Dear Angie: How do I know if my air ducts need to be cleaned? — Deepika C., Bridgewater, N.J.
Dear Deepika: Your cold-air return vents will offer a clue. If they're coated with a buildup of pet hair, dust and other debris, it's time to at least consider having your ducts cleaned.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether air duct cleaning is worth the expense and trouble.
Experts tell our team that consumers should expect to pay $300 to $450 to have all ductwork in a 2,000-square-foot home cleaned.
It's also important to spend some time finding a reliable contractor to clean your ducts. Some unscrupulous companies may offer extremely low prices to get a foot in your door. Beware of any service provider who uses scare tactics and immediately tries to upsell you into having mold removed.
A bad duct-cleaning job is worse than no cleaning at all, because it can raise particles or even break part of an HVAC system. But experts say proper cleaning can boost the quality of your indoor air and may increase your HVAC unit's efficiency.
Before hiring an air duct cleaner, follow these tips, which our team gathered from highly rated service providers and consumers:
■ Hire people who are certified through the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. You want someone who has invested in appropriate equipment and training.
■ Make sure air duct cleaning isn't just an add-on service for the company.
■ Consider a cleaner who offers high-quality before-and-after photos of your ducts. Or, some highly rated cleaners might open sections of ductwork before and after the job so you can see what you're paying for.
■ Ask how the company will do the work. Reputable companies generally use a truck-mounted power vacuum, not portable vacuums. Also, thorough cleaning requires that ductwork be accessed at different points. Access points are typically a 4- to 10-inch round or square hole, patched with new sheet metal.
■ Ask for and expect to get a written guarantee.
■ Confirm that the company you hire is appropriately licensed, bonded and insured.
Consider having ducts cleaned once every two to seven years, depending on whether you and your household have severe allergies or lots of pets.