I guess, I will start with saying that air duct cleaning is almost never needed. It is not a scam, but it is certainly something that uneducated homeowners get suckered into. In regards to air flow, a well balanced HVAC system should be able to deliver more than enough air flow. If you are not getting good air flow, it's because your system may be out of balance. Additionally, regular cleaning/changing of the air filters will solve about 95% of your problem. Though you would be surprised how many people either a. don't have a filter or b. don't know about it and leave it there for 10+years. a washable one should be cleaned every 6 months(spring and fall) and a disposable one should be replaced every 3-4 months.
The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
A do-it-yourself approach will only scratch the surface because it is hard to reach some of the ventilation running underneath the floor or into the wall. Although it may help in clearing some of the dust and debris, you really need a professional to guarantee your system is truly spotless. The proper procedure involves the use of a powerful vacuum system with multi-brush attachments designed to loosen debris and feed into the suction. Particles are then blown outside of the house or passed through a HEPA filter inside.
Preventing against air leakage is great, but the only way to keep dust and debris out of a duct system would be to completely seal off the return-air side of the system, which would render the system useless. Cold-air returns will always pull dust and other particles into the system. A high-MERV rated filter is definitely a good idea, but it does nothing to keep the return side of the system clean. Definitely agree though to use foil tape to seal seams, etc. Duct tape dries out over time and as it does can actually add more particles to the air.
I purchased a Groupon for cleaning of unlimited air ducts and one return vent for $39. I should have checked into their hours first because they only offer services during normal business hours. So, with no evenings or weekends available you have to take time off work. I asked Groupon for a refund when I realized this and they refused because it wasn’t within the three day window. Then they didn’t even show up or call for the appointment. I called them after they were an hour late and they were going to call the local dispatch office and have them call me back within 15 minutes. I did not receive that call. I called again and was told I would get a call back from a manager. That didn’t happen either. So I asked Groupon for a refund again and they gave me Groupon bucks. When the survey came asking if I was satisfied with the Groupon customer service I said no, I want real money. I got my real refund the next day. Seems to me Groupon should stop dealing with these companies.
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have been shown to act as a collection source for a variety of contaminants that have the potential to affect health, such as mold, fungi, bacteria, and very small particles of dust. The removal of such contaminants from the HVAC system and home should be considered as one component in an overall plan to improve indoor air quality.
As one of the duct cleaners that do it right it disgusts me to hear the horror stories some of my past customers have had with the companies using scare tactics, bait and switch schemes, and just plain intimidation to make a fast buck. The Ductz franchise as a whole has gone behind other "duct cleaners" in the last year to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million dollars. All of this expense could have been avoided had the customers been able to do some background research before hiring. NADCA is a great organization and should be a minimum requirement for finding a duct cleaner. Other great questions include "How long does the service take?" (2 techs, 4-5 hours for a small house, 7-9+ hours for a two system house), "Do you clean the entire system including all trunk lines and the air handler (blower motor and evaporator coil)?", "How do you validate the job you have done?" (before and after picture reports work great). Beware of duct cleaners that say their process will solve all your air quality concerns. Duct cleaning is one of several steps to take to rid your home of unwanted dust, dirt, mold, and other allergens.
I can't believe the number of people saying a good properly installed central heating system never needs to be cleaned. Maybe they live in hermetically sealed cells? One look into a cold air return and you can see that it definitely needs periodic cleaning. The air in the house "always" has some dust in it and that's where it ends up. We just had ours cleaned and I saw what came out of it, disgusting. But always ask if they use the "air whip" to sweep/beat the inside of the metal duct. If not, don't bother. These folks used a little whip on the end of a pressure hose and swept the entire length of all the ducts. I have lighted bore scope that allowed me to see into the duct after he was done and it was spic and span. But do change your filters often, 2 or 3 times a year.
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.