FAIRFIELD, Ohio — NADCA President John Srofe said it was a midlife crisis that led him to air duct cleaning.

FAIRFIELD, Ohio — John Srofe, president of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), said it was a midlife crisis that led him to air duct cleaning. Ready for a change after years of working in the uniform service industry, in 1984 he purchased an Ohio-based kitchen exhaust cleaning company with operations in Chicago, Washington D.C. and Cleveland.

This was fortuitous since the mid-80s was also the time when indoor air quality (IAQ) started to enter the public consciousness in a big way. The medical community was gaining a greater understanding of so-called sick building syndrome and was scrutinizing hvac systems as a possible source of the problem. It didn’t take long for Srofe to determine that while kitchen exhaust cleaning was an established industry with established competitors, air duct cleaning was a market his company could have pretty much to itself.

“Back in 1984, there was nobody in this thing,” the 68-year-old Srofe recalled. He soon realized duct cleaning — especially industrial duct cleaning — was potentially far more lucrative than kitchen exhaust cleaning could ever be. Just in the greater Cincinnati area where Srofe lived, there were plenty of offices, hospitals and factories that were prospects.

Although he was optimistic, Srofe says he could not have predicted the success he would have. Eighteen years later, Srofe’s company, Delta Industrial Cleaning, is a multimillion-dollar firm with about 25 employees and clients throughout the metropolitan Cincinnati area.

Perhaps it was his stewardship of Delta that led to Srofe’s election as the president of NADCA in 1998. NADCA was formed in by a group of ventilation contractors 1989 in response to the proliferation of unregulated hvac companies that made dubious claims about their ability to clean ductwork. In some cases, a “cleaning” consisted of nothing more than spraying a glue-like substance into the ducts. No dirt would be removed at all.

Setting standards

NADCA established duct cleaning standards and practices and requires its members be certified. Today the group has more than 600 member companies worldwide, committed to NADCA’s mission of educating consumers on the importance of duct cleaning and ethically representing their services.

Part of that mission includes separating the certified NADCA professional from what Srofe called the “blow and go guys” – those businesses that advertise whole house duct cleaning for as little as $80. While a NADCA member company will charge a $300-$400 fee and typically take up to four hours to clean the ducts of an average-size home, the “blow and go” operations can be in and out in under an hour, Srofe said. “They’re not really cleaning, or at least cleaning to any kind of a standard. Those chaps are primarily getting paid for what they don’t clean.”

Srofe acknowledged NADCA’s success in raising the public’s awareness of the need for duct cleaning has allowed the “blow and go” operations to proliferate as well. But that’s where the group’s consumer awareness programs come in, he said: “Customer education is the primary goal of our industry.” Srofe likes to use a hamburger analogy to differentiate between a “blow and go” company and a NADCA member. “There are a jillion places that sell hamburgers,” he said, “but what kind of hamburger do you want?”

Just as consumers have become more sophisticated about duct cleaning, NADCA members have also become savvier. Today, it is not usual to find NADCA member companies with employees who hold master’s degrees. “When I started in this business, we cleaned ‘dirt’ out of the ducts. Today we don’t talk about dirt — we talk about biocides,” Srofe said.

Such changing demographics are part of what this year’s NADCA convention is all about, he added. The Feb. 25-28 convention has a new name, “Indoor Environments 2002,” and a new focus, according to Srofe. This year’s convention will take a holistic, integrated approach to IAQ issues. Duct cleaning’s role in the healthy, “green” building environmental movement will be discussed by keynote speaker S. Richard Fedrizzi, a founding member of the U.S. Green Buildings Council. “IAQ in Healthcare Facilities” will discuss air quality in hospitals and related facilities. Other events will include classes on estimating hvac system cleaning jobs and avoiding legal problems.

Srofe expects NADCA’s annual convention to continue growing and expanding with the duct cleaning industry. He said he never could have predicted how big the industry would become when he started – or even five years ago. “And that’s exciting,” he said, adding, “There are unbelievable opportunities in this industry, for the qualified person.”

(Indoor Environments 2002, the 13th annual meeting and exposition of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, takes place Feb. 25-28 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. For more information, contact Mindy Amster, NADCA Director of Communications, 1518 K Street, NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC 20005; call 202-737-2926; fax 202-347-8847; email nadca@aol.com or see www.nadca.com on the Internet.)