The 411 on Ductwork Maintenance
What does a homeowner need to know about Ductwork?
Ducts are the tubes that circulate air throughout your home. Collectively, the whole ducting system is usually referred to as the “ductwork”. Ducts can be made of a multitude of materials, all of which are designed to work with your heater or air conditioner to keep you comfortable. Here are some things to look for as a homeowner when you experience symptoms such as hot or cold spots, uneven airflow or excessive dust in your home.
Repair any disconnected ductwork. Disconnected ductwork is a common and very costly problem. If a supply duct has worked loose from a vent or a connecting duct, the air from your cooling system will never reach the rooms in your home. The cool air working it’s way through the ducts will spill into your home’s attic or crawl spaces and eventually leaks outside. So in effect, you’re paying to cool the outdoors. Isn’t that a waste?
In addition, if a return duct in your attic is disconnected, you’re drawing superheated attic air (up to 140°) into your system. This forces your system to work even harder at keeping you uncomfortable. To check for disconnected ductwork, examine the ducts in your basement, attic, and crawl spaces. Remember to keep safety in mind when climbing ladders or crawling in attics! Remove the vent grills in each room and make sure the ductwork is securely attached and sealed to the floor or wall. If it seems you have a room that never gets cool enough, this may be a sign of disconnected ductwork.
Check for crushed ducts. Crushed ductwork is another reason some rooms never cool. You can check your ductwork yourself by looking in the attic and crawl spaces.
You may want to have damaged sections replaced by a professional.
Seal leaks. Leaky ductwork is a common problem. As a matter of fact, about 25% of every dollar spent on cooling can be lost through leaky ducts. Examine your ductwork for cracks, splits, or bad connections. Turn on your system and feel for escaping air. Look for tell- tale black marks on the duct’s insulation, especially around the joints. These are caused by dirt collecting around air leaks. Be sure to seal leaks carefully with mastic-type sealant. Do not duct tape the ducts! Duct tape will only deteriorate over time.
If your furnace is in the garage, make sure that all possible leaks in the return air path are sealed. Otherwise, unwanted fumes can be sucked into the house through those openings. Some furnaces sit on a raised platform in the garage and extra care is needed to seal this type of return-air path. Ask a qualified contractor to check your system if you have any concerns.
Heating and cooling contractors are beginning to offer verified duct sealing services. These contractors are trained in the use of test equipment that measure the amount of leakage in ducts before and after repairs are made. This not only verifies that leaks have been repaired, but also allows the technician to find and fix hidden leaks.
Insulate ducts. Most ducts are accessible. Look for them in crawl spaces and attics. Insulate exposed portions using R-4 or higher duct wrap. If existing insulation is dirty at the duct joints, there is probably a leak. You will want to repair leaks and damage before insulating.
Duct cleaning is easy to forget about. Often times, ductwork is overlooked. Many homeowners might not even remember the last time they’ve had the ducts even looked at.
There are many advantages to having a duct and vent cleaning. For example, cleaning your ducts and vents may have health advantages. Have your ducts check if there is visible mold growth inside hard surface ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. Duct and vent cleaning might even reduce your energy bills. This will also extend the life of your home comfort system.
And lastly, be sure to check the credentials of any service provider that you allow into your home. There are many companies that go door to door offering free duct inspections and cleaning. While some of these companies are legit, some are not insured, bonded, or have the technical qualifications to do a good job.