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The benefits of cleaning your air ducts.
The benefits of air duct cleaning run the gamut from health-related to financial. Your furnace and ductwork serve as your home's respiratory system, pulling air from inside your home through the return ducts, where the air moves through the air filter into the furnace to be heated before passing through the supply ducts and back into your living space. Dust, pet fur, debris, pathogens, allergens, chemicals, dust mites—all of these contaminants become trapped inside your air ducts over time, and as the air moves through the system, it passes through these dirty ducts, redistributing the dirt throughout your home or simply depositing it in the ducts where it builds up over time. Air duct cleaning can dramatically reduce the number of contaminants present in your home's indoor air.
*Photo taken in the field by our very own technician. Notice the amount fur built up in the air duct system.
Cleaning the air ducts in your home increases air flow within the system, helping to improve the efficiency of the HVAC system by distributing air throughout the house more quickly and with less effort. Regular cleaning of the air ducts also minimizes dust and debris entering the furnace, thereby helping to prevent clogging of the unit.
Curious about the air duct cleaning services we offer with straightforward pricing?
Air Duct Cleaning: Recommended Frequency
Air duct cleaning is typically recommended every one to three years. Some reasons to clean more frequently include pets in the home, occupants who have allergies or asthma, and remodeling or construction work. The latter especially causes large amounts of dust and debris to be generated, which can clog up HVAC system parts—reducing system efficiency and decreasing indoor air quality. You'd be surprised by the things we find inside air ducts!
If you are not sure whether an air duct cleaning is needed, have a look at some of the visible components of the system—the register covers and the vents just behind them, and your furnace itself. If a fair amount of dust is visibly present, it's fair to assume there's a similar amount inside the ducts themselves. When in doubt, you can sign up for the lowest level of service (Standard), and the technician can perform an assessment before work begins.
Curious about the air duct cleaning services we offer with straightforward pricing?
*Photo shows results of our Ultimate Air Duct Cleaning.
The cleaning of air ducts is accomplished with the use of a variety of tools:
Because of the multitude of HVAC configurations and various scenarios that present themselves during an air duct cleaning service, technician experience can play a key role in the quality of service delivered. An experienced tech can gauge the quality of any previous duct cleaning work, appropriately assess the current level of cleaning needed, and successfully troubleshoot difficult jobs.
Interested in the basics of residential air duct cleaning?
Having trouble deciding which process is best for your home? Visit our blog article: Which Level of Air Duct Cleaning Should I Choose?
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Spring has finally arrived in Minnesota! Your HVAC system has been working hard for the last 6 months, keeping you comfortable and safe—even through the polar vortex. If you didn't get to it in the fall—and let's face it, a lot of us didn't—now's the time to give it the cleaning it deserves
Your furnace is one of the most valuable and hardworking appliances in your home. Its work doesn't stop once winter comes to a close. Instead, it's called into service again all summer long, to distribute throughout your home the air that your evaporator coil (A-coil) cools with the help of the outside condenser. If the inner components of your furnace are dirty, your furnace will have to work harder and use more energy to distribute air. Dust on the fan blades, for example, will put more stress on the motor and decrease efficiency. Having relied on your furnace all winter, before summoning it into service again for the summer, show it some gratitude by having your furnace cleaned and checked.
Air Duct Cleaning
During the long Minnesota winter, your air ducts were hard at work circulating warmed air throughout your closed-up home. Over time, household dust and debris accumulate inside the air ducts. Left uncleaned, this accumulation of debris continues to build up and is eventually blown back into your living space, polluting your indoor air. The buildup additionally settles in the components of your furnace and evaporator coil, hindering their performance and decreasing air flow. To rid your system of these indoor pollutants, have your air ducts cleaned of all of the debris within, to improve indoor air quality and increase system efficiency.
