And why is it necessary?
Air duct cleaning is the process of removing dirt, debris, and contaminants from the inside of your home's ventilation system. It is accomplished using specialized tools, including a powerful vacuum to create negative pressure, and agitators and air whips to move the debris toward the vacuum for removal. Because all of the air in your home moves through the air ducts, the cleanliness of your home and your indoor air directly correlate with the cleanliness of your ducts. Additionally, when your air ducts are dirty, your furnace becomes dirty and consequently must work harder to push air through the system, sacrificing energy efficiency and increasing wear on your furnace. Having your air ducts cleaned is an important part of the maintenance of your HVAC system and your home itself.
The average cost of air duct cleaning.
The cost of the service varies so wildly that even quoting a wide price range will see some service providers fall outside of it, on either end. If we set aside the companies that promise an unrealistic "complete system cleaning" for $49, and those at the other end of the spectrum that have high overhead and thus (arguably) inflated prices, the average range for a quality cleaning would likely fall somewhere between $200 and $600. Though some of the difference in that range is due merely to the difference in pricing among companies, even within the same company the pricing can vary widely, depending on several factors.
Some factors that affect cost.
Aside from the obvious things, like the size of your home and the number of systems that need to be cleaned, there are a few less obvious factors that will contribute to how much you pay for the service. A transite system, where the ducts run under the floor rather than through the ceiling, because of the complex configuration and difficulty of access, will likely cost you more. Often the only way to effectively clean these systems is with the highest level of service, utilizing specialized tools (cable brushes or tentacled whips) inserted into each vent and connecting an industrial vacuum in multiple spots, rather than just in the trunk lines. The distance from your furnace (where most of the action happens) to the nearest available parking can also affect the cost. If your residence is several floors up, precluding the use of van-mounted equipment, the use of portable equipment may also carry an additional charge. If your main trunk lines are not accessible (for example, because of a finished basement where Sheetrock covers the ducts), this will call for a different technique and additional labor, at a higher cost. This scenario is fairly common in townhomes, where the furnace is located in a closet.
The difference among levels of service.
Duct cleaning epitomizes the expression "you get what you pay for." This is not necessarily to say that the more you pay, the better the service, but rather that it is unrealistic to expect that quality service can be had on the cheap. Companies generally offer tiers of service, with the lowest level being along the lines of a maintenance cleaning, relying solely on negative pressure and powerful air wands to accomplish the task. This level should be elected only if your air ducts are cleaned regularly. Each higher tier generally utilizes a different technique, specialized tools, and a more laborious and time-consuming process—for example, the insertion of brushes or air whips down each of the branch lines, as opposed to the use of merely high-pressured air. A higher-level cleaning will also likely include cleaning of other related components of your HVAC system—your furnace or evaporator coil, for example.
Considerations before making a decision.
It pays to have done a little bit of homework and know your basics before summoning a technician to your home to perform the service. There's lots of information out there to help the layperson understand the basics of HVAC cleaning, and even a thin foundation can help you to ask informed questions and get the most out of your service. What level of service would you recommend and why? What tools do you use and how do they work? Can you show me how dirty my ducts are before I select a service? Will I be able to see the results? Etc.
In terms of cost, air duct cleaning, when performed carefully and effectively, claims its worth in the form of a smoothly functioning HVAC system, decreased indoor air pollutants, and increased energy efficiency.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technician Ben S for lending his expertise to this article.