Q. What is air duct cleaning?

A. The term, "air duct cleaning," generally refers to the work performed by companies that clean HVAC systems, which is a misnomer because it implies that only ductwork is cleaned. The term, "Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system cleaning," defines best what ATI does, which is the comprehensive cleaning of all existing components of a forced-air system.

Q. What's the difference?

A. We clean HVAC units as no other company does. Because these units deliver three functions (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality, even manufacturers recognize the importance of this task. Also, the EPA states: "It makes no sense to clean ductwork if air handlers are left untouched. Air ducts deliver exactly what an air handler drives, and if the ductwork is dirty, so are the air handler's guts."

Q. How do I find out if my HVAC unit actually needs cleaning?

A. All air handlers - or HVAC units - are accessible for inspection by design, so power off the unit first and then remove its front cover panels to take a look. By removing the air filter, part of the return ductwork will also become exposed. Since the blower fan is the heart of your system, it should be inspected first.

Keep in mind that when the system is on, what's in the blower is also in the air that you breathe. Also, if the blower fan is dirty, so is the rest of the system. Blower fans cannot be cleaned while in place. They must be removed and cleaned outdoors. This task alone takes one hour or so.

The evaporator, or A/C cooling coil, looks like an automobile's radiator, and it usually sits above the furnace. The dirt and water sit in there, and yet it is the most neglected of all HVAC parts. That's because periodic servicing takes soft hands and a fair amount of patience. For many HVAC maintenance contractors, patience is not worth a dime. Inspecting A/C coils in gas furnaces can be tricky. However, if the blower fan is dirty, so is the coil's inner side.

Heat pumps are far more accessible. When you remove the cover panel, the blower fan is totally exposed. Most of the coil faces the incoming airflow. Therefore, it is prone by design to not only do its own job but also the job of the air filter. Remember to pay special attention to it.

If the cooling coil is dirty, have it cleaned as soon as possible. Moistened dirt buildup on the surface is similar to hair clogging a drain. It can restrict airflow up to a point in which ice buildup may occur, blower fans choke, fan motors overheat or burn, or blower surfaces and surrounding areas are filled with mold. If this occurs, you'll know at first sight.

Q. Should licensed contractors offer options?

A. If regulations apply, then the answer is no. According to the EPA, if an HVAC system needs to be cleaned from top to bottom, no piece should be left behind. However, there are circumstances in which a licensed contractor chooses to accommodate your personal needs at a reasonable price, but not without ensuring you understand that while performing a limited task, they cannot assume liability for anything else. If no regulations apply and should you agree to the facts in advance, you may choose from two half-service options:

Air Duct Cleaning: Includes all of the ductwork, vents, and grilles, but nothing else than what distributes airflow.

Air Handler or HVAC Cleaning: Includes all of the heating and cooling machinery, but none of the ductwork.

*Until your local authorities draw the line and create a custom service, anything less than a full service is not worth the try. Regulations or not, the EPA still makes sense, and we stand by them 100%.