The IAQ Business: You vs. Bubba

by Milton Baum

Look in almost any neighborhood circular and you’ll see just as many ads for low-priced duct cleaning as you do for carpet and chimney cleaning. With so many companies advertising cheap, by-the-grille duct cleanings, is there room for quality HVAC companies to be in the indoor air quality (IAQ) business?

You bet there is! Duct cleaning is only the first part, let alone opportunity, to provide your customers with improved IAQ and comfort in their homes.

A Multi-step Process

Let’s start with duct cleaning. The only way to ensure that an air duct system is cleaned properly is to use equipment that’s designed and manufactured to do the job correctlu —not an old shop-vac, a broom, and a rag. It should be done according to the standards set forth by the National Air Duct Cleaners Association’s (NADCA) standard ACR 2002, not Billy Bob’s standards of the day.

In addition, do yourself and your customers a favor and use a video inspection system to show what the ducts look like before and after the cleaning. This way, there is no question whether or not the air duct system has been cleaned properly.

Once the air duct system and equipment are clean, install a proper high- capacity air filter to keep the air duct system as clean as possible, for as long as possible.

However, before you install that new high-capacity air filter with the restriction of a brick wall, it might be a good idea to whip out a ductulator and review the cfm of the ductwork and compare it to the blower size of the furnace.

Next, offer your customers air purification such as ultra violet (UV) lighting, which kills virtually all organic matter that passes through it.

Where should those lights go? Although they can be installed in the supply, near the coil, and in the return, the brand of light, and air temperature must be considered. When exposed to UV light, most older (and even some newer) plastic drain pans will crack and plastic electrostatic filters can be destroyed. Humidifiers housings can also crack.

In addition, what about humidity control and proper ventilation? Aren’t they essential to the total indoor air quality package? Therefore, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and energy recovery and heat recovery ventilators should all be part of your IAQ offerings.

Now, how will those brand-spanking new pieces of equipment work with a 30-year-old furnace that’s three sizes too big for the home and cycles on for only five minutes every hour? Probably not as well as they would if matched with a properly designed and sized system.

This means going back to the basics and performing a load calculation, the first and most crucial step to being in the indoor air quality business. And likely, not a task performed by bargain-basement priced duct cleaners.

Now I’m really not picking on carpet cleaners or chimney cleaners. The vast majority of these companies are hard working, honest people just like those of us in the HVAC world.

I am, and rightfully so, picking on all those companies that advertise at too- good-to-be-true-low prices for a job that they’re untrained and ill-equipped to do (and never do) for their advertised price.

Every one of these fly-by-night companies is taking money out of the pockets of trusting consumers. They’re also taking business away from the companies willing to do the job right and to charge accordingly for their services and time.

Then again, perhaps the HVAC community as a whole should say thank you to the “Bubbas of Duct Cleaning” After all, they’re responsible for increasing the number of cracked heat exchangers, cracked drain pans, water leaks, and shorted-out circuit boards. Not to mention the need for air balancing and the replacement of the occasional “accidental disposal” of an entire zoning system.

At least we get our chance to go back and remind the homeowner that cheaper doesn’t mean better. Ever. n

Milton Baum is general manager of KEIL Heating and Air Conditioning in Riverdale, NJ. He can be reached at 973/492-0096 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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