The Environmental Protection Agency reports indoor air pollution as one of the top five risks to public health, with indoor air being two to five times as polluted as the outside air.
With increased attention being paid to the detrimental health effects of indoor mold, dust, allergies, bacteria and other contaminants, it should not be a surprise that air duct cleaning scams have proliferated in recent years.
Scams by unscrupulous air duct cleaning companies have been around for over a decade. Every year, homeowners are conned out of millions of dollars. Consumer alerts have been issued nationwide warning consumers to watch out for fraudulent companies looking to cash in on unsuspecting customers.
"Your heating and cooling system can be considered the lungs of your home, taking in air and breathing it out," said Ronald Nichols, owner of CMR Air Duct Cleaning in Raleigh, N.C.
"Generally, the cleaner the lungs, the cleaner the air is in your home. That's why it's important to get a quality HVAC cleaning done on a regular basis."
However, as Nichols pointed out, not everyone who claims to be a HVAC cleaning professional can do the job of cleaning contaminated central air handling systems correctly. "Beware of fly-by-night companies who use scare tactics," he said.
"Instead of actually cleaning a customer's HVAC system, these scam companies squeeze money out of their clients by causing them anxiety and worry. Homeowners are told they have mold and other toxic substances in their systems, claims which are most likely false and used merely to extort money."
Nichols also cautions homeowners to watch out for bait-and-switch coupons that advertise rock-bottom prices on whole-house air duct cleaning.
"These companies might come to your home for a very reasonable price, but once they are in, they either do a sub-par job or switch to much higher-costing cleaning services that often are not up to industry standards," he said.
Homeowners can help protect themselves from scams by using an air duct cleaning company that is a member of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. To ensure higher standards and ethical business practices, NADCA has created industry guidelines that reputable companies should adhere to when cleaning the heating and cooling system in a home.
Nichols said that although homeowners need to be on the lookout for scams, it is important to know that a home's air ducts should be cleaned every couple of years to reduce indoor air contaminants such as pet dander, dust and mold spores. According to NADCA, occupants in a typical six-room home will generate up to 40 pounds of dust each year through everyday living.
"A quality company will do an inspection first and recommend a complete cleaning only if necessary," said Nichols, who is certified by NADCA.
"They should be able to point out debris buildup that is visible to the human eye, such as by removing a floor register and taking a picture with a digital camera. A proper cleaning should not only involve a big hose stuck in your home's ductwork, but actual cleaning of the HVAC components as well."
Read more about indoor air quality.