 or 3 times a year.
PickHVAC Tips: First, see the PickHVAC tip above about sizing a central air conditioner. It applies to heat pumps just as much. Secondly, Even if the line set for the new heat pump is the correct size, we recommend replacing the set or at least the fittings. Old lines and fittings are a major source of leaks. When refrigerant leaks out, the heat pump efficiency suffers. Eventually, the unit stops providing heating and air conditioning, and it might break down.

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We divided new HVAC installation cost into three groups: first, the Change-Out, which is an installation of just your HVAC components without the ductwork; Full Installation, which is the installation of all HVAC equipment including ductwork; and finally, Full Installation with Features, which is a full installation with additional features such as a zoning system or media filter with a complimentary Ferrari Portofino.
Installing a split system may involve making modifications to the house itself for the necessary lines to be run. The heat exchangers are also more prone to picking up debris and must be cleaned on a regular basis. While they come with protective screens over the fan, care must still be taken to ensure that nothing gets in, especially in a home with children.
Be careful with HVAC change-outs.  Change-outs are only about 15-20% of the HVAC installation industry. Decrease HVAC installation cost by investing in new ductwork now if needed. Your ducts wear out too, and make sure that your ducts are in fantastic shape if you do this. Many contractors push this because it’s easy and cheap for them, with good pay-off. Do your research and replace them if you need to in order to avoid doing it later, as well as avoid potential health hazards from using old, broken ductwork.
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.
Did not realize cost had gone up so much for this service. Two years ago I had furnace and ducts cleaned at my old house and it was under $400. Now the cost is $700 for this house. I will keep looking for someone to offer a lower price, check them out, and have it done. Or will find the paperwork to see who did it before. I liked this article and did learn some things. Thanks.
A little simple math can help determine the size system you need. A rule of thumb is 20 BTUs per square foot. So, a 500 square foot room would need 10,000 BTUs to cool or warm it efficiently. This assumes that you live in a temperate region and have adequate insulation with no energy loss. In the real world, all units have some degree of energy loss. This is reflected in an HVAC system's SEER rating for cooling and AFUE rating for heating.

Air conditioner size is measured in “tons.” However, the tonnage of an HVAC unit is not actually based on its weight. A “ton” is simply a measure of an air conditioner’s ability to cool your home. One ton is the ability of your air conditioning system to cool 12,000 BTUs (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit) in an hour. Likewise, a “2-ton” central air conditioner is able to cool 24,000 BTUs per hour.
Filtration systems -- A second-stage filter is sometimes inserted & used to remove particulates such as pets, smoking or cooking, as well as other odors, gases, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). A HEPA filter is also available to remove spores, pollens, bacteria and lung-damaging particles. There are also systems that use ultraviolet (UV) light to protect against bacteria and germs.
Some of these components can be repaired or replaced by the homeowner, such as filters, fuses, and clogged up drain lines. Coils, compressors and the other components are best left to a professional. In some cases, you may have a system that is so old that parts are no longer available or else they aren't up to code. In this case you will have to consider replacing the entire system.
Outdoor Fan Motor -- The outdoor fan, also called the condenser fan, is exposed to external conditions. As such it is most prone to dust and debris and the extreme weather. In desert climates, the outdoor fan motor is subject to heat not only from normal operation but from the outside temperature as well. As it starts to fail, the fan may work fine in the cooler morning hours but stop by afternoon. This can shut down the entire system for hours. When they stop running completely, your air conditioner will no longer work. Running a faulty fan will lead to compressor failure, which is a very costly repair.
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.

So, naturally I respond with, “you don’t tell your doctor which medication to prescribe you, do you?” The point is, on the residential level, who you get to install your HVAC unit is far more important than which unit you choose.  Keep your options open and let your HVAC contractor make a few recommendations – that’s why you spent time finding a reputable contractor!
The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ Source Removal methods of cleaning. This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum. While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.
What if you move into a 20 year old house and find that the people who owned it previously NEVER replaced the filter? It was so dirty that the HVAC system did not work at all. For most people - duct cleaning is NOT a waste of time or money. You must not have allergies. I have very bad ones plus asthma. It makes it very hard for me if I don't get it done every few years. By the way - the ducts get dusty just sitting there - especially without air going through them. Dust settles on them just like it does the furniture.
The HVAC industry is a worldwide enterprise, with roles including operation and maintenance, system design and construction, equipment manufacturing and sales, and in education and research. The HVAC industry was historically regulated by the manufacturers of HVAC equipment, but regulating and standards organizations such as HARDI, ASHRAE, SMACNA, ACCA, Uniform Mechanical Code, International Mechanical Code, and AMCA have been established to support the industry and encourage high standards and achievement.
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.
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.
If you’re purchasing from a big-box store, you can expect to pay approximately $120-$1,000 for a window unit. Window units are appealing for their quick setup and relatively low cost, but they can use more energy over time than central air and only cool the room in which they’re installed. The price will vary depending on the type of air conditioner you buy and its cooling capacity. Window units, which require minimal installation, are one of the most affordable options on the market. Portable air conditioners don’t have the cooling power of a window unit, but they do have the perk of being transportable from room to room. Expect to pay between $225 and $800 for a portable air conditioner, on average. The cost of an air conditioning system with coils, condenser and line (not including installation or ductwork) can range from approximately $2,000 to $4,000 or more. If you don’t have (and don’t want to put in) ducts, a ductless mini-split air conditioner is a good option, although pricey up front. Pricing can range from $650 to $4,250 per unit on average; you’ll need one unit for each room in which you want temperature control.
The bottom line is: no one knows. There are examples of ducts that have become badly contaminated with a variety of materials that may pose risks to your health. The duct system can serve as a means to distribute these contaminants throughout a home. In these cases, duct cleaning may make sense. However, a light amount of household dust in your air ducts is normal. Duct cleaning is not considered to be a necessary part of yearly maintenance of your heating and cooling system, which consists of regular cleaning of drain pans and heating and cooling coils, regular filter changes and yearly inspections of heating equipment. Research continues in an effort to evaluate the potential benefits of air duct cleaning.

Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:
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