Most homeowners would agree that the heating and cooling system is an essential part of their home, but the air ducts themselves are a component of that system that is often ignored until problems arise. In the rest of this article, we’ll be discussing how often to clean air ducts and whether duct cleaning should be part of regular heating and air conditioning system maintenance.
Most experts agree the average air duct system should be cleaned every 3 to 5 years. This is not a hard and fast rule and the ideal timeframe will depend on factors such as the age of your home, the number of pets living in the home, whether you smoke, and other factors discussed below.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released literature with their recommendations regarding air duct cleaning, and while they do not give an exact timeframe regarding how often air ducts should be cleaned, they do give advice on what signs you should look for to indicate when it’s time to get your ducts cleaned.
Factors That Contribute to How Often Air Ducts Should be Cleaned
1. You Live in an Older Home
Older homes are often not sealed as well as newer homes and allow more outside air into the home. They have more drafts caused by air coming through windows, outlets, and other areas of the home that are not sealed as well, such as the attic.
2. If You Have Pets
Keep in mind that if you have pets like dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, and animals that shed you probably want to monitor your air ducts more often. If your ductwork is sealed properly and you frequently change your filters this may not be an issue, but it is an important factor when you’re considering how often your air ducts should be cleaned.
3. Someone in Your Home Has Respiratory Problems or Allergies
If someone in your home is prone to respiratory problems or allergies you’re going to want to pay close attention to your home’s air quality. The air ducts of a home are often referred to as the lungs of the home, so you want to ensure there isn’t mold or other debris inside your air ducts that could be causing potential health problems.
4. You Have Problems with Dust
If you’re changing your filters often and are still having problems with dust this is a sign that it may be time to call in a professional. Carpeted homes often have more dust compared to homes with tile or wood. or you’re close to a highly polluted area like a highway or a factory, you may need to consider cleaning your air ducts out more often.
5. There is a Smoker in the Home
If you or someone in your home is a smoker of any kind this is something you’re going to want to keep in mind when considering how often to have your ductwork cleaned. The harmful contaminants from cigarettes can linger inside air ducts and in many cases even cause odors.
Signs That it’s Time to Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned
When you have air ducts in your home, there are certain things that you should watch for. There are possible indicators that you need to get your air ducts cleaned out. You may notice subtle changes in things around your home and may also feel physical symptoms, some mild and others severe. To have a better idea of when you should clean your gutters, watch for these telling signs.
1. Visible Dust or Debris in Ducts
This is probably the most apparent sign that it’s time to call in a professional. If after removing a vent cover you can clearly see a buildup of debris this is a sign that your ducts have probably not been cleaned in a long time and it’s a good idea to seek professional help.
2. Noticeably More Dust in Your Home
If you’re having to change the filters of your HVAC system more frequently than normal, this is a sign that a may be time to clean your air ducts. On average, air filters should be changed every 60 to 90 days. If you’re having to change your filters far more frequently, this should be a red flag that your air ducts may need to be cleaned.
3. Dust Accumulation Around the Registers
If you’re always pumping your AC in the home, then your air ducts are constantly working. As they filter the air in to cool or heat it, small debris can build up like dirt, skills cells, pet dander, and even dangerous allergens. Over time, the amount of dust and stuff can build up and start to come out of your vents, something that could have effects on your health.
If you’re constantly breathing this mixture of debris, you and your family could be at risk for mild to severe respiratory issues that make it hard to breathe or even produce coughs and more that just won’t go away. If you have constant runny or stuffy noses, you may need to clean your air ducts stat.
4. Increased Allergy Symptoms
Your home is supposed to be your safe place where you wind down and relax. The last thing you want is your home to be a place where you feel worse. If you have a stuffy nose, itchy throat, or watery eyes, you might not always try to put the blame on your air ducts. As a matter of fact, you may visit your doctor for answers, possibly getting treatment but never quite getting over it. If you have persistent cold-like symptoms, it could be an indicator that you need to clean out your air ducts.
With the constant circulation of dust and potential allergens around your home, you could be breathing much more than you realize, letting that gunk pile up in your lungs, which will begin to cause issues. If you feel under the weather often, you may need to take a good look at your air ducts.
5. Moldy Smells
Mold grows in places that are humid, damp, and dark, all of which you can find within air ducts. While there is not a certain smell that mold puts off, it has a musty sort of dusty smell, one that kind of tickles your senses when you come into close contact with it.
If you notice that you smell a strange and possibly moldy smell when you turn your AC or heater on, it may be time to give your ducts a good cleaning. Breathing in moldy goodness from the air can have several long-term effects, causing itchiness in the throat or a cough that just won’t seem to go away.
6. Signs of Bugs
There are vents and other openings that lead into your air ducts, something that will surely attract all kinds of crawling critters. If you start to notice an increased number of bugs in your home or you start to see them at or near your vents, you may have an issue with insects.
If these critters start to spread out, they could not only cause damage to your air ducts but could also eat away at some of the interiors, something that could cause costly damages if left there to infest. Things like termites and other wood-eating insects can do lots of damage and may burrow in before you ever see them.
The video below does a good job showing what ducts and vents can look like if they are not cleaned for long periods of time.
