FAQ & Articles

 
 


Air-Duct Related Questions


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bullet  Pros and Cons of Electrostatic Filters

        Reading some of the advertisements for electrostatic air filters you'd think that they would be the perfect choice.   Be there's more to it.

        An electrostatic air filter collects particles by the idea that the filter is charged one way and the dust particles are charged the other way, causing the dust particles to stick to it.

        In practice this works well.   The problems is when the surfaces of the electrostatic air filter are covered in dust.   New dust now coming through the filter doesn't stick that well to the filter.   Still, you can pull out the filter, wash it off and now it's back in business attracting dust.

        The time it takes an electrostatic filter to become nearly useless can be very short, as soon as a couple of weeks or it might last a month or so.   It all depends on where you live.   If you purchase an electrostatic air filter you should check it every week until you get an idea of how often yours needs to be washed.

        The major con of electrostatic air filters is forgetting to wash it in a timely manner.   This causes the system and ducts to get covered in dust etc.   This can stress the components causing early failure, increase allergies for those affected and cause dirt to blow out of your vents.

Which Type Of Filter Should I Use?

        The safe answer to that is The one the manufacture of your HVAC system tells you to use.   The problem with this is that typically, HVAC system filters are not there for your comfort, they are there to keep dirt/dust off system components so they don't fail – not to provide you with highly filtered air.   For people with allergies, getting your system cleaned regularly is a must – it improves the air quality, enhances the life of your system and reduces energy bills.

        Electrostatic air filters usually do better at filtering particles than the manufactures recommended filter but only if you wash it regularly, if not, then it will be worse.   By the time you remember to wash the filter the system may be contaminated and require cleaning.

        Pleated filters are our preference because they typically provide better filtration and only need to be changed every 4 to 6 months depending where you live.   The down side to this over the electrostatic filters is you have to buy a new one each time.

        Pleated and manufactures recommended filters have another con, when they get dirty they restrict the air flow more and more (but at least they are keeping dirt out of the system).   So getting a fresh filter in there on schedule will increase air flow and reduce your energy bill.

Pros Cons
Electrostatic Filters  
Good filtration, Good air flow

Higher maintenance.   Failure to maintain can result in a system dirtied quickly, increased allergies and dirt coming out of duct work.   Higher initial cost.
 
Manufactures Suggested Filter
The system was designed to use that filter.   Cheap.

Not a high level of filtration (which maybe important to allergy sufferers).   Have to keep buying replacements.   Restricts air flow as they get dirtier, increasing energy bills.
 
Pleated Filters
High level of filtration

Have to keep buying replacement.   Restricts air flow as they get dirtier, increasing energy bills.   Cost it between the above two.
        Warning!   There are some filters on the market that promise near HEPA filtration.   The perfect solution for allergy sufferers?   Yes, BUT they typically restrict the air flow so much that the system can't cool or heat correctly.   You should talk to your Air Conditioning Contractor before installing one of these.

Summary:

        Which ever filter you go with, put a "reoccurring"  calendar entry in your favorite calendar software to replace or wash your filters and do it when it tells you to.   This will give you better air quality, save you money and extend the life of your system.   Get your system cleaned every 5 years to get rid of everything your filters missed over the years – it builds up. (varies on location 3 – 7 years).

Questions & Answers

Q. How does an electrostatic filter work?
A.
A mild static charge caused by friction of air movement called “static cling” causes the dirt and dust to cling to the filter.
Q. Does it make noise?
A.
It works silently while your system is running and air is moving through the filter.
Q. Does it plug in or need batteries?
A.
It is considered “Self-Charging”.   No plugs or batteries.    It creates its own static charge as the air moves through it.
Q. What happens to the dirt?
A. You simply wash it away with water.

Q. Do I need to do anything to my AC/Furnace system?
A. No!   This filter simply replaces the disposable filter you are now using.

Q. How often do I clean it?
A. Once every 30 days without fail, even if it looks clean.   A clean air filter can remove more dust and dirt.

Q. What tools are needed to install the filter?
A. No tools at all.   Anyone can do it in a second.

Q. Does this product benefit the environment?
A. Greatly, you will never throw away another cheap filter!

bullet  How does the UVC lamp work?

        The UVC lamp is installed in your heating/air conditioning system.   These specially engineered lamps emit UV light which greatly reduces or eliminates germs and viruses circulated by your system.

bullet  What kind of germs and viruses are affected?

        The UVC lamp is effective against virtually any airborne microbe including rhinoviruses (colds), influenza, staph, strep, and H1N1 (swine flu).

bullet  How does germicidal UV light kill microorganisms?

        UV light destroys microbes by being absorbed by the proteins within the microorganism.   After absorption the UV light destroys the microbe or inactivates the DNA which prevents the microbe from reproducing.   A microbe is considered destroyed when it can no longer reproduce.

bullet  Has this technology been tested?

        Yes.   Westinghouse Electric and General Electric conducted laboratory tests on the germicidal effectiveness of UV lights on microorganisms.   Germicidal UV lights are used in hospitals, food processing plants and commercial buildings.

bullet  Don't filters eliminate germs and viruses?

        Filters trap the microbes and even the most sophisticated ones do not contain 100% of the germs and viruses.   These germs and viruses reproduce very quickly and those not trapped will re-contaminate your home.

bullet  Is UV light harmful to people?

        Prolonged, direct exposure to UVC light is harmful to all living organisms, people included.   However, the UVC lamp has been designed so there is no exposure to people.   This provides for safe operation and maintenance.

bullet  What is the life of the UV lamps?

        These lamps are rated at 9000 hours, which is approximately one year.

bullet  Does the UVC lamp operate continuously?

        Yes.   Our UVC light is working 24 hours a day.   This is not true with some other units that turn on and shut off with the system's blower motor.   With the lamp being turned on and off intermittently, this will shorten the life of the lamp requiring it to be replaced sooner.

bullet  Is the UVC lamp expensive to operate?

        No.   It uses less energy than a 60-watt light bulb.


bullet  How do I know when it is time to replace the lamp?

        There is an indicator light which shows you when the lamps are working.   When the light is out, it is time to replace the lamps.

bullet  How can I get a UVC lamp installed?

        Easy!   Just give us a call.


bullet  How often should I get my Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning System Cleaned?

There's no straight answer to this question as it depends on a number of factors, these include:

  bullet   The location of your system.   Near a freeway, forest, desert climate, on the coast etc.
   
  bullet   Weather conditions for your area.   Windy, lots of rain, very dry air, very moist air etc.
   
  bullet   How old your system is.
   
  bullet   How often you change the filters.
   
        The way to tell if your system needs cleaning is to have a look at the grills/registers.   Are they dusty or is there accumulated dirt on them?

        Shine a flash light through the grill/register, do the ducts behind the grill/register look dirty?   If so, then you should get your system cleaned.

        As a general rule of thumb, we say every 5 years.   If you live in a dusty place or close to a freeway then maybe as soon as 3 years.   If you change the filters regularly and you live in a clean environment then it could be fine for 7 years.   Another factor could be if you or anyone in the house has allergies.

        If you move into a previously owned house you should get the system cleaned.   Since dead skin makes up most of what dust is made from then cleaning the system makes hygienic sense and helps anyone with allergies.


bullet  What is Sick Building Syndrome?

Definition:

        Used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause has been identified.

Indicators of Sick Building Syndrome

        Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.   The cause of the symptoms is not known.   Most of the people who complained, reported relief soon after leaving the building.

Solving the problem (Locating the source)

        While investigating remember, that mold generally needs a moisture source and a food source to survive.   Poorly configured landscape irrigation or inadequate drainage outside the building can result in moisture inside the building.   This can lead to subsequent mold growth.
  bullet  
Carpets can get moldy – check them out.
   
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Plastic “carpet savers”  can lock in moisture, where other areas have a chance to dry out.
   
  bullet  
Plants and moss in plants can be a good location for mold to grow.
   
  bullet  
Check anywhere there’s been a pipe burst or water leak – even long after it’s been repaired.
   
  bullet  
The air conditioning systems may be contaminated with mold.   This can be a result of various conditions, such as overflowing drain pans, condensation blowing off the coils onto internal insulation or water incursion into the ducts (leaking rooftop ducts) to name a few.
   
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The filters in the HVAC system don’t fit correctly, leaving gaps and allowing contaminants into the system.
   
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The outside air intake for the HVAC system is located near a bathroom exhaust or other undesirable locations.   Not enough outside (fresh) air.   Fresh air is needed to dilute the contaminants typically found within a building.
   
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HVAC system not balanced, e.g. too much or not enough air being delivered to a specific location.
   
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HVAC system has been contaminated.   This can be a result of outside sources or conditions within the system.
   

bullet  Why air duct cleaning?

Good question and one that we get often.

        After being in the air conditioning system cleaning business since 1998, with literally thousands of dirty systems behind us, I have been able to see first hand what many other people have only talked about or speculated on – the effects of a dirty air conditioning system on a building's occupants.   As you are probably aware, air conditioning systems accumulate dust, dirt, deteriorated fiberglass, mold, bacteria and other contaminants.   Air blowing through the dirty system can pick up this contamination and carries it into the occupied spaces, where it is inhaled by the occupants.

        Sometimes the health effects of dirty systems can be quite serious and expose the building's landlord/owner to liabilities.

        At the same time, the systems dust and debris accumulation reduces air flow, negatively impacts the system's efficiency and longevity, and increases energy costs in the building.   So everyone loses.

        We frequently have to cut into a system to gain access to the ducts to clean them; meaning that if we can't get in without cutting in, no one else has gotten in before us, even to have a good look at the condition of the ducts; sometimes for many, many years.

        OSHA estimates that about 30% of all commercial buildings suffer from below-standard indoor air quality.

