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By Tom Moor
Dusty HVAC air vent
Posted 8/26/23

Concealed within walls, crawlspaces, and attics, it's difficult to gauge the condition of your air ducts without a professional inspection. While opinions vary on the necessity and frequency of air duct cleaning, the consensus leans toward periodic inspections to check the condition of your air ducts.

Keep reading as we answer the question: “Is air duct cleaning necessary?,” what the service includes, and how much air duct cleaning costs.

What Are Air Ducts?

Air ducts are essentially the “veins” of your HVAC system. Just as the veins of a human body move blood for proper circulation, air ducts move conditioned air from the central HVAC system to your home's vents and into your living areas.

The HVAC system's blower fan, located in the indoor air handling unit, pushes conditioned air into the ductwork to ensure the efficient circulation of conditioned air, maintaining a comfortable indoor environment.

It's important to note that ductless mini-split HVAC systems do not utilize air ducts. Instead, they use one or more indoor air handlings units that are installed on ceilings and walls to distribute air.

Is Duct Cleaning Necessary, and How Often Should It Be Performed?

It's generally recommended to have air ducts inspected every 3 to 5 years. Cleaning may be recommended if conditions such as mold growth, excessive dust, pest infestations, or reduced airflow are observed, especially if people living in the home have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory illnesses.

If none of these conditions are present, it's probably unnecessary to have your air ducts cleaned, according to the U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency.

“Duct cleaning is not something that needs to be done unless there is a build-up in the ducts, which often occurs if there is remodeling in the home,” said Steve Stewart, owner of Southern Comfort Mechanical in Lewisville, TX. “Outside of new construction, it depends on the level of dust, pet dander, or particles that have been in a home building up over time. The service can be skipped if there are no issues found. This is something an HVAC tech can check if requested, or checks during spring or fall maintenance.”

Signs Your Home May Benefit from Air Duct Cleaning

A few of the most common signs that indicate you may benefit from ductwork cleaning include:

Mold Growth

Substantial mold growth should be professionally cleaned. Mold poses health risks as prolonged exposure to its spores can lead to respiratory issues, allergies, and even more severe health complications, particularly for individuals with weakened immune systems. If you have insulated ducts and the insulation becomes wet and moldy, it should be replaced.

Pest Infestations

If you discover signs of pests or rodents within your air ducts, such as droppings or nesting materials, it's crucial to clean the ducts to prevent the spread of germs and allergens.

Excessive Dust and Debris

If you notice an unusual amount of dust, dirt, or debris accumulating around your vents and registers, it could be a sign that your air ducts are due for cleaning. Over time, your ducts can become filled with contaminants that can negatively affect indoor air quality.

“The primary benefits of duct cleaning include improved indoor air quality by removing dust, allergens, and other contaminants,” said Justin Bohannon, owner of Affordable Solutions HVAC & Electrical in Bahama, NC. “Other benefits include increased energy efficiency due to better airflow, reduced allergens for those with allergies or asthma, and odor reduction.”

Brian Schutt, owner of Homesense Heating | Cooling in Indianapolis, IN, said duct cleaning shouldn't be necessary more than every five years if homeowners regularly change air filters.

“We see the biggest triggering events being the purchase of a new home, where the new owners want to ensure a fresh start,” Schutt said. “And, with so many people staying in homes longer and having renovations done, a post-rehab duct cleaning is a strong recommendation.”

What Is Included in the Professional Air Duct Cleaning Process?

Although the process may vary slightly depending on the HVAC contractor, ductwork cleaning generally includes:

Is Air Duct Cleaning a DIY Task?

Cleaning air ducts is a complex task that requires specialized equipment and knowledge to effectively remove contaminants without damaging the HVAC system. DIY air duct cleaning might result in inadequate cleaning, potential damage to ductwork, and improper handling of contaminants, leading to compromised indoor air quality and increased health risks.

“While there are DIY duct cleaning kits available, it is generally recommended to have professionals perform the task,” Bohannon said. “Professionals have the necessary expertise, equipment, and safety precautions to ensure a thorough and effective cleaning. DIY attempts may not yield the same level of cleanliness and could potentially damage the ducts or HVAC system.”

How Much Does Air Duct Cleaning Cost?

Air duct cleaning costs between $450 and $1,000, according to the EPA. The following factors may affect the overall cost of air duct cleaning, according to the National Air Duct Cleaning Association.