Is Your Air Conditioning Making You Sick?

Your home’s air ducts could be making you sick — if you know that the air ducts were damaged or affected by dangerous substances. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains that the benefits of cleaning air ducts are not widely known, and regular air duct cleanings have not yet been proven to protect homeowners from health problems. One reason for the uncertainty is the fact that dust and dirt within the air duct tends to stick to the interior of the ductwork.

However, cleaning the air ducts in your home is recommended if there was an issue with mold growth in the home. If a homeowner can see mold growing within the air duct, they should contact a mold removal company to positively identify the substance as mold, and then work to safely remove it. Additionally, if the air duct is insulated and mold is visible on the surface of the insulation, homeowners should completely remove and replace all of it to ensure the home does not experience further contamination.

Another time to clean your air ducts is when rodents or insects infiltrate the home. They love to hang out in the air ducts and can leave their droppings throughout the ventilation system — thereby spreading the particles associated with them to each area of the home.

The third main reason to clean your air ducts is when they are clogged with dust. This could occur during remodeling or long-term neglect. When the air ducts are filled with dust, the dust can be spread to the living areas when hot or cold air is forced through the ducts.

How to Clean Your Air Ducts

The typical cost of professional air duct cleaning can range anywhere from $450 to $1,000. The cost is based on:

  • The size of the heating/cooling system
  • How accessible the ductwork is
  • How dirty the air ducts are

When the professional cleaners come in, they will assess the situation and then proceed to clean. They will look at:

  • Supply and return air ducts and registers
  • Grilles and diffusers
  • Coils for heating and cooling
  • Condensate drain pans
  • Fan motor and surrounding area
  • Air handling unit

 When working with professional air duct cleaners, it’s really important to make sure that they are completely cleaning all components of your HVAC system. If they neglect to clean one area, the entire system could end up becoming re-contaminated.

The first step to take is to use small tools that are meant to remove dirt, mold, or any other debris from crevices within the HVAC system. Then, a high-powered vacuum will suck the debris out. Another step professional cleaners may take is to apply chemical biocides, which act to combat further mold/mildew buildup. However, little is known about the potential side effects from these chemicals, so proceed with caution and do as much research as you can before making a decision.

Making the Cleaning Decision

Experts are divided on whether or not air duct cleaning is necessary. If no one in your home suffers from allergies, or if your home has not experienced rodents, remodeling, or other actions that may kick up dust and debris, then it may not be necessary to have your air ducts cleaned. However, air duct cleaning can improve IAQ for homes that are vulnerable to mold/mildew/rodents, or have inhabitants with severe airborne allergies.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend regular air duct cleanings, unless one of the aforementioned instances occur. If you do choose to clean your air ducts, properly vet all cleaners. Avoid anyone who claims that cleaning the air ducts will make you healthier or prevent illnesses — the research points to this just not being true.

Avoiding Air Duct Contamination

Probably the best avenue to take is avoid the possibility of dirty air ducts in the first place. Use high efficiency air filters on your HVAC system; this will catch a lot of the debris from entering the unit in the first place. Once the filters are in place, set reminders to regularly change them. Be sure that the filter fits firmly on the unit to avoid any gaps where debris can enter the system. Also, when you regularly have your HVAC system maintained, ask the provider to clean the cooling coils and drain pans — this will prevent mold and mildew from forming.

Before deciding on whether or not to get your air ducts cleaned, understand the benefits of doing so. If you do choose to have them professionally cleaned, be sure to get at least three quotes from service providers, check to make sure the company has positive online reviews or is working to improve online reviews by responding to any complaints and resolving any issues. If you see mold, mildew, or animal droppings, then contact another service provider to address those problems and get to the root of your dirty air ducts.