        Until you have seen some of these ducts yourself, it is often hard to grasp the full concept of what many building occupants in Southern California are breathing.   You may only become aware of it after the system has been cleaned, when employees suddenly start mentioning that they have stopped coughing or sneezing at work, that they feel more awake  at work, or that other ill health effects have been lessened.

        Several years ago, OSHA had proposed regulations to require inspections of air conditioning systems in commercial buildings, and correction of problems found by the inspections.   They estimated that about 30% of all commercial buildings suffer from below-standard indoor air quality.

        Additional research has shown that people spend the majority of their time, around 90%, indoors.   Surprisingly, for many people the risks to their health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors rather than outdoors.   Experts also conclude that people who are exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time tend to be the most vulnerable to the effects of indoor air pollution.   Parents are increasingly worrying about the effect that continued indoor air pollution will have on their children.   The elderly or those suffering from allergies are also extremely susceptible to increased risk to their health due to the indoor air that they breathe.

        Pet dander, cooking oils, air fresheners, mold, dirt, mildew, insecticides, dust, paint and aerosol sprays are just a few of the contaminants that drift through the air in our homes.   These fragments eventually come to rest inside of the air ducts in even the cleanest of homes.

        Particles of dust, pollen and other debris routinely found in all types of heating and cooling systems are some of the main causes of contaminated air in residential housing.   If moisture is present, the potential for the growth of mold is increased and spores from such growth can be released into the home's living space.   Every time the blower to your furnace or air conditioner comes on, pollutants are blown into your living space, causing the air you breathe to be far less than clean.   Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people that are exposed to them.   The American Lung Association states, “fragile lung tissue can be easily damaged by pollutants in the air, resulting in an increased risk of asthma, allergies and bronchitis”.

        A dirty system can also be costly, as dirty furnace components can cause a myriad of problems from rust to overheating to a-coil freeze ups.   By simply keeping your heating and cooling systems clean, removing debris from sensitive mechanical components, you may avoid costly repairs and keep them working in top-notch condition for many years to come.   Having your ducts cleaned regularly will help you improve the indoor air quality in your home while also enhancing the efficiency of your system, which could also reduce your energy bills.

        Even though it isn't usually enforced, the “California Code of Regulations (Title 8)”  requires that, “The HVAC system shall be inspected at least annually, and problems found during these inspections shall be corrected in a reasonable time.”

        We strongly feel it would be of service for air conditioning contractors to advise their clients to get their air conditioning systems inspected for contaminants and cleaned regularly.   Not only would they be helping the building's landlord/owner to lessen potential liability, but they would be helping many employees in Southern California live and work in cleaner, healthier environments.


bullet  Blow N' Go Duct Cleaners There IS a difference!

Blow N' Go Duct Cleaners

        Here at Apex Duct And Chimney Cleaning  we see ads every few weeks about the “newest”  offering in blow-‘n-go duct cleaning.   These “low-ball”  duct cleaners are nothing new.   Scam artist have been around forever.   What’s going on here?

        The consumer is starting to wise up, due in part to television, newspapers and Internet reporting which expose this latest consumer scam.

        The way these companies operate will be familiar to anyone who has had the misfortune of meeting up with a slick operator at a used car lot, a “buy now”  stock opportunity, or even the barker at a carnival.

        These duct cleaning companies charge a nominal fee for a claimed whole-house duct cleaning.   But are we surprised they do a very poor job of it.   The adage, “You get what you pay for”  surely holds truth here.

        Usually these duct cleaners see the low-ball price to the gullible consumer, send a serviceman to the consumer’s house and leave in a short while, claiming they’ve cleaned the whole system.   The same job, if done correctly, should take at least 4-6 hours.

        We believe that many legitimate duct cleaners cringed when they heard the negative reports about duct cleaning.   We sure did!   Because every time we get a call from a consumer who’s seen one of these ads and they want to know if they can get their ducts cleaned for the nominal fee, we tell them that it costs more to get it done right.   People who can understand the saying “You get what you pay for”  and really do want a well-done, standard duct cleaning job will usually schedule with us.   But at times it can be an uphill struggle.

        We get many Customer Satisfaction Surveys back week after week from customers who are satisfied with the service they received from us.

The moral of the story: Be sure to question a deal that is “too good to be true,”  because it always is.

Not All The Same

bullet  Are Dirty Ducts Adversely Affecting Your Health?

        With so much attention these days on one's health one can only wonder how safe is our work environment.

        Researchers from the NIOSH recently completed a three-year study of 160 buildings which were considered to have Indoor Air Quality problems.   As a result of these studies, they have compiled data showing the most common IAQ problems and the relative risk of certain health problems in the presence of different building conditions.

        The most common problems adversely affecting the indoor environment were found to be HVAC components, no written IAQ plan and lack of maintenance – or disrepair – of HVAC systems.   As you can see, the HVAC system predominantly contributes to adverse health effects.   It was found that dirty particulate filters and dirt found in the OSA intake doubled the chance of asthma in building occupants exposed to such, as compared to those not exposed.   Exposure to unclean ducts increased the likelihood of health symptoms like runny nose, sneezing or itchy eyes.

