Answer Man: Is it necessary to clean the air ducts in your home?

News-DemocratFebruary 19, 2014 

Does it help to have your home's air ducts cleaned, which so many companies seem to be pushing these days? -- R.T., of Fairview Heights

After watching some of those ads, I start to fear my lungs will clog up in a couple of weeks if I don't have mine cleaned immediately -- especially since I have one very hairy cat.

But then I realize, hey, I've lived 61 reasonably healthy years in three homes whose ducts were never cleaned. Oh, I may get a cold or two each year, but I don't wake up at 3 a.m. gasping for air. I somehow seem to think that for me it may be an unnecessary expense -- and the Environmental Protection Agency agrees.

"Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems," the EPA says in its brochure "Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?"

"Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space.

"It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health."

As a result, the EPA says routine cleaning is a waste of money. However, you probably should have them cleaned if the following extreme conditions exist:

* There is substantial visible mold growth inside your ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. Ask any service provider to prove the mold exists if you have your system inspected. Don't forget, not everything that looks like mold is the real McCoy, the EPA says. Have it tested.

* Your ducts are infested with rodents, insects or other vermin. (Hopefully, not likely.)

* Ducts are actually clogged with dust or other debris.

The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) has said it agrees with all but one of the EPA findings. The industry group says ducts should be cleaned every three to five years to boost a heating-cooling system's efficiency and promote energy savings. The EPA agrees some evidence exists for this, but the entire system must be cleaned (coils, fans, etc.) not just the ducts.

Whatever you decide, research the company and make sure they follow NADCA standards. For more information, go to www.epa.gov and search for "air ducts" and www.nadca.com.

My friends and I wondered what that big hole was that they dug along U.S. 50 in the former Kmart complex in Fairview Heights. One said he thought it is was a drainage ditch but they never needed one before, so what gives?

-- Rex Shanks, of Troy

People living in Fairview Heights in the early 1960s never dreamed it would turn into the business megalopolis it is today. But its rapid growth brought a few headaches along with the increased population and revenue.

A big one was water. Rain that used to soak into lawns and farmland started to run off large expanses of asphalt and concrete parking lots, causing flooding issues.

When the original Venture store was built in 1969, developers didn't have to take extraordinary measures to control the runoffs. But in the years since, the city has passed measures to get a handle on the problem. As a result, now that they're redeveloping the center, they were required to add that "big hole" -- which is actually a detention pond for storm water.

"So the storm water is directed not only to that detention pond, but there's another smaller pond in front," said Mike Malloy, the city's director of economic development. "They catch the water and hold it for a period of time and slowly release it.

"When we have those 'frog stranglers' rainwise, they come in very handy because they really assist in not putting too much water in a pipe that can't handle it."

That particular pond is called a dry-basin detention pond because the water slowly filters into the storm sewers. Across the street at the Crossroads Center is a wet-basin pond because it simply traps the water and holds it.

Today's trivia

What tragedy usually is cited as the primary reason why female figure skaters from the U.S. won no medals at the 1964 Winter Olympics?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: If the United States wins a gold medal in hockey this year, it will continue a tradition that all U.S. gold-medal teams will have had at least one player from Warroad, Minn. (population 1,781). In 1960, it was brothers Bill and Roger Christian. In 1980, it was Bill's son Dave. And this year it would be the St. Louis Blues' T.J. Oshie, who once helped Warroad High School to the state hockey championship.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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