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Hire a certified company
to clean out the air ducts
Dear Glenn: I am considering hiring an air duct cleaning service to clean my home ducts as well as rid my basement of some minor mold. I have been researching local companies as well as a few franchise companies who say they can complete the work. Do you have a preference as to who would be more reliable and cost-efficient to do the work? Thank you and best regards.
Carl, via e-mail
Dear Carl: I have many reliable duct cleaning companies listed on my help site, www.masterhandyman.com, under the Duct Cleaners category. If you don't have Internet access, here are some of their names and phone numbers: Dalton Environmental, (877) 325-8667, www.daltonenvironmentalcleaning.com; Dusty Ducts, (877) 381-7801, www.dustyducks.com; and Safety King, (800) 247-3828, www.safetyking.com. They are all certified by the National Association of Air Duct Cleaners (NADCA), www.nadca.com.
News to use
Bask in the warmth of low heat bills
By CHRISTY STRAWSER
SPECIAL TO THE FREE PRESS
Simple steps can help lower your home heating bills this fall and winter.
Start off by buying a programmable thermostat. It will allow you to drop the temperature when you’re asleep or away and boost it shortly before you wake up or come home. They are available at any hardware store. Prices start in the $30 range.
“The beauty is that you program it so you’re not wasting energy and set it so the temperature is always comfortable,” said Debra Dodd, a spokeswoman for Consumers Energy.
Programmable thermostats generally cut 20% off a home heating bill, according to Consumers Energy.
Set the temperature at 58 degrees if you’ll be away or asleep under the covers and 68 degrees the rest of the time.
WEAR A SWEATER: You save 2% to 3% on your heating bill for every degree you lower the temperature. Don’t set it at 72 degrees if a sweater is all you need to be comfortable at 68 degrees.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH CAULK:
Air leaks are the enemy, so look around door and window frames for light and feel for air. If you can see even a sliver of daylight where the frame meets the house, seal it with caulk.
“I recommend 100% silicone caulk, it’s flexible, waterproof, shrinkproof,” said Spike Carlsen, an author and home expert in Minnesota.
REPLACE YOUR FURNACE FILTER: Furnaces use less energy if they’re moving air through a clean filter. It’s the same concept with air ducts; a clean airway makes the furnace work less hard. (emphasis ours)
GET CHECKED: Have your heating system inspected by a professional. A perfectly tuned furnace uses up to 2% less energy than one in need of maintenance, according to Consumers Energy.
TURN ON YOUR CEILING FAN:
The fan pushes warm air down into the room if operated in a clockwise direction.
Set it to move slowly so as not to create a noticeable breeze.
GET HELP: Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you’re out of work or having a hard time paying the bills. Consumers Energy offers shut-off protection plans for low-income families and seniors, plus budget plans to spread payments over the year. Details: 800-477-5050.
“If you get your heating bill and you don’t think you can pay it, call us immediately — we will work with you,” Dodd said. “If you wait for a shut-off notice, it’s much more difficult.”
The state is offering an energy assistance program for low-income people in a heating emergency. To ask for relief, visit the Department of Human Services Web site at michigan.gov/dhs or call 517-373-2035.
The US Department of Energy maintains a website for consumers containing information on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies (www.eere.energy.gov). One of the documents available for download from the site is entitled, Actions You Can Take To Reduce Cooling Costs. Among other things this document describes the importance of keeping air conditioning coils clean to maximize the efficiency of the system and the longevity of the equipment.
Page 3 of the document reads in part:
Opportunity 3: Inspect and Clean Evaporator and Condenser Coils
A dirty evaporator coil or condenser coil will reduce cooling capacity and degrade equipment energy efficiency.
A clogged evaporator coil reduces air flow through the coil, thus causing the compressor motor
to consume more energy. Exposed to unfiltered outdoor air, condenser coils easily trap dust and debris, which raises the condensing temperature and reduces the cooling capacity. A Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) study showed that a dirty condenser coil can increase compressor energy consumption by 30 percent [emphasis ours]. Solution: Visually inspect the evaporator and condenser coils at least once a year for clean air-side passage. Replacing filters on a regular basis will keep the evaporator coil fairly clean. Remove the dirt from coils by washing and vacuuming them. To ensure that the coils are not damaged by the high-pressure spray wash, an experienced cleaning crew should be used.
We downloaded the document from the DOE site at this address, which you can copy and paste into your browser: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/pdfs/om_cooling.pdf
To download the document directly from our site, click on this link: Reduce Cooling Costs.
This study, published by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) also documents the importance of keeping air conditioning coils clean to maximize efficiency and extend equipment life.