        With all of these health issues in the workplace, one can only wonder how much this is effecting the health of office workers and tenants, their productivity and the efficiency of one's company.

What Is The Solution To These Health Problems?

        There is something you can do about it.   Having your HVAC systems inspected, cleaned and maintained at scheduled intervals is the best guarantee against employee and tenant complaints and lowered productivity through increased sick days.   You can find out today if your system has become a potential health risk.

bullet  Odors – Unnecessary Distractions.

        “Musty”, “mildew”, “moldy”, “earthy”, “dirty socks”,” “gym locker”, “rotten egg”, “foul”, “sour milk”, “garbage”, “sewage”, “fishy”, “something dead”, “chemical”,  are all common descriptions of unpleasant odors that most people find disturbing or distracting.

        People affected seldom care about the source or cause of the odor; they just want it to go away.   Not many firms actually specialize in investigating odor problems.   There are no “magic sniffers”  that can either determine the constituents, the source or the cause of an odor.   It appears to be the case that the best tool still in tracking down an odor is the trained and sensitive nose.   Add to this tool a thorough knowledge of a wide variety of odor causes plus factors and driving forces affecting air pathways.   With this specialized knowledge and the common tool (nose) along with chemical smoke tubes, the causes and sources of odor problems can be located and guidance can be provided on steps to take to eliminate them.   The purpose of the chemical smoke is to determine pressure relationships when the odor is present for the purpose of tracking it back to its source.

        The odor investigator’s job is to determine why the odor is in the location where people are complaining, where it comes from and how to eliminate it.   Often the odor is intermittent; it comes and goes.   Changing pressure relationships within a building can cause air to flow from unoccupied regions where unpleasant odors are expected into occupied spaces where they are not supposed to be.   These unoccupied regions can be such areas as attics, basements, wall interiors and other cavities.   Occupied locations where odors might be expected can also become offending odor sources when these odors are not properly contained or exhausted.   These areas include restrooms, kitchens and break rooms.   Work areas that produce odors as a matter of course must also be properly contained or exhausted so as not to let odors migrate to areas where they don’t belong.   The most effective way we know of solving intermittent odor problems is to investigate the problem when the odor is present in areas where it is in not expected or wanted.   Once the odor has been positively identified and is present, locating the source consists of generally just following it back to the source.

        Often even locating the source for an odor when it is present is not necessarily a simple process.   In one case personnel in one office building complained of an intermittent sewer odor that occurred in several building locations.   Part of the problem with locating the source was that the ventilation systems were fan/coil units located above the ceiling.   This was an open ceiling return so the air above the ceiling was shared by numerous fan/coil units.   Using ladders to access above the ceiling we were finally able to trace the odor back to its source partially by finding the general area where the odor appeared to be strongest.   But even this tracing of the odor was not sufficient to locate the source quickly.   One piece of information enabled us to find the offending location more quickly.   Speaking with one of the management personnel we discovered that the odor had been present to some degree ever since the company had occupied the building.   It was also stated that the build out prior to occupation was done quickly due to a tight deadline.   We also learned that some restrooms had been moved and offices put in their place.   With that information we were able to locate a sewer vent pipe inside a wall that had not been capped when the restroom was moved.   Once that was found and the pipe properly capped, the odor problem was solved.

        The most difficult assignment for an investigator is to determine the source of an odor that is not there at the time of the investigation and where no positive identification has been made.   There have been times when we have been able to find an odor source without the smell being present.   An accurate description of the odor plus the conditions surrounding the times the odor has been present is sometimes sufficient to locate the source.   One problem with locating odors using this method is that odors are sometimes subjective and difficult to describe.   This is essentially using a theory system for determining the odor source.   This system is often difficult and time consuming.   It requires experience in detecting odor sources as well as knowledge of air pathways in buildings.   It may require having personnel on site keeping a log of when the odor is present in particular locations and the duration.   Such logs can enable an investigator to trace to the source by determining where it first occurs and to what locations it travels.

        While difficult to locate the source of an odor by the theory method, sometimes general knowledge coupled with a bit of intuition can produce dramatic results.   Such was the case with a company that produced precision electronic products in clean rooms.   Over a period of months at various times some of the clean rooms had to be evacuated due to a very unpleasant odor whose source could not be identified.   The company had spent thousands on various professionals attempting to locate the odor source, to no avail.   Having heard that our company specialized in odor investigations, we were called in to solve the problem.   The principals of the company concerned did not have a lot of confidence in our being able to solve the problem after all the other failures.   According to the information provided, we suspected that the source of the odor was related to the HVAC system serving the area.   It was a big package unit with the main supply duct so large we could stand up in it.   We noticed that the unit was equipped with a humidifier that was used primarily to keep the incidence of static electricity low.   We had the humidifier activated as an experiment.   After the humidifier came on we left the HVAC system in order to observe any effect in one of the clean rooms.   Before we could get to our destination, the clean room was already being evacuated due to the odor.   Upon questioning, we discovered that the humidifiers were provided with water from a large water storage container.   Further questioning revealed that the anti-scaling chemicals used in the storage container had been changed to another brand just prior to the odor complaints.   Once the chemicals were changed back to those previously used, the odor problem disappeared.   After the company spending thousands of dollars attempting to solve the problem in addition to many man hours of lost production, we had discovered the source of the odor in less than an hour.   We were the heroes of the day.   Knowledge and intuition are great tools, but being lucky enough to find it with the first action taken makes you look like miracle workers.

