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Is Air Duct Cleaning Worth The Money?

ByAllen Czermak

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The summers can be real scorchers where I live in North Bergen, New Jersey. As a matter of fact, in the next three days our township will be averaging around 95° Fahrenheit. That’s pretty hot for Northern New Jersey. All I can say is that I am happy I was able to get my HVAC unit replaced before this upcoming heatwave. 

It was just last week when I came home from a socially distancing engagement party and felt warm air against my face while hearing the air handler running. I went to the nearest floor vent and felt warm air blowing. At that point, I shut down my cooling system and reached out to my local HVAC guy. I told him that it was time to replace my air conditioner and I needed it done before the weekend. After laying out $4,000, he ordered a new furnace, condenser, and air handler. The team managed to get the system installed half way, in order to cool the home. I am still waiting for them to complete the job.

While they were busy hooking up the new system, the lead installation expert mentioned to me that my air ducts happened to be rather dirty. I told him that I heard about air duct cleaning but was unsure if it was really worth it. He didn’t really give me a clear answer so I decided to do the homework myself and lay out both sides of the air duct cleaning debate. 

To Clean or Not To Clean Your Air Duct? That Is The Question

After doing a substantial amount of research I found that professional HVAC installers will be hesitant to clean the air ducts while local air duct cleaners will naturally recommend having them cleaned.  Each has their own opinion, but what is most important for a homeowner is to ask yourself the following question “Why do I want my ducts cleaned?”. With the following information below you will be better able to answer that question and decide if air duct cleaning is really worth it.

HVAC Installers Take On Air Duct Cleaning

The way an air conditioning system works is complex but can be explained in a three step process. First, the air flow will begin at the supply register which passes through a filter. Second, the air will pass through the ac coils and is cooled down and conditioned. Third, the cool air will then pass through the air handler and be pushed into your ducts. At this point, the cool air will be distributed throughout the house until the desired temperature is achieved.

Assuming that you change your filter often, a good filter should prevent most dust and particles from entering into your ducts. Any remaining particles which do enter the duct work will begin to slowly build up over the course of time. After ten or fifteen years, there might be a nice film of dust lining both metal and flex ducts. HVAC installers are not afraid of this dust loosening and getting blown into the living area of the home as the dust itself will function as a filter. The mass flow of air will stay clean and if there are remaining dust particles which enter the duct work, they will be caught by this thin film of dust.

Final Answer From HVAC Installer

Unless there was construction done in the home that generated a significant amount of dust or your home is dusty in general, HVAC installers recommend not to have your air ducts cleaned. They rely on religious filter changing and the ducts themselves functioning as a catch all for the remaining dirt and debris that get into the duct work. In addition, they are highly concerned about having the air duct cleaning equipment possibly damaging the duct work either by causing an air leakage or by puncturing a whole.

NADCA Certified Expert Take On Air Duct Cleaning

When a local air duct cleaning expert who is certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association or better known as NADCA, comes to clean your air ducts, the standard service will include the following: 

  • Cleaning your furnace
  • Cleaning the air conditioner coils
  • Cleaning the supply and return ductwork
  • Cleaning the floor and ceiling registers

During the service call, NADCA certified experts will use highly sensitive equipment when loosening the dirt and debris from the air ducts. When cleaning the steel vents they will use a vinyl whip and when cleaning flex ducts they will use an ultra sensitive rubber head so as not to cause any harm to the flex ducts. The head looks like a deflated  balloon which has just enough force to loosen the dust from the ducts without harming the flex duct. The point to be taken here is that certified air duct cleaners must use ultra sensitive equipment when cleaning both residential and commercial HVAC systems. 

NADCA White Paper On HVAC Cleaning & Energy Efficiency

In addition, to the primary benefit of having clean duct work, NADCA has done a white paper showing how cleaning your HVAC system can provide home owners with substantial savings on their energy bills. According to the white paper, homeowners saw a 38% increase in overall system energy performance when getting their air ducts cleaned. Though NADCA did not report the exact dollar savings due to the many variables like average temperature and cost per kilowatt, increasing your systems performance by 38% means that your system will in essence be running 38% less of the time. In most homes, it would be safe to say that you will see these savings on your next energy bill. 

How Is The Duct Cleaning Done?

NADCA has a process which is called source removal. This is done with both negative  and positive air flow. The positive air will loosen the dust from the ducts which will then get sucked up by the compressed negative air. All of the dust and debris which is loosened from the duct will be collected outside of the house. As a customer, always make sure that the dust is being collected outside the home and not inside the home. The last thing you want is for the dust and dirt to be pushed back directly into the living area.  

Beware of Air Duct Cleaning Scams!

I cannot express this enough, don’t hire someone to clean your home unless they are certified by NADCA. One of the things to look out for is the type of equipment which is brought into the home. If someone comes to your home and is claiming to clean your air ducts with just a Shop-Vac® that has a HEPA filter, don’t let them in. At best, they will clean the ceiling and floor registers and at worst they can damage the duct work with the hard plastic vacuum head. Do your homework and make sure that the air duct cleaning service comes highly recommended and don’t rely on social media

Using a Reputable Duct Cleaning Service

When using a trusted air duct cleaning service you can ask them all the questions in the world and they should provide you with satisfactory answers. After the service you can ask to see the filter in the equipment that catches the dust and dirt which will determine if the air duct cleaning was worth it. If the filter is clean then it was probably unnecessary but if it picks up lots of dust you most likely got your money’s worth.

How Much Should Air Duct Cleaning Cost?

Depending on the size of the home the pricing may vary. Bigger home might mean using multiple compressors and require much longer duct work. According to NewHomeSource the average square footage in a home is 2,500 square feet. Based on this number, the cost of getting a house of this size’s air ducts cleaned should cost between $300 and $400 dollars. Local air duct cleaners will tend to be closer to $300 and non local will most likely be closer to $400. Pricing may vary but it’s around this range where your cost should be at. When you see a price of anything less, please be cautious of this service and make sure to get a reference. 

Final Answer From Air Duct Cleaning Experts

Get your air ducts cleaned if you feel that it’s necessary and always make sure to hire a NADCA certified expert. Always be cautious if the price is lower than $300 and ask as many questions as you wish. Do your homework and make sure the service man comes highly recommended. Also, look out for the type of equipment being used and make sure that it’s not just a Shop-Vac® with a HEPA filter.

Keep In Mind The Decision Is Yours

Never feel pressured into having your air ducts cleaned. If you have done your homework and you feel it’s necessary, call up a reputable air duct cleaning service and have them explain the process. There are two schools of thought and HVAC installers will tend to shy away from getting their customers ducts cleaned unless there is an urgent need. This might be due to an over abundance of dust in the home or perhaps right after a home makeover. Other demands for air duct cleaning might be individuals who are allergic to dust and allergens.

Final Words

Both HVAC installers and local air duct cleaning experts agree on one thing which is to keep your house clean and don’t allow the build up of dust. This is especially important in homes which have carpet. I understand that carpet gives the home a cozy feel but it also is the primary producer of dust. This dust gets circulated throughout the home and can potentially end up in your ducts. Keeping your home clean is really important and make sure you vacuum those carpets religiously. 

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