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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

What’s the best way to set up a consultation or an appointment with a HVAC technician during the COVID-19 pandemic?

To set up a safe consultation or appointment with an HVAC technician during the COVID-19 pandemic, start by comparing technicians in your area in an online search. Message or call technicians to ask whether they can perform a consultation over the phone or even over a video call. This way, they can assess the problem without increasing the risk of virus transmission by visiting your house. 

If it turns out the service is essential, you’ll need to follow CDC guidelines as well as local government guidelines to ensure everyone’s safety.

How often should you get your air ducts cleaned?

How often you should clean your air ducts depends on your situation. If you or someone in the home has asthma or is acutely allergic to certain airborne materials or pollen, regular duct cleaning may be helpful. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have an official position on the necessity of air duct cleaning unless the ducts have been contaminated by rodents, insects or mold, or you are aware of particles blowing out through the vents. The EPA recommends you have your air ducts cleaned on an as-needed basis. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) suggests having air ducts cleaned every three to five years.

Be cautious with companies that offer “whole house air duct cleaning,” urges the NADCA. The company may be using unscrupulous tactics to upsell you once they get started. Before any work begins, always clarify in writing what the job entails and what the cost will be. To protect yourself against fraud, read customer reviews and verify that your HVAC cleaning service has applicable licenses and certifications.

Do you need to clean your air ducts?

Air duct cleaning is done by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals. The pros use industrial-strength, truck-mounted vacuums and powerful brushes and hoses to clean inside the metal ducts that make up your forced air heating and cooling system. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends duct cleaning if there is “substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface ducts, ducts that are infested with vermin such as rodents or insects, or ducts that are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.”

You should also have air ducts cleaned after recent water contamination or water damage to prevent mold; after renovations or remodeling to ensure debris and dust didn’t settle in the vents and ducts; if you are having problems with allergies or asthma; or when you are moving into a newly purchased home, especially if the previous owners smoked or had pets. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends getting your air ducts cleaned every three to five years, or every two to three years in regions where homeowners use their air conditioning and heater for many months of the year, while the EPA suggests homeowners have duct cleaning done as needed.

How can I find out if an HVAC technician is considered an essential COVID-19 service provider?

Currently, governments on both the federal and local levels are updating guidelines on what qualifies as an essential service. To see whether an HVAC technician is considered an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, check your city or state’s government website. 

For federal guidelines, check CISA’s Identifying Critical Infrastructure During COVID-19 page, which identifies 16 critical infrastructure sectors during the crisis. But note that not all jurisdictions follow CISA’s definitions of critical infrastructure.

Are there ways to be safe if I hire an HVAC technician when social distancing?

If you decide to hire a technician for an HVAC repair or installation project, practice current social distancing guidelines. This may require remaining outside while the technician works or ensuring the technician can work in a sectioned-off area or outbuilding.

Comply with social distancing guidelines while the technician is performing work. Do not make physical contact with technicians, maintain at least 6 feet of distance between you at all times, sanitize all involved spaces and surface and pay using a digital platform instead of cash or a check.

How much does it cost to have your air ducts cleaned?

If you’re concerned about dust, allergens or mold, it may be time to have your air ducts cleaned. The national average cost for air duct cleaning ranges from $190 to $250. Air duct cleaning costs will vary based on a number of factors such as your location in the country, the age and condition of your air ducts, the number of linear feet to be cleaned, and any repairs your ducts may need. HVAC cleaning companies should clearly outline what is included in their services and at what rate, so always make sure you understand and have a written agreement before work begins. Here are some examples of average air duct cleaning costs:

  • Tiered pricing for different levels of service:
    • Standard cleaning: $100, which may include truck-mounted industrial vacuums, high-pressure air wands and air snakes to clean all supply and return vents, branch lines, and main trunk lines.
    • Advanced cleaning: $200, which may include standard cleaning services, plus rotobrush or viper clean sweep in the main trunk lines.
    • Ultimate cleaning: $400, which may include advanced cleaning, plus insertion of a viper microline into all vents to force debris down the branch lines and into the main trunk lines, to be handled by the viper clean sweep. Typically, all ductwork surface is contacted, before-and-after photos are provided, and the furnace is cleaned.
  • A flat rate for unlimited vents: $289.
  • Additional fees for larger houses: $20 for each additional 500 square feet over 2,500.

How long does it take to get your ducts cleaned?

The amount of time air duct cleaning takes can depend on how extensive your duct system is, how old your air ducts are, and whether they have ever been cleaned. On average, expect a standard size home (between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet) to take 2-5 hours for one to two technicians to clean. Here are the proper protocol and equipment you should expect from a professional duct cleaning service, as recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • All doors and access ports opened to ensure the entire duct system is inspected and cleaned.
  • Thorough system inspection prior to cleaning to identify possible asbestos-containing materials. If asbestos is present, specially trained and equipped contractors must do the removal.
  • Use of approved vacuum equipment that exhausts particles outside of your house. If the vacuum exhausts inside your home, it must be HEPA equipment.
  • Furnishings and carpet covered and protected.
  • Soft-bristled brushes only on fiberglass duct board and sheet metal ducts internally lined with fiberglass.
  • Ductwork properly protected.
  • Adherence to guidelines and practices set down by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association.

How much does it cost to have someone clean your dryer vent?

The national average dryer vent cleaning costs range from $190 to $260. Dryer vent or duct cleaning costs can vary based on where you live in the country and what ductwork repairs may be required. Duct cleaning pros will use a brush cleaning method, a forced air vacuum, or a combination of the two to remove lint and other debris that can collect in your dryer duct, lint trap housing and vent. If left unchecked, this buildup of highly flammable debris can catch fire and lead to a home fire, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition to home safety, a great reason for regular cleaning is the money you’ll likely save on energy bills and improved indoor air quality. Pros may offer a lower rate on their dryer duct cleaning costs when you also hire them to clean your entire HVAC duct system. To ensure you’re working with a pro who will keep your home as safe as possible, read their reviews and check whether they have been certified by a reputable organization such as the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) or the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). Many duct cleaning pros will also show you before-and-after photos as proof of the cleaning.

Can I use digital payments to pay for central air conditioning services?

The use of digital payment platforms -- like Google Pay, PayPal, Zelle, Venmo and Square Cash -- is common among air conditioning technicians. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is improving the adoption of these platforms as a means of helping social distancing.

As you compare local air conditioning technicians online, contact them to see if they’ll accept digital payments. Also, discuss strategies for completing the job while complying with safety guidelines for reducing the risk of exposure.

What does a new furnace cost?

Heating typically constitutes 42 percent of a homeowner’s utility bill, according to Energy.gov. If your heating bills are through the roof, it might be time to compare what you’re spending on utility bills to the cost of a new furnace. A new furnace can cost between $1,000 and $2,700 for standard big-box forced-air furnaces, and more than $10,000 for advanced technology or high-end brands.

With a new furnace you could lower your total energy bill by 30 percent while also reducing your carbon footprint. To achieve these savings, Energy.gov recommends combining proper equipment maintenance, insulation, air sealing, strategic thermostat settings, and — of course — energy-efficient HVAC equipment. The furnace cost you’re facing may seem large upfront, but should save you money in the long term with improved home heating at a lower cost. Furnace cost is dictated by brand, efficiency, technology and the British thermal units (BTUs) needed to heat your home. AFUE is another important acronym. It’s short for annual fuel utilization efficiency, and it represents what percentage of the fuel becomes heat for the home. Energy.gov explains that an AFUE of 90 percent means 90 percent of the energy in the fuel is used to heat the home, and the other 10 percent escapes.

 

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