It’s not terribly pleasant to think about where dust comes from — an accumulation of dirt, dead skin cells, dandruff, pet dander, mites, smoke particles and other pollutants. This detritus circulates through the air in your home, where you and your family unavoidably breathe it in on a daily basis. And because dust is heavier than air, it settles into vents and ducts just like it does onto flat surfaces. Think about how often you dust your furniture, and how much dust would build up if you neglected this chore for weeks, months or years. Now ask yourself, when’s the last time you had your air ducts cleaned?
How dirty are your air ducts?
Air ducts act as the lungs of your home, and they affect the actual lungs of the residents. To function most efficiently, they need to be kept clean and clear. Too much dust can contribute to literal respiratory problems, particularly for anyone who suffers from asthma or allergies.
If you live in a newer home that wasn’t properly cleaned before you moved in, construction dust and debris have probably been collecting in your ducts and circulating throughout the house whenever the furnace or air conditioning kicks on. Or, if you’ve recently undergone a major remodeling project, it’s likely to have generated additional dust that’s settled into the system.
No matter how often you dust and vacuum, you’re usually just moving particles around, stirring them up into the air before quickly resettling. Cleaning out your air ducts and HVAC system every now and then gets to the real root of the problem, removing dust before it has a chance to circulate. Another benefit, air duct cleaning may help your HVAC system operate more efficiently by preventing clogs and improving overall air flow.
When to clean your air ducts
Indications that it may be time to clean out your air ducts can include heavy dust accumulation on your furniture, frequently occurring respiratory problems among the residents in your home, visible mold in vents or other HVAC components, and signs of mice or insects that can infest and contaminate the system.
It’s a good idea to have your air ducts and related HVAC parts professionally cleaned every two or three years; more often if circumstances merit. Because air duct cleaning requires specific tools and a thorough understanding of the mechanical duct/HVAC system, it can be a difficult task for homeowners to try to tackle on their own. Even the longest attachments on a regular vacuum won’t work for deep air duct cleaning. Professional cleaners use a negative pressure system to vacuum dust out with a hose and a spinning soft brush that dislodges the debris. Air duct cleaning also requires taking protective steps homeowners may not be familiar with, such as making sure the furnace coil is blocked off to prevent dust and dirt from pushing through, which can create extra stress on the blower motor and cause potentially expensive damage.
The cost of air duct cleaning depends on the size and complexity of your system, but the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that professional service for an average-sized home typically ranges between $450 and $1,000.
Air duct homework
In between air duct cleanings, the best thing you can do to keep dust levels down is to change out the furnace filter on a regular basis. If excessive dust is a problem in your home, don’t skimp on quality. The higher the MERV rating is, the more effective the filter will be.
Another helpful hint — pay close attention to areas of your home where excess debris may be entering the system. For example, flat vents on the floor next to a dog bed or kids who tend to kick off their shoes next to a vent as soon as they enter the house may be inadvertently introducing extra dirt into the ducts.