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 addition, the black dust was found in most of the heat registers. He could rub it off on his fingers but did nothing but spray compressed air on it which didn’t make it disappear since it wasn’t loose. Also, in the register in the basement he described the black dust as being oily. The reality of that situation is that I had the AC on until the morning of the service and minutes after he snaked the hoses in my back door it started raining. The basement register had condensation from the humidity all over it. It was not oily but wet. He asked for an old towel and wiped it out. Never saw anything so black – because I never had to clean soot. That is what I have in my ducts. Soot from years of the old coal furnace.
There is a lot of good, general information in the article. As with anything, the homeowner should do their due diligence in getting enough information to make an educated decision. Should duct-work be cleaned? YES! Does it need to be cleaned annually or even every second or third year? Not necessarily. It all depends on a bunch of variables. You're right that a well designed and balanced system will deliver the right amount of air flow, but sometimes conditions outside the home/business, make it a necessity to get the ducts cleaned. As for mold? NO filter is going to address a mold issue. If you have mold, you have a moisture issue that needs to be addressed. Also, in my 38 years of experience in the HVAC and sheet metal industries, washable filters are one of the reasons ducts need to be cleaned. They are no where near efficient in cleaning/filtering the air to the level that they should.
We moved to a house built in 1965 from a 1915 house with a dirt basement. Against what I anticipated, the 1965 house was much dustier. It was like felt on top of everything. I cleaned and cleaned and it did become less dusty over time. We then found out a cat lady with over 2 dozen cats lived in the house in the past. We then had to get our furnace replaced and I was able to look down some of the duct work, the dirt and debris was 3-5 inches deep. Additionally, the basement ducts were entirely plugged with debris including dirt, seeds, ants, toys, etc. I had already removed what I could from those. We had our ducts cleaned last year, and the dust in the house is greatly reduced. Also have lost the runny nose I got after moving here. There are duct cleaning con artists out there, but ours did a good job.
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically — but not always — range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on: