Does Your Ductwork Deliver?

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The ductwork in your home is much like the intestinal tract in your body. Plenty of water, fruits, vegetables, fiber and vitamins keep it running smoothly and, as long as no problems occur, we just keep on keeping on.

The difference is that all the dust, hair and pollutants flowing through the ductwork just keep flowing until a blockage occurs. Then no amount of air can get through. That is why we need to stay conscious of when more dust collects on furniture and we begin sneezing. Cleaning ductwork is a simple process, if you find the right people to do it.

Ducts themselves are conduits, or passages, used in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, to deliver and remove air. Indoor air passes through the ductwork to ensure air is breathable. Ducts are built of such materials as galvanized steel, aluminum, polyurethane and phenolic insulation panels, fiberglass, fabric and waterproofing.

Cleaning them, as recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, is optional and may never be necessary. However, in saying that, there are situations when the ductwork in your home might need to be professionally cleaned. Thorough cleaning will remove such things as dust, cobwebs, debris, pet hair, rodent hair and droppings, paper clips, calcium deposits, children’s toys and anything else that happens to get trapped inside.

Another important reason to clean ductwork is if someone in your family is constantly becoming sick or experiences more allergic reactions than normal, and after or during sleep, anyone experiences headaches, nasal congestion or other sinus problems. Fatigue, headache, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, irritability, nausea, dry or burning eyes, nose or throat are definite signs ducts may need a thorough cleaning. If you find yourself needing to sweep or dust more than usual or see visible dust floating around your house, it’s time for a system inspection.

Check to see if air flow is consistent from all vents in the house; if not, there may be a blockage somewhere. You may notice a musty or stale odor when you switch on the furnace or air conditioner. If your home has been recently remodeled, especially if there was asbestos, lead paint removal or significant dust, your ductwork should probably be cleaned. Always seal off ducts during any home renovation.

Finding a Professional Duct Cleaner
Duct cleaning has become more popular lately, and there are plenty of commercial cleaning services to choose from. Watch out for scams and scare tactics. If you feel your ducts may need to be cleaned after the reasons outlined, then it’s important to find a reputable company. Professionals use specialized blowers, vacuums and brushes to clean out the supply, intake and return ducts throughout the entire house. They should also clean the air handler, registers, grilles, fans, motors, housings and coils of the HVAC system.

Make sure the company you choose is full service, and check references in your area. Get a written estimate up front. Reputable companies usually provide this service for free. Companies should be certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, which sets standards for HVAC cleaning. They should also follow the guidelines of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.

Remember, don’t pay until you see visual evidence of cleaning, and make sure they don’t use chemicals. These can cause more harm than good for your health.

Clean Your Filters
The filter in your furnace and air conditioner must also stay clean to do its job. There are many types of filters, and choosing the right one takes a little thought and attention. Furnace-mount electronic air filters are an option and a popular choice for many homeowners. This type of filter was developed by Westinghouse in 1935, and by the 1940s they were being used in homes, offices, hospitals and factories. They work on the principle of electrostatic precipitation, removing dust, dirt and other pollutants from the air. These are a green option because they can be washed and used for years and use less energy.

To further save energy, ducts should be checked for leakage. Sealing any leaks discovered will optimize energy efficiency and control the entry of pollutants. Signs of leaks or poor performance will show up in higher utility bills in winter and summer, and rooms or spaces will be more difficult to heat or cool. Ducts located in areas such as the attic, attached garage, crawl space or unheated basement may be poor performers.
Do your homework for your home and health when deciding whether to have air ducts cleaned. Your outcome will be positive and you’ll feel better about the air your family breathes. ■

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