How can I find a good air duct cleaner?
EPA and NADCA agree that if you do hire someone to clean your ac cleaning make sure they know what they’re doing — a poor job is worse than no cleaning at all, as it can kick up particles or even break portions of the HVAC system.
Venice warns homeowners to beware of air duct cleaning scams, especially the sort where unscrupulous cleaners offer a $49 special deal but start piling on extra fees. “It’s a bait and switch scam where they say they’ll offer unlimited cleaning, but then they throw around terms you might not understand, such as extra fees for a ‘main duct line,’” he says. “And many times, these cleaners end up walking out the door with twice the amount of money a reputable duct cleaner would charge. They’ve gotten very sophisticated at upselling.”
Since most states and municipalities don’t license air duct cleaners, you need to check their professional credentials instead, such as NADCA membership. EPA recommends all duct cleaners follow NADCA standards. Member companies must keep at least one technician on staff who has passed a NADCA test. “They have to pass rigorous testing to earn the certificate, and our code of ethics is very important,” Vinick says.
Tom Bergendahl of Wakefield, Massachusetts, wishes he’d hired a reputable service to clean his air ducts instead of a local company that has since gone out of business. “Duct cleaning is a fragile operation, and if you don’t do it right, you can damage the system,” he says. “They completely wrecked the motor.”
The company eventually paid to repair the damage, but Bergendahl still doesn’t feel the work improved air quality or energy efficiency. “Why did I even bother?” he asks.
air duct cleaning technician cleaning air duct above his head
The cost for quality air duct cleaning averages between $300 and $500. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)
What are some benefits of duct cleaning?
Despite Bergendahl’s experience, Vinick says NADCA’s certification standards have improved the situation. “A lot of [service companies] weren’t going about it the correct way,” he says. “We have an anti-fraud task force, and we’ve gone after some fraudulent duct cleaners with the help of state attorneys general.” He suggests that in addition to NADCA membership, homeowners make sure their cleaners are an established business, have appropriate insurance and are registered to do business in their state and locality.
Other organizations have also established guidelines. The EPA’s brochure provides a post-cleaning checklist, and in 2007, the ac cleaning Contractors of America published criteria for HVAC service providers.
While none of the groups claim health benefits from clean air ducts, many Angie’s List members report an improvement. “I haven’t woken up stuffy or congested since,” says Margaret Hopkins of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. “After the cleaning, my home smelled better and there was less dust on my furniture.”
Experts say research on the health benefits of residential duct cleaning is still in its infancy. Glenn Fellman, the Indoor Air Quality Association’s executive director, says that despite the lack of scientific data, he’s seen and heard much common-sense evidence of improved air quality.
“This is the heart and circulatory system of your house,” Fellman says. “If any of it is gunked up with dust or mold, the core system isn’t going to function correctly.”
Vinick says he’s encountered much anecdotal evidence of the benefits of air duct cleaning. “You could ask the tens of thousands of customers that I’ve had in 26 years about their improved energy consumption and healthy home environment,” he says.
Ultimately, the decision to clean air ducts comes down to a homeowner’s own judgment. “Look at your filter and see if it’s dirty,” Vinick says. “Take a look inside the return grills and supply ductwork and you’ll be able to tell if you have debris buildup.”