I am very interested by your post. We recently had a lead inspection on our property and one thing the lead inspector suggested was to get the air ducts cleaned out. We had our ducts cleaned last year after we under went a large renovation project (since we have a toddler in the house). This year we decided to go for lead compliance and had all our lead removed (we moved out for the work). Recently, my son had a false positive lead test, which prompted us to get a lead dust inspection around the house (including having the vents dust-wiped on the inside). The levels inside the ducts weren't crazy high (but more than would be acceptable for a floor). As it turned out my son's lead levels are very low (but not zero). Is it possible however that lead dust from the inside of a vent can come out? Would this be a scenario where you think air duct cleaning would be beneficial?
In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to encapsulate or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe it will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.
I just bought a home, and the sellers clearly never had the air ducts cleaned. This is, unfortunately, typical of their neglect of the home, so I am not surprised. I was cleaning around the wooden floor registers, and I took the registers off. I found nests of some sort...all kinds of really gross stuff!! I am calling now to schedule duct cleaning for my new home. Anyway, it is very easy to check to see if you really need duct cleaning. Remove the floor registers and use a flashlight if necessary to see if there is dust or debris in the ducting. If these look bad, I'd definitely have the system cleaned. I would also do it after a construction project, after installing a new furnace, etc. I have found that once I had my previous system cleaned, it seemed to remain spotless for 3 years. So it seems that if you just change your filters on time (I have an iPhone alert set for every 3 months), the system will stay clean for years. Hope this helps!
There are many interesting comments from several informed individuals. The question that has not been answered is how do duct systems get dusty and dirty? As a RESNET Home Energy Rater, I perform pressure tests on homes and duct systems, and the one common thread is . . . most air delivery sytems have large amounts of air leakage. The solution is to seal the duct system, and pay particular attention to the return duct system and ductwork near the air handler (the 'blower'). As others have said, a captive (sealed) duct system with proper filter maintenance should be more then adequate for most occupants. For those who have allergy, asthma, or other breathing problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating (number should be listed on the package) or a HEPA filter are good choices. These filters will capture smaller particulates and should improve the indoor air quality. Again, make certain that the entire duct system is sealed, preferably with mastic, second choice UL-181 foil tape - never use cloth duct (also known as duck) tape.
Furnace cleaners are mostly young men, I know this, I have been one for 15 years or so……so heres the truth, if there are any allergies, children, older people with health issues, we are GOING to make money. do not tell the company you have hired about any health complication. they are salesmen. and they don’t care about you. or your money. make sure they do a good job, then kick them out. you don’t need all the bells and whistles they wanna sell you. any idiot can clean duct work, like I said, I am one of them. I am very good at it, but I don’t have the back bone to sell a widowed old lady a humidifier that she doesn’t need for 500 bucks, overall, if you think you need this service done, which you probably don’t, get it done, do not spend anything over 300$ and do not do it again for at least ten years.
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?).
Indoor Fan Motor -- Indoor fans circulate the air from your house and through the system. Age and dust buildup are the two biggest contributing factors to their failure. When they are starting to fail they will often make noise. Failure of the fan will result in no heating or cooling, and if it is not repaired soon, it can cause other components to fail.
You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should be occasionally cleaned. Provided that the cleaning is done properly, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental. EPA does not recommend that the air ducts be cleaned routinely, but only as needed. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning.