Many homes around the world use a furnace as a way to blow warm air throughout the indoor environment. This technology allows the interior of the house to feel comfortable even though it might be below freezing outside. One of the best things you can do to ensure that your furnace works as it should is to clean its ducts regularly.
On the other hand, duct cleaning has never been scientifically shown to prevent health problems. There are no studies which conclusively demonstrate that particles and debris counts in homes rise because you haven’t cleaned the furnace ducts. Since most of the contaminants adhere to the internal surfaces of the system, there isn’t as much that enters into the living space of the property. You can have contaminants come from cooking, smoking, cleaning, or leaving your front door open.
You should always consider the pros and cons of furnace duct cleaning if you can see substantial levels of visible mold growth inside of your ducts or other components of your heating and cooling system. If you are struggling with indoor allergies, sinus infections, or asthma-like symptoms, then an inspection and cleaning might be necessary as well.
Here are the key points to consider.
List of the Pros of Furnace Duct Cleaning
1. Cleaning your furnace ducts will help to improve the efficiency of the system.
When your ducts become clogged with debris, dust, or even vermin, then your furnace needs to work harder to ensure that your indoor temperature is at the level that you want. This extra effort places a higher level of wear-and-tear on the various HVAC components that support the processes of heating and cooling. By keeping your ducts clean, it is possible to extend the operating life of your equipment. There may also be some energy and maintenance cost-savings opportunities to find as well.
If you clean your ducts, then make sure that you clean the heat exchangers, fans, cooling cools, and other components for the best possible outcome.
2. You can reduce the risk of disease transmission.
When you have vermin infiltrate your furnace ducts, then you increase the risk of experiencing several potentially severe diseases. Hantavirus is one of the worst offenders in this category because it can spread when you breathe in the dust that is contaminate with rodent droppings or urine. Making direct contact with these items can spread it as well. If you have deer mice, cotton rats, rice rats, or white-footed mice living in your furnace ducts, then you could be breathing in these problems right now.
Another disease that you can find in North America from rodents is called Leptospirosis. The urine of rodents can carry these bacteria, which can then spread to your food thanks to its presence in your furnace ducts. Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis is another threat that comes from the breathing of dust contaminated by droppings or urine. In the Western United States, Plague can occur because infected fleas from wild rodents living in your HVAC system could infiltrate your home and bite.
That is why a regular inspection and cleaning is worth the cost. The chances are that you won’t find anything serious, but a contractor can remove problems if they are found.
3. It offers the possibility of better health and hygiene.
Although there is no research that says cleaning your furnace ducts will provide you with a health and hygiene benefit, there is nothing that says it doesn’t either. If you have someone in your family who deals with asthma or allergies frequently, then you may find that the respiratory illnesses can get under control when you regularly maintain your ductwork. Just be careful about any chemicals or cleaning agents that may be used during this process because some of them can be triggers for breathing issues as well.
“Some occupants are more sensitive to these contaminants than others,” says the HVAC Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Association. “Allergy and asthma sufferers, as well as young children and the elderly tend to be more susceptible to the types of poor indoor air quality that air duct cleaning can help address.”
4. An efficient system could help you to spend less on your energy bills.
When your furnace can work efficiently, then it will use less energy to maintain your indoor environment. That means your heating and cooling bills can be less if you take the time to ensure your ducts are clean. There is no guarantee that you will get to experience this advantage, but it is possible if you have ducts that are becoming clogged with built-up contaminants. Up to 40% of the energy used for heating or cooling in a home is already wasted.
The dust and debris in a home’s HVAC system tends to stick to the interior of the duct much like your arteries develop plaque. As more of it begins to accumulate in specific spots, there is less room for the air to move through your system – just as there is less space for blood to flow away from your heart. If enough of it builds up, then a complete blockage occurs. Regular maintenance can prevent that issue from occurring.
5. It can help you to identify potential leaks that are in your system right now.
As your home’s heating and cooling system ages, you will discover that there are joints in the ductwork that can begin to work their way loose. The connections that occur between the wall and your vent can start to spring leaks as well. With regular inspections and the occasional cleaning, you can identify these energy leaks quickly to ensure that your furnace can operate at full capacity throughout the year. Have your contractor apply some duct tape to leaky spots, use caulk at your wall connections, and then make sure that a high-quality filter is in place to keep your indoor air at an acceptable quality.
6. You don’t need to have the work done every year.
If you can find a contractor who does the work of duct cleaning correctly, then this is a home maintenance chore that only needs to be done about once every five years in most homes. The preferred process is to use negative air pressure and high-pressured air whips to clean the entire interior of the duct going down to the main trunk of this system. That way, there is nothing that can escape into the home after you turn the system back on.
If you could dust every other day and it has been some time since you had your ducts cleaned (if they have ever been cleaned), then it might be time to consider this service.
7. This service can help to reduce unpleasant odors in your home.
When you have an extensive amount of dust or debris in your home’s furnace ducts, then these particles can trap odors that are present in your home. Although homeowners can become “nose blind” to some smells, your indoor air will begin to smell stale if there is a significant amount of dust in your system. You might even detect a foul burning smell if the dust gets too hot.
Cleaning products, paint fumes, tobacco, and your food preparation work can all contribute to a stale or musty home. By removing the dust that traps these odors in your furnace ducts, you can work to remove many of the unpleasant smells which exist.