Chimney sweeping is recommended after approximately every 50 fires. If you didn't have your chimney cleaned in the fall, consider having it swept this spring in order to avoid the danger of excessive creosote buildup. An advantage of having it cleaned in the spring is that this is the slow season for this service; many homeowners don't start thinking about chimney sweeping till fall, by which time chimney sweeps are harder to come by and sometimes more pricey--especially during the pre-holiday rush from mid-October to late December. Also, your chimney sweep will often need to climb your roof to do a thorough job. Wait until fall and you'll risk having to postpone the service if snow falls early and your roof is too risky to climb.
Dryer Vent Cleaning
Dryer lint is an extreme fire hazard, and regular and thorough removal of lint buildup inside the vent is critical to home fire safety. Additionally, wildlife often seek the warmth of this deceptively cozy environment, potentially causing dangerous blockages. Consider having your dryer vent cleaned when you clean the various components of your HVAC system. Having the service performed in the spring is especially good timing if your dryer vents onto the roof, which is often dangerous to climb in the fall and winter seasons.
AC Tuneup & Cleaning
While your furnace is working inside to distribute air, your outside condenser is circulating coolant through the furnace's A-coil and expelling heat outside. The condenser fins on the unit, over time, become clogged with debris, including dirt, dead leaves, and all manner of fluffy-floaty plant progeny (dandelion seeds come to mind) that sail through the air and get sucked in by the fan. When the central fan draws air in through fins that are clogged with debris, the air conditioning unit suffers from reduced efficiency and is more subject to breakdowns. Additionally, the debris hinders air flow and can cause the unit to not cool properly (as can low refrigerant levels).
Want to learn more about our HVAC services? Our service pages contain detailed descriptions about the processes and tools each service entails.
Commercial dryer vent cleaning refers to the service when it pertains to businesses, such as salons, spas, and laundromats, or to multi-unit dwellings such as apartments or assisted-living facilities. Commercial services are typically more complex than residential, due to longer or multiple dryer vent lines serving a larger community than the shorter, individual vent line serving a single-family residence.
Why do commercial dryer vents need to be cleaned?
As with residential dryer vents, often the first indication that a commercial dryer vent needs to be cleaned is when the dryer stops drying efficiently. Residents or employees will complain that it takes a long time for the machine to dry laundry, and a maintenance supervisor will summon a dryer vent cleaning company (or sometimes they'll assume the machine is broken and mistakenly call a repair company). Such was the case for the below dryer vent, belonging to a spa in Edina, Minnesota. One glance at the photo below reveals why the dryer in question was losing efficiency: the exhaust was completely choked with lint, obstructing air flow.
This particular dryer vent line was over 100 feet long, initially running vertically for 10 feet, then making a 90-degree turn (and another) to run horizontally for over 100 feet, and finally making a last 90-degree turn to run another 10 feet vertically toward a booster fan before ending at the outside exhaust point. With all those turns and the extremely long run, it was no surprise to our commercial techs that the vent line needed a good cleaning from all of the built-up lint.
The "bird screen" pictured above is designed with holes large enough to allow for the escape of lint but small enough to prevent the entry of nesting birds. This one became severely choked with lint, not only decreasing efficiency but creating an extreme fire hazard. Before work began on this job, this screen was removed and thoroughly cleaned.
How are commercial dryer vent lines cleaned?
The process for commercial dryer vent cleaning will vary for each site, and an experienced commercial tech will fully assess the situation and lay out a detailed plan that utilizes the most appropriate tools and methods for the configuration of the vent line.
Because of the configuration of this particular dryer vent line, the commercial techs who planned the job had to do things a bit differently than a typical job. Since dryer vent cleaning air hoses (to which the cleaning tool is attached) are not generally utilized in lengths beyond 50 feet, this vent line would have to be partially disassembled in order to be effectively cleaned. Additionally, though the tools used (typically a skipper ball) have little trouble propelling themselves around 90-degree turns in vent lines, asking them to negotiate more than two of these turns is unrealistic.
To start, the technicians removed the first elbow and tested for air flow with the dryer running, which, not surprisingly, was poor. Then, after reconnecting this elbow and beginning from the portion of the vent line that immediately exits the dryer, they inserted a forward-blowing spinning skipper ball. This tool, when engaged, has a head that simultaneously spins and also thrusts air out from tiny holes on its surface, which propels the lint forward in the vent line, toward the exhaust point.
