Maintaining and cleaning your heating and cooling system components is a simple way to improve the efficiency of your system, thereby decreasing energy costs and increasing the lifespan of the system. Not only this, but it will also help in supporting healthy indoor air quality in the home.
If you have a forced-air HVAC system, one major step in maintaining the system and reaping these benefits is to have the ducts cleaned. There are a few telltale signs that you may need your ductwork cleaned; but first, what exactly is air duct cleaning?
What Goes Into An Air Duct Cleaning
Indoor air quality (IAQ) has recently become a more prominent concern among homeowners, especially with the pandemic and increased time spent at home in the last year.
Maintenance of your HVAC system, including duct cleaning, is an easy way to maintain healthy IAQ levels in your home. Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, heat exchangers, coils, grilles and diffusers, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing.
If not properly installed and maintained, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust or other debris. "If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them," according to the EPA.
Duct cleaning services typically range in cost from $400 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on:
The services offered
The size of the system to be cleaned
Level of contamination
Now that you know a little bit more about duct cleaning, you should learn when it's important to schedule that maintenance with your local HVAC contractor.
When You Should Consider Having Your Air Ducts Cleaned
While an annual tune-up and daily maintenance of your HVAC system should always be completed, duct cleaning is done on more of an as-needed basis. The main signals that your air ducts need cleaning are visible mold growth, excessive dust in the home, signs of rodents or insects in the ducts, rising energy costs, or if your home was just built or renovated.
Visible mold growth
You may notice substantial mold growth on components of your heating or cooling system, either by seeing it in places like vent covers or by smelling a musty odor. Because many parts of your HVAC system aren't easily accessible, mold is often easier to detect by the smell.
Your heating and cooling system can develop condensation, leading to the growth of mold in your ductwork (especially if you live in a humid climate). If you do find mold in your ductwork, it's important to have a technician come out and perform a cleaning. Even more important, the technician needs to identify what the root cause is so that the problem does not continue to occur. Some causes of mold growth, such as insulation in the ducts getting wet and moldy, will call for a removal and replacement. In this case, the insulation would not be able to be effectively clean, and so the problem would persist.
In addition to duct cleaning, you should take other steps to remove excess moisture in the home. One simple way to do this is by installing a whole-home dehumidifier, like one from Aprilaire. You should also check your thermostat settings, as some settings may sneakily be causing increased humidity in the home.
If it seems like you're always cleaning but the dust never stops accumulating, you might need to have your ducts cleaned. Take a look at the air supply and return vents around your house. If they are visibly dusty or dirty, try to remove a vent cover and/or filter and look inside the ductwork. If the inside also looks like it's covered in dust, in addition to the dusty vent, schedule a technician to come do a duct cleaning.
One easy way to prevent dust buildup is to replace your HVAC air filters often. Replacing your filter will keep the air in your system and home clean and keep your system running at maximum efficiency. You can also look into air purifiers, which are very effective at capturing and destroying pollutants in the home.
Rodents or insects in ducts
Unfortunately, it's common for rodents and insects to find a home within your home -- specifically in your ductwork. They may get in through unsealed spaces or by chewing through the material, jeopardizing the quality of the air you breathe. These animals can leave slews of bacteria through droppings, making nests, or even dying. In the case of a dead animal in your ductwork, you will easily notice an unpleasant smell.
If you suspect rodents or insects to be infiltrating your ductwork, you will need to find the exact location and remove the cover to get the animal out. It might be best to have a professional do this so that they can also make sure there is no other damage.
Your home was just built or renovated
If there was just construction or remodeling done in your home, it's expected that there will be dirt and dust floating around. Unless the HVAC system was turned off and kept completely covered during the entire construction process (which typically isn’t realistic), that particulate will make its way into your ductwork and then end up being distributed throughout your home.
If you've recently had construction in the home, it's a good idea to get your ducts cleaned to ensure you are breathing in healthy, clean air.
Rising energy costs
An unexplained rise in your energy bills is often due to your HVAC system running at a lower efficiency. If you compare your bill to the same time a year ago and no major factors have changed (e.g. increased time spent at home or people living in the home), then a dirty HVAC system could be the culprit.
Your ductwork can sometimes become so dirty that airflow is messed with, rendering it unable to efficiently cool or heat your home. When this occurs, your AC or furnace is forced to work harder to maintain the desired temperature in your home. This, in turn, causes your energy bill to increase, even if you aren't touching the thermostat.
Similarly, blockage of airflow may cause certain areas of the home to be hotter or colder than others. If you feel that the airflow in your home is uneven, it may be due to dirty air ducts.
It's also important to note that your system may be working harder (and your energy bills may be increasing) due to a variety of other factors. For example, you may have leaks in the ductwork resulting in lost energy. Or, your HVAC system may simply be too old and could be ready for a replacement.
Ready to schedule your air ducts to be cleaned and start breathing in healthier air? Click below to schedule an appointment with ECI Comfort!