Your cleaning service should involve all aspects of your duct work to maximize energy efficiency and air quality. This includes attending to the heat exchanger, blower, drain pan, plenum and coils as well. In the process, your service provider may find that you're facing larger issues than debris and build-up. The professional may recommend having your furnace repaired if they notice, for example, damage to your heat exchanger or blower motor. Generally, a furnace repair costs between $130 and $500. They may also find that an A/C coil needs to be replaced rather than cleaned and would then recommend A/C repair.
Your HVAC unit and air ducts deliver heated or cooled air throughout your home year-in and year-out. The air your HVAC unit produces travels through your ductwork and heats or cools your home via the air vents in each room. The dust and other particles in your home’s air are known as particulate matter, which the EPA defines as "a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets." The EPA also notes that "particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles." Having clean air ducts means fewer of these particles moving through your home. If you remove your furnace filter and hold it up to the light, you can probably see several hundred of these minuscule particles floating in the air. 

Your HVAC unit and air ducts deliver heated or cooled air throughout your home year-in and year-out. The air your HVAC unit produces travels through your ductwork and heats or cools your home via the air vents in each room. The dust and other particles in your home’s air are known as particulate matter, which the EPA defines as "a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets." The EPA also notes that "particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles." Having clean air ducts means fewer of these particles moving through your home. If you remove your furnace filter and hold it up to the light, you can probably see several hundred of these minuscule particles floating in the air. 


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!

A thorough visual inspection is the best way to verify the cleanliness of your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with the naked eye. Show the Post-Cleaning Consumer Checklist to the service provider before the work begins. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed satisfactorily.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
Vinick calls air duct cleaning an essential part of home maintenance, akin to mopping and vacuuming. "It’s like changing the oil in your car,” he says. “If you don’t change the oil, you’re going to have a problem. When your components are loaded up with debris, the system has to work harder. When you remove that debris, you get energy consumption savings.”

Important Tip: Don’t just pay attention to the high-end of the price range! – which is what I know you are all looking at, but also look at the low range. If a contractor is cheaper than this, ask “why?” Usually it is because they don’t have liability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, are unlicensed, all of the above, or worst yet, they don’t use HVAC technicians. You are spending a lot of money.  Make sure that they are licensed (In California, check here at CSLB License Checker) and insured.


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?).
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