Proceeding with the tool in this manner, 25 feet at a time, the technicians would disassemble a portion of the vent line, insert the forward skipper and let it push the lint forward, with the help of the rooftop exhaust fan. Then they would disassemble a portion farther down the line, insert the skipper to repeat the process, then reassemble. In this manner the entire length of the vent line was cleaned and reassembled. The final step was to shut the power off to the fan and clean the fan blades, and then reattach the cleaned bird screen.
As you can see from the above photo after the job was complete, their efforts paid off, ridding the spa's dryer vent of a huge amount of combustible lint.
How often should commercial dryer vents be cleaned?
Dryer vents belonging to spas and salons will need to be cleaned more frequently than residential dryer vents for several reasons. The dryers at these establishments are often in use 8 hours a day all week long, as opposed to those in the home of a family of 4 who may use the dryer several times a week at most. Additionally, towels tend to create more lint than other laundry items, thereby building up in the vent line faster. Salons and spas also end up with a lot of hair in the vent lines, by nature of the work they do, which exacerbates clogs. And finally, commercial vent lines tend to be much longer than those of residential dryer vents, leading to more buildup. It's unclear exactly why, but short dryer vent runs have much less potential for lint buildup. The answer may have something to do with the inability of the dryer to produce enough air to propel lint 100 feet out the exhaust point, though doing so 5 to 10 feet is an easy feat.
Several of our commercial dryer vent cleaning clients that are in the salon or spa business have set up quarterly dryer vent cleanings. If you're a business owner and are unsure how often you should have yours cleaned, most HVAC cleaning companies offer free estimates for commercial work, providing an opportunity for you to have the system evaluated and a quote generated. If you are present during the estimate, you can ask questions of the project estimator to gain knowledge of the specific needs of your business's unique dryer vent system.
Wanna dig deeper? Our commercial dryer vent cleaning page contains detailed descriptions, before and after photos, and videos of our commercial dryer vent cleaning processes.
View Commercial Dryer Vent Cleaning Page
Many thanks to our commercial project manager Ben S for lending his expertise to this article.
Regular chimney sweeping and inspection is essential to maintaining the integrity of your chimney structure, preventing costly repairs by catching any issues early, and protecting your family and home from the risk of a chimney fire. An annual chimney sweep is quite affordable. Here's why you should do it regularly.
1. To avoid level 3 creosote buildup.
Creosote is a black, often tar-like substance that forms as a byproduct of burning wood. It clings to the inside of the chimney and accumulates over time to become a fire hazard. (It can also create a musty, smoky odor, which tends to become more pronounced in the summer months when humidity is high.) The very presence of creosote in your chimney encourages more buildup, as air flow becomes restricted, reducing draft and allowing less oxygen to the firebox, resulting in a fire that does not burn as hot—a condition that facilitates creosote buildup. The buildup is designated level 1, 2, or 3 to indicate its severity. Simply speaking, level 1 creosote resembles a powdery soot and is fairly easily removed. Level 2 tends toward hard black flakes. Level 3 creosote buildup is a thick, glazed-on tar that coats the inside of the flue and is very difficult (and costly) to remove. Regular chimney cleaning will help to rid your chimney of dangerous (and stinky) creosote before it reaches level 3 severity.
2. To check for a chimney cap.
Most chimney cleaning companies will check for the presence of a chimney cap during a cleaning or inspection and recommend one if it is absent, as the benefits to having a cap are plenty. Chimney caps that include wire mesh prevent animals from nesting inside and creating obstructions. A cap also prevents rainwater and snow from entering the chimney and causing damage to both the chimney and potentially the interior of your home. If a chimney cap is noted during an inspection, the technician will make sure it is in good condition, the correct size, and securely placed, and that its mesh screen is free from blockage by leaves, creosote, soot, and other debris.