        There is a common odor phenomenon that occurs due to microbially contaminated cooling coils in an air conditioning system.   This odor situation reportedly is most prevalent with heat pump systems.   This is usually bacterial and sometimes fungal contamination resulting in an odor situation known as “Dirty Socks Syndrome”.   It may actually be intermittent in that it is only noticeable when the coil becomes wet enough to activate the bacteria.   The odor is generally described as smelling like a gym locker or dirty socks, hence the name of this phenomenon.   Swab sampling of the coil can confirm the condition with bacterial analysis.   High bacterial levels usually signal that you have found the source of the odor.   The solution to “Dirty Socks”  is to pressure wash the coil thereby removing all the nutrients supporting microbial growth and then sanitizing the coil to kill the microbes.

        Sewer odors are quite common complaints.   Broken or cracked sewer vent pipes inside walls or above ceilings can result in intermittent sewer odors that can be very frustrating in trying to locate the source.   Most common is having sewer odors pulled into the HVAC system through the OSA inlet.   This is usually a design problem whereby sewer vent pipes exit too close (within 15 feet or so) of the outside air inlet of the HVAC system.   Sometimes even with vent pipes far away from the OSA inlet, sewer odors can still be pulled into the indoor air via the air conditioning system with certain wind speeds and direction.   If the vent pipe is upwind and/or lower on the roof than the outside air inlet, the odor can be carried across the roof to be picked up at the OSA inlet.   It is often necessary to use PVC pipe to extend the vent pipe outlet to six feet or so above the roofline enabling the odor to be dissipated by the wind.

        Insufficient (HVAC) outside air can exacerbate virtually any odor generated indoors allowing it to build up with too little outside air to dilute it.   Conversely, sufficient outside air can mitigate such odors.   This rule, of course, assumes that the source of the odor is indeed inside and not being provided by the HVAC system via microbially contaminated coils or through the OSA inlet.   We have known cases where outside air inlets were closed off to eliminate odors from outdoors.   Much of the time they are closed off due to sewer odors being pulled into the system or because of odors generated by re-roofing nearby.   Certainly there may be valid reasons for closing off outside air inlets for short periods of time due to acute periods of outdoor odors, but failure to supply sufficient outside air on any continuous basis is just asking for odor and potential health problems down the line.

        In summary, odor investigations can be quite difficult even for professionals.   The first step is to identify the odor as nearly as possible.   Try to relate it to something you have experienced before so you have a method of describing it.   Keep in mind that odors do tend to change a bit as they move farther and farther from the source.   An odor that originates on the first floor of a building may still be unpleasant but substantially different by the time it reaches the third floor.

        If you are unable to locate the source yourself, there are people you can call to assist, such as plumbers or HVAC contractors.   Companies that specialize in odor problems are relatively rare, but if you find one with knowledgeable and experienced investigators, it is often most cost effective to contact them first so the odors can be quickly eliminated and personnel can get back to production without the distraction of unpleasant odors competing for their attention.


bullet  Now that the smoke has cleared…

        We have recently experienced several major fires of which most are now fairly contained.   Complex mixtures of combustion gases and fine particles called smoke are no longer visible in the air.

        However, some clients are still complaining about soot, smoke odors and excessive allergic or respiratory health symptoms.   What’s up?   The smoke is gone, isn’t it?

        What’s going on can best be explained by where it went.   The gases involved (mainly nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide) either dissipated into the atmosphere or chemically decomposed by natural means.   Where did the tons and tons and tons of particulate matter generated by these huge wild land fires go?   Well, I hate to tell you this, but it has fallen to earth or is in the process of falling to earth.   It doesn’t just go away.

        Fortunately, the vast majority of it will land in the ocean or in other natural places where it will be absorbed into the ecosystem.   However, unfortunately, much of this smoke “dust”  has settled on urban areas in yards, in parking lots, on building roof tops, within HVAC systems and inside homes and buildings.   If you smelled smoke inside your home or building, the particulates got inside!

        What is the big deal?   The soot and ash will get cleaned up, washed away by rain (eventually), caught by air filters, etc., right?   This is true, but until it does, fully does – which could take months or years – it remains a health problem.   Why?, you may ask.

        First, by its very nature smoke particles can cause more health problems than ordinary particulate or dust.   Particle size ranges from the coarse, highly visible and annoying ash, to the ultra-fine, microscopic soot that can pass through the defenses of the respiratory system into the deepest pockets of the lungs – something ordinary dust seldom does!

