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Check the Ducts in Your Home

Many people dream of finding hidden treasures in their new home. I even had some friends whose parents found silverware in a concealed barn safe that actually more than repaid the cost of their home purchase. Very few buyers are so lucky.

One place you are unlikely to find anything valuable is in the air ducts of a home. Combs, Cheerios, toy soldiers and far worse, but nothing of monetary value greater than pennies is the norm, along with lots of dust.

If you are considering buying a home with forced hot air heat or central air conditioning, air ducts are a certainty. They come in two shapes, round or rectangular. They may snake hidden through walls and floors: the supply ducts bring hot or cold air from the central unit to the individual rooms; the return ducts bring house air back to the central unit for heating or cooling. Ducts are usually only visible in the basement or attic. In older homes, the ducts are mostly metal; in newer homes the ducts are a mixture of metal and flexible, insulated plastic hose. As you may imagine, thorough duct cleaning is not an easy task. Somewhere between the return and the supply, usually just in front of the blower, is a filter that must be replaced regularly which is supposed to, but rarely does clean the air.

Make it a habit to check the listing sheet to see the type of heating system that exists in the homes at which you look. Ask the broker to show you an air register if you don't know what one looks like. Look inside several, preferably with a flashlight. If you see a thick mat of debris, count on spending several hundred dollars to have the ducts professionally cleaned. Be sure to check at a return grille, because these draw in dusty house air and are usually the dirtiest.

Blowers, filters and air conditioning coils can become dirty in any type of ventilation system, so "duct cleaning" should really include all components of the system with which the circulated air comes in contact. This work must be done professionally. Only hire a contractor who will uses brushes along with vacuuming; vacuuming only in combination with compressed air to dislodge dust is inadequate. Avoid low cost, advertised specials. A thorough, professional cleaning takes several hours. If you have questions, call NADCA, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association at 202-737-2926.


By J. May

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