If you use a central HVAC system to heat and cool your Jacksonville, FL home, taking good care of your HVAC ductwork is essential. Residential ducting is a complex network of conduits that distributes conditioned air. Here, we tell you everything that homeowners should know about their HVAC ducting, including how it works, how to maintain it, and how to spot and resolve problems.

The Basic Anatomy of Residential HVAC Ducting

HVAC ductwork includes both supply and return ducting. During heating and cooling cycles, air moves from the interior of your home into your furnace or air handler via your return ducts. Once heated or cooled, this air is pushed into the supply plenum and your supply ducting and then distributed throughout the building.

Ductwork Materials

Ducting is comprised of durable, lightweight materials like galvanized steel, flexible, polymer-coated steel wire, and fiberglass. Also known as fiberboard, inorganic fiberglass ducting is a resin-bonded, compressed material that manufacturers encase in foil to prevent moisture penetration.

Components for Sound and Vibration-Proofing

Residential duct systems include vibration isolators. Located near air handlers, these flexible features dampen vibrations. Along with volume control dampers, they promote quiet HVAC operation and limit movement-related wear. Turning or moving vanes further diminish noise by reducing air resistance and turbulence and optimizing airflow.

Factors That Affect the Integrity of HVAC Air Ducts

If the HVAC ducting in your home was installed during initial construction, much of your ductwork should be hidden behind drywall and other building materials. Although HVAC companies conceal as many air ducts as possible during ductwork retrofitting projects, if you’ve had ducting added post-construction, you may be able to see small sections of these features in living areas. In many homes, visible sections of ducting are also present in attached garages, near indoor air handlers, and in basement or attic areas. No matter where they’re located, your HVAC air ducts are vulnerable to both HVAC equipment-related damage and direct structural harm.

Insufficient HVAC Maintenance

Taking good care of your HVAC equipment is a large part of caring for your air ducts. Inspecting your filter monthly and replacing it every one to three months will ensure that large clumps of collected debris aren’t blowing off of this component and entering your ducting. During annual routine maintenance for heat pumps, air conditioners, and furnaces, HVAC technicians check air ducts for structural problems and obstructions. They also remove accumulated debris from the interior and exterior of heating and cooling equipment. This improves indoor air quality and limits the amount of allergens and contaminants being cycled through HVAC systems.

Loose Connections, Perforations, and Other Changes in Structural Integrity

HVAC air ducts aren’t impervious to wear-related damage. After all, they’re frequently subjected to rapid temperature changes and the expansion and contraction that these changes entail. Changes in air pressure and other ongoing stressors gradually diminish the integrity of ducting over time.

Upgraded Air Filters

Surprisingly, upgrading your HVAC air filter can have a negative impact on your return ducting. While standard air filters have maximum efficiency reporting value (MERV) ratings of 8 or less, you can upgrade your air filter to an option with a MERV rating as high as 13. Higher-rated filters have more surface area than standard options and they also have significantly tighter mesh.

Although these attributes eliminate more micro-fine particulates from incoming air, they also inhibit airflow. This is why upgrading to an air filter with a MERV rating of 14 or higher could require air balancing services and structural ductwork modifications. To maintain excellent airflow and protect your ducting, it’s always best to consult with an HVAC technician before upgrading your air filter.

Dramatic Increases in Static Pressure

Another way in which homeowners might inadvertently harm their HVAC air ducts is by completely closing one or more air vents. This might seem like an easy way to divert unwanted heated or cooled air away from a bedroom or other isolated space, but it’s not the best way to customize temperatures throughout your home. When HVAC air vents are closed, static pressure increases in HVAC ducting. This rise in static pressure places undue stress on heaters and ACs and accelerates normal duct wear.

Pest Infestations

Pest infestations can be incredibly harmful to ducting. Both insects and animals target these structures for shelter, warmth, and easy access to building interiors. Pests leave food, feces, wings, carcasses, and other detritus behind. Heavy pests like rodents can also collapse or crush entire sections of ducting.

Jarring and Impact Events

Exposed ducting in areas like garages can become crushed or otherwise damaged due to falling items. Dropped paint cans, toppling ladders, and more can seal these features shut and prevent conditioned air from getting where it needs to go. Take special care to keep heavy items away from exposed ducting in high-traffic areas.

How to Care for Your HVAC Air Ducts

To keep your ducts in excellent condition year-round and protect your indoor air quality (IAQ), schedule routine air duct maintenance and inspection services annually. These inspections are more comprehensive than the quick assessments HVAC technicians make during heater and AC tune-ups.

Setting the Right HVAC Air Duct Cleaning Schedule for Your Home

In addition to having your ductwork inspected and maintained each year, you should have it professionally cleaned. According to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA), the best duct cleaning schedule for most households is once every two to three years. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises that homeowners can maintain a sufficiently high IAQ by simply cleaning their air ducts as needed.

No matter which schedule works best for you, you should always have your ducts cleaned after:

  • Eliminating pest infestations
  • Major building renovations
  • Indoor fires
  • Wildfire smoke permeating your house

Duct cleaning is a multi-pronged process that eliminates buildup of debris from supply and return ducts, air handlers, evaporator coils, and more. We use mechanical agitation to loosen debris and high-powered vacuums and negative air pressure to suction it out. Commercial-grade deodorizers and sanitizing solutions finish these treatments by eliminating all pathogens and odors.

Signs of HVAC Air Duct Problems

HVAC air duct problems can have a significant impact on the performance of your heating and cooling equipment. For instance, if your ducts have air leaks, much of the heated and cooled air produced by your HVAC system could be deposited in remote areas like your attic or crawlspaces. Blocked, dirty ducts create airflow problems and increase indoor humidity. Common signs of blocked, leaky, and damaged ducts include:

  • Higher energy bills
  • Decreased indoor comfort
  • Longer heating and cooling cycles
  • Lower IAQ

Damaged and aging ductwork often contributes to greater HVAC noise as well. If you’re having a hard time relaxing due to banging, clanging, whistling, or humming sounds while your heater or AC is on, your ductwork could be to blame.

Is It Time to Replace Your HVAC Air Ducts?

The average lifespan of residential ducting is slightly shorter than that of most heaters, air conditioners, and heat pumps. While you can expect your heating and cooling equipment to last between 15 and 25 years, your ducts might last just 10 to 15. In some instances, it’s best to replace ducting and other HVAC equipment at once. However, if you don’t have the budget for all-new air ducts when replacing your AC or furnace, you can stagger these projects to suit your budget and streamline everything to work seamlessly together.

At J&W Heating and Air + Plumbing, we’ve been proudly serving Jacksonville, FL and the surrounding cities since 1966. You can count on us for first-rate heating, cooling, and indoor air quality services. We also offer home energy audits, duct services, and preventive maintenance plans.

Contact J&W Heating and Air + Plumbing today to schedule an appointment!

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