Dear Angie: I'm looking to have my air ducts cleaned, but I've seen prices vary from $99 to $800. I have not been given an explanation that I believe as the reason for the price difference. What are your thoughts on the reasons for the wide range of costs? — D.C., Landisville, Pa.
Answer: My advice is simple: Avoid those low-ball offers.
Companies offering a super-low price on air duct cleaning might do more harm and no good.
The fact of the matter is this: the average air duct cleaning for most homes costs $300 to $500, with factors like the size of the home, the number of ducts and their configuration affecting the price.
Here's the problem with those $99 specials (we've actually seen them advertised for as low as $49): What typically happens is the company offers this great price, usually in the form of a coupon, to get in the door. Once inside, they almost immediately find other problems — black mold is a common scare tactic used by unscrupulous contractors — or they try to upsell the homeowner on additional services. Those who fall prey to these ploys often pay upwards of $600, even into the thousands.
I've talked to many homeowners who have been victimized by these scams. Even the ones who don't succumb to the high-pressure techniques are frequently wronged, as these low-ball companies often use inadequate tools and equipment — like hand-held vacuums and drills — to do the work. They quickly go through the house, vacuuming out a few vents, and are gone in less than 30 minutes.
A legitimate air duct cleaning should take three to four hours to complete, according to reputable duct cleaning companies that I've spoken to.
The majority of good air duct cleaning companies use outdoor vented equipment, so all the dust and debris they capture is vented and contained outside the home. A duct cleaner who uses inferior equipment can cause more harm by agitating and releasing more dust into your home, or worse, damaging your ductwork.
If a company tells you that you have mold in your air ducts, that could be a red flag. I recommend sending that company on its way before any work is done and having a qualified mold testing firm come to your home to verify if mold is present. If so, the tester can provide that information — and a protocol for removing the mold — to a separate mold remediation firm.
Unfortunately, the air duct cleaning industry doesn't have many regulations. Most states don't have licensing requirements for air duct cleaners, so it's important to do your research and hire a company with a good reputation. According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, these states require licenses: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Texas. Other states might require them as well.
Check online reviews and ask for referrals. Ask duct cleaning companies to provide you with a written checklist of exactly what they will do, and if you hire them, ask them to verify each task as they complete it.
Qualified air duct cleaners will follow strict standards set by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association and should be happy to show you their credentials.