Tips to Reduce the Frequency of Necessary Air Duct Cleaning
1. Properly Seal Air Ducts
Properly sealing air ducts is a great way to not only increase the time period between cleanings but will also likely result in energy savings.
2. Use High-Quality Furnace Filters
High-quality furnace filters will capture more debris and reduce the amount that makes it through the filter. There are a plethora of great filters out there and they are relatively inexpensive so take a little time and ensure you have a high-quality filter.
3. Buy an Air Purifier for Your Home
Some air filters also have ionization technology that clumps dust particles together, making them larger and easier to filter out of the air.
4. Air Seal Attic and Crawl Spaces
Sealing attics and crawl spaces of a home will prevent air and debris from those areas of the home from making it into the primary living area. It will also prevent that debris from potentially making it into your air ducts.
How Much Does Air Duct Cleaning Cost?
Prices will vary depending on the number of registers and returns in your home. For the average home, the price will be between $400 and $1000. Do keep in mind that the techniques used by some duct cleaning services are superior to others. The video below does a good job explaining how the service quality differs depending on the company you hire, so be sure to ask about their techniques before you agree to have the work done.
Why Air Ducts Are So Important
When you turn on your air, do you ever stop and think where it comes from? Ever think about how the air makes its way around your home and into each room to keep you warm or cool? One way that you can think of air ducts in the home is like veins, taking air from one place and bringing it to another cooler or warmer than before.
These ducts usually connect all-around your home, with vents in different places to either bring air in or shoot it out. As you might guess, there’s a lot going on behind your walls, as ducts are responsible for the capturing and cooling or heating of air before it makes its way into your home.
If you have air ducts and don’t have any of the signs or symptoms listed above, you may be left wondering why it’s so important to clean out your air ducts. Well, first of all, the main reason you should clean them is that they get, well, dirty. Just like any other machine with lots of parts here and there, air ducts need to be maintained.
Apart from knowing the things that affect the quality of your air, let’s take a deeper look at why it’s important. It’s not something that is required but, it is recommended by the EPA and some government agencies that are fighting for a cleaner environment.
Better Air Means Better Breathing
A lot of the things that can creep into our lungs are microscopic, quite possibly making our quality of life worse. Because your air ducts pass around the air to all areas of your home, it’s important to keep them clean and working well.
The quality of air in the home can already suffer, especially with dust and buildup from other things in the home. Add that in with a closed-up house with the air constantly blowing and you may have a much more contaminated place than you’re comfortable admitting. They say that contaminants can make it through an HVAC system 5 to 7 times per day, contaminating air ducts and going directly into your home.
Better Performance Means Energy Lower Costs in Some Cases
White, it is often exaggerated how much you can save by simply having your ducts cleaned, there may be some financial benefits of having your ducts cleaned. Savings will be more noticeable in extreme cases where there is a very large amount of debris inside the ductwork. Having properly sealed ductwork can increase the efficiency of your heating and cooling system
By simply keeping things clean and running smoothly, you can avoid a lack of performance. When things are clogged up it can take a lot longer to reach your desired temperature. That means that your system will work hard and still won’t deliver the temperature of air that you were hoping for.
How Do Air Ducts Work?
Air ducts are essential to distribute air to different areas in your home. Starting from the outside, the air is filtered into the refrigerant lines, heated, or cooled in the process. This air makes its way through the ducts, exiting through vents, or registers, placed around your home.
Other byproducts make their way out of the system via a flue, including gasses, pumping them outside of the system and the home. Though there are air filters throughout, air ducts can collect dust and other debris over time. That’s why they need to be cleaned and maintained, so clean air can flow through without producing any kinds of effects.
Cleaning your Air Ducts
When you decide to start cleaning your air ducts, you have a few options. Depending on whether this is the first time or not, you may need a deeper clean, so make sure that you consider your options and choose wisely. When you decide to clean them up and get the air in your home feeling crisp, you have a few options to choose from.
Can I Clean My Air Ducts Myself?
These days DIY is the happening thing. With the birth of YouTube comes all kinds of influencers and information, some of which can help us do things like maintaining our homes and appliances. While there are plenty of videos explaining how it can be done, we recommend always calling in a professional. The tools and processes they use ensure that the end result will be safe and effective.
If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned your air ducts or you’ve never done it, there are some signs that you should look for that means it’s time for a clean now. You may start to notice them suddenly or little at a time, realizing that something needs to be done quickly.
Your air ducts are an important part of your home, often overlooked and neglected. You should keep a close watch on them and keep them healthy so that you can enjoy cleaner air and a healthier home atmosphere. Clean and healthy air starts with keeping all dust, debris, and allergens out of the home, things that air ducts are known to collect.
Hello, my name is Chris and I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. I’m an engineer with experience in medical technology, steel and materials, and nuclear power industries. I have been with my current employer for more than 5 years developing digital control systems for nuclear power plants.
I’m also a homeowner with a growing range of home renovation experience. My goal is to take all my technical knowledge and first-hand experience and translate it into high-quality content to support all of your home guide needs. Whether it be step-by-step guides, technical consultation, or product reviews, my aim is to make all your home projects a great success!