Air duct cleaning will improve the indoor air quality (IAQ) in your home and improve the airflow. But, there are some things that it can temporarily improve and in some cases, it won’t make much difference. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to air ducts and air duct cleaning. In this article, we will debunk three common myths to help you make informed choices.

A Brief Air Duct Primer

If you are not aware of what an air duct is and how it works, we will take a brief look to get you up to speed. The duct is a pipe that runs throughout your home to move around the treated air. The airflow may come from the air conditioner or the furnace depending on whether you’re calling for warm or cool air. The air can also be brought in and exhausted outdoors to prevent the air from getting stale and toxic. Ducts tend to be made of fiberglass, metal, or shaped plastic materials and they usually have a round shape. Air ducts can be fashioned into different shapes to create networks that can be routed through the home easily. Most of the ductwork is hidden, but you may see exposed ducts in the basement or attic. Most people tend to forget about ducts because they are out of sight and out of mind.

3 Common Air Duct Myths Debunked

1.   Air Duct Cleaning will Improve Air Flow

This is false, but it is partially true, when you have hot or cold spots and the treated air is not reaching every room there are air flow issues. Air duct cleaning can improve air flow slightly, but it’s only a temporary fix because there is an underlying problem to solve. The air duct cleaning will remove the smaller particulates that have settled in the ductwork over time. But, it can’t rebalance the air ducts, seal breaches or increase the airflow. To discover the cause of diminished air flow, the HVAC technician can perform a “Flow Hood Test”. This measures the volume of air that the HVAC system is pushing through the air ducts. The results of this test will determine the next course of action. There are three common ways to improve the air flow: enlarging duct runs, an air flow balancing damper, and a duct system redesign.

2.   Air Ducts Must be Cleaned Every 3-5 Years

This is false, there is no requirement to do this, and the ductwork will be pretty clean for years after it’s been professionally cleaned. Cleaning during this period may boost the IAQ a little, but it will have no effect on air flow or HVAC performance and efficiency.  Ongoing HVAC maintenance is more important if you want to protect your heating and cooling system investment. It’s a good idea to clean the floor registers twice per year to remove built up dust, and the filters should be changed in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. But, there are exceptions, perhaps you want a fresh start after you’ve purchased a home and you don’t want to breathe old debris from other people. If you had major remodeling work done, there may be construction dust lurking in the ductwork.

3.   Air Duct Cleaning Cannot Damage the Ductwork

It can, but older ductwork and certain types of ducts are more prone to damage than others. Before you schedule cleaning, find out which type of ductwork is in place:

Flexible Ductwork

These are springs wrapped in a layer of plastic with a thin layer of insulation on top. The plastic layer becomes fragile over time, and the spring can be warped by heat in the attic and walls. Flexible ductwork is vulnerable to cleaning damage, and this is exacerbated as the ducts age.

AlumaFlex Ductwork

A solid corrugated design with insulation under the outer cover, which is less prone to damage during duct cleaning. In fact, this ductwork is easy to clean because it’s rigid and durable.

Rigid (KD)

Also known as “Solid Sheet Metal” ducting. This is 28-24 steel gauge which offers the best integrity when it comes to ductwork. Of the three common ductwork types presented here, this is the material that is at the least risk of damage during cleaning.

These three ductwork types have metal wires and balancing dampers to direct and distribute the airflow through the home. Duct tape, sealant straps, and brackets are used to secure the ducts in place.

A local HVAC specialist will inspect the ductwork before they begin cleaning to find the hangers and sealing points and to evaluate the general condition. If the ductwork is in poor shape, it’s often less expensive to simply replace the system. The inspection will also reveal if there is any asbestos present in an older ductwork system. Asbestos is a well known cancer causing material, and it must be removed safely to protect your health.

Air Duct Problems

The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system needs to be maintained regularly to ensure that it performs at optimal efficiency for its age and condition. Over time, the duct work will accumulate a certain volume of dust, bacteria, dirt, pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, and other airborne contaminants. This is not an insignificant amount a six room home can create 40 lbs of dust per year! When the air ducts are dirty, they reduce the air flow and the system will attempt to compensate by working harder. Overworked equipment is more prone to failure, and it will consume more energy. So, the HVAC components can fail leading to an expensive repair, and the energy bills will rise.

In Conclusion

Cleaning the air ducts will have a positive effect on the IAQ and the general health of the HVAC system. But, it’s not a solution to more serious issues, such as airflow problems and a lack of efficiency. Contact a local HVAC professional to inspect the system and find the underlying cause of these problems is important to fix the problem.