Inspecting The Ducts
While simply opening the front door or using the HVAC system will inevitably lead to the accumulation of particulates throughout your air ducts, many other factors can significantly expedite the process. Pet hair, cigarette smoke, water damage, and home renovation projects will all cause more rapid buildup of particulates. Homeowners should periodically check their ductwork for particulate buildup, especially if anyone in the home has asthma or allergies, as these household members may be particularly sensitive. To check the ducts in your home, remove the registers from the wall and the floor with a screwdriver, and use a small mirror and a flashlight to inspect for dust, dirt, and debris. Alternatively, you can use a digital camera to take a picture of the inside of the duct. Check each register to assess the level of buildup in the ducts beforehand and confirm the difference after they’ve been cleaned. (A contractor may have cameras that can probe even farther into the ducts and show the full extent of the buildup.)
When a professional contractor performs the initial inspection, he or she will also be able to check the ductwork for leaks or, in the case of flexible ducts, kinks. Some duct cleaning contractors are also capable of making repairs and replacing ducts that have become damaged.
Duct Cleaning Contractors
Multiple duct cleaning methods are available. In general, each method involves using specialized tools to dislodge any dust or debris in the ducts so they can be sucked out with a high-powered vacuum. Beware of duct cleaners who only use ordinary tools like household vacuum cleaners and air-compressor guns. Such tools will likely leave much of the dust removed from the ducts scattered throughout your home.
As one might expect, most duct cleaners believe that whichever system they employ is the best one. As our research is designed to rate companies and not methods of cleaning ductwork, we do not recommend one method over another. Make sure the contractors you talk to explain how they will clean your ducts, and check that their methods comply with industry standards. A properly trained contractor will perform the job thoroughly and carefully, ensuring that your ductwork winds up clean and undamaged. A professional will use the correct equipment, take the time needed to do the job right, and be sure not to cause any damage to your ductwork or HVAC system during the process.
The Cleaning Process
Duct cleaning contractors use portable or truck-mounted vacuum collection devices to suck dust and debris out of the ductwork. Called source-removal techniques, these procedures establish how to properly clean ducts as well as registers, filters, plenums, evaporator coils, and air handlers—almost every component of a forced-air HVAC system. Basically, source-removal techniques focus on cleaning the ducts by hand and with brushes and compressed-air tools while a vacuum collection device extracts dislodged dust and debris. The process is methodical, straightforward, and should deliver clear results. If elements of the duct system, like evaporator coils and air handlers, are older, then your duct cleaner should hold an HVAC license in removing mold. Otherwise, you may need to hire a professional mold removal and remediation contractor.
Note that your HVAC system includes a supply side and a return side—the first being ducts that send treated air into the rooms of the house, and the second being ducts that return air to the air handler. The supply side and return side are separate parts of your home’s duct system, and the cleaning process must be performed on each. Additionally, each register should be cleaned one by one. Technicians will utilize rotating brushes and other specialized cleaning tools to dislodge dust so it can be captured by the vacuum collection device.
The largest vacuum collection devices include a large intake hose that is connected directly to a disconnected duct or another access point. When the vacuum is turned on, there is enough suction created to draw particles throughout the ductwork into the device as they’re brushed or blown loose. There are also smaller, portable vacuum collection devices that combine suction capabilities with rotating brushes, ensuring that no dust reenters the home as the technician inserts the tool into each vent.
Dryer Vent Cleaning
Many duct cleaning contractors also clean dryer vents, where particles not captured by the lint trap accumulate. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers recommends that dryer vents be cleaned by qualified professionals at least once every two years. This will not only prevent dryer fires, but it will also contribute to the efficiency of your dryer. A thorough dryer vent cleaning is also an opportunity to clean or update other aspects of the equipment. For example, the back of the dryer and the area behind the dryer should be cleaned. Also, outdated ducts made of plastic or foil should be replaced with semi-rigid metal ducts, which improve airflow and collect less lint.
Other Air Quality Issues
The EPA notes a variety of interrelated air quality concerns ranging from humidity to indoor pollutants, such as secondhand smoke and radon. As you begin to fine-tune the quality and comfort level of the air inside your home, keep the following issues in mind:
Humidity and moisture control. To add humidity to the air during the drier winter months, a humidifier can be installed in your home’s central HVAC system. A whole-house automatic humidifier introduces humidity in the form of water vapor. Excess moisture is also a problem, one that can foster mold growth and cause wood to swell. A whole-house or portable dehumidifier can help resolve the issue. A dehumidifier works by drawing humid air over cooled coils, where the water condenses and collects in a reservoir that must be periodically emptied. In humid climates or regions where the air feels continually muggy, a dehumidifier can make your home feel much better.
Air cleaning and purifying. To combat outdoor air pollutants that have infiltrated the home, the EPA recommends controlling or eliminating airborne particles by vacuuming and dusting regularly as well as ventilating the house with clean outdoor air. A whole-house or portable air cleaner may also be beneficial. Certain advanced filtration systems, such as high-end pleated media filters and HEPA filters, are now available. Clean or change your air filters regularly. The US ENERGY STAR program recommends changing the filters every three months and reminds homeowners that this will have benefits for the indoor air quality as well as the components of their HVAC system.