I agree, if you replace (or wash depending on type) your air filters regularly AND vaccum, then you probably don't need the ducts or air coils cleaned. However, if you purchase a pre-owned home, and the previous owners did not regularly change the air filter or vaccum the home, then duct cleaning is worth the expense especially if you are sensitive to allergens. Especially if the previous owners had pets.
Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
Vacuum the ducts as much as possible. Consider renting a heavy duty vacuum for this purpose. The standard household vacuum isn't powerful enough to clean deep into the crevices of the ducts. Make sure that the vacuum you rent has a long hose to reach deep into the ducts. This is important, as there may be mold and mildew growing inside the air ducts [source: Repair Home]. If you want the ducts to be cleaned more thoroughly, consider hiring a professional to do the job.
Internal insulation provides better acoustical (noise) control. Flexible duct is very low cost. These products are engineered specifically for use in ducts or as ducts themselves, and are tested in accordance with standards established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many insulated duct systems have operated for years without supporting significant mold growth. Keeping them reasonably clean and dry is generally adequate. However, there is substantial debate about whether porous insulation materials (e.g., fiber glass) are more prone to microbial contamination than bare sheet metal ducts. If enough dirt and moisture are permitted to enter the duct system, there may be no significant difference in the rate or extent of microbial growth in internally lined or bare sheet metal ducts. However, treatment of mold contamination on bare sheet metal is much easier. Cleaning and treatment with an EPA-registered biocide are possible. Once fiberglass duct liner is contaminated with mold, cleaning is not sufficient to prevent re-growth and there are no EPA-registered biocides for the treatment of porous duct materials. EPA, NADCA and NAIMA all recommend the replacement of wet or moldy fiber glass duct material.
If you want to get some of the dust and debris out of your ventilation system, you can mix household cleaners like bleach with water, dip a cloth in the mix and then the wipe out the system. This will remove a layer of the spores, which could increase the quality of air a bit and help with the flow of air throughout the house until a pro can come out.
The amount of time it takes to clean a residential HVAC system depends on many variables such as the size of the home, the number of systems, the extent of the contamination and the number of HVAC cleaners performing the job. Ask at least two contractors to inspect your system and give you a time estimate for your particular system. This will give you a general idea of how long the job should take as well as an idea of how thoroughly the contractor plans to do the job.
I live in a 1950's ranch house in the South. The prior owners were smokers. Based on recommendations from one of the local conservation organizations, I decided to have a home energy audit done. As part of their findings, they recommended additional insulation in the attic and duct cleaning and sealing. This turned out to be a very problematic process. In terms of the ducts, it was necessary to remove the metal grates. However, these grates had been painted over many times and shoe molding covered the bottom of the grates. The vendor was not able to remove the grates without damaging them in the process. Because these grates dated back to the 1950's, it was difficult to find appropriate replacements. The ones I finally discovered were correct except they were 1/4" wider. This meant that the shoe molding had to be carved out. The duct cleaner could not provide any assistance with this problem. It took me a month of long evenings replacing the vent covers myself, carefully chiseling out the shoe molding and repainting. In terms of the extra installation in the attic, the same vendor used blow in insulation. Unfortunately, they did not recognize that the 13 floodlights whose mounting extended into the attic were not designed to be buried under insulation. The problem manifested itself in terms of expensive flood light bulbs failing continually. So, I had to have all of the light housings replaced. Yet another unexpected expense. Despite the expense, pain and suffering, I cannot report any improvement in my heating costs or the "quality" of the air. To be fair, I do not have any allergies and did not undertake this for air quality improvements but rather heating efficiency improvements.
I was with you until you said avoid steaming cleaning or moisture, there is no way you can remove mold or any other type of biological without moisture. The best way to do this is in fact with a steamer using a commercial disinfectant and a non reactive odor remover so your home smells refreshed and not like a hospital . This is directly contradictory to your article.
Despite such anecdotal experiences, there's no scientific evidence that regular residential air duct cleaning improves air quality, according to a 1997 brochure published by the Environmental Protection Agency. Laureen Burton, senior scientist in the EPA Indoor Environments Division, says that while the document is nearly two decades old, the science hasn't changed and the agency stands by its recommendations.
My 48 yr old house (mine for the last 4 yrs) has considerable dust in the return plenum (fiber duct). I’m remodeling and recently re-sealed the return plenum AND the site-fabbed transition built when the new unit was installed, 2013. The return was leaky no doubt drawing musty, dusty air from the crawl space due to the Red-Neck fab & seal job! Pitiful craftsmanship! It took me 7 hours to fix the new transition piece. Anyway, the dust in the house is the same “color” as whats in the return duct and I’m getting way too much & too often in the house. I’ve also cleaned my coils, which were not that dirty.
The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ Source Removal methods of cleaning. This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum. While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces. The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.
The bottom line is: no one knows. There are examples of ducts that have become badly contaminated with a variety of materials that may pose risks to your health. The duct system can serve as a means to distribute these contaminants throughout a home. In these cases, duct cleaning may make sense. However, a light amount of household dust in your air ducts is normal. Duct cleaning is not considered to be a necessary part of yearly maintenance of your heating and cooling system, which consists of regular cleaning of drain pans and heating and cooling coils, regular filter changes and yearly inspections of heating equipment. Research continues in an effort to evaluate the potential benefits of air duct cleaning.
If not properly installed, maintained and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.