One of the best ways to know if your ducts or vents need to be cleaned is to just check them. Your eyes will be able to check for indications of mold, dust or pollen buildup. You might also be able to smell the presence of mold, which would be a clear indicator. Ductwork will have some buildup of dust, since the return registrars pull air back in. However, this doesn't mean your ducts have too much debris, and you can easily clean them with a duster or vacuum.
The amount of debris or mold present in your system could certainly ratchet up the overall price. The cost of mildew removal is around $0.07-0.08 per square foot, on top of your initial cost, according to Blue Book. Removing these elements involves added time, special equipment and even special chemicals. In fact, you may be referred to a specialist if mildew and mold is too severe.
In reading through all this about duct cleaning, THE ONE preventative measure people need to realize is that a poorly installed HVAC system that is not sealed and air tight to ensure that ALL indoor air passes through a GOOD air filtration system IS THE best means of ensuring your ducts remain clean. Duct cleaning does not now and will NEVER improve an HVAC systems efficiency. Proper maintenance and installation are the key just as improper installation practices allow for dust infiltration into the duct system. I am a state licensed contractor in Texas, and unless people have their hvac system sealed and/or properly installed, duct cleaning is an absolute waste of money. My duct system is 12 years old as is as clean today as the day I installed the system with ductwork. SO before ANYONE jumps on the bandwagon of duct cleaning, get with your hvac professional FIRST.
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.