As the world shelters in place, duct cleaning services may take center stage as building owners and occupants look for ways to improve indoor air quality.

But, what happens if duct cleaning becomes mandated?

"An outside industry that suddenly has a lot more power will start telling the world what we have been doing that makes it harder/more difficult to clean ducts," says engineer Bob Reid, Spiral Pipe of Texas, in a recent article on the future of duct fabrication post-pandemic. "This could greatly affect the way we make duct."

He adds, "Over the last 30 years for insulation to move from the inside of ducts to the outsides. Required duct cleaning could force that trend."

A closer relationship between duct cleaners and duct fabricators could do the whole HVAC industry. However, their may be some debate on how to achieve this.

For some perspective, SNIPS reached out to Mike Dexter, ASCS, CVI, secretary for the National Air Duct Cleaners Association's Board of Directors.

Since the formation of the National Duct Cleaners Association, how would you say the HVAC industry’s attitude toward duct cleaning has changed?

Air duct cleaning has come a long way in the past 30 years since NADCA was formed. Duct cleaning has gone from a project afterthought to playing a key role in solving indoor air quality issues in homes and buildings.

The HVAC industry is beginning to recognize that air duct cleaning is essential, but we still have a long way to go. As we start to consider what it will take to both restore and maintain healthy working environments in the future, we can’t leave the heart and lungs of the facility out of the conversation.  

As you mentioned, duct cleaning still is often an afterthought. How does that relationship need to change? 

In cases where air quality is essential, such as operating rooms, clean rooms, and certain laboratories, there is a lot of thought and consideration that goes into the planning of these systems to not only maximize energy efficiency, but also provide clean air to a designated space.

These systems are often designed with multiple access points for future inspection and clean-out, and generally take into consideration the type of materials used and tend to avoid internally lined insulation that can act as a filter media inside the duct system, attracting and capturing particulate.

Unfortunately, in most homes and commercial spaces, there is no consideration for duct cleaning in the pre-construction phases, with only the efficiency of the system as a priority.

What would be the ideal relationship between duct fabricator and duct cleaning to ensure the building remains healthy?

To ensure that air quality in a building remains healthy, the ideal relationship between fabricators and duct cleaners would be a HVAC system design that is not only energy-efficient, but acts as a giant air purification system for the entire building.

Currently, the system’s primary function is to heat or cool a space. While many homes and businesses have standalone air purifiers and HEPA filtration-type systems that are effective for a small space, nothing can move as much air in a facility as the HVAC system.

By enhancing filtration, and reducing drag and friction within the system, not only will you have a cleaner system but an overall cleaner facility as well. 

In a post coronavirus world, would a better relationship between fabricator and duct cleaner make the HVAC industry's response stronger?

If fabricators were aware of the challenges air duct cleaners face in the field, I feel certain they would consider potentially different designs. Dirt accumulates wherever there is friction, so hard corners, turning veins, and the actual duct material play a huge role in the overall cleanliness of a system.

Just like brushing your teeth, eventually all systems need a good cleaning, but systems that have air quality in mind from the design phase tend to stay cleaner longer. 

What would you say is the most common misconception in the industry about duct cleaning? In what ways do you or are you working to resolve some of these misconceptions?

NADCA has worked tirelessly to create standards and help train and certify air duct cleaning professionals in the proper way to assess, clean, and restore HVAC systems. NADCA's General Specification in CSI 3-Part Format provides a blueprint for proper HVAC system cleaning and has been to distributed to over 17,500 builders, designers, and engineers.

NADCA's white paper on "Restoring Energy Efficiency through HVAC Air Distribution System Cleaning" outlines how air distribution system cleaning reduces HVAC energy consumption.

What lessons, in business and in building health, do you think the HVAC industry as a whole could learn from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic?

In my opinion, the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way the entire world does business. Indoor air quality will be on everyone’s minds as they go back to work. Homes and personal work spaces should be a sanctuary but, unfortunately, most occupants are at the mercy of a facilities’ maintenance program.

If the facility is well-maintained, including the HVAC system, that goes a long way to create a healthy environment.

Existing HVAC systems should be optimized for not only energy efficiency, but also hygiene. At the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, it’s our hope that duct cleaners will be included in the conversation moving forward.