Page 3 of the document reads in part:
Clean Evaporator and Condenser Coils
Dirt on evaporator coils reduces system air flow and directly degrades the coil's heat transfer efficiency, significantly cutting cooling capacity. With good filtration, the unit's evaporator coil will stay fairly clean. The evaporator coil should be inspected at least once a year to make sure the filters are doing their job. The condenser coil, exposed to unfiltered outdoor air, suffers much greater degradation due to dirt. Cleaning it is one of the most cost-effective steps available. A dirty coil that raises condensing temperature from 95° to 105°F cuts cooling capacity 7 percent and increases power consumption 10 percent, with a net (compressor) efficiency reduction
of 16 percent. In a 10-ton unit operating 2,000 hours a year this wastes about $250 per year in operating
To download the document directly from our site, click on this link: Energy-Efficient Operations.
Yeah, Somebody Should do Something About That
“How can they get away with that?” “I can’t believe they are allowed to do that!”
These are familiar phrases we’ve all used at one time or another after hearing about some newly reported problem that shocks and boggles our minds and sensibilities when it comes to fairness, ethics, and morals.
Local news broadcasts seem to leave us with these reactions on a nightly basis. We continue to hear stories about things that are blatantly stupid, illegal, or just mean spirited. We see them in our daily lives. All too often our responses are just these passive and mundane utterances, with no real intended action behind them. You have probably said something like this in the last week or so.
Mike Palazzolo, operations manager for Safety King Inc., thought about this at the 2007 National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) convention, held earlier this year in Nashville, Tenn. One familiar topic surfaced at the annual meeting. It seems to pop up year after year: How do we deal with the “blow-and-go” contractors in the duct cleaning industry?
In virtually every market, it’s the same story. These companies take out huge full-page ads with published rates like $99 or less for a complete home system cleaning. Most are unlicensed, uncertified, and poorly equipped. The coupon mailers are full of these ads. Some have as many as eight or nine in a single publication.
These ads and the unscrupulous companies behind them continue to confuse and mislead. What’s worse is that many of the ads are just bait-and-switch scams that wind up with real prices of $1,200 or more for a typical, but small, 1,100-square-foot home. Betting on the ignorance of a certain segment of the public, these “cleaning services” are many times not only inferior but really nonexistent (as in the cleaning never actually happens). They are works of fiction and/or illusions.
“Even though these scams represent the worst of the worst, the public may automatically associate ‘us’ with ‘them,’ because the public lacks the information they would need to differentiate the good from the bad,” said Palazzolo. “In this way, these scams are doing damage daily not only to the public, but also to the improving reputation of the duct cleaning industry.
“Yes, a consumer could be labeled an idiot if he falls for this, but many people just assume there are laws that would protect them from this kind of activity. There are, but enforcement is another issue entirely.”
NADCA has made attempts in the past to enlist the attorneys general of various states to make contact with and prosecute these scammers. After all, consumer protection is one of the duties they are charged with in their respective states. Why is it that the requests seem to have fallen on deaf ears? In the eyes of Palazzolo, it’s possibly because they haven’t received the complaints directly from their constituents.
“Maybe they get the impression that it’s not that big of a problem, or that it’s really about competition and choices in the marketplace,” he said.” But this is a lazy response, and it overlooks the fraud that is openly taking place.”
I agree with Palazzolo. As professionals and advocates for the duct cleaning industry, NADCA members must now begin to push enforcement bodies to actually do the work they have been expecting them to do. As Palazzolo put it, “It’s time to remove the bottom feeders from our industry, or at least take an active role in exposing them and making their existence more difficult.”
There is hope. So far only the most extreme and outrageous cases have been pursued, but the results are inspiring. Last year, NADCA member Bill Benito of Connecticut Steam Cleaning was called in by a local TV news station for his expertise in a report that exposed a “blow-and-go” company that was committing fraud. With the complaint and the publicity generated, the state’s attorney general pursued a case against that company. The owner was eventually arrested and prosecuted.
This is proof that with some effort, favorable results can and do happen. If you wish to join Palazzolo’s fight, e-mail him at .
Senior Editor. E-mail him at
Breathe Easier with Clean Air Ducts:
What to Know Before You Hire the Pros
Indoor air pollution has gained visibility throughout the years, and rightly so. Contaminants in your home’s heating and cooling system can aggravate allergies, asthma, and just make you feel plain old under the weather for no apparent reason. Perhaps taking another look at those coupons you receive in the mail from companies promising to clean your air ducts at affordable rates isn’t such a bad idea after all.
If you’re thinking it might be time to utilize one of those coupons, make sure you do your homework. Understanding more about air duct cleaning and the standards by which the cleaning should be performed are crucial in obtaining the most bang for your buck -- and air quality, too.
Michael J. Palazzolo, operations manager of Safety King in Utica, recommended asking these key questions to air duct specialists you might be considering for the job:
Are they experienced specifically in air duct cleaning, and for how long?
