I agree that good filtration and a sealed system will prevent the need for duct cleaning. However, when we do get called it is because the duct work has reached a noticeable state of restriction or dust or the homeowner is hyper-sensitive to these pollutants in their home. Most of the time we find that no filter or a cheap (99 cent) filter is being used or they have serious duct leaks in the system. If you are hiring a cleaner make sure they are using professional cleaning equipment which will consist of a rotating brush system and a vacuum source. Be highly skeptical of the contractor with no branded system or the guy who shows up with just chimney brushes and a shop vac. He will not be able to reach around all the corners or all the runs in your system and he will be taking your money for a superficial cleaning at best. Only trust a company that offers VIDEO inspection and more importantly.... a contractor who repairs, installs and seals ducts if a problem is discovered or heaven forbid, created. Good luck and get your ducts sealed if you do have a leak! It is one of the greatest energy losses to a home other than being poorly insulated.
The amount of time it takes to clean a residential HVAC system depends on many variables such as the size of the home, the number of systems, the extent of the contamination and the number of HVAC cleaners performing the job. Ask at least two contractors to inspect your system and give you a time estimate for your particular system. This will give you a general idea of how long the job should take as well as an idea of how thoroughly the contractor plans to do the job.
Although i love to burn candles, depending on the type your asking for problems big ones! At work one day i had been talking with co workers about these black shadows that were appearing on my ceilings and higher wall areas. They seemed to in the corners and along the stud supports , i could even see what i thought to be where all had been nailed. There would be dark shadows perfectly straight across my ceiling and then real dark circels every few inches within the lines. I thought it was the propane heat but learned quickly that oil heat will do that but not normally propane. A co worker brought me a magazine with a huge article about candles and what actually burns off them when lit, an ashy soot that is attracted to the areas on walls and ceilings that omit the most heat or warmth, of course where the drywall and studs meet and corners of the room. Its been about 8 years since i painted the entire house. I started bending to my love for candles again in the last 3 years, surprise i will be spending part of my summer re painting again!! No more candles ,well maybe at the holidays LOL