        Add to that the fact that smoke particles are usually composed of tars, acids and assorted chemicals (nasty substances) in addition to the soot and ash, and you have a very high potential for health problems.

        Secondly, a significant segment of the population – the very young, the elderly, those with allergies, asthma, heart or lung disease, bronchitis, etc. – can be adversely affected by exposure to even low levels of smoke particulate.   Harmful levels can remain long after the fires have died out, due to the fact that the particles tend to settle everywhere, into every nook and cranny, and the smaller-sized (the most unhealthful) will pass through ordinary vacuum cleaner or air filtration.   Also, the smaller particles are invisible to the unaided eye unless present in huge volumes.   This can lead to the false impression that after a cleanup by ordinary methods all of the smoke contamination is gone, when in fact it is not.   Fine soot’s tendency to easily aerosolize (disperse into the atmosphere) and remain suspended adds to the difficulty of completely removing it from building or home interiors and, an additional negative point, puts it into the breathing zone of building occupants.

        The blackened fire areas, which now serve as a continual source of more soot and smoke odor, are quite extensive and are adjacent to thousands of buildings and residences.   Every time the wind blows, here comes a fresh supply of soot and ash into these nearby structures via the HVAC, windows, doors and other leaks in the building envelope.

        Lastly, Southern California’s base air contamination is normally at such a high level that any additional pollution has an extraordinary effect in bringing on adverse health symptoms.

Thanks For The Problem!   Now What Can Be Done?

        To start, there are a few things I recommend that anyone whose house or building is impacted by smoke or ash should do, even if there is no apparent problem with odors, soot or ash particulate or unusual or adverse health symptom associated with smoke exposure (e.g., respiratory, lung or allergy problems).   One, the structure’s interior should be thoroughly cleaned using a HEPA -filtered vacuum.   Two, the air filter in the HVAC should be changed out using the most efficient replacement possible and the HVAC system interior inspected for soot or ash accumulation (and, of course, cleaned if contaminated).   The idea is to lower additional exposure to residues so as to help head off possible longer term effects.

        If a problem exists, such as lingering odors indoors, adverse health effects associated with smoke contamination or continuing soot deposition on interior surfaces, then I recommend the above actions plus cleaning and deodorizing (by professionals using approved products per manufacturer instructions) of the HVAC system.   Also HEPA-filtered room air cleaners and/or negative ion generators are useful to continually clean the air until the problem abates.   The proper and safe usage of ozone generators can clear up any odors.   These actions should be promptly done to avoid more exposure.

        The worse situation is being adjacent to, or in the midst of, a burned area, as a continual supply of soot and ash is available for some time, especially when the wind blows.

        All of the above remedies can be done to handle the accumulations, but key to lowered human exposure and minimal contamination is in keeping the building envelope as tight as possible.   Doors and windows should be kept tightly closed and the building positively pressurized.   Economizer dampers should be adjusted to minimum settings consistent with codes.   Any outside air should pass through an efficient air filtration as is practical.   The first line of defense, if possible, is filters over the OSA inlet.   Also, room air cleaners might be a necessary part of the effort to providing a habitable indoor space.

        Sensitive individuals may have to be moved to a location away from the influence of the burned areas.   As a word of warning, the home or building and its HVAC system may have to be cleaned and deodorized more than once in worst-case situations.   Prevention of further intrusion indoors of soot and ash from the burned areas is vital for health and cleanliness.

        The main thing is to realize that the problem is not completely gone now that the fires are out.   The fine particulates remaining in the outdoor areas, indoors and the interior of the HVAC systems can cause adverse health effects and should be promptly and effectively abated where it has accumulated in our interior living and working environments.


bullet  Are there any health benefits that come from HVAC system cleaning?

        HVAC systems have been shown to act as a collection source for a variety of contaminants that have the potential to affect health, such as mold, fungi, bacteria, and very small particles of dust.   The removal of such contaminants from the HVAC system and home should be considered as one component in an overall plan to improve indoor air quality.


bullet  Will HVAC system cleaning reduce our home energy bills?

        Research by the U.S. EPA has demonstrated that HVAC system cleaning may allow systems to run more efficiently by removing debris from sensitive mechanical components.   Clean, efficient systems are less likely to break down, have a longer life span, and generally operate more effectively than dirty systems.


bullet  How should a residential HVAC system be cleaned?

        The most effective way to clean air ducts and ventilation systems is to employ “Source Removal”  methods of cleaning.   This requires a contractor to place the system under negative pressure, through the use of a specialized, powerful vacuum.   While the vacuum draws air through the system, devices are inserted into the ducts to dislodge any debris that might be stuck to interior surfaces.   The debris can then travel down the ducts to the vacuum, which removes it from the system and the home.


bullet  What kind of equipment is best for cleaning-truck mounted vacuums or portable vacuums?