Palazzolo cautioned that many companies claim to have 20 years of experience, but they may have been a general home cleaning company that recently adopted the service of air duct cleaning.
Are their air duct technicians certified?
Although the company may boast about holding the correct certifications, you want to make sure that each technician on staff also has his own certification. This means that the technician has undergone training that is in compliance with NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association) standards.
Does the air duct cleaning company have a license?
Michigan state law requires all air duct companies to carry a license. However, some companies, Palazzolo warned, rent or lease their licenses by putting current but inactive license holders on their payrolls. Be sure to ask if hold their own license, as oppose to renting or leasing one.
When it comes to sanitizing air ducts, are the company and its technicians licensed by the Department of Agriculture?
This is a requirement that aligns with industry standards for properly handling chemicals in homes. Make sure you ask if they’re certified, and don’t settle for less.
What type of air duct equipment are they using?
Most accredited companies should utilize truck-mounted vacuums – powerful vacuuming systems that thoroughly remove debris from your heating and cooling system.
Is the air duct cleaning company a member of any professional organizations?
Some prestigious organizations to be aware of are NADCA, the Duct Cleaners Network, and the Indoor Air Quality Association.
Palazzolo also recommended that once you decide on a company, make sure the technician shows you what he found and how he fixed it. “Any good company should walk you though their process while onsite. And if they don’t show you and explain to you just what they found, take it upon yourself to ask questions, he said.
Some companies, such as Safety King, use a patented camera system called Duct Cam, which allows technicians to take video of their clients’ air ducts before and after the cleanings, and to show clients the air ducts from the comfort of their living rooms.
No matter which air duct cleaning company you use, the important lesson to remember is to ask questions, such as what is currently lurking in your air ducts. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.
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What’s In YOUR Ductwork?
Our company name is Safety King and we are in the air duct cleaning business. We’ve been using giant power vacuum trucks to clean the air ducts in homes and businesses in southeast Michigan since 1969. Over these many years we’ve come across a variety of things inside ductwork. The photo below shows a tennis ball sitting in a very dirty residential air duct.
We find out quite a bit about homeowners when we take a look inside their ductwork. We can tell whether they had a real or artificial Christmas tree last year, and we can even tell what kind of tree it was. We can also say without a doubt that the most common breakfast cereal among homeowners in our market is Cheerios.
People apparently love to hide things in air ducts. We find adult magazines occasionally. We find diaries that appear to have been written by teenage girls. The photo below is not a diary, but it is a lot of printed material in a residential air duct. Along with a fair amount of assorted other junk, dust and dirt.
Sometimes the sheer amount of dust and dirt in the air ducts of a home has been eye-opening. Most residential air ducts have a layer of dust, dirt, pet hair and dead bugs (and we breathe this stuff!) that can be up to an inch or two thick if left to accumulate long enough. But sometimes, for some reason, it’s more than an inch or two. The photo below shows a residential cold air return vent with the register removed. Not much air was being returned to the furnace blower through this duct.
We have also found TWO diamond rings. Last summer we found a set of what appeared to be criminal records along with a loaded pistol wrapped up in cloth and duct tape. We’ve also retrieved used hypodermic needles, immigration papers and lots and lots of money.
The money thing is pretty amazing. We have found Pesos, Rubles, Francs, Yen, Kroner, Deutschmarks, Lira, confederate dollars, billions in Monopoly money and, once, $8000 in coins.
The list goes on, seemingly endless. My personal favorite? A brand new clarinet in the case. After we found it and returned it to the homeowner, she couldn’t wait to confront her son with the long lost instrument. She kept mumbling something about “all those payments…”
Mike Palazzolo, President
Safety King Inc.
Five Mistakes New Duct Cleaners Make
Mike Palazzolo, Utica, MI
Our company, Safety King, Inc., is Michigan’s oldest and largest air duct cleaner. It’s a pretty big operation as air duct cleaners go. We’ve got a fleet of fifteen giant power vacuum trucks and do thousands of residential air duct cleanings year in and year out. Our southeast Michigan Headquarters and Training Center
One of the reasons we are in this position presently is we’ve been doing air duct cleaning for a LONG time, since 1969 in fact. During these years we’ve had lots of time to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. We have managed to survive our mistakes and keep going and growing. An awful lot of our competitors have not been able to do that. We’ve seen scores and scores of local providers start up, run for a short while and then disappear. From our perspective, here are the five most common mistakes that cause new duct cleaners to fail.
