True A/C Service Covers Duct Cleaning and More
There is a big difference between a proper cleaning of your air-conditioning system and a $250 duct cleaning.
A $250 cleaning: A duct-cleaning company pulls up to your home at 10 a.m. Workers remove the air-conditioning supply registers and use a brush-headed vacuum system to clean as much of the ducts as they can see and reach. About two hours later they have packed up, cleaned up, collected their $250 and are headed to the next of four or five similar jobs that day.
Nothing has been done to improve the indoor air quality of your home; you have just wasted $250. You could have purchased a shop vacuum and done the job yourself.
After sealing and cleaning the return air components, the evaporative coils in your air handler must be thoroughly cleaned. Some disassembly of your air-conditioning unit is usually required for this step and should only be completed by an air-conditioning specialist. Make sure a non-toxic cleaner is used. Remember, whatever is used will be released into the air after the system is restarted.
Your supply ducts should be checked for leaks or disconnected joints. The company doing the work should be using an 8-inch-diameter vacuum hose and some type of duct-scrubbing device. A semirigid air hose that uses approximately 200 psi pressure and has a multidirectional pressure tip is a good scrubber. The high-pressure air dislodges dirt from inside your ductwork through a large vacuum unit that is usually mounted on a truck. Hand-held units are not adequate and should be used only in areas of limited access.
This thorough cleaning and sealing of your return air, evaporative coils, air handler cabinet and supply registers should take two technicians at least half a day on an average home with one air-conditioning system. The cost is generally twice what you see advertised by the discount duct-cleaning “specialists.”
Beyond vacuuming the ductwork, cracked and unsealed seams and compromised return air systems must be addressed.
Keep in mind that using the wrong air filter or not changing the filter monthly will promptly undo the cleaning. (Generally, a 1-inch paper pleated filter is safe for all systems.)
In a properly maintained system, duct cleaning probably isn’t necessary more than every five years.
Source: Arizona Republic Online – October 9, 2005 (update 3/16/2018: online article no longer available).
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