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Getting Your Ducts In A Row

I see ads for furnace duct cleaning. Our children have allergies. How can I determine if the ducts need to be cleaned and how can I compare duct cleaning companies?—Ann T.

Some families can benefit tremendously from having furnace ducts cleaned and others will notice no significant difference. Only your physician can determine what is causing your children’s problems, so check there first. If poor indoor air quality, molds, etc., are suspected, then having the ducts professionally inspected and cleaned may help.

Your duct system may be driving up your utility bills and making your house uncomfortable even if it is perfectly clean. Many studies have shown the ducts in the typical home are leaky.

When your furnace or heat pump is running, hold your hand near each ductwork joint to feel for leaks. Wrapping duct tape around leaks is a temporary fix, but won’t hold up over the years. Aluminum tape is more durable. Professional contractors use a thick gray sealer compound (Miracle Duct Sealer) that you can spread over the joints for a permanent seal.

Complete duct cleaning is more than just removing dust from inside the ducts. It also cleans the blower, heat exchangers, cooling coils, and condensate pan. With these elements clean, air flows with less resistance through the entire system and the heat transfer from coils and heat exchanger surfaces is more efficient.

All ducts are going to accumulate some dust over time. This generally is not a problem that requires cleaning unless your family experiences health problems. A duct cleaning company can inspect the furnace ducts to show you how dirty they are. This is often done with a video camera in the ducts.

If mold is present anywhere in the system, you should have it cleaned. It is sometimes difficult to determine if ducts contain just dust or also mold. To be certain, a lab can check it for you. This is sometimes as simple as touching a piece of tape on an inside duct surface and sending it to the lab. Check with your local Environmental Protection Agency or health department office for locations of labs.

There are several methods to clean ducts. One uses a powerful vacuum outdoors in a truck. A long hose is run to the furnace area and attached to the ducts. From the rooms, the dust inside the ducts is knocked loose with mechanical brushes, air jet brushes, or air snakes. This eliminates the dust leaking into your house.

Another excellent method uses a smaller vacuum wheeled into your house near the furnace. Check with the contractor to make sure it has a high-efficiency particulate airborne (HEPA) exhaust filter so the dust from the ducts does not get into the room. A third method uses a rotating brush attached to the end of a vacuum nozzle. The brush/nozzle, along with a video camera, is run through each of the ducts.

When it comes to duct cleaning, don’t just shop for price. There are actual differences in the quality of the work performed. Look for companies whose cleaning technicians have National Air Duct Cleaners Association certification.

Before you sign the contract, ask for visual evidence that the ducts need to be cleaned. Ask the contractors how they plan to clean the other key components (heat exchangers, coils, pans, etc.). If one component is left unclean, it may recontaminate the entire system. Ask for a full duct-length visual inspection after the job is done, preferably with a camera in the ducts.

Write for Utility Bills Update No. 733, a list of 550 certified duct cleaning companies. Include $3.00, a business-size SASE, and Update number. Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 . Go to to instantly download.

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