4 Signs Your Air Ducts Need Cleaning

Posted on 01/11/2019

This guest blog was provided by Julia Clem, a member of the marketing team at Best Pick Reports.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a clean house, but what if your home isn’t as spick-and-span as you thought it was? Your floors are spotless and even your baseboards are bright and dust-free, but what about the areas you don’t see every day?

Unfortunately, HVAC ducts, the metal conduits that pipe cooled or heated air through your house, are a favorite hiding place of dust, dirt, and other allergens. Ductwork is hidden, after all, and because central air conditioning systems draw air in from outside to cool and circulate through the house, contaminants easily make their way indoors.

Cleaning your home’s air ducts isn’t something you should attempt on your own. It’s a complex process that requires advanced knowledge of HVAC systems as well as specialized tools, so always rely on professionals who have been certified by NADCA, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. A NADCA certification means that your job will be done correctly and according to the most up-to-date methods and processes.

If you’re not entirely confident that you’d know when your air ducts need cleaning, keep reading to learn the telltale signs of dirty ducts!

Giveaways of Dirty Air Ducts

Since your home’s ductwork is hidden behind layers of flooring and Sheetrock, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out for these four signs that your air ducts are getting a little grimy.

1. Mold has been found in your furnace or air conditioning system.

Your HVAC system needs to be cleaned and serviced periodically—in fact, most manufacturers and HVAC service professionals recommend scheduling two service visits per year. Because both air conditioners and furnaces can develop condensation, mold growth is a possibility, especially if you live in a humid climate.

If your service technician tells you that your HVAC system has mold growing in it, first ask to see evidence. Your next step should be to contact a mold expert. Your HVAC technician may not have the training and credentials to properly identify mold (or pinpoint whether the mold is harmful), so look for an indoor air quality expert, ideally a member of the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA).

Mold found on your furnace, air conditioner, or air handler unit isn’t a guarantee that your ductwork has been affected, but it certainly increases the chances. A NADCA-certified air duct cleaning technician will thoroughly clean your home’s HVAC system and ductwork to remove the mold and prevent its return.

2. Your home was just built or has undergone a major renovation.

Construction is messy. Even when contractors are diligent about cleaning up and closing off work areas to keep the rest of the house tidy, dust and debris will always find its way in. And unless the HVAC system is not turned on and kept completely covered during the entire construction process (which isn’t realistic for most homeowners), that dirt and dust will make its way into your ductwork.

Construction dust can contain some pretty nasty particulate matter that you don’t want to breathe, so don’t wait until you experience respiratory problems to call in the pros.

3. Your home is very dusty, no matter how often you clean.

Dusting isn’t the most entertaining task, but it’s something we all have to do from time to time. If, however, you notice that every flat surface in your house is coated in a layer of dust almost immediately after you’ve put away your cleaning supplies, you probably need to have your ducts cleaned.

Take a look at both the supply and return vents around your house. Are they visibly dirty and dusty? Carefully remove a vent cover and look into the ductwork. Is the metal covered in dust?

If your answer is yes to both questions, call a NADCA-certified air duct cleaning expert.

4. You’ve noticed your heating and/or cooling costs climbing. 

Your heating and cooling costs should be relatively predictable from year to year. If you receive a bill that is noticeably high, however, or if you look at your records and note that your utility bills are much higher now compared to the same time a year ago, your home’s ductwork might be (partially, at least) to blame.

In extreme cases, ductwork can become so dirty that air isn’t able to flow freely and efficiently through your home’s HVAC system. When this happens, your furnace and air conditioner are forced to work harder (use more energy, in other words) to maintain the temperature you’ve set at the thermostat. This extra energy expenditure translates to higher utility bills for you.

Beyond removing airflow-obstructing dirt and debris, your air duct cleaning technician will also keep an eye out for leaking ducts. Ductwork is usually installed in a home in sections, and these sections are sealed to prevent air leakage. Over years of use, however, these seals can deteriorate, which reduces the efficiency of your HVAC system.

Imagine trying to fill a small cup using a fire hose: You’ll get some water in the cup, but ultimately, most of the water will end up on the floor. Leaky ducts have a similar effect on your home. You’ll still have air moving through your ductwork, but some of that heated or cooled air will end up in the attic, walls, or basement.

The bottom line is that when your ductwork isn’t sealed properly, you’re paying for heated and cooled air that you don’t get to enjoy.

HVAC Duct Cleaning Pros

If your home’s air ducts need to be cleaned, rely on the experts to do the job right. There’s a lot around your house that you can safely DIY, but air duct cleaning isn’t on the list.

Professional air duct cleaners use commercial-grade vacuum systems and powered brushes to loosen and remove dirt and debris from your home’s HVAC system and ductwork without worsening the quality of the air inside your home.

Residential vacuum cleaners and cleaning attachments simply aren’t powerful enough to do the job correctly, and a DIYer runs the risk of doing serious damage to the ductwork. Air duct cleaning pros are also trained to spot other problems with an HVAC system that the average homeowner may not know to look for.

Like many other trades in the home improvement industry, air duct cleaning is subject to scams. Be wary of air duct cleaning companies that offer unusually low rates or that promise a super-quick service. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts and keep looking.

Your best bet for finding a reliable, highly qualified air duct cleaning technician is to find a NADCA member company in your area. Whether you’ve noticed more dust around your house than usual or your HVAC technician found mold in your furnace, a NADCA-certified expert will help you get your home clean and back to normal—the right way!

Julia Clem is part of the marketing team at Best Pick Reports. Best Pick Reports utilizes consumer satisfaction research to evaluate the performance of home service providers, such as plumbers, roofers, and painters, in metro areas across the US. After compiling surveys from thousands of homeowners who have had direct experience with local service companies, Best Pick Reports connects top-rated companies with their ideal customers by promoting them in its annual publication, website, and mobile app.