Keeping indoor air clean is critical to maintaining a healthy environment. The inner workings of a building’s operating system is often a mystery to the untrained person or board member. Since it’s easier to determine the cleanliness of common rooms such as garbage and recycling areas, more attention is often paid to keeping these shared spaces sanitary. However, there are no federal or state guidelines that require a building to have its air ducts cleaned, for example, and these systems often need attention because danger could be brewing from within.
“Dirt accumulation is very common in homes and buildings. This dirt and debris enters the ductwork through the return registers. Some of this dirt is captured in the filters located in the HVAC unit,” says Tim Bray, owner of the Hammonton-based Air-Vent Duct Cleaning, Inc. “Depending on the type of filtration and the frequency in which it is cleaned or changed, some of the dirt and debris can travel past the filtration system and ultimately end up back in the conditioned space.”
A recent Harvard study showed that 100 percent of homes tested for indoor air pollution had at least one air quality concern—and most had more than one. The following facts are not pleasant, but they underscore the potential health issues associated with poor indoor air quality. For example, it’s estimated that there can be as many as 42,000 dust mites living in every ounce of dust. On average, dust mites leave fecal droppings about 20 times a day. Add mold spores, pet dander and cigarette smoke to the environment and allergens increase exponentially.
“Indoor air is very different than outdoor air,” says Kristy Lee, technical director of Rockville, Maryland-based Indoor Environment Communications. “Indoor air is not circulating or being refreshed so if there is any kind of problem in a building such as mold or dust or anything like that it becomes an irritant, gets worse and keeps getting circulated throughout the building.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that there is not enough knowledge currently to determine whether or not air duct cleaning actually prevents health problems. Additionally, studies have not conclusively demonstrated that particle levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. However, the EPA does state that “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.”