List of the Cons of Furnace Duct Cleaning
1. Most of your furnace ducts are not accessible for a visual inspection.
Most of the sections in your home’s heating and cooling system are not going to be accessible enough for a visible inspection. That means you will usually need to hire a service provider to help you access the critical points where cleaning may be necessary. Make sure that the contractor shows you the exact problem that they want to rectify for you instead of taking their word for the situation to ensure that your money is spent on a home upgrade.
A visual inspection is not always enough to determine if something “growing’ inside of your furnace ducts is mold. Laboratory analysis is sometimes needed to confirm the findings, even if expert inspectors say otherwise. Ask to have a strip of the substance sent off to analyze it before agreeing to a complete cleaning to know what you’ve got.
2. Some systems need replacement instead of cleaning.
If you have insulated air ducts, then you might discover upon inspection that the insulation can sometimes get wet. Mold likes to form when that happens. Since most homes use a fiberglass-based product to insulate the heating and cooling system, this product cannot be cleaned effectively. You will want to have your contractor replace all of the insulation instead. That can become a tricky proposition if you need to go through a floor or wall, but it might also help you to stop a dangerous mold from growing that could create even costlier repairs.
3. You must correct the conditions that created the problem in the first place.
If you discover that there is mold growth, significant debris, dust collection, or even vermin in your furnace ducts, then cleaning them is a wise investment. Then you must take the next step to prevent this issue from recurring. Maintaining your system is not enough because the problem will just return if you only treat the symptom. You and your preferred contractor will need to inspect the entire HVAC system, looking for leaks, moisture access, or structural problems that could contribute to the duct issues that you are experiencing. Some of those repairs could be costly and unexpected, so always make sure that your homeowners’ insurance is up-to-date.
4. Air filters can help to reduce the need for furnace duct cleaning by themselves.
If you don’t see any vermin, excessive dust, or mold in your furnace ducts upon inspection, then a cleaning is not usually necessary. Your heating and cooling system uses filters that keep dust and debris away from your heat exchanger, evaporator coils, and other critical elements of the system. There should also be filters on the air intake for the system. If you clean or change them consistently, then you shouldn’t need to have a cleaning in the first place.
The only exception to this rule is if you recently purchased a home and are unsure of its maintenance history. That is a wonderful time to pay for an inspection and get your furnace tuned up to ensure the system works correctly.
5. You are increasing the risk of experiencing damage to your furnace.
When you have someone poking around the various furnace ducts in your home, then peering into them to see if they are clean increases the risk of other damage occurring. Most providers will use a long vacuum tube to remove dust and debris from the interior of each duct. If they are not careful with this process, then holes or leaks can form because of damage that occurs to the system.
You shouldn’t work with a service provider who guarantees specific health benefits from this work because there is no research to verify such a claim. Some states require a contract to have a specific business license to provide this service, so you can check if they offer approved work. Then review their history with the Better Business Bureau, public comments, and referrals to ensure you receive the outcome you want.
6. It isn’t a DIY job for most homeowners.
Cleaning your furnace ducts is not a job that you can typically take care of on your own. Even if you have the inclination and equipment to get it done, a high-powered vacuum and specific rotary brushes are not usually stored in the garage. Trying to use alternative tools can cause damage to the system, which means you’d pay for additional work that wasn’t needed in the first place.
If you’re not sure about this need, then speak to a service provider about a free or low-cost estimate to inspect your system. Then you can see for yourself what the problems are so that the expense can stay under control.
7. Duct cleaning services are somewhat expensive.
Because you’ll be hiring a professional contractor for this work, the expense of having your ducts cleaned is usually about $500 per home. Depending on your geographic location, that expense can be higher than $1,000. You should be receiving someone who is licensed, insured, and bonded when you hire someone, so verify the contractor’s credentials before you allow them to start working.
The reason for the expense is due to the fact that you must get your entire system cleaned for this work to be effective. If you only have a handful of your furnace ducts treated, then anything still left in the system will immediately contaminate the areas that were first treated. That’s why you need to be careful about any bait-and-switch offers that provide a low-cost whole-home treatment. A $99 introductory offer is usually too good to be true in this industry.
8. It is up to you to avoid furnace duct cleaning scams.
It usually takes a service provider between 2-4 hours to fully clean your furnace ducts. Anything time commitments that are less than this are not likely using the best practices of the industry. You might also experience someone saying that they found mold in your system, which takes the price from an introductory level to what the industry standard is for a full cleaning. Some contractors even carry coupons for local hotels to make the experience feel scary, but homeowners rarely need to evacuate their property because of a dirty HVAC system.
Anyone who pressures you into immediate action is someone to avoid. Only hire someone certified by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association to reduce your risk even further. If someone tries to scare you, then just ask them to leave.
Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Furnace Duct Cleaning
There are times when furnace duct cleaning could improve the efficiencies of your heating and cooling system. A routine inspection is always a good idea to ensure that there are no mice, rats, or squirrels living in these spaces. If you hear scratching noises coming from your vents even when the system is not on, then you may need to call a professional contractor to find and remove those pests.
There are no specific health benefits to consider with furnace duct cleaning, but there are no disadvantages in that category either. If it gives you a certain peace of mind to know that your system is clean, then it might be a worthwhile investment to make. Just make sure there aren’t cleaners being used that could trigger other concerns later on.
The pros and cons of furnace duct cleaning are especially important to evaluate when you move into a new home. Although regular cleaning is not recommended by the EPA, a tune-up of the system can be helpful at times. Use this guide to help you decide if now is the right moment to consider this project.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.