Homes with centralized air conditioning or heating are prime targets for shady cleaning companies offering exceptional deals on air duct cleaning. With spring having arrived and spring cleaning on the minds of many, the past few weeks we have explored several different types of professional cleaning services and the types of scams consumers should try and avoid. Air conditioners will be getting turned back on soon and so the hard sell has begun on getting those air ducts cleaned beforehand.
Air ducts are the passages in your home through which the stale air is removed and then replaced with fresh air ensuring consistent quality of your indoor air. Knowing what kind of air ducts are in the home is essential to making sure you are getting a quality cleaning. An air duct made of fiberglass requires a soft bristle brush, not the harder type used for metal air ducts, and ducts that are insulated require more man hours to clean. This type of awareness can help in spotting potential scam cleaners before they even get started.
How necessary is the cleaning of air ducts? There is some disagreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) on this issue. The NADCA recommends cleaning air ducts every three to five years, while the EPA Indoor Environments Division suggests only cleaning as needed. Both agree that there is value to having air ducts cleaned, especially when:
– There is mold visible inside the ducts or any of the other components of your heating and cooling system.
– There is debris coming out of the supply registers (vents).
– Insects or vermin have infested the ducts.
– There is a noticeable change of the indoor air quality.
Cleaning air ducts is a labor intensive, highly specialized job when done correctly. According to an article from Consumer Reports, legitimate air duct cleaning jobs from reputable companies will cost at least $400 and can even cost well over $1,000 for a 2,000 square foot home.
If you have gotten a flier in the mail offering to clean your air ducts for a ridiculously cheap price, or if the company shows up and quotes you a price that is well below the industry standard – You are being scammed.
An inspection should happen before the job is begun and a price quoted. That inspection should be of the entire heating and cooling system, all of which should be included when cleaning. That system is made up of the supply and return ducts (vents), fan motor, heat exchangers, cooling/heating coils condensate drip pans or insulators. When inspecting the ducts, the covers should be removed and the interior length will be examined as well. Many of the top companies have special equipment that will provide video and/or remote photography of the longer sections of the venting, and will also provide before and after pictures to the customer’s satisfaction.
If you are quoted a price without an inspection, or the inspection is just a cursory glance of the visible air vents – You are being scammed. If the company recommends additional cleaning other than the heating and cooling system, such as carpet cleaning or mold remediation – You are being scammed.
Sometimes during an inspection evidence of mold might be discovered. This will require a much more thorough cleaning job and significantly raise the price. Most reputable companies will be able to provide visual evidence of this mold. If the homeowner still isn’t convinced, there are affordable lab tests for dangerous molds in the air which can be conducted before signing a contract and any legitimate cleaning service will reschedule to accommodate if necessary.
If the contractor tells you there is mold and looks to raise the price, but can’t provide any evidence –You are being scammed. If you ask for further testing and the cleaner uses scare tactics about the dangers of the air while you are waiting and pushes to complete the job immediately – You are being scammed.
A quality cleaning job is labor intensive. Reputable companies will send a two man crew and the actual cleaning for a mid-sized house will take anywhere from four to eight hours depending on how bad the buildup is and the complexity of the system. Special tools will be used when cleaning, including specialized vacuum units and an assortment of brushes.
If one guy shows up at your house and is done in an hour – You are being scammed. If his equipment looks like something you could pull out of your utility closet – You are being scammed.
Proper cleaning of the air ducts not only improves the quality of indoor air, but can also provide long term energy savings. In an article on Angie’s List, an online review site of all types of service industry professionals, presented research from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers that showed dirty coils and blowers could cut energy efficiency by up to 40%.
The same article also noted that both the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association think that a poor air duct cleaning job is much more dangerous than having no cleaning done at all. Particles that were not a problem can be kicked up and left to spread throughout the system and there are even instances of HVAC systems being broken or damaged. Duct cleaners should follow the standards set forth by the NADCA, the EPA recommends. To become a member of the NADCA, a company must keep at least one technician on staff who has passed the Association’s testing requirements. A list of NADCA members can be viewed at their website which is provided at the end of this article.
Spring is here and summer is coming. If you want to have your air ducts cleaned, do the research first. Get quotes from several companies and keep you eyes open for any signs of a scam. After you’ve gotten a thorough cleaning from a reputable company and avoided being scammed, take the time to sit back and take a deep breath of crisp, clean air.
To look for a NADCA member: