What if you move into a 20 year old house and find that the people who owned it previously NEVER replaced the filter? It was so dirty that the HVAC system did not work at all. For most people - duct cleaning is NOT a waste of time or money. You must not have allergies. I have very bad ones plus asthma. It makes it very hard for me if I don't get it done every few years. By the way - the ducts get dusty just sitting there - especially without air going through them. Dust settles on them just like it does the furniture.
First of all, I think it is great that there are many companies out there who look out for the customer and protect their interest. Secondly, I think it is also important that customers consider having their HVAC systems checked thoroughly before moving into a new home. I have heard a couple of horror stories where previous owners have not had the best housekeeping skills. Even when the appearance of the home seems it has been well kept, keep in mind that surface clean only goes so far. You can never tell what lies underneath.
I own an HVAC company. Dirt in your ducts stays there and hurts no one. It is like dirt on the ground outside. This industry was infiltrated by a bunch of money grubbing low lifes years ago. As a credible company, we do not clean air ducts. Some who were credible probably signed on not knowing what else to do or to try to make a buck another way. These companies, because they also do HVAC work not only rip off private homeowners, they are ripping off legitimate HVAC company's customers and the integrity of what can and should as a rule be a great service industry. Some probably have gotten into this to simply offer what competitors who were ripping off their customers were offering. Anyone cleaning ducts is in my opinion raising a big red flag that they cannot and should not be trusted. Political pressure from NADCA, advertising dollars, manufacturers and marketers of duct cleaning equipment, and intense competition for the customers is the only reason the government and adverstising companies have not run them out of business and that this cancer perpetuates itself.
My best advice has always been that a proper duct cleaning is a valuable investment when moving into a home (new or old), after major renovations and if the ducts have never been cleaned before. It is unlikely that there will be increased air flow, as finding major blockage is unusual, but this will eliminate this as a possible concern if there are air flow concerns. It is also true that the "dust" that is cleared out will most likely never have been distributed through the house unless there has been some work done on the ducts. What is cleared out will be pet hair, toys, clothes, construction material, and biological material (small carcasses and/or feces). Once a proper cleaning is done a follow-up is rarely necessary, but up to the home owners discression.
2. If air quality is so important and duct cleaniliness is so uncertain, why not adopt doubling filtering; that is, in addition to the existing main furnace filter, add a filter at each air outlet. I understand replacing so many filters would be a burden, but air outlets can be designed for easy filter replacement. The builders and home design engineers should bear responsibility to provide good and low maintenance homes, rather than prioritizing on fancy or costly featuers for homes.
Quality and price should come hand in hand, a too-good-to-be-true price for an efficient air duct cleaning will not give you the quality that you wanted. To make sure you are getting your money’s worth, check reviews of air duct cleaning companies, certifications from industry since this work requires continuous learning due to new techniques and research breakthrough from time to time. My mom is located in Arizona and they trust J&M Restoration air duct cleaning company, they have an A+ BBB rating, they used EPA approved sanitizing agents, their technicians are NADCA certified, and the company is certified by the Institute of Inspection, cleaning and Restoration. Make sure to shop around and get written estimates first.
Internal insulation provides better acoustical (noise) control. Flexible duct is very low cost. These products are engineered specifically for use in ducts or as ducts themselves, and are tested in accordance with standards established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many insulated duct systems have operated for years without supporting significant mold growth. Keeping them reasonably clean and dry is generally adequate. However, there is substantial debate about whether porous insulation materials (e.g., fiber glass) are more prone to microbial contamination than bare sheet metal ducts. If enough dirt and moisture are permitted to enter the duct system, there may be no significant difference in the rate or extent of microbial growth in internally lined or bare sheet metal ducts. However, treatment of mold contamination on bare sheet metal is much easier. Cleaning and treatment with an EPA-registered biocide are possible. Once fiberglass duct liner is contaminated with mold, cleaning is not sufficient to prevent re-growth and there are no EPA-registered biocides for the treatment of porous duct materials. EPA, NADCA and NAIMA all recommend the replacement of wet or moldy fiber glass duct material.
You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.