Cleaning Dirty Air Ducts Offers Number of Positives

You clean and clean and the dust keeps coming back, and your kids end up with allergies, asthma or breathing problems.

It could be a problem with the air in your home, and the dirty ducts that blow air through your house.

Kevin L'Herbier is the president and founder of a North Hills company called Air Duct Maintenance.

"It's the same dirt that collects in your sweeper bag that collects in duct work," L'Herbier says. "People can't believe what they have been breathing in their own environment."

L'Herbier used a fiber optic camera to show KDKA what is in the walls and in the air ducts of a typical home.

"There's quite a bit of sentiment at the bottom of the duct," he says.

In the home we picked, there was perhaps a half inch of dust settled in the bottom of the air duct. Every time the furnace or air conditioner gets turned on, that dust and dirt gets blown around your home.

"The more people, the more pets, the faster the duct work accumulates dust and dirt," said L'Herbier.

There were also countless pieces of plaster left over from the construction of the home, even though the house was built in 1970. The first piece of plaster was nearly an inch-and-a half in diameter – a significant blockage in a six-inch duct line. We also found dead centipedes.

L'Herbier says the cost for his company to clean the duct work of an average home is $500. While that sounds expensive, it is money you can quickly recoup.

"Dirty air is probably one of the biggest nemesis to people's systems in their home," says Mike Woods.

Woods is the vice president of Tudi Mechanical Systems, one of the largest HVAC companies in Pittsburgh. "It really affects the overall comfort and their health that they have in the home."

A clogged and dirty furnace filter or air cleaner will make the furnace work harder, and force the fan to spin faster. Woods estimates a clean system saves you $30 a month, not to mention the cash you keep by extending the life of your furnace.

The new energy efficient systems don't last 30 years or more like the old heating and cooling systems used to.

"Now we have to make the systems lighter, thinner, more efficient and if it's not applied correctly, all those are going to be effected and most people have trouble not getting the life span that they have purchased," said Woods.

It's not uncommon for a new furnace to cost as much as $5,000, so it's critical to keep your existing system running as long as possible.

Here's how Air Duct Maintenance cleans the ducts of a typical home: every vent cover in the house is removed, cleaned and sanitized. Filters and air cleaners are pulled from the system and cleaned as well. An extremely powerful vacuum line is then attached to the ductwork.

That is when the team of technicians use high pressure air tools to stir up the dirt which is then pulled by the power vacuum out of the home and into the hopper of a waiting truck outside.

The air tools have a variety of tips that are used depending on the size and shape of the duct. After the ducts are cleaned, they are fogged with a sanitizer that coats the ductwork to eliminate smells from things like old cigarette smoke.

You will not believe what they find inside the duct work.

"Especially new construction, we'll find a lot of McDonald's bags, pop cans, that kind of stuff, the trim work from the carpenters," says Carlos Trinidad, who has worked for Air Duct Maintenance for 11 years.

Trinidad believes the most important time to clean the ducts is right after the home is built. All the dust and debris from construction is pulled into the ducts. They have even found contractors tools left behind inside the ducts. If the ducts are not cleaned, that garbage and dirt can ruin your brand new furnace or air conditioner.

While few new homes are being built in Pittsburgh these days, older homes need to be cleaned from time to time.

L'Herbier tells KDKA, "I had a lady in Wexford say that 'I haven't had air come out of that duct since I built the house 20 years ago.' A Pepsi can [was] blocking the duct from all air flow."

L'Herbier recommends having the duct work of your home cleaned every three to five years.

Andy Amrhein, owner of Evey True Value Hardware in Bethel Park, says that may be a bit much.

"If allergies and health issues come into play, I'd definitely get it cleaned ever three to five years, but if it's not that big of an allergy issue with you, then maybe every 10 to 15 years is something that would be more than adequate," said Amrhein.

After everything is sparkling clean, all the parts are re-installed and the holes in the ducts are plugged. The result is cleaner air to breathe, a furnace that doesn't have to work as hard and a more comfortable and financially-sound home.