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Duct Cleaning: Scam, Sham, or Legit?

Chances are that if you talk to a friend who recently had the ductwork in their home cleaned out, they’ll babble incessantly about all the benefits to be recouped by undergoing the process. “I can breathe so much easier!” “The house smells fresher.” “My allergies have practically disappeared!” Etcetera, etcetera. Well, all those benefits could be figments of your friend’s imagination. In other words, there are opposing factions of HVAC professionals who debate the efficacy of duct cleaning and whether or not it’s warranted; here, the customer has to operate on gut instinct and decide if duct cleaning is something they want to pursue.

This doesn’t mean hiring a professional to clean ducts is a total scam. After all, it stands to reason that removing all the dirt and debris from anywhere, or anything, would be preferable to letting it fester. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there’s no scientific evidence that air quality is improved in residences that partake in the process regularly. That’s not to say they completely disavow the practice; they agree that ducts should be cleaned on an “as needed” basis. For example, when mold, pestilence, or exorbitant amounts of debris inhibit airflow. But, shouldn’t common sense dictate that a homeowner avoids reaching that level of filth in the first place?

On the other side of the debate stands NADCA, or the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (yes, that’s a thing.”) They disagree with the EPA and advise that professionals clean your ducts every 3 to 5 years. And if you suffer from asthma or allergies, an annual cleaning is recommended. Other variables that may warrant a thorough cleansing include pets, smoking, regional weather, recent renovations, and the general cleanliness of the home in its entirety.

What every faction does agree on is the importance of regular HVAC maintenance procedures. This consists of changing filters every 30 to 90 days, annual inspections by a certified technician, etc. If the ductwork and the attendant HVAC components are laden with dust, debris, or mold then it’s probably a good time to call in the cavalry for a cleanse. This is where things get a little fuzzy.

NADCA, comprised of over 1,000 duct cleaning companies in the U.S., has a scope of work that is standard operating procedure. You will see plenty of ads that offer duct cleaning for as low as 50 bucks - avoid these outfits like the plague; they are often scam artists or amateur hacks. A competent, professional duct cleaning entails that every inch of the system over which air passes be attended to. Usually, this exercise requires a couple of workers, expensive equipment, 3 or 4 hours, and costs north of $400. Stem to stern, coils to compressor - every part receives some TLC.

A homeowner should get the opinion of a local and trusted HVAC professional, to find out if their ductwork warrants cleaning. And they can always research the web for reviews on companies nearby.


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