Should I have My Ducts Cleaned?

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – People are sweating more than just the rising temps this time of year. They are sweating the thought of a rising utility bill and fears of a stagnant HVAC system circulating dirty air into their homes as their AC kicks it into high gear.

A desire to keep their summer electricity bill at “spring time” lows and to keep their family healthy makes many homeowners susceptible to empty promises of money-saving, health-improving services, including our favorite: routine air duct cleaning.

This high profit, low overhead service is a favorite among bait and switch scammers and business who have been ripping off homeowners for more than a decade. After homeowners logged hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau regarding air duct cleaning scams, Dateline NBC stepped in with an investigation of its own. Their findings were disappointing, but not that shocking when you consider how many homeowners don’t truly understand how their HVAC system works.

That all changes today. We’d like to take a moment to discuss the function of your air ducts and why cleaning them probably won’t lower your energy bills or improve your indoor air quality. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

Without further ado, let’s talk air ducts.

1.) Air ducts aren’t supposed to get dirty
Most air conditioning ducts are attached to the home’s furnace or air handler and extend over to a register in the ceiling, where the air exits the grill. In a nutshell, your air conditioning system runs on positive pressure, which makes it nearly impossible for dirt and debris to enter the ducts.

If your air ducts are dirty, it is probably due to an underlying issue. Before cleaning or replacing your ducts, the cause(s) must be corrected or else the problem will likely recur.

“Well-maintained HVAC systems rarely need their duct system cleaned,” says Gabriel Carini, who owns Carini Heating and Air Conditioning in San Diego.

2.) Cleaning dirty ducts won’t prevent health problems
Duct cleaning providers know most homeowners are interested in improving their indoor air quality. They will often claim your “dirty” ducts could harbor mold and allergens that put your health at risk, which warrants a thorough cleaning.

Interestingly, duct cleaning has never proved to actually prevent health problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, daily activities such as grilling, smoking, cooking, cleaning and painting cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.

Moreover, if you’ve been told that you have mold in your system, it needs to be highly visible, substantial and tested before it is deemed a problem. Ducts that have become damp and are contaminated by mold will need to be replaced, not cleaned.

3.) Dirty air ducts don’t mean your air is dirty
Even dirty ducts don’t necessarily mean your air is dirty. Ducts actually do a fantastic job of trapping dust along their walls.

4.) Cleaning your ducts is not likely to increase your energy savings
“I’ve not seen nearly enough evidence supporting decreased energy consumption as a result of duct cleaning,” Carini says.

Proven energy saving practices include proper maintenance of your HVAC system, using a programmable thermostat, and cleaning your heating and cooling system components.

Some duct cleaning providers might tack on some of the above services to your duct cleaning to increase their profit and get you a return on energy savings, but as mentioned, those energy savings would probably be no different without the cleaning.

5.) Duct cleaning is hard on your ducts
A forceful rotating brush thrashing around your ducts can lead to even greater problems than some minor dust buildup. And when you consider that the dust buildup might be due to a leak, you can be sure cleaning that duct without addressing the problem will worsen it.

If you feel your ducts are dirty and want further information on what warrants a cleaning, call today for a free inspection.