I to had an odd layer of white'ish dust building up especially during seasonal periods when the HVAC ran a a lot. I carefully swept up the fine dust into a small pile and had it analyzed. Turns out it was very fine fiberglass powder dust. It turns out it is the insulation form the attic! (My attic has blown in insulation). Turns out if you (I) had small gaps around my HVAC registers in the ceiling whee the airs blows into the room. What occurred in my case was that the exiting air at that seam creates a vacuum effect at the grate vent cover and draws and then blows fine insulation dust from the attic into the house. Removing each register grate and sealing each tin outlet gap with calking between the dry wall ceiling and tin fixed the issue. A couple were so bad with bowed gaps I had to screw down the bowed tin to the attaching stud better. Checking the very same glass top desk that catches and shows any dust accumulation now shows only very small amounts of normal house dust build up over several weeks. A big, big improvement. You might have a look by simply removing a couple vent covers yourself.
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I hope that those customers you have with breathing problems don't follow your advice too closely. You are doing them a disservice. Dirt in your ducts does not always stay there, depending on what the contaminants are. I bet you tell your customers not to worry about mold either- just to kill it with bleach. Educate yourself before opening your mouth- You may kill someone someday with your opinion.
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.
These are the prices for a proper installation from a professional – as a word to the wise, HVAC systems require fine tuning and the custom fabrication of parts during installation to work properly, otherwise they will likely fail prematurely. But there are plenty of people who will do it for cheaper than this, using substandard, used, or stolen equipment (stolen from construction sites and new housing developments). Or, they are using unskilled laborers with no experience, etc. But HVAC is not a “we’ll figure it out trade;” there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. There are just too many predatory companies out there, so be careful. I’d highly recommend not skimping on your HVAC contractor. If you go cheap, you will typically pay more in the long run...and in California, that will be a lot!
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