        Our industry leaders do not endorse one kind of equipment over another.   There are two main types of vacuum collection devices: (1) those mounted on trucks and trailers, and (2) portable units.   Truck/trailer mounted equipment is generally more powerful than portable equipment.   However, portable equipment can often be brought directly into a facility, allowing the vacuum source to be located closer to the ductwork.   Both types of equipment will clean to NADCA standards.

        All vacuum units should be attached to a collection device for safe containment prior to disposal.   Any vacuum collection device which exhausts indoors must be HEPA filtered.

        A vacuum collection device alone will not get an HVAC system clean.   The use of methods and tools designed to agitate debris adhered to the surfaces within the system, in conjunction with the use of the vacuum collection device(s), is required to clean HVAC systems.   (For example: brushes, air whips, and “skipper balls.”)


bullet  How often should residential (HVAC) systems be cleaned?

        Frequency of cleaning depends on several factors, not the least of which is the preference of the home owner.   Some of the things that may lead a home owner to consider more frequent cleaning include:

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Pets that shed high amounts of hair and dander.
   
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Water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system.
   
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Residents with allergies or asthma who might benefit from a reduction in the amount of indoor air pollutants in the home's HVAC system.
   
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After home renovations or remodeling.
   
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Prior to occupancy of a new home.
   

bullet  What exactly does a professional HVAC cleaning job include?

        A professional HVAC or air duct cleaning job includes the furnace, furnace blower, air conditioning coils, registers, returns, air duct's and sanitizing.   Cleaning just part of the system is not effective.   A dirty furnace blower, for example, will re-contaminate the air duct system after cleaning.   Thus, it's very important to make sure the entire system is going to be cleaned and make sure the price quote you are given also covers the entire system.   Unfortunately some companies will advertise a very low price and then charge extra for the furnace, sanitizing and other things and before you know it the $99 dollar price is $600 or more!   So be careful!


bullet  What is the normal price range for the air duct cleaning service?

        The Environmental Protection Agency says that “duct cleaning services typically – but not always – range in cost from $450 to $1000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climactic region, and level of contamination”  and type of duct material.   Consumers should beware of air duct cleaning companies making sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning – such claims are unsubstantiated.

        Consumers should also beware of “blow-and-go”  air duct cleaning companies.   These companies often charge a nominal fee and do a poor job of cleaning the heating and cooling system.   These companies may also persuade the consumer into unneeded services with or without their permission.   (If you have knowledge of a practicing “blow-and-go” air duct cleaner, contact your local Better Business Bureau to report the company, and your local, federal, and state elected officials to demand legislation.)


bullet  What are sanitizers, and why would they need to be used?

        Sanitizers are anti-microbial chemicals applied to the interior surface of the air ducts, designed to control microbial contamination.   Before any sanitizers are used, the system should be thoroughly cleaned.   It is critical that any anti-microbial treatment used in your system be EPA registered for the intended use in HVAC systems.   Ask to see the chemical's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).   If you are still concerned, call the EPA at 1-800-438-4318.

        It should be noted that there are no EPA registered anti-microbial products for use on porous system surfaces – such as fiberglass surfaces.


bullet  How long should it take to clean a typical residential HVAC system?

        There are a variety of factors that could affect the time needed to clean a residential HVAC system, including the type of home, accessibility of the ductwork, and the number of workers on the project.   A typical three or four bedroom home will require 3 to 5 hours for cleaning.


Dryer Exhaust Vent Related Questions


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bullet  What should I use to vent my clothes dryer?

        The best choice for dryer venting is 4″ dia., smooth sheet metal duct.   Or you can use U.L. Approved 2158A ProFlex Clothes Dryer Transition duct.   It's a heavy duty, fire resistant 4 ply aluminum foil laminate that is specifically designed and sanctioned for gas and electric clothes dryers.   Never use the white vinyl, if you do have a dryer fire it will burn through it in SECONDS!


bullet  Why does it take my dryer so long to dry clothes?

        A blocked or partially blocked dryer exhaust may be the result of increased drying times.   Proper maintenance of your dryer duct includes:

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Keep area around the exhaust opening and adjacent surrounding areas free from the accumulation of lint, dust and dirt.
   
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The interior of the exhaust duct should be cleaned regularly.
   
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Regular inspection of the duct to be sure that it has not become crushed or otherwise restricted.
   

bullet  Will there be a problem running dryer vent ducting up and through the attic?

        Yes, proper installation of a dryer exhaust is to vent outdoors through the closest sidewall possible.   Venting up and through an attic is not recommended as warm air is caused to pass through a cool space and long or excessive lengths of duct will result in decreased efficiency of your dryer.   If you live in a warm region this shouldn't be an issue.   If you live in a colder region and the exhaust vent is routed through the attic wrapping the exhaust vent going through the attic this should assist in the exhaust venting.


Chimney Related Questions


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bullet  Why should I have my chimney inspected and/or swept?

        The main reason to have your fireplace inspected is to see if there is a build up of creosote at least ¼" in the chimney.   This will indicate that the chimney should be swept in order to avoid the risk of a chimney fire.   The inspection will also allow for identifying possible fire hazards and if repairs are needed at that time to either the fireplace or the chimney structure.


bullet  How often does my chimney need to be inspected and/or swept?

