It’s easy to ignore unseen equipment and structural features in the home, especially if your systems seem to be functioning correctly. However, transitional times of year during which your heating and cooling equipment are out of service may provide the opportunity for problems to crop up. Dormant equipment may allow subtle problems to become serious issues, making it a priority to inspect your home comfort system before initiating its use for the heating or cooling seasons. In addition to scheduling HVAC maintenance for your central equipment, it’s important to pay attention to your air ducts.
The Relationship Between Mechanical Equipment and Ductwork
While the need for both your central equipment and your air ducts may seem obvious, you need to realize that each component affects the performance of the other. Your ductwork facilitates delivery of hot or cool air to various portions of your home, making the integrity of the materials important for optimum comfort results. At the same time, the mechanical equipment can lead to conditions that contaminate the ducts, creating problems with indoor air quality and structural integrity.
This interdependence make both HVAC maintenance and air duct cleaning top priorities. Dirty coils and heat exchangers, for example, can lead to dirt and residue moving into the ducts. Poor humidity control in an air conditioning unit or heat pump can affect your relative humidity, exposing the interior of your ductwork to the potential for deterioration or development of mold. Periodic air duct cleaning allows you to limit the severity of such issues by dealing with smaller concerns before they become serious.
Dirt and Debris in Your Ducts
You may not notice the buildup of dirt on your bookshelves and fixtures until it becomes significant. This can vary from region to region, and the level of dust accumulation in homes can even vary dramatically within a neighborhood. One of the most significant factors contributing to the gathering of dust in your home is the air sealing of the structure. Tightly sealed homes may resist the influx of dirt more effectively. However, breaches in your ducts can provide a source of entry for such materials in spite of careful attention to windows, doors and other exterior sources for air leaks.
Air Filters and Duct Management
The material settling in your ducts is comparable to that collecting in more visible locations. Your indoor airstream moves particulates through the house, and the ductwork is part of that path. Your air filter provides some defense against these materials, but it may not collect finer particles to the degree that you would like. Additionally, many homeowners tend to forget their air filters.
You may install a fresh filter at the start of heating or cooling season, failing to check again until the next season change. A clogged filter can collapse, allowing unfiltered air to move through the system. The result is extra dirt on your equipment and in your ducts. You can address this by making frequent checks of your filter throughout the heating and cooling seasons. Additionally, you will need to acknowledge that you can’t perfectly eliminate the infiltration of dirt into your system. HVAC maintenance and duct cleaning are important for addressing the residues that result from the movement of particles in your airstream. If you notice material visibly exiting your vents in connection with HVAC activity, a duct inspection is warranted.
Indoor Pollutants and Your Ductwork
You may be surprised that only approximately 25 percent of indoor pollutants are traced to outdoor sources. The majority of materials circulating in your home and settling in your ducts are from indoor products. Cooking sprays and ingredients are significant contributors to indoor air pollution. As solid particles come into contact with cooking emissions, a somewhat greasy layer of material may develop on your coils and in your ducts. The airstream alone won’t remove such material, and air duct cleaning methods may be required.
A serious concern for many homeowners is the presence of mold. Some suffer serious allergy problems in connection with mold exposure. Others may experience fatigue or other symptoms because of the material. If mold develops in your HVAC system, duct cleaning is recommended for ensuring that unseen material isn’t harbored out of view. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that visible mold on hard surface ducts or on other parts of your HVAC system is an important reason for considering professional duct services. It’s important to note that lab testing may be needed to be sure that the material is actually mold. However, many homeowners prefer to be safe if any mold-like residue is spotted, scheduling appropriate cleaning services. It’s also important to recognize that moldy duct insulation needs to be replaced to prevent recurrence of the problem.
Pests and Your Ducts
A breach in your ductwork can make it easier for insects and rodents to access your home. Rodents are notorious for chewing into even strong materials, and dander and droppings can infiltrate your airstream as the critters use your ducts as a pathway. Diseases like hantavirus have been linked to contact with rodent droppings, making it a priority to deal with such residues in your ducts promptly. While the issue may be identified through a routine duct inspection, you may want to consider contacting your HVAC contractor if you observe evidence near duct vents or note rodent activity from walls or floors. In fact, the EPA also notes that homeowners should consider air duct cleaning if the ducts are infested with vermin.
If poor airflow is noted in your home, it’s important to consider the possibility of a blockage in your ducts. You may want to check the airflow in each room to determine whether the issue is isolated or universal. A large blockage could affect the entire home. However, a smaller blockage could affect just a couple of rooms with poor airflow. Look in the registers in affected rooms to verify that a toy or clothing item hasn’t gotten into the area. Take time to check your air handler as well. Dirty AC coils or a dirty filter can lead to poor air movement, and if these components aren’t dirty, a blockage may be indicated. It’s also possible that damage to the ductwork has occurred, making professional diagnostics a priority.
Air Leaks in Ducts
The design of your home and the location of your ducts may facilitate the influx of dirt and debris through leaks in the duct walls. If your ducts are located in crawl spaces, for example, you may find that dirt in the area can infiltrate. Additionally, gaseous materials are a serious concern, especially if your leaky ducts are near a combustion appliance, system or device. Leaks can permit dangerous conditions like backdrafting of emissions, posing a serious safety problem to those in your home. If your ducts are near an attached garage, for example, carbon monoxide could infiltrate your home through duct leaks. In addition to cleaning services, the related inspection of your ductwork can be a significant step in ensuring safety for those living in your home. Additionally, it’s important to make the installation of carbon monoxide alarms a priority. Units should be located near attached garages and other areas with the potential for facilitating the movement of carbon monoxide into the home. At least one monitor should be placed on each level of the home, but one monitor per room is preferable as many carbon monoxide deaths occur as affected individuals sleep.
DIY Duct Cleaning
Hands-on homeowners may be prompted to attempt cleaning their own ducts. Some do so without really thinking about the implications. It may be easy to see dirt buildup on registers and inside the openings of vents. Operating a vacuum cleaner to remove debris makes a lot of sense at this point, but the effort provides limited results and can cause damage to your ducts. A vacuum extension is limited in its reach, and the implement could puncture your duct walls if you aren’t careful.
Professional Inspection and Cleaning Services
Working with an expert is preferable because of the availability of specialized equipment and precise diagnostic methods. Your inspection will allow your technician to verify whether damaged areas and leaks exist. Cleaning without sealing leaks and fixing damaged areas can result in a quick return to dirty conditions. Once these issues have been assessed and fixed as needed, your technician will use heavy-duty vacuums with HEPA filters to remove dirt and debris from the walls of your ducts. Drop cloths are also used to protect your home’s interior, and material is disposed of off-site. Rotating brushes, remote cameras and extensions are used to reach the far areas of your ductwork and remove stubborn debris from the interior walls.
The team of experts at Griffith Energy Services is committed to excellence in all aspects of HVAC maintenance. We recommend pre-season equipment maintenance prior to the onset of summer and winter. Additionally, we recommend duct inspections and related cleaning services every three to five years. We also offer IAQ assessments if you are concerned about the materials in your home’s air supply. Call our office for an appointment.
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Written by Kevin Spain