One of the less glamorous realities of being a homeowner is the maintenance and upkeep of your appliances and the overall condition of your property. This includes your air ducts.
Before you pick up a vacuum or a phone to schedule a professional visit, let’s take a moment to discuss what air ducts are, how they work and when you actually need to clean them.
What Are Air Ducts and How Do They Work?
Your air ducts are the passageways for your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to move hot or cold air throughout your home. They’re typically located behind walls or above ceilings, keeping the air in your house circulating.
Because they’re located within the walls and ceilings of your home, they tend to collect dust, debris and other contaminants that can result in buildup. They are instrumental in keeping the flow of air in your home, so it’s important to make sure they’re clean and open.
Types of Air Ducts
There are a few different types of air ducts for different types of homes: flexible and rigid. Let’s discuss each and how they work.
Flexible ductwork is fairly quick and easy to install. Instead of sheet metal or fiberglass, flexible ductwork is tube-shaped and made of a wire coil covered with a bendable, durable plastic and surrounded by insulation.
It’s best used in a home that needs a little, well, flexibility. The bendable construction allows the duct to fit in tight or crooked areas of the home. In order to install this in your home, the ducts must be secure and supported and have minimum kinks, bends and tight turns.
Unlike flexible ductwork, rigid can come in a variety of materials, sizes and shapes. They are insulated and tend to be more reliable than flexible ductwork.
The three most common types of rigid ductwork are sheet metal, fiberglass and fiberboard, each constructed from the respective materials in their name. To determine the best one for your home, it’s important to consult with a contractor or air duct installer.
Do I Have to Clean My Air Ducts?
The short answer: yes. At some point of every homeowner’s life, it’s important to clean your air ducts, as they directly affect the air quality, circulation and even the energy usage in your home.
According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), dirty air ducts can contribute to health issues like respiratory infections, autoimmune disorders or allergies because they can circulate contaminants and air pollutants throughout the home five to seven times per day.
Additionally, dirty air ducts could be causing your home to burn energy by making it work twice as hard to maintain the desired temperature of a room. In fact, the NADCA estimates about 25% – 40% of energy is wasted when air ducts are dirty or clogged.
However, it should be noted that while dirty air ducts could be contributing to the overall quality of your indoor air, there isn’t scientific evidence to prove that duct cleaning prevents health problems – it’s just a best practice to keep your air ducts clean to avoid any potential health problems and high energy bills.
How Often to Clean Your Air Ducts
While every home is different, the NADCA identifies a few factors that might increase the frequency of needing to clean your air ducts:
- Pet hair
- Tobacco smoke
- Water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system
- Home renovation or remodeling projects
The NADCA recommends that if there are occupants in your home that are sensitive to any of the above items, as well as children and the elderly, it’s especially important to clean your air ducts regularly.
Even if the occupants in your home don’t have sensitivities to the above items, the NADCA still recommends cleaning out your air ducts every three to five years.
DIY: How to Clean Air Ducts
If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of homeowner, you should be able to clean your air ducts without the help of a professional. You would definitely save some money (approximately $300 – $1,000) by DIY-ing, but here’s what you should expect when you clean your air ducts yourself.
Step 1: The Preparation
To ensure dust doesn’t re-enter the room through the register during the cleaning process, secure all supply air registers by closing them or covering them with towels. The best way to do this is to lift up the register and wrap the towel around it and then replace it.
Next, make sure your thermostat fan is running during the cleaning process, to dislodge the dust and debris from the air duct. This will help with the next step when you clean out the air duct with a brush.
Before you begin cleaning, however, make sure you still have your old furnace filter in place so that you don’t dirty a new one or allow dust to get pulled into the fan motor.
Step 2: Break Up the Dust
According to the NADCA, in order to properly clean the HVAC system, you’ll need to remove the sources of the contaminations (dust, debris, pet hair, etc.). This is accomplished with the use of one or more pieces of equipment that can loosen contaminants from the surface of the air duct system.
The easiest route might be to use a brush, much like a toilet cleaning brush. Breaking up the dust is fairly simple: Take your brush or other piece of equipment and either knock or brush off any buildup of dust or debris that you can see.
Step 3: Clean the Registers
Once you’ve brushed off most of the dust in your air ducts, it’s time to use a vacuum to collect the contaminants and ensure they don’t get released into the home.
Lift your register and insert the end of the vacuum hose to catch the dust being pushed out by the fan. Repeat this process until every supply register is completely cleaned out.
Additionally, you’ll want to clean return air registers, usually located on the walls of your home. Repeat the same brushing and vacuuming technique you completed with the supply air registers.
Step 4: Clean the Furnace
After you’ve finished cleaning your registers, turn off the thermostat fan. Additionally, turn the power off to your furnace, located on the service switch or breaker panel of the furnace.
When the power is off, remove the panels from the front of the furnace and start cleaning out the blower compartment and return air boot with your vacuum. Also take this time to clean the furnace fan.
Step 5: Replace the Filter
After you’re done cleaning out the furnace, consider replacing the furnace filter. A dirty filter will circulate contaminants throughout your home, so change your filter every time you clean out your furnace.
When to Call the Pros
While the step-by-step DIY checklist will help you clean out the majority of your air ducts, there are some access points in your home that will require a professional.
Often, cleaning technicians may have to cut access holes into the duct work in order to completely clean out the duct. This is a job that should be left to the professionals, as it requires special tools and skillsets to both open and seal the access holes.
If you go the professional route, seek out an HVAC cleaning professional who has liability insurance. It is also a good idea to find someone who is NADCA-certified because they will follow strict requirements of Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration (ACR) standards, limiting the possibility of hazard or damage; and they’ll have the proper equipment to complete the job safely and effectively.
Have any more questions about air ducts and the cleaning process? Let us know in the comments below.
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