When it comes to regular maintenance and cleaning up around the house, many of us inadvertently fall into the mindset of “out of sight, out of mind.” This is especially true for HVAC maintenance, which is rarely the first thing we think of when we have some free time on the weekends to work on the house. However, making sure your heating and air conditioning systems are running smoothly is extremely important. Regular maintenance can prevent the air quality inside your house from dipping, save you money on your monthly electricity bills, and extend the life of your HVAC system by years or even decades. Just like taking your car to the shop every once in a while, paying to keep your HVAC system running smoothly is worth it to avoid bigger bills down the road.
One of the most important parts of maintaining your HVAC system is making sure your ducts are clean and clear of dust and other contaminants. While frequently overlooked, this is a vital part of keeping your air clean and your system energy-efficient. Never really thought about air duct cleaning before? You’re not alone. We’re here to help, so here’s everything you need to know before you hire someone to clean out your air ducts.
- Everyone Needs Duct Cleaning Eventually
Think about it: over time, dust settles onto your bookcases and windowsills, right? The same thing happens in aircon ducts over time. As the air moves through the HVAC system, it carries the particles and deposits them on the inside of ducts. That same process can move it from the ductwork throughout your house. That’s why we recommend that you clean the ducts every few years.
- If You See Dust, It’s Already Time for Assistance
Do you see wisps of dust clinging to your vents when the air turns on? Have you spotted a thick accumulation of dusty material on the vent for the return duct? If you see dust at the exit and entry points for your HVAC system, what do you think might hide inside the ductwork? Visible dust is a clear sign it’s time for cleaning sooner rather than later.
- Musty, Stale Odors Aren’t a Good Sign
Sometimes you won’t see dust, but you will smell something strange. When your AC or furnace turns on, does the house start to smell unpleasant? This odor is a sure sign that something isn’t right with the ductwork. It could be mold or mildew, or it could even be an unfortunate animal that became trapped in a duct. Professional air duct cleaning in Santa Rosa is the best way to mitigate the problem.
- Duct Cleaning Protects Your Air Conditioner
Protecting air quality is an important goal for this process, but it helps to safeguard your investment in expensive HVAC equipment, too. Keeping dust out of your system helps to preserve the free and smooth flow of air through the system and keeps dirt off critical components. This way, items such as your compressor don’t need to work as hard and won’t wear out more quickly than they should.
- Don’t Try to DIY
While there are plenty of things you can do around the house, duct cleaning shouldn’t be one of them. Special tools are necessary to remove all the debris from an aircon system properly. Without these tools, you won’t be able to reach every space or ensure that every part of the ductwork is clean.
- Professional Help Can Eradicate Mold
If you’re sure there’s a mold problem in your ducts, an experienced team can help. Not only will they clean the dust out, but they will kill the mold using special cleaning products, which also sanitize the ductwork. So long as you can keep the moisture level in the home down, this process should prevent the mold from reoccurring.
- Living Higher Above Sea Level? You May Need Cleaning More Often
Did you know that air filters aren’t as effective at higher altitudes? Because the air is thinner at elevations common around the Santa Rosa area, HVAC filters pick up fewer particulates than they would at sea level. The obvious result: duct systems become dirtier at a faster rate. If you’re living more than a thousand feet above sea level, you should consider more frequent cleaning.
- Duct Cleaning Isn’t a Huge Investment
Worried about the cost of duct cleaning? Think again — it’s a comparatively small investment. When you weigh it against the potential health effects of dirty ductwork and the cost of replacing HVAC equipment that wears out prematurely, you’ll find it is the more economical choice.
- The Right Tools Make a Difference
High-powered vacuum cleaners and rotary brushes make quick work of even the most stubborn dust and duct blockages in your system. Access to these tools is what makes professional help so essential. Without the vacuum to create negative pressure in your ducts, for example, the loosened debris would fly out through all your vents!
- Keep Your Vent Covers Clean as a Preventative Step
In between cleanings, you can do your part by periodically dusting vents and grates. Use a drop of dish detergent in water to clean these fittings as well to help prevent mold from growing. Pay particular attention to the grate that holds your HVAC filter in place; dust often becomes trapped here, which can affect the flow of air into and through the filter. Don’t forget also to change your filter regularly.
