Air duct cleaning technicians discover, as you can imagine, all sorts of strange things in the field—some dangerous, some gross, some merely annoying—but all can be learning experiences. For the tech, this learning comes in terms of increasing their troubleshooting skills and adding to their body of knowledge on how best to handle complex situations. For the customer, the lesson learned is in terms of things not to do, or things to watch out for.
A relatively frequent discovery for our techs, often to the surprise of the homeowner, is the practice of running cables (phone, internet) or cords (appliances, phone) through the air ducts, presumably because they provide an existing and fairly direct conduit that does not require drilling any new holes into walls or floors. If someone needs to run a cable, cord, or wire from one part of the house to another, and Sheetrock or flooring is in the way, well, an air duct may seem like a logical solution.
What’s the problem with running cables through air ducts?
In many cases, it was a previous homeowner who placed the cables or wires in the ducts, and for whatever reason their presence was not noted during the new home inspection, leaving the current homeowner unaware.
The fairly obvious problem with this practice is that the ducts were designed to be conduits for air—not wires. In most locations this would violate code unless very specific conditions were met. But beyond that, the running of cables and cords through air ducts could be disastrous when the ducts are cleaned, particularly if the homeowner and/or technician is unaware of their presence—and especially if a rotating brush is used during the cleaning.
What is the best way to clean air ducts with cables in them?
Now, not to endorse the practice of running cables through ducts, but there is a workaround, if the ducts need to be cleaned and the cables, for whatever reason, cannot be immediately removed: an air whip—and in the case of this particular job and the accompanying photos, specifically, the Viper Clean Sweep.
The reason? A rotary brush sweeps the ducts with a spinning motion, in a single direction, thereby catching up and twisting and mangling any cords or cables it catches, in some cases, as our techs have documented, ripping out wires that were servicing a particular area of the house, taking out appliances, etc. Because the tentacled air whip, or the Viper, works by thrashing and whipping quickly and repeatedly, each time retracting without “grabbing onto” anything, it can clean around any wires or cables without damaging them.
(Interested in learning more about the air duct cleaning process? Visit our air duct cleaning service page.)
First lesson: It’s not wise and would likely violate your local code to use the air ducts as a conduit for running cables, cords, or wires. Second lesson learned: if they are already in place and you, for whatever reason, choose not to remove them but need the ducts cleaned, steer clear of rotating brush methods and opt for an air whip cleaning.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.
Many thanks to our technician Roy S, for providing the case notes and photos for this article.