Air Duct Cleaner Guide

As people have become more and more aware of the importance and dangers of indoor air quality the popularity of air duct cleaning has increased dramatically. This increased demand for both residential and commercial air duct cleaners has lead to a lot of contractors getting into the field that lack the proper training and experience. The air duct cleaning industry has also developed a poor reputation related to misleading advertising and charging customers for services they don’t need. The term “blow and go” has been used to describe air duct cleaners that do little more than blow the dust out of air ducts and don’t actually clean anything much less improve the air quality of the building or home.

The guidelines below will help you avoid air duct cleaning scams and hire a knowledgeable and reputable air duct cleaning service provider.

Questions to Ask Potential Air Duct Cleaners:

  1. Are they experienced in cleaning systems and situations like yours?
  2. What procedures will they use to protect you, your pets and your home from contamination?
  3. Will they be cleaning the entire system, including coils and fans?
  4. Will they be doing the work or will they subcontract it to someone else?
  5. Will they provide you with a means of physical inspection (flashlight, mirrors, and remote cameras) at any time during the cleaning?
  6. Are they a member of National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA)? This is not essential but adds to their credibility (NADCA members must follow approved cleaning standards, are subject to a code of ethics and must maintain at least $500,000 of insurance)

If an Air Duct Cleaner Says Your Air Ducts are Contaminated With Mold

  • Have them show you the mold growth they found. Many air duct cleaning service providers use video to inspect the duct work that is not visible from the vents or registers.
  • Growth on a Petri dish is not satisfactory evidence since some level microorganisms are present in the air of all homes. It is best to get a third party opinion by sending a sample to a microbiology lab (many labs will perform a test of a sample collected on clear household tape for about $50).

If an Air Duct Cleaner Says You Need To Treat Your System with a Chemical Biocide

  • Have them explain why the biological growth cannot be removed by physical means as opposed to achemical biocide
  • An air duct cleaner may recommend that a chemical biocides be applied to the inside of your air ducts to to kill and/or prevent bacteria and mold growth and “seal” the air ducts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that little research has been conducted as to the the effectiveness of chemical biocides when applied to the inside of duct work (bare sheet metal or other material). Chemical biocides are regulated by the EPA under Federal pesticide law and a product must be registered by the EPA for a specific use which will appear on the label.

Choosing an Air Duct Cleaner

Air duct cleaning has become a big business and because of its increased popularity, many questionable contractors call themselves air duct cleaners. Even the EPA warns that improperly cleaning an HVAC system can damage the unit and cause worse air quality than before it was cleaned if dust and dirt and debris is stirred up but not completely removed.

Protect your investment, your heating and cooling system and your health by performing some basic due diligence to ensure the contractor you hire is qualified.

Steps to Take Before Hiring a Contractor

  • Ask for their license number from the Registrar of Contractors (7 states that require air duct cleaners to have a special license). Call the Registrar of Contractors and verify their license is still valid
  • Verify they have workers compensation insurance covering the employees who will perform the work
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the them
  • See what others have to say about the contractor. We recommend www.angieslist.com. You can find more online review sites and why we recommend Angie’s List
  • Ask for 3-5 references from the last 30 days

Ways to Protect Yourself When Hiring an Air Duct Cleaner

  • Get an agreement in writing which includes the price and how any changes in price may occur
  • Establish payment plans and never pay the full cost before the work has been completed
  • Be cautious of requests for large down payments
  • Never make payments in cash
  • Request that the final payment not be due until satisfactory compliance the post cleaning consumer checklist (download here) which is from the EPA

Contractors to Avoid

The air duct cleaning industry has its share or sketchy contractors. Be especially leery of contractors whose prices are much cheaper than the competition (this low price usually does not include cleaning the entire system) or that advertise a “one price fits all” price without knowing the size of the house or the condition of the system.

Below are some additional ways to spot contractors that might be more concerned with making the sale and less concerned about cleaning your HVAC system properly.

Avoid Air Duct Cleaners That

1. Make sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning

  • There is no research or studies to support these claims

2. Claim to be certified by the EPA

  • The EPA does certify duct cleaning companies

3. Claims to adhere to EPA standards

  • The EPA does not establish duct cleaning standards

4. Push additional services or “upsells” (typically in the form of sealants, anti microbial treatments or service contracts)

  • These are warranted in certain circumstances only

Do Your Air Ducts Need Cleaning?

If you hire a reputable air duct cleaner you shouldn’t have to worry too much about them recommending services that you don’t need but the guidelines below present some general conditions recommended by the U.S. EPA for determining if your air ducts need cleaning. Just because you have dirty air ducts doesn’t mean your air ducts need cleaning. Some degree of dust and dirt is normal. Be concerned if there is excessive dust and dirt or other more harmful contaminants.

Cleaning Your Air Ducts Is Recommended if

  • Your ducts are infested with rodents or insects – cleaning will remove them and whatever attracted them to the ducts
  • Your ducts are clogged or air flow is severely restricted
  • Recent remodeling created a lot of dust – cleaning will prevent the dust from being distributed throughout the rest of your home
  • Residents have health concerns related to dust, mold, pollen, pet dander, etc.
  • Water has entered the system from a pipe break, storm, fire, etc.

Consult a Qualified Air Duct Cleaning Contractor to Test for Mold if

  • You see something that looks like mold
  • A family member has been diagnosed with a mold related illness