2. If air quality is so important and duct cleaniliness is so uncertain, why not adopt doubling filtering; that is, in addition to the existing main furnace filter, add a filter at each air outlet. I understand replacing so many filters would be a burden, but air outlets can be designed for easy filter replacement. The builders and home design engineers should bear responsibility to provide good and low maintenance homes, rather than prioritizing on fancy or costly featuers for homes.
I can't believe the number of people saying a good properly installed central heating system never needs to be cleaned. Maybe they live in hermetically sealed cells? One look into a cold air return and you can see that it definitely needs periodic cleaning. The air in the house "always" has some dust in it and that's where it ends up. We just had ours cleaned and I saw what came out of it, disgusting. But always ask if they use the "air whip" to sweep/beat the inside of the metal duct. If not, don't bother. These folks used a little whip on the end of a pressure hose and swept the entire length of all the ducts. I have lighted bore scope that allowed me to see into the duct after he was done and it was spic and span. But do change your filters often, 2 or 3 times a year.
WELL, this summer when I opened them up we had black dust spewing from one of the upstairs vents. It resembled the fuzz that comes off new towels. This prompted us to look into duct cleaning. We heard from someone who had it done several times, said it was worthwhile, and knew of a firm that did a good job. Clean Air America sent a single technician for the appointment and after counting registers and ducts gave me a price of $360.00 which included “sanitizing” the system (a $99 additional fee per can used). The small size of the plenum forced him to connect the 8” round vacuum hose from the truck to the 10” square opening from our humidifier unit. In hindsight, a mistake since it reduced the “negative” pressure in the system.
You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.