Technician experience matters.
It seems like a simple job, air duct cleaning—some DIY folks even do it with a vacuum and a leaf-blower, right? The truth is, the HVAC system and its associated ductwork are complicated and diverse. Their condition and cleanliness are vital to your air quality and home comfort and therefore should not be entrusted to a novice.
An experienced tech makes judgments based on observation.
An experienced technician can quickly assess, with a visual inspection, how dirty the ducts are and even how well they were cleaned previously. This would be achieved by a brief visual inspection of the furnace, removal of the filter and peering up the return plenum, as well as a quick look inside the return vents on the main level. He'll also check to see if access holes for the tools and vacuum were cut in the appropriate places and sufficient for the configuration/extent of the home's ductwork. He'll know, based on experience, what questions to ask the homeowner to determine the appropriate level of cleaning.
A savvy tech will be able to spot an inferior duct cleaning job and appropriately counsel the homeowner. For example, our technician Dave C. points out that sometimes he enters a home to find that an access panel is too small to have accommodated an industrial vacuum and that likely an under-powered one was utilized (e.g. a shop-vac), suggesting an insufficient cleaning. Or perhaps on an expansive duct system he'll observe only a few duct plugs, suggesting that access points for the tools were not numerous enough to accomplish a thorough clean of the entirety of the system. A tech who observes the absence of an access hole in the supply line would reasonably conclude that only the returns were cleaned. Similarly, the absence of duct plugs in the ductwork in the mechanical room would suggest that the vents were merely blown out, leaving the main trunks uncleaned, and worse, the furnace and filter (rather than a vacuum) to catch the onslaught of debris. The observations of an experienced tech will help him to better educate and advise the homeowner.
An experienced tech chooses the right tool and method for the job.
Perhaps most importantly, an experienced technician will be better equipped to select the most appropriate tool and method for a particular job. Duct cleaning is not one-size-fits-all. For a straightforward residential system configuration with no air-flow issues, obstructions, or contamination, an inexperienced tech may well do a sufficient job. Throw a few curve balls, however, such as transite ducts or a system with cables running through it, and what might otherwise have been a fine result will be far inferior.
In a commercial duct cleaning setting this experience is even more critical, as these systems are vastly more complex (and costly). Commercial Project Manager Ben S. emphasizes the importance of tech experience in making sure commercial jobs run smoothly, where strict lockout-tagout policies need to be applied as well as strict adherence to OSHA procedures. A savvy commercial tech will not only ensure that all proper procedures are followed but that the most effective cleaning method for the diversity of commercial systems is utilized.
An experienced tech understands his limitations.
While a seasoned technician is adept at trouble-shooting, having a vast pool of knowledge and experience to draw from for each new experience, he also understands that sometimes more than a cleaning is needed to solve a problem.
Air-flow issues are a good example. Duct cleaners are often called upon to solve issues of insufficient air flow in a home. Sometimes these can quickly be attributed to damper issues or a clogged A-coil, but often they cannot (leaks or holes in the system are often to blame), and a repair company must be summoned.
One of our technicians, Nick M., recently went to a job in an older home in Richfield, Minnesota, where the homeowner was experiencing severe allergies and hoped an air duct cleaning would ameliorate her symptoms. Our technician quickly ruled out a sufficient cleaning based on his visual observation of the ductwork setup: 70% of the return ducts were covered in Sheetrock, preventing appropriate access (even though they had had their ducts cleaned on a previous occasion). Nick informed the homeowner he would not be able to do a proper cleaning as a result. The homeowner opted to have access cut into the Sheetrock and the duct itself, and the installation of a vent. Now they have a functioning return in their basement, as well as an appropriate access point for cleaning.
So go ahead and cut corners and costs on tasks you're not heavily invested in, or on those affecting minor systems or equipment, but trust your HVAC system only to someone who's been around the furnace a few times, or preferably, many more than that.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Air Duct Cleaning Company.