Effectively preventing dirty ductwork begins by understanding the nature of the problem. The average duct system in a typical home conveys around 1,400 cubic feet of air per minute whenever the heating or cooling system is running. The system typically circulates the entire air volume of the house through the ductwork multiple times every day. Airborne particulates afloat in household air—from the contaminants you can actually see like inorganic dust and dirt down to invisible microorganisms like mold spores and bacteria—settle inside ductwork and accumulate there. Over the years, the amount of ductwork contamination may become substantial.
How can you tell your ducts are dirty? You probably can’t—at least not by looking. Routed through the attic and crawl space or sealed inside wall voids, the overwhelming majority of ductwork is generally inaccessible to the average homeowner. The best tip-offs are simply the air quality in your living spaces, issues like continuous accumulation of dust on household surfaces and complaints from those in the home who have allergic sensitivities to airborne particulates. Another indication can be obvious performance declines due to duct leakage because of internal deterioration, a process that is frequently hastened by accumulation of dirt and contaminants.
An HVAC professional equipped with the proper tools and expertise can conduct a complete evaluation of your ductwork to determine the need for cleaning and/or sealing duct leaks. Short of that, the most useful DIY measure most people can take on their own is preventing dirty ductwork. Here are some suggestions to get that done:
Your heating and cooling system needs annual maintenance performed by a professional service tech. This should definitely extend to the ductwork, as well. A qualified technician can identify telltale signs of contaminated ductwork that show up elsewhere in the system and are often a hidden cause of lower efficiency and higher operating costs. As part of the annual procedure, he’ll clean the AC coil and blower fan as well as furnace components that may be affected by dirt or dust in the ductwork. If the inspection indicates a need for professional duct cleaning, your HVAC contractor can discuss available options.
Renovate Don’t Contaminate
When major renovation or remodeling work is underway in your home, take steps for preventing dirty ductwork. Any sort of construction work stirs up existing settled dust and dirt—not to mention introducing sawdust and drywall powder into the air—all of which may be sucked into the ducts when the system is started. Try to minimize infiltration of contaminants by closing off the area of the home where work is underway. Also, change the air filter after a few days of system operation following any renovation work.
Clean Before Installation
If you’re installing new ductwork or extending the existing ducts in your home, make sure the crew handling installation thoroughly cleans the ducts beforehand. The sheet metal fabrication of ductwork often has a light, oily coating of preservative which will be a magnet for dust and dirt and should be removed. Oil may also contaminate other HVAC components like the evaporator coil.
Good Housekeeping Helps
While dirty ducts aren’t necessarily a reflection of your home’s cleanliness, it’s a fact that whatever gets into household air eventually ends up in the ducts. For preventing dirty ductwork, try to reduce the level of circulating airborne dust and dirt by vacuuming frequently with a vacuum that effectively filters the exhaust stream. Also, use dust cloths and electrostatic mops that attract and hold dust rather than stirring it up.
Identify Contamination Sources
Certain duct inlets may be leading suspects for ductwork contamination. For example, a return duct in a bathroom may intake excessive amounts of water vapor into the duct system. This moisture in turn proves to be a trigger for mold growth inside the ducts. Similarly, a kitchen duct may pull in greasy smoke and fumes that deposit in the ductwork. Use exhaust fans with dedicated vent ducts in these locations to lower humidity and convey smoke and fumes completely out of the house.
For more advice on preventing dirty ductwork or to schedule a professional inspection to evaluate the condition of your ducts, in Nashville, GA and surrounding areas contact Ray & Son Heating & Air Conditioning.
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