A properly installed and well-maintained duct system transports heated or cooled air from your heating and cooling equipment throughout your home. A duct system that’s not functioning at its best can cost you money in energy bills, comfort, and indoor air quality.
Sometimes an Air Upgrade won’t work, and your customer wants a more extensive duct renovation. There are many duct improvement ideas you can offer.
1. Inspect Your Ducts
Many homeowners are looking to save money and energy by lowering their heating and cooling bills. However, the efficiency of your home is only as good as its ductwork. Air leaks, blockages, and general wear and tear can reduce a system’s ability to provide comfortable and healthy air.
The first step in ensuring your ducts are in good condition is to perform a visual inspection. This can be done in the attic, basement, or wherever your ductwork is located. Make sure the HVAC system is turned on and that the registers are open so that you can feel how air moves. Start at the top and work your way down, checking each section for a number of things. Look for signs of damage like rips, holes, and damp spots (which indicate leakage). You should also look for rodent droppings, cockroach shells, and egg capsules.
Leaks are the most common issue with ductwork. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, it is estimated that more than 30% of a home’s heating and cooling costs are lost due to leaking ductwork. A duct leak can be caused by a number of issues, including faulty seals, loose connections, or corrosion. In addition to reducing energy efficiency, a duct leak can lead to mold and bacteria growth, which can be harmful to your health.
Inspecting your ducts regularly is the best way to prevent these problems. You can do a DIY inspection, using a tool that releases smoke, or you can hire a professional to use a borescope and other tools to check your ducts.
A borescope is a small camera that is used to inspect hard-to-reach spaces such as ducts in the attic or basement. A trained technician will shut down the heating and cooling unit, feed the camera into the ducts, and watch the screen to identify any problems. In addition to detecting leaks, the camera can also spot rodent droppings, mold, and other contaminants in your ducts.
Another easy way to check your ducts is to hold a stick of incense or a piece of thin paper up against each duct connection or joint, feeling for airflow as you go. A leaking area will cause the smoke or paper to move erratically, and you should mark these areas with a pencil so that you can repair them later.
2. Insulate Your Ducts
Adding insulation to your ducts is a relatively inexpensive DIY project that can save you money on heating and cooling costs. Insulation helps keep the heat (or cold) in your home, rather than leaking out into unconditioned spaces like the attic or basement. The added benefit of insulating your ducts is that it can also help prevent moisture buildup and corrosion within the duct system.
When moisture accumulates in a duct, it can cause the seals to erode, resulting in air leaking out of the system. Moisture in a duct can also promote mold growth, which not only reduces the effectiveness of your air conditioning and heating systems, but can actually cause health issues for those living in the home.
If you find that your ducts are leaking, it’s important to take steps to get them sealed and insulated as soon as possible. You can find qualified duct sealing professionals through your local energy company, HVAC service companies, or specialized testing companies. Many duct testing and servicing companies will offer to seal your ducts as part of the service or for an additional fee.
You can use foil-backed fiberglass bats or a similar type of insulation to insulate your ducts. These are available at most hardware stores in 5 feet lengths for easy installation. Before wrapping the duct with insulation, check for holes or kinks and make repairs as needed. If you’re using a reflective insulation, make sure you have an air gap between the insulation and the duct. If not, you can purchase special spacers to provide this air gap.
Once you’ve wrapped your duct with insulation, it’s time to start the taping process. Foil tape is a good choice, as it’s both durable and waterproof. Make sure you’re following all the manufacturer’s instructions for application and that you’re not over-taping or causing any gaps or holes in the duct.
When all is said and done, the extra work involved in sealing and insulating your ducts can pay off in reduced utility bills and improved air quality throughout your entire home. And if your ducts have been tested and found to be leaky, you can have a technician retest them after they’ve been repaired and sealed.
3. Replace Your Ducts
A duct system is what delivers warmed or cooled air throughout your home. A duct trunk and duct pipes connect your HVAC system to your home’s walls and each room. Typically, ducts are made of galvanized steel or aluminum. Rigid sheet metal ducts have thick, solid walls that make them durable and easy to clean. They’re also fairly affordable. If your ducts are old, damaged, or leaking, you may need to replace them.
A leaky duct can make your HVAC system work harder to cool your house. That can increase your energy bills and reduce the amount of air that reaches every room. Ducts can leak from places like unsecured joints, loose connections, and disconnected ducts. They can also leak from rusty or corroded seams and fittings, from holes in the ducts themselves, or from areas where they’re punctured by insects or rodents.
If you have a problem with your ducts, it’s important to call in an HVAC professional right away. They can assess the problem and come up with a plan to fix it. This could include cleaning your ducts, re-sealing them, or even replacing them.
While it’s possible for hands-on homeowners to repair and replace their own ductwork, it’s a complex job. Taking on this project without proper preparation can be disastrous. Start by assessing the scope of the work and making sure you have the right tools for the job. Also, consider the type of ductwork you’re working with; this will affect labor and material costs.
For example, if you’re replacing the ducts in your attic, basement, or crawlspace, it might be cheaper to use flexible plastic ducting. This type of ducting is easier to install and usually comes pre-insulated, which can save you money. However, flexible ducts are known to attract dust and can twist, tear, or break.
If you have a multi-level home, there’s a good chance you’ll have return ducts on the second floor that need to be connected to the duct system in the attic or basement. In some cases, it might be more cost effective to just replace the entire second-floor duct system.
4. Clean Your Ducts
It may seem like common sense that you should clean your air ducts regularly to ensure good indoor air quality. After all, contaminants build up over time and are circulated throughout the home when the furnace or air conditioner is turned on. This can lead to hot and cold spots, low air flow in certain rooms, and respiratory problems.
Many homeowners choose to hire professional duct cleaners, but there are many things you can do on your own that will provide the same or better results for less money. First, you will need to gather some supplies. You will need a hose attachment for your vacuum cleaner, a ladder, dust pan and brush, a screwdriver, and a replacement filter for your HVAC system. You will also need to turn off the power to your furnace and air conditioning system before you begin cleaning the ducts.
You should remove the return vent grills in your house (the ones that push air back into the room) before you start cleaning. This will prevent the dirty dust from falling onto furniture and carpets while you’re working. You should also cover any vents you’re not cleaning with paper towels.
The next step is to tap the ducts, as gently and carefully as possible. This will loosen any built-up dust and debris and make it easier to vacuum. This is especially important for crinkly Mylar ductwork, which is more susceptible to damage. You should also use a gentle touch in areas where you suspect there is mold growth, as a slapdash cleanup can actually introduce more mold spores into the air.
Once the ducts are cleaned, you can replace the vent grills. If you’re unsure whether you need to replace the air filters, check with your local air conditioning company or an expert. It’s recommended that you clean your ducts once or twice per year, or more frequently if someone in the household suffers from allergies or other breathing problems.
Some duct cleaners will recommend the application of biocides or chemical treatments to encapsulate or otherwise seal the inside of your ductwork and other equipment housings. This is a controversial practice, and we recommend that you speak with a local air conditioning expert before allowing it in your home.