        According to our industry, "Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year.   Cleaning maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary."

        We recommend to definitely have the chimney inspected and/or swept after burning either one cord of wood or approximately 50-60 of the manufactured logs.   Every chimney manages the venting of the fire's smoke and gases differently so it may take more or less use to build up that creosote to a dangerous level.   Because we live in a mild Southern California climate, the average is about a half cord of wood per year, many times I'll recommend an inspection every two years.

        There are times when the chimney and venting systems should be inspected and/or having the chimney swept right away, such as:

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After unusual, or sudden occurrence event, such as a chimney fire, lightning strike, or earthquake.
   
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Purchasing a home with an existing chimney.
   
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If changes are made to a chimney, including the going from woodburning to gas logs (or vice versa).
   
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Prior to having major chimney repairs.
   
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It's not possible to observe most clearances unless you have witnessed all construction of the chimney and surrounding structure.

bullet  What is creosote and how do I have it removed?

        Creosote is a natural byproduct of burning materials such as wood, wood byproducts, or manufactured logs in your fireplace.   It's generally a brown or black fluffy substance that adheres to chimney walls, damper and flue, over time turn into a hard resin-like glaze which is more difficult or impossible to brush out.   The material is flammable, and is more dangerous as it grows thicker with each fire.


bullet  Your cleaning procedure does it make a mess when you sweep my chimney?

        We take a lot of care making sure that there will be NO MESS.   All of our vacuums have HEPA filters and are specifically designed for chimney sweeping.   They do an excellent job of containment.   The area that the our equipment are on is covered with tarps and runners as needed.   With a masonry chimney, the front of the fireplace is sealed as an extra precaution when I go up to the top of the chimney to brush the creosote build up.   A prefab chimney is swept from down below, so we can maintain control over how much creosote dust is coming back into the fireplace and the vacuum will suck up any airborne particles.


bullet  How long does it take for your company to sweep the chimney?

        The chimney and fireplace only require an evaluation, which is generally done in roughly 20-30 minutes.   When the chimney does need to be swept, this will usually take about one to one and a half hours.   The access to the chimney, how long of a distance there is between where our van is parked to where we’re setting up my equipment will factor into how long the sweeping will take.


bullet  What do I need to do prior to the chimney sweep arriving?

        If you can remove all items from the front and sides of the fireplace.   The first thing needed to do is to look up inside the fireplace to determine the level of creosote.   If possible, clear an area in front of the fireplace of approximately 8 x 8 feet so that I have adequate room to lay down my tarp and any needed runners to protect your floor and furniture.   I will also need to create a pathway of runners across carpeting to your fireplace for our equipment moved in and out of the house.

        Now if you have animals, please secure them elsewhere.   Our equipment is very loud and could cause undue stress to the animal.   Also if you have cats let me know so that I know to be careful about leaving doors open.

* Note:   I will not enter the house if there are only children that are under the ages of 18 years old.


bullet  What kind of repairs does your company do?

        Repairs that we primarily do are masonry firebox patching, repairing a stuck damper or if it can’t be repaired we can install a top sealing damper in a woodburning masonry fireplace, replacing fire screens, smoke guards, chimney caps, and resurfacing chimney crowns.

        If the job exceeds our capabilities, we usually are able to refer excellent qualified repair people from within our industry.


bullet  What kind of wood should I burn?

        Not all woods are created equal.   Depending on what you want in terms of sustained heat or quick heat is based on the type of wood you use.   There are two types of wood: Hardwoods and Softwoods.   Hardwoods are better for sustained heat and burn more efficiently.   Softwoods are better for igniting a fire very quickly but don't burn as efficiently.   When building a fire you want to use softwoods to prime (heat up) the flue and then put on a split piece of hardwood to keep the fire going..


bullet  How do you remove 3rd stage creosote?

        What we use to remove 3rd stage creosote is either chemically removed with Sodium Hydroxide and/or chain flail.   Sodium Hydroxide is a powerful cleaning and neutralizing agent that penetrates and dries out thick baked on creosote.   Applying Sodium Hydroxide is very dangerous because of its extremely corrosive properties.   Sodium Hydroxide needs about 5 days to do its job depending on the outside temperature.   The colder the weather the slower the reaction time.   After 5 days the creosote can be remove with a chain flail leaving the flue tiles looking near brand new.   Once the creosote is out and the inner flue liners are re-inspected the flue liners may be cracked in multiple places and rebuilding the chimney is needed.


bullet  Why do I need a chimney cap?

        The reason why you need a chimney cap is to prevent water from entering your chimney and causing hundreds of dollars in water damage to your chimney.   Also chimney caps prevent any sparks from escaping your chimney and possibly catching your roof or any other combustible in close proximity on fire.   It also prevents critters from entering your chimney and calling it home.   Such critters include birds, bees, squirrels, raccoons, bats….



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