The Term “Air Duct Cleaning” is a Misnomer

Hvac System Cleaning

The term “air duct cleaning”, is a Misnomer

“Air duct cleaning” is the term most commonly applied to the work performed by professional heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system cleaning contractors. The term “air duct cleaning”, however, is a misnomer because it implies that only the ductwork is to be cleaned. In order to obtain the most effective results, it is recommended that all portions of an HVAC system be cleaned.

A cooperative and mutually supportive client/contractor relationship is the key to coordinating a successful HVAC system cleaning project. One critical element of this relationship is good communication. Through clear, concise communications, duct cleaning contractors can provide their clients and the occupants of the facility to be cleaned with a clear understanding of the work to be undertaken and demonstrate that the project will be well managed. Clients, on the other hand, should clearly define the scope of work they desire. Duct cleaning contractors vary in their level of knowledge; therefore an assessment of the contractor’s previous work experience relative to the scope of the project is recommended.

NADCA Standard ACR 2002, Assessment, Cleaning and Restoration of HVAC Systems, is one of the tools that is used to determine the level of cleanliness a duct cleaning contractor has achieved at the completion of a project. The NADCA Standard is a performance based document that defines acceptable cleanliness levels and provides three different methods for verifying or testing cleanliness. Properly used, the standard can facilitate the communication link between the contractor and the client. By specifying that work shall be performed in accordance with ACR 2002, the client can define the specific level of cleanliness expected from the contractor. The NADCA Standard allows a professional understanding to be formed between both parties, laying stepping-stones to building a cooperative relationship and successful project.

The client’s specifications should clearly define all areas where work is to be performed so that the contractor understands exactly what work falls within the scope of the project. Many HVAC system cleaning projects are closely tied to indoor air quality concerns. At the first client/contractor meeting, a clear understanding should be established as to what the exact role of the cleaning contractor will be, as well as the expected results of the cleaning process. The client’s understanding of the difference between duct cleaning and indoor air quality is helpful in creating a smooth working relationship.

During the initial contact, a qualified HVAC system cleaning contractor should provide the client with valuable information when it comes to assessing the system, project coordination, knowledge of similar systems, cleaning techniques available, development of structured specifications, product knowledge, and a wide variety of other information. Knowledge of important topics such as the physiological and psychological impact the duct cleaning process will have on occupants is one indicator of a contractor’s level of experience. Such issues should be discussed before the project is contracted.

Establishing a Game Plan HVAC system cleaning projects require a game plan. Project length can vary from a few hours to six months or more. The size and scope of the project are the two key elements that will vary the length of time significantly. The scope of the project may be written by the client, an IAQ consultant, HVAC system cleaner, general contractor or by any number of other trade professionals. Even with a scope present, a contractor’s primary responsibility is to always use Source Removal methods, in accordance with NADCA Standard ACR 2002, during the entire cleaning process. For instance, the scope must contain language that requires the HVAC system cleaner to remove all particulate matter within the HVAC system.

The entire duct cleaning project will run best when an in depth review is conducted to determine the expectations and results that both sides can realize. Addressing the following points will help in the project review process:

1.) Mechanical blue prints are a must to assess and complete a project successfully. In the event blue prints are not available, be prepared to conduct exhaustive preliminary research and on site evaluations.

2.) Clear time lines are needed. The contractor must be informed of the specific times he will have access to the areas to be cleaned and availability of other resources within the building. The client should specify the time limits for project completion, but should make this determination in close cooperation with the contractor.

3.) Site preparation and evaluation must be conducted to develop a firm game plan, and to help determine appropriate environmental engineering controls to safeguard the indoor space.

4.) Any products used in the cleaning process (such as chemical surface treatments) should be discussed in depth. The client should approve and sign off on the use of such products. Contractors should be prepared to provide product information labels, material safety data sheets (MSDS) and any other relevant information requested by the client.

5.) Consultations with key people who will be in charge of the project are very important. Supervisors, managers, sub contractors, security personnel, occupants and any other individuals who will interact with the contractor should be informed of the nature of the work to be performed and the work schedule.

6.) Specific duct cleaning techniques should be authorized. The contractor should familiarize the client with the cleaning equipment and techniques to be used and should obtain client authorization to utilize such equipment and techniques in the cleaning process.

7.) All safety and environmental concerns should be fully addressed prior to beginning the project.

8.) If there is an environmental consultant associated with the project, the HVAC system cleaning contractor and this specialist should meet and gain a clear understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities and expectations.

9.) If multiple contractors are being used on the same project, it is important to define a clear chain of command. The HVAC system cleaning contractor should be informed of to whom he reports on matters of day to day activity, progress, and project completion. The party responsible for verifying cleanliness should also be established in advance of project commencement.

Published as the Foreword to the “Introduction to HVAC System Cleaning Services:  A Guideline for Commercial Consumers.  National Air Duct Cleaners Association, Inc. (NADCA)


Air Duct Cleaning in Houston, Texas and the surrounding area