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Air duct maintenance and cleaning for your commercial building is essential for a few different reasons. Keeping your ducts clean helps prevent the circulation and recirculation of dust, pollen, dander and other debris throughout your building. These pollutants affect indoor air quality and can lead to coughing, sneezing, allergy flare-ups, and other respiratory illnesses for individuals who spend a lot of time in the building. Furthermore, pollutants in your ducts impede airflow and reduce HVAC efficiency, forcing your system to work harder to heat or cool the space. You will see these extra system demands reflect on your monthly energy bill.

Most building managers understand these points and realize the importance of air duct care, cleaning, and maintenance. Even looking for duct leaks or gaps in system insulation can help you identify and fix efficiency gaps in your HVAC. The thing that most building managers don’t know is just how regularly they should be carrying out cleaning and maintenance of their air ducts.

Determining When It’s Time to Call an HVAC Technician for Air Duct Maintenance

Air Duct Maintenance There isn’t really an industry-accepted rule of thumb for when you should have the ducts of a commercial building cleaned. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends that ducts should be cleaned every three to five years. The Environmental Protection Agency has a slightly looser guidance, suggesting that ducts should be cleaned “on an as-needed basis.”

The correct answer is probably somewhere in between. If your building hasn’t had an air duct cleaning in three to five years, you should probably consult with an HVAC technician to get a sense of how your ducts are looking. If it’s been longer than five years, you are going to want to have your ducts cleaned right away. No matter what NADCA says, five years is a lot of time to allow dust and other debris accumulate in your duct system.

But should you be thinking about duct cleaning and maintenance even if three years haven’t elapsed since your last cleaning? As the EPA suggests, the answer to this question will depend on what is “needed” for your building. Those needs may vary depending on a few specific circumstances within your building. For instance, a building with pets and animals is likely to accumulate debris in the ducts more quickly than a building with no animals. Pet hair and dander are a big culprit in dirtying and clogging ducts.

If your building is in a dry and dusty part of the country, that is another factor to consider. Some of that dirt and dust is bound to make its way into your building and your ducts, demanding more frequent duct maintenance. A higher likelihood of dust buildup can also be caused by internal factors, such as renovation work. If you recently renovated part of your building—especially if the work involved taking out drywall—then you should have your ducts checked to assess their current state.

Dust Mites in your HVAC Ducts

Watching for Warning Signs

Ultimately, there is no one set-in-stone schedule for air duct maintenance. Every three to five years is a good rule of thumb for most buildings, but even that rule won’t apply to everyone. Depending on circumstances like the ones mentioned above, you might need to have your ducts cleaned every year or two, rather than waiting three years or more.

The best you can do is be mindful of warning signs that your ducts might be dirty or clogged with debris. If multiple employees or building tenants are complaining about bad allergies, or are coughing and sneezing all the time, the air quality in your building could be to blame. If your heating and cooling bills are going up for no reasonable explanation—such as seasonal temperature extremes—that could be a sign that something is blocking the airflow in the ducts. If vents and returns throughout your building are visibly dirty, then your ducts are definitely getting dirty.

In any of these situations, your next step should be to call an HVAC technician to have a look at your ducts. At very least, your technician will be able to tell you that your ducts are relatively clean and give you a recommendation on when to call for cleaning and duct maintenance. If your air ducts do need cleaning, your technician will be ready to carry out the job with all the appropriate equipment and expertise. Either way, you will have peace of mind going forward that your ducts are clean and that the air quality in your building is protected.

The other benefit of calling an HVAC company to check your ducts when you aren’t sure is that you get a better sense of your building’s timeline for air duct maintenance. By keeping track of when you last cleaned your ducts—and when the time comes to clean them again—you can have a better sense of where on the one-to-five-year cleaning spectrum your building lands.