You need to inspect, clean, service, and maintain your HVAC equipment frequently, which is why most homeowners contract with HVAC companies for annual service appointments with qualified technicians. Failure to appropriately maintain this equipment could leave you with waning efficiency when you use your heating and air conditioning, not to mention potential problems and associated expenses for repair or replacement.
Your ducts may not need maintenance with the same frequency as your furnace or AC unit, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience a buildup of dust, pollutants, and even mold that could impact your air quality. In other words, you will eventually need to clean your air ducts, and you should have your HVAC technician do a cursory inspection during annual visits.
Capable homeowners may be able to handle air duct cleaning on their own, but before you start popping open your ductwork there are a few things you should know. Here are some duct cleaning basics to get you started.
When to Clean
Some sources suggest cleaning your ducts every 3-5 years while others say you may never need to clean your ducts. The truth is that the need for duct cleaning and the frequency of cleanings will differ from household to household.
Your best bet is to have your HVAC technician take a peek at ducts during annual inspections in order to keep track of buildup or other potential issues that may require cleaning. According to the EPA, there are a few situations in which duct cleaning becomes necessary.
Mainly you’ll want to watch out for potential health hazards, including visible mold or materials left behind by pests (such as nests, feces, or even dead insects or rodents, just for example). However, you should also make sure ducts aren’t blocked by dirt or other debris. Airflow restriction could not only impact air quality in your home, but also your energy efficiency.
What You’ll Need
If you want to clean your own ducts, you can make a dent, but you’ll have to start with appropriate tools. You’ll need a screwdriver to access ducts and a vacuum with a hose attachment, as well as regular cleaning supplies, including rags, cleaning solvents (possibly with bleach), and a scrubbing brush to loosen any stuck-on dust, dirt, and debris.
You may also want to gather some protective gear, including gloves, goggles, and even a paper mask since you don’t know what you might encounter. Even dust could irritate your skin or lungs, and if you find pollutants, mold, or animal waste you’ll be glad you covered up.
How to Clean
Start by vacuuming around ducts and then removing them. Then clean as far into ducts as you can with the tools at your disposal, using mirrors or even your smartphone camera to get a look further in.
Inspect for excess debris inside ductwork and keep an eye out for loose connections within ducting. If you can, check exposed ductwork (in attics or basements, for example). It could be a good indicator of the state of hidden ducts.
If you find a lot of dirt and debris in the ductwork you can access, there’s a good chance you need deeper cleaning. In this case, consider contacting a residential air duct cleaning service to handle the rest of the job.
Hire Professional Help
Even if you feel capable of cleaning your air ducts on your own, you simply may not have the time or inclination to tackle this labor-intensive task. Luckily, you can hire professionals that specialize in residential and commercial duct cleaning.
The company that handles your annual HVAC inspection, cleaning, and maintenance may also offer related services such as dryer vent cleaning, trash chute cleaning, and of course, air duct cleaning. In some cases, you’re better off hiring professional help.
If, for example, you encounter mold in your ducts during cleaning, it’s probably best to stop what you’re doing in call in a pro. Many HVAC technicians are trained to deal with a variety of air duct issues, but you may also need a mold remediation specialist.
Another good reason to bring in a professional to clean your ducts is because technicians are prepared for the task. They not only have the training and experience to deal with anything they might encounter in your ductwork (dust, mold, or even pest infestations), but they also have equipment that allows them to get much further into the ducts than you can on your own.
There’s a lot the average homeowner can do to maintain a house, but you simply may not have the knowledge or equipment to do the same job as a professional. If you want a job done right, sometimes it’s best to pay for the services of an experienced technician.