If you get a bad feeling about a low-priced or pushy air duct cleaner, don't hold your breath that you'll receive the best service.
When it comes to the air you breathe, you’ll do anything to ensure your family is healthy. That’s why you might be enticed by the idea of getting your air ducts professionally cleaned. While it can certainly be appropriate in some cases, you may not know how often you really need to have your air ducts cleaned. More importantly, when you do opt for an air duct cleaning, how will you know the difference between a trained expert and someone simply looking to upsell an unnecessary service?
Keep an eye out for these red flags to avoid any shady air duct cleaning practices and help ensure you’re working with the right pro for you.
Air Duct Cleaning: The Basics
Air ducts connect your heating and air conditioning system to the rest of your home. While dirt, dust, and other allergens can accumulate inside on occasion, significant build-up—enough to cause health issues—is rare.
In fact, the EPA recommends only calling in the air duct cleaners if you:
Recently discovered a rodent or insect infestation in your house
There is a visible backup of dust and dirt leaving your registers
State and local laws do not typically regulate air duct cleaners, but the National Air Duct Cleaners Associations (NADCA) offers certification and guidelines for good practices. The organization suggests having your air ducts cleaned every three to five years unless you suspect one of the issues above.
When you do call cleaners in for a thorough cleaner, expect it to be just that: thorough. The average cost of an air duct cleaning should range between $270 and $490, but up to $1,000 for large systems of complex issues.
While the vast majority of contractors are reputable, trustworthy, and highly trained pros, keep an eye out for these five red flags to separate the wheat from the chaff.
1. Mold and Dirt Warnings
Purifying your home's air is a buzzy phrase getting thrown around a lot these days. And while your home can contain allergy or asthma-inducing irritants, your air ducts are just one of the many places they could be hiding.
Untrustworthy air duct cleaners may just use scare tactics to get you to sign up for either one-time or ongoing air duct cleanings. But as the EPA noted, a professional mold inspection is necessary before hiring someone to remove said mold.
Always get a second opinion if an air duct cleaner claims to have found mold and then hands you a sky-high estimate for removing it. True professionals will expect you to go through the proper channels and double-check their work before spending the money—while scammers may push you to sign on the spot.
2. Cut Rates
That old phrase, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is," comes into play here. Illegitimate air duct cleaners love to outbid their competitors for offering "whole house duct cleaning" for $50 or $100. In some cases, these deals simply help them get in the door to upsell you for more work or do a quick and unthorough job before disappearing.
In other more sinister instances, particularly online, scams like these are a method to get your personal information. Never send a deposit, sign forms, or answer personal questions on the phone without verifying the air duct company as certified and insured. Real companies will not demand personal and financial data upfront.
3. Blow-and-Go Scams
This old scam has happened so many times that it's earned a nickname. Blow-and-go scams simply involve the company coming into your home, quickly vacuuming your vents, and hitting the road for the next house. Reputable experts should inspect all the various parts of your system, not just the vents themselves.
These scammers may also perform the bare minimum of work before alerting homeowners of the extensive and costly work they need to perform in addition to the base price. Be sure to research a company's name on the Better Business Bureau site and ask for recent customer testimonials to ensure the quality of the team's work.
Similar to blow-and-go, the infamous bait-and-switch adds unwanted services on top of what you already agreed to pay. While the advertised price may have looked like it included all your vents, the scammer may claim that the rate only covered a small part of the system. By the time the work is done, you're paying far more than originally expected. Always be sure to read the small print on flyers and ask cleaners to clarify their contracts before getting started.
You may encounter someone who "found mold" or "needed to apply a sealant or biocide" to your vents. While reputable contractors often offer biocides and sealants, the EPA has not registered either of these as necessary at this time.
Always make sure that you have a full contract in writing before the work begins and report any bait-and-switch tactics to the Better Business Bureau immediately.
5. False NADCA Membership
Scammers may go a step further by listing themselves as certified members of the NADCA. They may even celebrate their false training in their business title. Luckily, you can confirm a company's NADCA status on the organization’s website. The site includes contact information, the size of the team, and how long they've been a member of the organization.
Questions to Ask Prospective Air Duct Cleaners
Try not to let the tricksters scare you away from having your ducts cleaned at all despite these sneaky practices. If you just moved into a new house or found significant mold, dust, or pest remnants in your vents, you can easily find a highly trained pro to do the job right. Consider reaching out to more than one local air duct cleaner to compare prices and services.
Here are a few questions to ask to feel confident you're avoiding a scam:
Do you have proof of liability insurance?
What about worker's compensation insurance?
Are you a member of the NADCA?
Have you worked on my model of HVAC system before?
What is included in your contracted amount?
Can you provide local references?
Cleaning your air ducts is a great way to start fresh, especially if you recently took care of a pest problem or leak near your vents. Avoiding scammers will not only help you save time and money, but it will also allow you to connect with the true expert that you can trust for decades ahead.