We all get calls from companies offering furnace duct cleaning services, also known as HVAC cleaning. Many of us wonder whether the service really does much to improve the air we breathe in our homes.
The duct cleaning business is unregulated. Two St. Albert companies that provide duct-cleaning service say consumers need to know who they’re dealing with when they sign up for the service.
“It’s had a bad rap over the years either because companies don’t do a proper job or don’t give the people the effort for the money they’re spending.” says Garry Guenette, owner of Garry’s Heating Services.
“It’s pretty much buyer beware.”
He recommends relying on recommendations from other happy customers, and if possible, finding out what equipment the cleaner is using to do the job.
“There are trucks that don’t have the suction power, and if you don’t have the suction power, you’re not going to get the same draw on the system, and you won’t be getting all the dirt that’s there.”
Curtis Crouse, who owns A-1 Heating, agrees with Guenette.
“There are just so many sketchy people out there doing it,” Crouse said. He says his own company never does a hard sell on the service if it’s doing other furnace, humidifier and air conditioning maintenance, but he firmly believes that regular duct cleaning should be a part of that maintenance.
“The cleaner your ducts are, the cleaner the system is going to operate, which helps extend the life of your furnace,” Crouse says. Cleaning the furnace without cleaning the ducts periodically is “not super effective.”
Crouse and Guenette recommend duct cleaning every two to five years. Installing quality furnace filters and changing them regularly will the delay the need for duct cleaning, they say. But filters alone won’t eliminate the accumulation of dust and lint.
“Whatever filter you have, it doesn’t take everything out of the air,” Guenette says. Anything the filter doesn’t catch will end up deposited in the ducts. The cleaning takes out everything that settles in the ducts that the furnace fan does not move forward.
“When we hook up the truck to the system, it moves probably 10 times the amount of air (the furnace fan does), and faster, so those particles that have settled, we pick up and suck them back through the system and into the truck.”
A cleaning takes about two hours.
The busiest duct-cleaning season is fall and winter, but Crouse and Guenette say people really should make the call in the spring and summer.
Your door will be open for the two to three hours when the truck is working.
“We move a lot of the air from your house when we’re cleaning your ducts and that gets replaced with outside air, which can be very cold.”
A-1 has a couple of cameras it can send into the ducts to scope the before and after condition. Some customers ask to see what’s getting sucked out of their system, but most don’t, Crouse says.
“We know what settles inside. The average person doesn’t know what’s in there. If you cut open a duct that has been sitting there for 10 years and nobody’s touched it, there’s a lot in it. You’d be surprised.”
Removing a few grills to check for dust at the top of the duct gives a pretty good indication of whether they’re clean or not.
Besides the dirt that collects in the ducts, cleaners find lots of kids’ toys and other things that slip down an open grill. Guenette says one customer called to get a wayward puppy out of a duct. The job required cutting the stranded pet free. No suction was involved.
Every few months the cleaning truck is driven to the landfill, and the contents are shovelled out.
“We don’t really want to know what’s in there,” Guenette says.
The National Air Duct Cleaners Association certifies operators in the U.S., and its site has lots of good information on what consumers should know about duct cleaning.