Why is Air Duct Cleaning So Important?
Let’s get this out of the way now: everybody, and we mean everybody, needs to have their air ducts cleaned every once in a while. It’s a little gross to think about, but the insides of our houses are essentially dust factories. Just think about how much dust accumulates on every surface in your home if you don’t clean them regularly. Dirt, skin cells, fabric fibers, pet hairs, pollen, smoke – pretty much everything inside our houses are giving off particulates all the time, and that settles on your surfaces and floor to create dust.
The same thing happens inside your air ducts. As air passes through the ducts in your house, it carries all kinds of particulates from both outside and inside your house. While the air inside the ducts is usually pretty clean, it’s impossible to keep everything out all the time, and those particles gradually accumulate inside the ductwork. Once the dust starts to build up in the system, it can cause all kinds of problems, including blocking or clogging the fans and vents, reducing airflow through the ducts, or even blowing out into your house and causing health problems for you and your family.
Besides cleaning your ducts regularly, one of the best things you can do to prevent dust from building up is to clean and replace the air filters in your HVAC system frequently. How often you swap out the filter will depend on what kind it is, so you should always check the packaging or the instruction booklet to make sure you’re switching filters as often as you should. Some more expensive filters can be cleaned and reused, but some can’t so check the packaging to make sure of that as well.
Even a clean and fully functional air filter can’t keep everything out indefinitely. Dust particles will make it through the filter, or float in through the vents while the system is turned off. While maintaining the filters is extremely important, you’ll still have to get your ducts cleaned every once in a while.
How Often Should I Clean My Air Ducts?
How often you clean the ducts will depend somewhat on where you live and how much dust is in your home. If you live out in the desert in Southern California, for example, all the dust and dirt in the air outside might require you to clean your ducts more frequently than somebody who lives in the city. Living in a humid area can also cause mold and mildew to grow in your ducts, which we’ll talk about a little later in this blog. When you’re first getting your HVAC system installed, we recommend checking with your contractor to see how often you should bring someone in to clean the ducts. In fact, we recommend creating a maintenance schedule for the whole system, duct cleaning included, so you never miss a recommended service.
As a general rule, you should have your ducts cleaned about once every two to five years. That’s a pretty wide range, and it depends on environmental factors as well as the type of ducts and HVAC system that you have. It also depends on how well you maintain the rest of your HVAC system. If you keep up on your yearly maintenance and switch the air filters as often as you should, then you should be able to go three, four, or five years without having the ducts cleaned. Again, it’s a little bit like maintaining a car: a little bit of preventative work now and then can save you some pricy repair bills in the future. Luckily, because the service dates are so far apart, that gives you plenty of time to put some money aside so you’re not taken by surprise when the time comes.
While the recommended standard maintenance schedule usually works fine, you should still keep an eye out to make sure that dust isn’t accumulating in the ducts. All you have to do is check the vents every once in a while. If you see wisps of dust that cling to the vents whenever the HVAC system is on, then there’s a pretty good chance that dust has built up inside the ducts. Keep in mind that the dust you see is most likely only a fraction of what’s inside the system itself, so we recommend being proactive if you see any warning signs. While it can be a little pricy to have your ducts cleaned when you’re not expecting it, it’ll be far more expensive to fix a clog or broken fan later on.
What Happens if I Don’t Clean the Air Ducts?
If you don’t keep up with your regular cleaning and allow dust to build up in your ducts, there are two main issues that you’ll run into. The first issue is the quality of the air. Because the ducts run all the way through your house, any contaminants that make their way inside can potentially end up being blown out through the vents into every room you have. Dust itself can cause respiratory problems if you’re inhaling it constantly, and anything else that gets trapped up in the ducts can be blown out and breathed in as well. Poor air quality can have serious long-term effects on your health if you don’t get it taken care of.