3. To clear blockages.
Even if you don’t use your chimney, blockages can still occur as a result of tree growth, fallen leaves—and especially nests. Animals and insects are often attracted to the warmth of the chimney and build nests inside, clogging the flue with lots of combustible debris and creating a fire hazard. If the chimney’s inhabitants become trapped and die, their rotting remains create a foul smell as well as a health hazard and should be cleared as soon as possible. A yearly cleaning will ensure that any blockages are thoroughly removed.
4. To look for signs of damage or disrepair.
Even if your chimney does not require cleaning, it should at least be inspected yearly. Freeze-and-thaw cycles cause even an unused chimney to deteriorate over time. During a basic cleaning or inspection the technician will look for any evidence of damage or wear that should be addressed, such as cracks in the flue or firebox, crumbling mortar, etc. (In some extreme cases, the mere act of the technician sending his brush up the chimney results in falling mortar, a clear indication of a compromised flue in need of repair.) From the rooftop, the technician will look for fissures in the chimney crown and flue tiles, as well as spalling brick or crumbling mortar. In many cases any damage noted will be documented with photos. It’s important to remember that the longer any disrepair goes unaddressed, the more expensive the eventual repair will likely be, so it pays to stay on top of this.
5. To check the condition of other flues (water heater, furnace, etc.)
Keep in mind that your fireplace chimney is not the only flue in your home, and the others—including any furnace, boiler, or water heater flues—should be cleaned regularly as well. Blockages in these flues can result in dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and contribute to the deterioration of the flue lining. A compromised flue lining can result in gases leaking into the house or even damage to the flue itself. Many companies offer some kind of multiple services discount, so you can save money by having all your flues cleaned and checked at the same time.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Chimney Cleaning Company.
It’s a fair question. It stands to reason that using powerful equipment to blow and suck dirt in order to move it from inside your ducts to an industrial containment off-site might result in some residual debris or airborne dust in your house. But how much is acceptable, and how much is normal? A good tech from a reputable company should do everything they can to minimize this nuisance
Preliminary precautions to keep your home clean
The first thing any tech should do when entering your home is either remove their shoes or place booties over them to prevent depositing onto your floor whatever was on their soles. They’ll also likely lay down tarps to protect your flooring from the large vacuum hose that will run from their truck down to your furnace (unless they’re using portable equipment). Some technicians will up the meticulousness factor further by placing corner guards to protect wall corners from any potential damage.
In order to position the vacuum hose in your main trunk line, they’ll need to cut access into it, and for this task they’ll probably use tin snips. To prevent those tiny metal shavings from falling onto your floor (ouch!), there are products, such as Chipmaster, that collect the shards before they fall. Any technician not taking this simple precaution should cleanly sweep them up.
Another precaution they may take, depending on how large your home is and what level of cleaning you’ve selected, is to cover the vents with adhesive or magnetic vent covers. These aid in keeping the dust level down when each of the other vents are being serviced with the cleaning tools. The covers can also help to create extra suction power. On a smaller system (under 2500 sq ft), they may not be needed and in fact may be counterproductive because of the sheer force of the vacuum.
During the service
Most air duct cleanings work by utilizing the power of negative pressure. An industrial-strength vacuum is hooked into the trunk line near the furnace. Then, with the system under negative pressure, the technician services each vent, room by room, with various tools designed to move debris from the branch lines to the trunk, where it's captured by the vacuum.
This negative pressure is the key component to minimizing the blow-back of debris into the house: all of the force or pressure exerted by the tools is directed toward the vacuum, increasing the negative air flow. Any vent covers placed over the registers will help in this process, both by creating more suction and by preventing debris from exiting the vents that aren't being serviced.
In some cases, especially when the vents are particularly dirty, a small amount of dust from the corner of the vent will go airborne briefly in a small poof when the tool is initially engaged, usually being quickly sucked back into the system shortly thereafter.
When things go wrong
Things don't always go according to plan, of course, and sometimes despite the best intentions more dust than we'd like escapes the system and enters the living space. There are a few scenarios under which this could happen.
