Duct Cleaning and Indoor Air Quality

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Duct cleaning is finding its way onto the maintenance schedules of many homeowners concerned about indoor air pollution. Airborne particles such as mold, fungus, pollen, and dust mites, and fumes from paint and other chemicals used in cleaning and maintenance, circulate throughout the house, irritating allergies and asthma. Mold and bacteria can proliferate in ducts where moisture has infiltrated. The duct cleaning industry offers one approach to alleviating the allergens and poisons.

Basic Steps Involved in Duct Cleaning

According to the National Air Duct Cleaner Association (NADCA), best practices in duct cleaning include several steps:

  • Examining joints for leaks and sealing them
  • Examining vent systems for moisture infiltration and remedying the causes
  • Cleaning HVAC registers and filters and emptying drain pans
  • Scrubbing or agitating ducts to loosen contaminants
  • Using a high-powered vacuum system to suck contaminants from the duct system
  • Biocide application to discourage bacteria from growing

When to Have Your Ducts Cleaned

It is difficult to ascertain whether serious levels of contaminants exist in a duct system because the majority of the vent system is inaccessible. Laboratory testing is necessary to prove high-level contamination. Some duct cleaning contractors will offer to conduct these tests for you. Keep in mind that they have an interest in proving your home is contaminated in order to get your business. Take steps to find a reputable duct cleaning contractor.

Preventative Duct Cleaning

It is believed that duct cleaning will benefit homes with contaminated ducts, but there is some debate on whether preventative duct cleaning is effective at preventing allergies or sickness. At a cost of $450 to $1,000 per cleaning, this is a question homeowners should consider. In most cases, duct cleaning only needs to be undertaken if household members are suffering from maladies that are not explained by other circumstances.

Homeowners might have their ducts cleaned if there are asthma or allergy sufferers in the household. The presence of pets, smokers, or a recent vermin infestation increases the likelihood of contaminants in the duct system. Recent household renovations or mold contamination are other occasions to consider duct cleaning.

Homeowners should have their ducts re-tested for contaminants three months or more after cleaning to gauge the effectiveness of the cleaning and assess if there is a breach in the duct system that is allowing pollutants in.

How to Find a Duct Cleaning Contractor

The National Air Duct Cleaner Association (NADCA) has a certification process and a code of ethics for duct cleaning and other HVAC contractors. Homeowners should also ask for references of those who had their duct cleaning over a year ago to assess the long term effectiveness of the duct cleaning contractor. Be sure to ask if the customers had been suffering any particular illnesses and whether those problems have abated.

Alternatives to Duct Cleaning

Duct cleaning can prove a huge expense, but other methods for improving air quality may be just as effective. Some tips include:

  • Clean and replace HVAC system air filters regularly. Dry vacuum grilles and registers to remove accumulated dust.
  • Never steam clean or introduce moisture into the duct system. Do not allow water to pool near ducts to combat mold accumulation.
  • Vacuum carpets regularly. Carpets are more likely to trap dust, pet dander, and other allergens. Some artificial carpets are also known to release gases into the air.
  • Avoid paints, varnish, and artificial surfaces. They are potential emitters that emit gases such as formaldehyde. Strong household cleaners and solvents also produce fumes that linger.
  • Make sure ducts are sealed with steel grates against rats and mice, whose excrement can transmit human diseases.