Air duct cleaners are a special breed. I’m not sure how else to put it. Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.

In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to a human’s health. Therefore, selling duct cleaning has to be a tough sell - period.

Yet, earlier this month in Nashville, members of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) met to, among other options, learn new ways to improve their respective businesses, gain certification, look over new vacuum equipment available, and just network with their fellow believers.

It’s nice to know that such an organization exists. After all, duct cleaning does not have a strong reputation. There are plenty of unlicensed, untrained, uncertified, and unqualified providers, willing to clean a house for $38 or $6 per vent. Plain and simple, it’s a rip-off.

And, let’s face it: Some heating and cooling contractors use air duct cleaning as a door opener or deal closer, always at a low price. But since it isn’t their primary business, such providers very seldom can commit the resources needed for proper equipment, training, or oversight.

NADCA has been trying to legitimize the industry since its inception in 1989. Its mission is to promote the assessment, cleaning, and restoration of HVAC systems - and to do this service properly. It is definitely trying.


For instance, NADCA’s board of directors recently unanimously approved an initiative to pursue accreditation as a standards developer through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Once accredited as an ANSI-accredited standards developer, NADCA plans to have its ACR Standard approved as an American National Standard.

“The ACR Standard is at the core of everything we do at NADCA,” said association president Bill Lundquist. “ACR serves as the basis of our training and certification programs, while also providing direction to our members in their efforts to deliver unsurpassed quality for HVAC cleaning and restoration service. Accreditation of the ACR Standard is the next logical step in our efforts to strengthen our reputation and further elevate the status of NADCA members.”

Simply put, ACR Standard spells out the technical requirement for “true source removal” in air duct cleaning. And, to NADCA’s credit, coil cleaning was added to the standard two years ago.

In Nashville, Lundquist offered an intensive session on the subject. The president of Monster Vac (Sheridan, Colo.) provided tips and techniques for coil restoration, detailing the proper steps for effective cleaning, techniques for performing pressure-drop checks and checking temperature differentials, plus ways to identify common contaminants. “Education is key,” said Lundquist.

This means investing significant amounts of money in equipment, supplies, and technical training - and then waiting possibly years for the return on investment. It’s definitely not for the weak of heart.


Mike Palazzolo, CEO of Safety King (Utica, Mich.) - and one of the association’s founding fathers - is all smiles when he sees the progression of NADCA. He has gained immensely by it, too. From a one-truck outfit in 1969, Palazzolo has created a 20-truck, $2.1 million-per-year business, which doubles as a duct cleaning school.

In his estimation, the most common mistake new providers make is thinking there is no preparation required. There might have been an element of truth in that point of view 30 years ago, but it certainly isn’t true any more, he said.

“If you are thinking of going into air duct cleaning, you had better find a reliable mentor somewhere or get some formal training so you can hit the ground running. Even then, it will be a struggle,” he noted.

“But at least you will have a clear idea how to do the work properly; what equipment to buy; how to approach maintenance, repair, and replacement; who to hire; how to advertise; how to get referrals; what to do about licensing, certification, and insurance; and a lot more.”

In Nashville, NADCA tried to help newcomers with a one-day course titled “Big Bucks in Air Ducts: Introduction to HVAC Cleaning.” Committee members Terry Donohue and Buck Sheppard were among the teachers. It was a cram course, as every angle for a duct cleaning business was touched upon.

I left that meeting with an even stronger appreciation for duct cleaners. It’s a tough sell, but at least these newcomers were looking to do it the professional, correct way.

Publication date:03/26/2007