Ductwork Fun – Obsession or Advantage?

You ever see those ads for getting the ductwork cleaned in your house? The ones that promise to help reduce allergens, mold, and dust mites?

I actually had the work done before moving into a house in South Florida over four years ago, a few months after my daughter turned five and her lung function had achieved a small measure of normalcy. Because we were very, very gun-shy of setting off the kid’s hair-trigger respiratory system after years of severe flares, doctor trips, and ER visits, we were as careful as possible with that new house. Not only did I schedule ductwork cleaning, but I also bought a house completely devoid of carpeting and spent hours scrubbing not just the floors, bathroom, and kitchen, but also the walls, windows and every other flat surface I could access

The previous owners had cats, see, and while AG isn’t allergic to cats, at that point in her life everything seemed to set her spazzy lungs off and I didn’t want to jinx her health, which I had finally, slowly, started to improve. I also really liked the idea of starting to sleep through the night on a regular basis without having to get up and give her breathing treatments.

And also? I won’t like to you. I had turned a teeny bit obsessive by this point. Because–and this bears repeating for those of you battling uncontrolled asthma in a little kid right now–as livable and manageable as asthma can become, spending your nights sleepless and sunk in worry, waiting for that next hacking asthma cough from your three or four year-old and running nebulizer treatments in the middle of the night feels like it’s never going to end. And if your kid has never breathed well, regularly–and that was AG from about 10 months forward–you wonder if life will ever fit into a regular, recognizable pattern again and whether you’ll ever get to relax, breathe deep, and actually enjoy your daughter’s childhood.

Or maybe that’s just me. In hindsight, I recognize my reaction to her asthma as a little extreme, and that’s probably a result of both my high-stress personality and the shock of it all.

But back to the subject at hand.

The ductwork.

While searching for something else entirely, I found this great article over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Ask the Inspector” feature. In it, Bill Garwood explains whether ductwork cleaning for your HVAC actually makes a difference in health, what symptoms may indicate dirty ducts, and what factors (smoking, pets, water and/or mold around the system and ducts) could contaminate them in the first place. The short conclusion: who knows if ductwork cleaning actually helps anyone?

But if you’ve got an asthmatic living in your house, there’s a wealth of useful information about halfway through to help you decide. First, he tells you how to examine the ductwork yourself for dust and dirt by using a flashlight and a mirror. Next, he explains what to do in your house that will keep dust and dirt out of the ducts so you don’t have to consider professional cleaning in the first place. Finally, if you do decide your ductwork needs some attention, he tells you how to choose a reputable company.

As for AG, I don’t know if the cleaning helped her asthma or not. Her flares had calmed–and stayed calmer–by the time we moved in, but that improvement probably has a whole host of causes, including:

1. A daily steroid inhaler (Flovent) for maintenance for the first time in her life.

2. The move away from a neighborhood close to a high-traffic highway.

3. Her older age.

4. Lack of carpets.


9 responses to “Ductwork Fun – Obsession or Advantage?”

  1. Allie says:

    I think if you can do the duct cleaning before moving in, or when you’ll be away on vacation, it’s probably a very good thing. But if you have to be in the house the same day, it can wreak havoc. I used to work in an office in an old house. My boss claimed to have asthma (which I’m convinced was psychosomatic), and they had the ducts cleaned 2 times a year because of it. Every time they cleaned the ducts (whether I knew they had just cleaned them or not) I would end up going home sick. I’d have major issues with sneezing/breathing, etc. It was awful! I felt like I was trapped in a building full of caustic air. My boss, however, was convinced it helped him and would always comment that he felt better after. Oh, the power of suggestion.

  2. Amy says:

    LOL. . . yeah, when we moved into that house it just FELT cleaner, but I was too much in my own crazy head, anyway. Good point about doing it when no one’s around.

  3. wendy says:

    Oh, definitely her “older age”. I like that one – makes her sound really really old. LOL.
    Probably everything combined.
    I don’t think your crazy – it’s normal to freak out when your baby can’t breathe. You think she will always be this way. It’s really really hard.

    I have wondered about duct cleaning. I usually just put the vacuum cleaner hose down as far as it will go and clean it myself. I don’t really know if I’ve done a good job or not, but we have an electronic filter on our furnace. The air throughout the house is filtered through this (not just in winter, even though it’s on the furnace). I clean it once a month and some months it’s dirty. Other months it’s not too bad. So whether this takes the place of duct cleaning or not – I really don’t know.
    I do think that with all the cleaning you did in your new home, it must have made an improvement in your daughter’s health. Nobody can scrub as much as you did and not have good results.
    Now – go and put your feet up and have a marguerita! You’ve earned it. Oh, and I’ll have one too. LOL!

  4. Allie says:

    Oh, I totally think it was a good thing that you did it. Not at all you being in your crazy head. :) I think it was good to kind of “reset” the house when you moved in. My boss would be claiming he felt better instantly while I was gasping for air and sneezing continually, so I know that was all about his crazy head. And once you start the irritation, it can be days before it’s better. So I really wasn’t able to notice improvements.

    I think you did an amazing job of getting the house ready before you moved in so your daughter could be comfortable.

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