In some cases when additions are constructed onto houses or retrofitting has been carried out, new vents are installed too close to the existing ones, or two vents are installed on the same branch. This unconventional installation is one of the most common reasons for dust exiting the vents during a cleaning.
Excessive dust can also occur when a basic duct cleaning is performed on a system that begs for a higher-level cleaning, since large volumes of dust are present and being agitated but the tools used are insufficient to handle it all. Sometimes budget-conscious customers opt for a lower level of cleaning than needed, reasoning that a basic cleaning is better than none at all. It is arguably better to simply wait until the appropriate level of cleaning can be purchased.
Finally, a cheap, ill-fitting, or bent furnace filter could easily allow dust to bypass the filter during the cleaning of the returns, causing dust to enter the supply line and escape from the supply vents. When this occurs, it is usually quickly apparent to anyone in the house, and a diligent technician will specifically check for these things before beginning the cleaning.
In the event any of these problems occur, the technician should immediately halt work, investigate, correct the problem, and finally—clean up.
After the fact
With the proper precautions, many on the part of the tech but some (like air filter issues) on the part of the homeowner, excessive dust entering the home during routine air duct cleaning can easily be avoided. Small amounts of residual dust are normal and difficult to avoid, but large amounts of airborne debris settling onto furniture and into the carpet are not.
A diligent technician will not only take precautions to prevent the accumulation of debris inside the home but will also perform any cleanup necessary. A diligent homeowner will inform the technician if they are unsatisfied with any aspect of the job, including residual debris. The cleaning company will want to be made aware of these occurrences as well, so that they can ensure technicians receive proper or additional training in this regard, and so that they can ensure the homeowner is satisfied with the final outcome.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technicians Ben S and Roy S for lending their expertise to this article.
The process of buying or selling a home can be equal parts joyful and stressful, as the invested parties consider each element of the transaction and how important it is to the transaction as a whole. Realtors and home inspectors play a large role in this back-and-forth, weighing in on aspects they deem important for their clients. Often HVAC cleaning enters into the discussion, sometimes requested by the buyer as a condition of purchase, or performed by the seller as an incentive prior to listing. But how important is it to have HVAC systems cleaned on the transfer of property, and which party is responsible for paying for the service
On the latter question, that depends, says Carolynn Carleton, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet in Minneapolis. "Right now, it's a seller's market, so it's more difficult getting sellers to accommodate demands or conditions on the part of the buyer, since they can simply take the next offer." If it's a buyers market, on the other hand, the buyer can more easily set performance of a service as a condition of purchase. "Every transaction is unique."
Whoever pays for HVAC cleaning services, there are several that should be considered in order to ensure a smooth transaction, and to ensure the cleanliness and proper function of the various systems for the incoming party.
Air Duct Cleaning
The average person having any awareness of the detritus that lurks inside air ducts would choose to have them cleaned when taking ownership of a new property. Besides the usual gross accumulation inside, such as pet fur and dander, crumbs, and household dust, our technicians find all manner of strange items in ducts. Anything that can be dropped down a vent (or in many cases deliberately placed there) can be found within. It's wise, and common, for new homeowners to either request this service of the seller or do it themselves on move-in.
In our experience, air duct cleaning may best be left to the buyer on move-in. Our office has handled many calls from sellers looking to have their ducts cleaned either because they are getting ready to list their home and want to increase its attractiveness to a prospective buyer, or they already have a buyer and said buyer has made air duct cleaning a condition of purchase. Unfortunately, sellers on their way out often choose the lowest tier of service, which may or may not suffice for the condition of their ducts—particularly if it's been a long time since they've been cleaned.
Besides being potentially unfair to the buyer, this choice could complicate matters for both buyer and seller at closing. We've observed on occasion that after a maintenance-level duct cleaning was ordered by the seller—believed sufficient to fulfill their obligation--an inspector on final walk-through determined the air ducts to be insufficiently clean, thus delaying the closing. This is a situation no one wants to find themselves in.
