Here are tips for breathing healthy air at home and hiring a duct cleaning company

Is it worth it to clean you AC ductwork?

TAMPA - Keeping your home clean is certainly a priority for most of us. Despite a spic and span appearance, is there hidden dirt and dust lurking out of sight, in the dark, unseen conduits of your ductwork? There are many companies that say "Yes!" and advertise their services aggressively. But is it really worth it to plunk down $300 to $500 for the job?

According to the EPA, there is no scientific evidence that regular duct cleaning improves air quality, but some consumers have reported that having their ducts cleaned has led to reduced allergy symptoms and cleaner air. Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews, reminds us that the best way to keep our system working well and our air clean is by regularly changing the air filter on your HVAC system. Still, Angie's List asked highly rated duct cleaners to share the top reasons for air duct cleaning.

  1. Improve air circulation.
  2. Energy savings.
  3. Improve system performance.
  4. Make breathing easier.

Air duct cleaning removes of all air-borne dust and debris from the air duct system components of HVAC, forced air systems, gravity heaters and other related systems. Dave Adams, an air duct cleaning company owner, describes how it works. First, your ducts are connected by hose to a negative air machine, essentially a giant vacuum. "The negative air machine pulls about 5,500 cubic feet of air per minute. We cut into the supply and the return side. We push through the system. The debris comes through the system, and then is carried outside to the negative air machine filter and all of the debris is captured outside so nothing will be inside your home."

Expert recommendations vary on this subject, but most experts agree that you will benefit from duct cleaning every three to five years. A cleaning may be in order if you have smokers in the household, pets with high amounts of hair and dander, notice excessive dust, water contamination or damage, after home renovations or remodeling or prior occupancy to a new home. If you want to know what the inside of your vents look like, open up the vent covers and take a picture.

"When hiring someone to do work you can't actually see firsthand the finished product you want to do you research on the company up front," said Hicks. "Make sure you have an experienced reputable contractor that gives you a good estimate and also gives you parameters of how long it's going to take. An air duct cleaning can take several hours. Another great tip - have them show you before and after pictures of your ducts so you can see what happened."

Allowing an unqualified contractor to clean your ducts, though, could be worse than not having them cleaned at all. More particles could be broken up and released into your home or your HVAC system could be damaged.

Angie's List Tips: Hiring a professional air duct cleaner

  • Get written estimates from at least three different companies and check references. Most quality air duct cleaning companies use outdoor vented equipment, so all dust and debris is captured and contained outside the home.
  • Check if your state requires air duct cleaning licensure and if so, have the company provide proof of licensure – as well as proof of insurance – before you hire.
  • Make potential air duct cleaning companies provide a written checklist of exactly what they will do, and ask them to verify each task as they complete it. Qualified air duct cleaners will follow strict standards set by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA). NADCA recommends source-removal practices, which generally involves placing the ductwork under negative pressure to draw out dust and pollutants that line the surface of the ducts. Ask the technician to take before and after pictures of your ducts and inspect the job before you pay.
  • Don't hire on price alone. Any deal that sounds too good to be true usually is.  The cost of service averages between $300 and $500, but depends on factors such as where you live, square footage, number of vents, and how dirty your ducts are. Expect the service to take three to four hours to complete. If your home has two furnaces, the service will take longer.
  • Beware of bait-and-switch tactics that advertise an unbelievably low rate and then immediately start tacking on up-charges or using scare tactics.
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