The most common mistake the new providers make is thinking that there is no preparation required. There might have been an element of truth in that point of view thirty years ago but it certainly isn’t true any more, if it ever really was. When we started up there were maybe five providers serving the whole region. Now there are nearly three hundred. In a fiercely competitive market like ours has become, just winging it is a recipe for early failure. If you’re thinking about going into air duct cleaning you better find a reliable mentor somewhere or get some formal training so you can hit the ground running. Even then, it will be a struggle. But at least you will have a clear idea how to do the work properly, what equipment to buy, how to approach maintenance, repair and replacement, who to hire, how to advertise, how to get referrals, what to do about licensing, certification and insurance, and a lot more. When you think about it like that, it’s a miracle any of the local startups survive. Some years ago we recognized the importance of this need and we established a training center at our headquarters. We provide training in air duct cleaning and also in running an air duct cleaning business. We have trained business owners and technicians from Australia, Canada, France, Singapore, Japan, Trinidad and every state in the union. We are pleased to say that it seems to give them a huge advantage.
Another common mistake startups around us seem to make is believing that underpowered equipment is good enough. Time after time we have seen new providers advertising duct cleaning and then we discover they are using cheap, small portable vacuum units that are little more than shop vacs. Local customers have almost all seen giant power vacuum trucks (from us or other providers) operating in their neighborhoods and the comparison is obvious and devastating to the companies using this inadequate equipment. People talk to their neighbors and word gets around. Some startup duct cleaners have tried to get around this effect by bolting a portable into a van or pickup and advertising it as “truck mounted” equipment.
Others have purchased portable equipment that also features a rotating brush at the end of the vacuum hose. But people aren’t stupid and they can see the difference. Why do these providerssabotage themselves from the beginning? What they needed to do was to purchase a giant power vacuum truck, the largest and most powerful equipment available on the market, and advertise it heavily.
Other equipment is important too. A startup company has to outfit each truck with all the tools needed including brushes, whips and snakes. The technician (even if that’s the owner in the beginning) has to have a clean uniform. Jeans and Megadeth tee shirts are a bad idea. The trucks and technicians have to be clean and presentable, unlike the sad case to the right.
A third mistake startups make again and again is not providing training for their technicians and not requiring third-party certification for each of them. What they seem to forget is that this kind of work is not blind repetition of a few simple procedures. Every house is different and the technician has to be someone who can think on his feet and adapt standard procedure to fit the realities of each individual home.
We have heard this story countless times: a person is hired off the street and works with another technician for one day before being on his own the next day. To make matters worse, the technician he was with for one day received no better training than he did, so it was the blind leading the blind. This approach is simply bound to fail. We have found that it takes time for even an uncommonly bright and motivated person to learn technician work. In the technician training that we provide to air duct cleaning companies outside our local market, we give the technician-trainee six intensive, hands-on days of training, more like a boot camp. And for our own new technicians, it’s more like six weeks. And even after six weeks we don’t send a new technician out on his own. He works with a more senior and experienced technician until we’re sure he’s ready. All of our technicians are required to become certified by NADCA as Air System Cleaning Specialists within a fixed time after hiring. In addition, each of them must be certified by the state of Michigan as a Pesticide Applicator so they can do sanitizing treatments on ductwork. Both certifications require study and the passing of a test based on a published, public standard. And even with all this careful training and preparation our guys still make mistakes and have to go back and do jobs over. What do you suppose it’s like for these startups that don’t pay so much attention to training? Here’s a recent photo of me with our truly expert technician team.
One more thing on who is hired for technician work. Not only does the technician have to become expert in the procedures involved in duct cleaning, he is also the human face of the company for every single customer, and has to be a communicator. A person who is unlikely to be warm and enthusiastic around customers is a poor technician no matter how good he is with the tools of the trade.
The fourth mistake startups in our market make all the time is that they ignore licensing and insurance requirements. Each state has its own requirements, of course. But whatever they are, a startup company is better off to find out what is needed and get it done. Usually regulators and law enforcement do not go after the smaller fish in the pond. But you can’t count on that. Just one fine from the state could easily break the bank. In any event it’s a lot cheaper to get the credentials and protection the law and good sense require than it would be to be punished for ignoring them. Below is a photo of our 2007 Mechanical Contractor License, which is what my state requires air duct cleaning companies to have.
The fifth mistake that we often see is this: newer air duct cleaners often try to be all things to all people. They don’t focus just on air duct cleaning. This business has a discipline built into it. It has to be learned. Some companies in our region actually try to also provide carpet cleaning, chimney sweeping, wall washing, tile and grout cleaning, painting, upholstery cleaning, deck cleaning and so on. First of all, they are almost sure to fail to get really good at duct cleaning because their focus, their energy, and their investment is so fragmented. And secondly, trying to find a way to convince customers that they could be good at all these different things is tough. And this business is tough enough without creating new barriers you and your ads have to climb over.
The danger faced by a “we-specialize-in-everything” startup is ending up a jack of all trades, master of none. Mike Palazzolo is CEO of Safety King, Inc. in Utica, MI. He can be reached at (586) 731-4720 or