Carolynn, with Coldwell Banker Burnet, represented a buyer a few years ago who was highly allergic to cats. When this client set her sights on a house whose occupants owned several, they decided to amend the purchase agreement with a stipulation that the sellers have the air ducts and carpet cleaned prior to purchase. The sellers did so and then provided the receipt to the title company prior to closing so everything would be in order. The closing went off without a hitch, but as a precaution, considering her client's allergies and the ubiquity of pet dander, Carolynn recommended her client have the process repeated on move-in, ensuring her environment was as free of allergens as it could be.
Dryer vent cleaning
Because dryer vent cleaning is critical to home fire safety, it's an HVAC cleaning task that should be performed regularly. The seller should be asked when this service was last performed, and if not within the past year, the buyer should see to it shortly after move-in (if not prior to purchase).
Examination of the dryer exhaust system falls well within the purview of home inspection and thus this system will be looked at by the buyer's inspector. They will check, among other things, that the vent line terminates outside the home, that the correct type of venting material is used, and that there is no screening over the exhaust termination (which could trap lint).
Often, however, in the course of cleaning out a dryer vent line, technicians discover hidden irregularities (behind a wall, for example) that were missed during inspection and that could cause significant damage if left unaddressed. In the photo below, for example, we observed a dryer vent that had been exhausting into a floor/ceiling cavity because of a disconnect in the vent line. (Because the visible parts of the vent line were secure—including that from the dryer into the wall behind the machine, and that seen from the exhaust vent outside the house--everything appeared to be normal.) Judging by the amount of lint observed, this condition was present for a couple years before its discovery by our technician, shortly after purchase of the home.
Because HVAC cleaning technicians usually focus on one or two systems during a service rather than the house as a whole, they can sometimes have an advantage over inspectors in discovering defects in a system. In the case of dryer vents, in the process of cleaning the vent line the technician must check for good air flow from the outside exhaust as part of making a determination that the line is clean and clear. When a disconnect is present, air flow from the outside vent will not be achieved, thus prompting the technician to investigate and troubleshoot.
No one wants to move into a home with a dirty chimney or fireplace. But even less desirable than unsightly debris in the firebox is the danger of creosote buildup on the inner walls of the chimney. Creosote forms as the byproduct of wood burning. It builds up inside the chimney over time, inhibiting draft, and, in sufficient quantities, creating a fire hazard. A thorough chimney sweep is definitely in order before use of the fireplace by new homeowners.
While it's important to remove blockages and buildup from the chimney, just as critical is having its structural integrity evaluated in the form of an inspection. Many chimney sweeps offer Level 1 inspections free with a chimney sweeping service, but the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends a Level 2 inspection on the sale or transfer of a property. This advanced level of inspection will include a video scan of the interior surfaces of the chimney, to look for cracks in the liner or flue tiles and other deficiencies.
The condition of a listed home's chimney will usually be referenced in either the Agent Remarks or the Public Remarks on the MLS listing ("chimney is functional," "chimney needs to be checked," etc) so that the buyer can make a determination as to whether its condition or how thoroughly it's been checked is acceptable to them.
Carolynn, our Minneapolis-based realtor, said that many listing agents will have the chimney checked out before the property is even listed, particularly if it hasn't been used in a long time, in order to avoid any potential liability. She generally recommends that her sellers have an inspection performed so the chimney can be deemed safe, since this can serve as a huge incentive for buyers—and by extension a huge disincentive if it hasn't been done. Many buyers will not even consider a property whose chimney has not been checked, and they themselves do not want to undertake the cost of doing so—or worse, risk purchasing the home only to find out on move-in that the chimney is in a state of disrepair. Chimney repair jobs routinely run into the thousands of dollars.
Ultimately it's up to the buyer and seller and their representatives to hash out which services are appropriate and when, as well as who will cover the cost. With all parties entering the negotiations well-informed and in good faith, the end result should be a smooth transfer of property and a safe and welcoming home environment.
Wanna dig deeper? Explore our HVAC cleaning service pages, including a detailed description of the cleaning process and tools utilized for each system.
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Many thanks to our technician Roy S. for lending his expertise to this article.