Read these 10 Air Quality in Buildings Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Air Quality tips and hundreds of other topics.
Did you know there is a national association that oversees duct-cleaning services? The National Air Duct Cleaners Association began in 1989. It is a non-profit association of companies involved with cleaning of central air systems. Part of the mission of this organization is to establish standards for the task at hand, a very important thing to have, especially in a society where the lawsuit is a way a of life.
There is a certification process required of any company before it can be associated with the NADCA. It is not overly complex, but the group does have standards. The official website (www.nadca.com) lists members and lets the consumer search for a certified company in the potential client's area. If you are considering using a duct cleaning service, you would do well to stick with a certified member of such an organization. If you develop a grievance of some kind with the cleaning company, you have greater recourse and an avenue to get your complaints heard, and you hire a company known to be held to specific standards and expectations of professionalism.
It's true that cleaning out your HVAC or central air system can improve air circulation and safeguard your health in cases of blowing particles, mold growth, and related issues. What isn't so true is that cleaning your ducts can give you massive, sweeping changes to your health. Both the EPA and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association warn consumers to beware any company that makes sweeping health claims over a simple cleaning of your ducts. There are plenty of examples of how cleaning your system can benefit your health; curbing obvious mold growth, blowing particles, allergens which may get blown through the system, and other issues all can affect some people more negatively than others. Compare the claims of competing duct-cleaning services and hire the company that seems to have the most common sense.
Ask any indoor air expert about mold in your central air system and they will say the same thing; mold is hazardous to your health and should be dealt with immediately. There is just one problem. Some of the buildup in vents, ductwork, and vent grills may look like mold, but is actually not! There is only one real way to tell whether the sample is actually mold; pay for a lab to test the sample and report the results. Did you know that some labs will do this for under $70? You can have this test done before paying for an expensive mold treatment. If you aren't sure, get a sample tested and hire a duct-cleaning service after you are certain what you have in your vents is actually mold or not!
If you notice lingering cooking odors in your building, weak air flow from central air vents, or excessive dirt around the vents, you most likely have an air circulation problem due to a dirty central air system. This isn't just a problem found at home; one of the symptoms of sick building syndrome--a problem in office buildings and elsewhere--is poor air flow in those buildings. Whether at home or the office, if you notice the symptoms of reduced air flow, chances are you will need a complete air duct cleaning.
If you are unsure about the cleanliness of your air system in the home or office, sometimes the best thing to do is remove the vent and have a look inside. If you notice dirt buildup on the vents or grillwork of your central air system, unscrew the grill, clean it, and have a look down the vent shaft with a flashlight.
You may be surprised to learn that what is coating your vents is "cosmetic dirt" which doesn't necessarily indicate a dirty central air system, but rather the usual accumulation of particles which gather over time. If you see blowing particles, this is a cause for concern, but if you inspect the ducts while cleaning your vent grillwork, you don't need to pay for a cleaning if you see nothing beyond the dirt you clean of the grill.
If you are considering legal action based on health issues related to sick building syndrome, there are some things you should consider before bringing the lawyers in:
1. See if you can convince the building owner, supervisor, or other responsible party to hire an inspector to independently test the air quality in the building;
2. Request maintenance on ventilation systems, and all related equipment;
3. Take photographs of mold infestations, broken or compromised HVAC or central air units;
4. See if your nearest branch of a governmental agency can step in to conduct testing, provide remediation, or other possible assistance;
5. Inquire if a change of venue or buildings is in the works, or is possible based on the "sick building" situation.
You may discover that a happy medium can be reached, but if not, you will need to carefully document all requests for help, repairs, and investigation of your sick building complaints. Assemble the most complete report possible before moving on to the next step.
Sometimes the presence of dust or dirt isn't enough to warrant a full cleaning of a home or office air conditioning system. In some cases, however, a cleaning is definitely worth the time and expense. The EPA recommends a cleaning if you see particles blown from the vent system into your home or office spaces. These visible particles can be symptoms of problems with your central air system--problems that must be fixed or you could find yourself dealing with the dirt issue once more. Have your system inspected before paying for a cleaning.
One of the energy-efficiency measures recommended by the EPA is sealing of air ducts to prevent air leaks. This is often known as a duct seal or duct sealant. When you hire a duct-cleaning service, they may recommend a different kind of duct sealant. This type is designed to coat and protect your ductwork against mold and bacteria. This is sometimes called "encapsulation" and while this may sound good, according to the EPA, there is no evidence that such a sealant actually works to protect against mold or bacteria growth in home or office ductwork. New studies are conducted in many areas, and some companies may claim that their products are "the latest thing". If your duct-cleaning service wants you to consider a duct-sealing product, ask plenty of questions and find out what potential health effects could arise from having such chemicals placed into your ventilation system. If you can't get sufficient answers your questions, avoid the duct sealing procedure.
Sick building syndrome is due in part to the nature of a "sealed" office or other building--one that is constructed with serious skimping on air circulation and ventilation. These buildings trap allergens, toxic fumes, chemicals and other health damaging particles. The EPA recommends a serious look at the "health" of any air circulation system in such a building. Is it too dirty? Leaky? An inadequate HVAC or central air system in a sealed or sick building only aggravates the indoor air quality issues. One particular problem? Rodent contamination. If you detect animal infestation of air vents, ductwork or any other part of the HVAC or central air system, you should complain immediately and request a cleaning of the central air system. Animal feces are most likely contaminating your air circulation system. This can be a serious health hazard and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Do you own a fuel burning stove, fireplace, furnace or a gas-powered dryer in your building? You should have these appliances inspected before the heating season or prior to scheduling a duct cleaning. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from these appliances should not be ignored. If you are concerned enough to consider cleaning your ducts, you should have fuel-burning appliances inspected as well for maximum peace of mind. Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer, and should be taken just as seriously as mold and bacteria issues connected to your ventilation system.