Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Do My Ducts Really Need Cleaning?
Question: Last week I found out that my mother who is a senior and lives alone in Goleta, paid over $600 having her ducts cleaned by an company in the San Fernando Valley who then almost convinced her to replace her furnace before I got involved. I’ve never heard of duct cleaning but these people were very persuasive over the phone and convinced Mom that her ducts were full of dust and mold and that cleaning them out would help her breathing. I spend a lot of time at her home and have never noticed any dust or dirt coming out of the heating vents. Is duct cleaning something that needs to be done regularly or is it a scam?
Your Handyman: Seniors are often the target of telemarketers and unscrupulous print advertising and there is almost no reason a senior in Santa Barbara should have to do business with an out of the area contractor for most any service for their home. Local contractors live or die on their reputations, Santa Barbara has many skilled contractors for most every trade or service, and a dispute with a local contractor is much more likely to be resolved to the customer’s satisfaction than a dispute with an out of the area contractor who relies on telemarketing for finding customers rather than their reputation.
Duct cleaning is a legitimate service, however it is rarely needed in most homes and according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) there is no evidence that duct cleaning as ever been shown to actually prevent health problems. Changing your furnace filter regularly, especially in the winter months, will prevent most dust from entering your ducts and dust that is already in the ducts will tend to adhere to the duct walls and not actually enter the home. Cases where your ducts would need cleaning are when there is substantial visible mold growth on the duct walls which is not common in our climate, or the ducts have been infested with insects or rodents. If your ducts have been damaged from moisture or rodents then you need to call a heating & ventilation contractor who is qualified to repair or replace your ducts as needed.
Companies who advertise that they can clean your ducts for $75 or a $100 are being deceptive because to truly clean all the ducting in an average home, if it actually needed to be done, is going to take two men the better part of a full day, and all the components of the system would probably need to be cleaned including the registers, heat exchanger, fan motor, and any condensate drip pans. If you wonder if your ducts need cleaning have a younger person get on a safe ladder, unscrew the grill off a couple of your heating supply vents and then take a look inside. A normal duct is going to have a slight coating of dust and some grains of dirt settled at the bottom, but if you do find either of the conditions I listed above, then you should consider calling a local contractor to do a thorough inspection.
For additional information on this subject, the EPA has a very informative webpage on duct cleaning that can be viewed at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html
Question: We live in a older home that has the original cast iron pipes and our bathroom sink and shower are getting very slow to drain. Is there something that I pour down the drain lines to clean them out or do I need to call a plumber to snake out the pipes?
Your Handyman: Older metal drain pipes can slowly rust on the inside over the years and an old very rusted 2” – 3” drain pipe may only have a small opening left on the inside that you can barely insert your finger into. I have had success with the new “gel” drain clearing solutions which can be purchased at any hardware store and some drug stores. First flush the drain with hot water and then pour enough of the gel solution down the drain to fill the P trap, let it sit for a half hour or more and then flush with hot water. If necessary, repeat the process and hopefully your drain will be clear. If the blockage persists then it is time to call a plumber who who does drain cleaning who will try to scrap the inside of the pipe clear with a rotating drain snake. A word of caution that sometimes an older drain line with advanced rust can be punctured by a drain snake, and then there is no choice but to replace that section of pipe which sometimes can become a pretty big job.
Question: We live in an older home on the Mesa, all of our electrical outlets are all just 2 prongs and I have to use an adapter in order to plug in an appliance that has a 3 prong plug. Can I just replace a few of the older plugs with 3 prong plugs and stop using the adapters?
Your Handyman: The third middle round opening on the wall electrical outlet is for the ground prong on a plug for an appliance that requires an electrical ground for safe operation. Many homes that were built prior to the early 1960’s often did not have a third ground wire as part of their wiring system and their outlets just have the 2 vertical slots; one slot for the neutral and the other for the hot. It is an electrical code violation to install a 3 prong outlet in an electrical box that is not properly grounded because it can mislead a person into assuming that the outlet is actually safely grounded and possibly create an unsafe condition. The best solution is to have an electrician install a ground wire to a few outlets or to all the outlets in the house. Many smaller new appliances are double insulated internally and do not need a 3 prong plug, while larger appliances like a clothes washer will most always have a 3 prong plug.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259