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Why should air ducts be cleaned?

Studies have shown that indoor air can be 2 to 5 times MORE polluted than outside air. Most disposable filters remove about 10% of these pollutants allowing 90% to enter the air system, even during the construction of a new home. The pollutants contain dust, pollen, mold spores, animal dander and much more. These materials collect in the furnace, air conditioner and duct surfaces, just as they do on the furniture and floor surfaces. The furniture and floor are cleaned regularly but the duct surfaces are hidden from view and can only be reached by specialized duct cleaning equipment. These pollutants can migrate out into the room again, or become a food source for mold and bacteria, which can thrive in this dark comfortable environment from high humidity or moisture from the air conditioner or humidifiers. Biological growth can release mold spores or toxins into the air system.

How can mold grow in a duct system and what problems can it cause?

Mold spores require a stable temperature, a food source and moisture to live and reproduce. Dust and dirt that go through the filter are a good food source. The furnace/air conditioner is designed to maintain a comfortable temperature, and moisture is available from humid conditions in the environment, the humidifier in the furnace or the cooling coils in an air conditioner. Live molds can release spores that will trigger allergic or asthmatic reactions, sometimes severe, in about 10% of the population. Mold both living and dead can produce toxins that may cause short term allergic reactions. Long term exposures to low levels of some mold toxins can result in permanent chemical sensitivity to common compounds in the environment.

How Should the Air System Be Cleaned?

Click here to find out how an Air and Duct System should be properly cleaned.

Will a dirty air system result in higher energy costs?

Depending on the amount of contamination and its location, energy consumption could be increased. If the fan blades, evaporator coil or other control components of the system are heavily contaminated, the system may have to run much longer to cool or heat the occupied space, wasing a lot of energy.

Which parts of the air system should be cleaned?

There are 3 major parts to an air system: 1. The supply and return grills; 2. The interior surfaces of the supply and return vents; and 3. The furnace/air conditioner air handler. All 3 components must be cleaned. If only one or two of the components are cleaned, the contaminates from the 3rd component will rapidly contaminate the ones that were cleaned.

How often should I have my air ducts cleaned?

Once an air system is thoroughly cleaned, it should remain clean for 3 to 7 years if properly maintained and a high arrestance filter is installed. A standard disposable filter only stops about 10% of the airborne contaminates, allowing 90% of the dust in the room to flow back into the air system. To maintain protection against biological growth, an EPA registered biocide should be applied every 6 to 12 months by a qualified Duct Cleaning Professional.

What are the sources of air duct contamination?

All inside air was once outside air, so all of the dust, chemicals, pollen, insects and mold spores in the ouside air can be pulled into the air system. People shed millions of tiny dead skin cells every hour. Cooking smoke, household insect sprays, personal care products are also a source of pollutants. Many construction materials, carpets, wood products and plastics give off pollutants as well. During construction or remodeling activities, many types of dust are produced and find their way into the duct work. If the duct components were stored outside prior to construction, they may have collected dust, rain water and even mold before they were installed in a system.

Why should I be concerned with Indoor Air Quality?

For many years health authorities and governmental agencies have raised our awareness to the dangers of outdoor air pollution and have concentrated their efforts on finding ways to reduce pollutants generated by automobiles, factories, construction and mining.

Over the past two decades scientist have been carefully examining the indoor air environment of our offices, factories and homes and they have found this environment to be even more hazardous to our health than outdoor air.

Indoor air contaminants can originate within the building or be drawn in from outdoors. Particulate matter can come from far away places like blowing desert sands & volcanic eruptions or from nearby sources such as pollinating trees, industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, cleaning chemicals & pesticides. If these contaminant sources are not controlled, IAQ problems can arise.

What is Indoor Air Quality?

  • A healthy indoor environment is one in which the surroundings contribute to productivity, comfort and a sense of health and well being.

The qualities of good indoor air include:

  • Introduction and distribution of adequate ventilation air.
  • Control of airborne contaminants.
  • Maintenance of acceptable temperature and relative humidity.

Poor indoor air quality can cause problems and have serious consequences such as:

  • Increasing health problems such as cough, eye irritation, headache, and allergic reactions.
  • Reduced productivity due to discomfort & stress and increased absenteeism.
  • Accelerated deterioration of furnishings and equipment.
  • Strained relations between employees and employers or household inhabitants.

How your office can make you sick!

When grouped together in a poorly ventilated area, office machines, furnishings and even the seemingly innocent supplies in your desk drawer can emit a combination of pollutants strong enough to make your head ache, eyes water and throat itch. Here are some prime office offenders and their possible effects:

  • Copying machines and electrical equipment
  • Cleaning supplies such as floor wax, carpet deodorizers and air fresheners
  • Cigarette smoke, new carpeting & furnishings, insulation and window coverings
  • Poorly maintained heating and cooling systems
  • Microbes such as mold and fungi

Prolonged exposure to dirty air can needlessly plague workers with skin irritations, respiratory problems and other chronic ailments. Radon or asbestos entering through cracked foundations or broken ceiling tiles can lead to cancer and other life threatening diseases.

Is my building making me sick?

The extent of sick-building syndrome and the degree to which offices are affected can be difficult to pin down. Doctors haven't determined what concentration of office pollutants is necessary to cause illness or exactly how they make people sick. Symptoms such as headaches, weariness, nausea, malaise, sneezing, wheezing and rashes may be brought on by chemicals in cleaning supplies, insecticides, and even high concentrations of molds & bacteria caused by standing water or they could simply be signs of flu, allergies or depression.

More frequently the victims make the connection between workplace illnesses themselves, following a gradual accumulation of evidence and doctor bills. Once workers establish a possible link it may take several months of complaining before administrators acknowledge that there may indeed be a problem. Many workers worry that they will be branded troublemakers for pushing the clean air issue and feel that company management will think it's just a lot of hysterics.

What can I do?

In most cases where indoor air quality is suspected of causing worker's health related problems management is often turned around by hard evidence. The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health in Boston suggests polling your colleagues to get an idea of how many have similar complaints. Naturally, there will always be a few people unhappy about their work environment. But if you start getting 30, 40 or 50 percent of the people who work in the same area having problems, then you have an unusual situation. A doctor's diagnosis will bolster your case, as will daily logs kept by everyone who has symptoms.

Indoor air quality in a large building is the product of multiple influences, and attempts to bring problems under control do not always produce the expected result. Some indoor air quality problems are complex and may require the assistance of outside professionals. In-house investigations by non-professionals are not recommended in most cases.