Your HVAC system includes the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning that keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Connecting the air that comes out of your vents to the furnace is a web of tunnels known as ducts. Like everything in the home, ducts require periodic maintenance.
Why Clean Your Ducts
As air travels through your ductwork, dust and debris collects along the sides and bottom. Of course, there are other contributors to objects in the ducts, such as curious toddlers with Matchbox cars and rodents who discover the ducts as a mode of transportation from one side of the house to another.
In addition to the peace of mind in knowing the mice and toys have been removed, cleaning your ducts saves you money on your energy bill. The dust and debris that collects inside your ducts moves through the system and back into the furnace where the build up causes the furnace to work harder. If the furnace is working harder, it will reflect in your utility bill. Professionals estimate a homeowner can save between 11% and 25% on the energy bill by cleaning ducts periodically and changing furnace filters every one to three months.
Another advantage of cleaning your ducts is fresh air. After all, the system commands the quality of your indoor air so it stands to reason a clean system will produce cleaner air. In addition, your home will accumulate less dust when there is less dust in circulation.
From a safety standpoint, reducing debris buildup also reduces your chances of carbon monoxide poisoning or home fires caused by a dirty system.
The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) suggests cleaning your ducts every three to five years, depending on usage and the specifics of your system.
How to Know if it’s Time
There are several indicators that point to dusty, dirty ductwork. Look for dust accumulating around your vent registers and also the space surrounding your furnace filter. Inside your ducts, you may see thick buildup or obvious debris. You may also notice smells of dust or mold when the air kicks on.
Certain household activities have a bigger impact on your HVAC system than others. Pay special attention if you have pets or if there are smokers in the house. Also consider getting a duct cleaning when you move into a new home, whether the home is new or not. Evaluate a cleaning following any remodeling project that stirs up dust or if there has been a local air quality concern, such as haze from wildfires. Also schedule a cleaning if your family regularly experiences allergy attacks while in the home.
Note: If you smell mold or are confident there are rodents in the ductwork, avoid turning on the furnace until the system has been cleaned. Rodent feces and mold can both be toxic when airborne.
How to Clean Ducts
For most homes, cleaning the air ducts is best done by the professionals. Not because it is particularly difficult, but because they have the specialized equipment to do a thorough job. As a homeowner, you can remove vent registers and vacuum as far as your vacuum hose will reach. Professionals, however, will snake through your entire system, removing dust and debris around every bend. They will also eliminate grease and anything else that may be sticking to the ductwork.
Most companies have a storage tank on their truck to hold anything their vacuum sucks up. That makes for a mess-free job. Throughout the process, the team will need access to each vent in your house as well as the furnace and the entire task takes a few hours.
A professional company can also provide inspections for your system, using cameras to look for damage to the ducts, where air could be escaping. Damaged ductwork will cause a significant increase to your heating and cooling bill so identifying them can save you coin.
Costs of hiring duct cleaners vary geographically, but average between $300 and $500. Most charge a base rate, plus a specific fee per vent in your house. So before calling for estimates, know how many vent registers are in the home.