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, especially when compared with the potential cost of not doing so, and ideally should be carried out by a CSIA-certified company. 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.