Dust in the ducts can also cause problems with the way the HVAC system functions. The most common problem is a buildup of dust that partially blocks the ducts and reduces airflow. When airflow is reduced, your air conditioner or heat pump is forced to work harder, which can cause your energy bill to spike. Harder work can also create strain on the mechanical parts inside the system, making them more likely to break or wear down. If major components like the compressor or evaporator coils break down, then you could be looking at repair bills of hundreds of dollars. Dust can also get tangled up in the blower fan or the motor that runs it, creating more strain and potentially damaging the mechanism. In this scenario, you could also be facing some significant repair costs.
Mold and Mildew in the Air Ducts
While the effects of dust in your ducts are serious enough to make regular cleaning worthwhile, the problems that come with mold or mildew growing up there can be even worse. Mold requires two things to grow in your ductwork: moisture, and warm temperatures. That means that humid areas like the deep south are at more of a risk, although mold can strike pretty much anywhere. If mold spores are allowed to enter the airflow through your house, the effects on your health can be fairly serious. The symptoms are often similar to allergies, so keep an eye out for headaches, nausea, irritation in your nose and throat, and itchy eyes. If you notice that you or members of your family are experiencing these symptoms when the HVAC system is turned on, then there’s a pretty good chance that you have mold growing in your ducts.
Because mold spores are invisible to the human eye, it can be difficult to tell when mold is growing until the infestation is serious. However, you can usually detect mold fairly early on by the odor. Mold has a distinctive musty smell, so if you notice it permeating your home, especially after the air conditioner has been turned on, then you should call an HVAC professional right away. Mold can also make the air smell wet, rotten, or stale, especially in areas with less ventilation. Mold can be difficult to get rid of, so we don’t recommend trying to clean your ducts by yourself. It’s well worth the money to hire a professional to do a deep clean for you.
Should I Hire a Professional or Clean My Ducts Myself?
While there are plenty of household tasks and repairs that a dedicated do-it-yourselfer can figure out how to do, cleaning out your ducts isn’t really one of them. Ductwork generally runs all the way throughout your house, and cleaning all of it can be a difficult and time-consuming project. It would require you to take apart your ducts, clean each section carefully, and put the whole thing back together. This can be extremely difficult, and missing even one little spot of buildup can cause problems to come right back once you finish the whole process. This is especially true for mold, which often can’t be detected by eyesight alone. Mold also requires special cleaning products to kill, since regular products will leave enough spores behind to start new growth, and it can be dangerous to be in close contact with mold growth without proper protective equipment. Finally, the ducts themselves are a lot more delicate than you might think, and are easily crushed or deformed. Even the smallest dent in the wrong spot can create a leak, reducing the efficiency of your HVAC system.
If you hire a professional HVAC specialist, then you’ll know you have someone with the experience required to clean your ducts completely and safely, without causing any damage to the ductwork itself. Professionals also know what to look for, so they can spot dust and mold buildup that you might never have seen.
Professional duct cleaners also carry a ton of equipment that’s necessary to make sure your ducts are getting a deep clean. Without these tools, even the most experienced homeowner wouldn’t be able to fully clear out everything from the ducts. Some common duct cleaning equipment includes:
- Access Tools: Duct cleaners use special tools to gain access to the inside of your ductwork without having to take the whole thing apart. These can range from small holes used for visual inspection to access panels that allow full cleaning.
- Inspection Tools: Just poking your head into the ducts and shining a flashlight around isn’t enough to get a full picture of what’s going on. Duct cleaners use inspection tools like handheld mirrors, periscopes, and small closed-circuit cameras to see everything clearly.
- Hand Cleaning Tools: Duct cleaners use a wide variety of tools to clear debris from inside the ducts without missing anything. These can range from simple hand brushes to pneumatic tools like blowguns, air skippers, and air whips. An experienced duct cleaner will be able to tell which tools will clean your ducts without causing any damage.
- Vacuum Collection Tools: Vacuum tools are used to dispose of debris inside the ducts and prevent contaminants from spreading further. These can be small handheld vacuums or more powerful devices mounted on a truck.
- Personal Protective Equipment: Duct cleaning professionals will bring their own PPE to every job, which can include gloves and masks to avoid inhaling dust or mold spores.
Duct Cleaning at High Altitudes
Mountain air has a reputation for being especially clean and pure. However, there are a few downsides to living at high elevations when it comes to your HVAC system. Because the air is thinner as you get further above sea level, even the best filters become less effective. If you live somewhere with a high elevation, like the mountains around Santa Rosa, you should invest in a finer air filter for your HVAC system.
