Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:
In most modern homes with up-to-date heating and air conditioning systems, filters are changed regularly through the year, so you may not even need to hire a professional. However, keep your eyes open for the accumulation of dust, dirt, dander and mold. If you see it despite regularly changing your filters it could be an indication you need a high-pressure cleaning.
I recently replaced my 44 year old furnace. Over the years we have had several construction projects inside the home. For many years breathing the heated air from the duct work caused excessive sneezing, sinus issues, and lung irritation. . The heat smelled like dust. To maximize air quality I added a humidifier, MERV-11 filter, and UV light onto the new furnace. To further improve air quality, I had the ducts cleaned and sanitized. I took before and after pictures of the inside of each return and output duct. They were filthy before, and sparkling clean and fresh after the procedure. Now when running the system, clean sanitized air flows through my whole house. A huge difference. It will make sleeping and being indoors during the winter months far more tolerable. I use window air conditioners, and run the system in the summer to keep the house air clean and fresh on hot summer days too. It works! Great decision!
And if you have flex duct and/or fiberglass ductboard in your home- the last thing you want is a big brush or anything abrasive running through it. Even high-pressure air can erode ductboard so I wouldn’t clean it with anything. If it becomes contaminated, get rid of it and install real ductwork. If your ductwork is accessible in the basement – the best thing to do is take it down and manually clean it if it’s full of junk. It’s not going to cost a nickel more to do that than to pay $500-1000 for a ‘duct cleaning machine” AKA big blower and vacuum – to do the job.
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.
In some older homes, there was a grey Mylar flexible duct. After years of use, it started to decompose. A duct cleaning company can come out and find why your air is so dirty and why your building doesn’t heat or cool like it used to. This is a savings on your part. You could also be sucking in Hot, dirty attic air. However, sometimes when a duct cleaning company comes out to clean it, the old duct can be destroyed and have to be replaced. Someone with little experience can replace this ductwork but if it isn’t done right it can ruin a lot of things and cost a lot in repairs.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
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.