Ducts are the circulatory system of your HVAC installation, carrying conditioned air to all parts of your home and returning air to central furnaces and air conditioners in order to be filtered and conditioned again. Because of this important role, and because in most homes ductwork is an invisible system, tucked neatly out of sight, duct cleaning is an important but often overlooked part of HVAC system maintenance.
While some homeowners prefer to make this a regular part of their annual maintenance routine, other homeowners may find themselves in situations where duct cleaning is postponed until a major issue arises. If you should find yourself in this situation, or if you’ve just begun to occupy a home whose maintenance history you’re unsure of, here are three definite signs that it’s time to get your ductwork cleaned:
- Clogged ducts. If your ductwork has visible debris that impede airflow, it’s time to get them professionally cleaned. Not only does this reduce air circulation – making system fans work harder and wear out more quickly, and decreasing the effectiveness of heating and cooling throughout your home – but some kinds of debris can become drawn into furnace intakes, presenting a significant fire hazard.
If you see dust or particles being blown out through your vents, that’s also a sign that your ductwork is overdue for cleaning. Airborne particulates can negatively impact your indoor air quality, and depending on their composition, they can also present a health risk – especially to the young or elderly, those with compromised respiratory systems, and those prone to allergies.
- Visible mold growth. If you have humidity issues in your home, ductwork can easily become a place where mold can grow. If the air isn’t properly dehumidified, water may gather in imperfections in the ductwork itself, and if the ducts are improperly sealed, moisture may escape into duct insulation and mildew. If you or an HVAC contractor finds mold in your home or HVAC system, a thorough duct cleaning may be in order.
Some kinds of discoloration may appear similar to mold growth, and if you need to confirm for health reasons or for peace of mind, a sample (often collected on a piece of tape) can be sent to a microbiology lab where they can test and, if it is mold, identify the strain. These, however, are for-fee services, and may not be necessary if you know your home is predisposed to mold.
- Infestation. Because ducts are long, dark areas with little disturbance, vermin such as insects and rodents may choose to make dens there. This can introduce contaminants, including bacterial contaminants from waste, into your air, introduce the vermin to other parts of your home, and may cause distressing sounds throughout the vent network.
Care should be taken when cleaning out ductwork to deal with an infestation, especially when it concerns rodents. Always consult experts on how to deal with wild animals.
These major issues generally have origins outside the ductwork itself, so if you notice any of them in your home, you may want to evaluate the ductwork at the same time as you set up an appointment for duct cleaning. Home humidity can be managed, access points used by rodents and insects can be sealed off or isolated, and any areas which introduce dust, dirt and debris into the ducts can be repaired.
One option you may be offered with your duct cleaning is the application of a chemical biocide to the inside of the ductwork, which will prevent mold and bacteria growth. While this can be useful in some high-humidity regions in the Baltimore area, you should weigh the frequency and intensity of mold issues in your home against the expense and the introduction of chemicals into your circulating indoor air. You should also identify problem spots and target application of the biocide strategically – there’s usually no reason to treat the entire length of your ductwork.
If you’d like to learn more about duct cleaning, or want to schedule a time for a home assessment, contact us at Griffith Energy Services. We’re available 24 hours a day, and are proud to serve Baltimore and its surrounding communities.
Written by Kevin Spain