Most of the air filters used in the HVAC industry are of HEPA quality. HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air, and it represents an air filter that’s capable of filtering out air particulates like dust, mold, and pollen. HEPA filters are categorized by how finely woven the fabric in the filter is. This is called the MERV rating, and it’s an important part of selecting an air filter. MERV goes from 1 all the way up to 16, with higher numbers signifying a tighter weave and a more effective filter. As a general rule, HEPA filters used in HVAC systems should have a MERV rating of 8 or above. However, if you live at higher altitudes, you may want to purchase filters at MERV 10 or even 12 to make sure you’re keeping everything out.
Regardless of the strength of your air filter, you should still have your ducts cleaned more frequently if you live somewhere high above sea level. Once you reach about a thousand feet above sea level, you should consider having your air ducts cleaned every two or three years instead of every four or five. It’s a little inconvenient, but that’s, unfortunately, the price we pay for fresh mountain air.
How Much Does It Cost to Have My Air Ducts Cleaned?
As a general rule, the cost of hiring someone to clean your air ducts is usually between $250 and $500, with an average price of around $350. That’s definitely not a small amount of money, but when you consider that you only have to do it every five years or so, it’s easy to set that much aside for when you need it. Of course, that price tag can get higher if you haven’t been keeping up with the regular HVAC maintenance schedule. As long as you have your ducts cleaned regularly, you shouldn’t ever have to pay more than $500.
That price is also a lot lower than the potential costs of letting dust build up in your ducts for too long. First of all, any blockage – even a small one – can reduce the airflow through your vents. Airflow is absolutely key for making sure that your HVAC system is energy efficient, and any reduction in airflow can lead to a spike in your monthly electricity bill. Those extra costs can add up, and soon you could find yourself wasting money that you could have saved if you had cleaned your ducts on time.
Reduced airflow also means that the system needs to work harder to cool your whole house, which puts strain on the mechanical parts inside. If these parts break, then the cost of repairing or replacing them is going to be far higher than cleaning your ducts. A new compressor, for example, can run you upwards of $1800. Replacing the blower motor inside your air conditioner costs an average of $450, but can run as high as $2000 depending on the model. An evaporator coil by itself will cost an average of $1000 to replace. As you can see, allowing your air conditioner to become damaged will end up being a lot more expensive than the regular maintenance would have been.
What Can I Do by Myself?
There are a few things you can do to make sure that your duct cleanings are relatively infrequent. The first thing is just general HVAC maintenance. As a rule, we recommend getting your air conditioner and heat pump serviced about once a year by an HVAC professional. They’ll check the pressure, replace the refrigerant, and make sure that everything is running smoothly. Often, these regular checkups will let you know if you have a problem building up inside your ducts.
You should also make sure to replace your HEPA air filter regularly. Most air filters need to be replaced once every month or so, although some more expensive ones can last for up to a year. Make sure you follow the schedule given by the manufacturer of your air filter to make sure they don’t get too dirty. If you’re tired of having to buy new filters every few months, you can also pick up a reusable filter that can be washed and put right back into the system.
Finally, it’s important to keep the vents clean. Even if your ducts are fine, dust can still drift from your house to the vents and get stuck there, which reduces the efficiency of your system just as much as a blockage inside the ducts would. Pay close attention to the grate that holds your air filter, as this vent becomes dirty a lot faster. If you clean the vents with a drop of dish detergent in water, you can prevent dirt and dust from building up while also killing any mold spores before they can grow. We recommend looking over your vents once a month or so and cleaning them as needed.
Get Help with Air Duct Cleaning Today
If you’ve detected reduced airflow or mold smell, or you’re just overdue for a preventative cleaning, you should get in touch with a duct cleaning company today. If you’re in Sonoma, Marin, or Napa counties, Valley Comfort Heating and Air has all the experience you’ll need to clean your ducts and prevent a buildup of dust or mold. If you’re interested in booking an appointment, or you have more questions about duct cleaning, you can get in touch with us online or call us at (707) 664-7201.