Brian Ziegler has pulled a great many things out of people’s air ducts. A great many things.

“We find old medicine bottles in the real old houses. I’ve found beer cans down there and packs of cigarettes,” he said. “Just a couple of weeks ago I found a VCR tape somebody was hiding. I don’t know what was on it. I gave it to the home owner.”

Josh Pratt has also found some pretty interesting objects in the ductwork of folks’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC).

“I’ve found skeletons of animals and things. A lot of mice and birds,” he said. “I found a megaphone and a disassembled rocking chair. Playing cards, marbles, toys, Legos. One guy said, ‘That vent over there, that’s where my candy stash is that I hide from my wife.’”

But as Ziegler and Pratt can attest, objects like toys and tapes aren’t necessarily the real danger lurking in a home’s ductwork. It’s the years of dust, dirt, mold and allergens that circulate throughout the home any time there’s air running through the system.

Ziegler of Cleaner Air Solutions, based in Janesville, said those with allergies and respiratory problems should have their air ducts cleaned at least every couple of years. Others should have them cleaned at least every five years, he said.

Pratt of Fresh Start Cleaning & Restoration based in Eagle Lake said having pets is another reason to have ductwork cleaned more frequently. Pet hair and dander easily get swept into the HVAC system and often in surprising quantities.

Yet the service is one that often is neglected in many people’s homes.

“I get into some houses, and it hasn’t been done for 70 or 80 years, and I pull out 10 gallons of debris,” Pratt said.

According to Ziegler, indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outside air. So having fresh, clean air to breathe is the top reason ductwork cleaning should be done. Money is another reason. Clean air systems cause systems to run more efficiently, reducing energy bill costs.

Ziegler said it’s hard to know how dire a home’s ductwork will be until he gets in there.

“Every house is different,” he said. “In one you might pull out a ton of stuff, and the next one it’s a couple of pounds of dirt.”

Some homeowners use Shop-Vacs to clean out their ductwork. But Ziegler and Pratt said the reach and power of a Shop-Vac isn’t good enough.

“The thing is, you’re not going to get into the trunk line,” Ziegler said.

During a cleaning, the furnace and air handler are cleaned out because they are what distributes the air throughout the home. The inside of the unit and the blower are vacuumed, and the coils are cleaned. Registers and vents are removed, and a commercial vacuum system reaches into the air ducts to the trunk line to ensure the entire system is cleaned out.

After Ziegler finishes with a home, he often hears from homeowners about the improved air quality.

“The majority will say they can tell the difference,” he said.

Ziegler said, in addition to ductwork cleaning, dryer vents are another too often neglected task in homes that cause more than 15,000 fires per year. Pratt agrees.

“Lint will stick to the run, and then it starts to really build up,” Pratt said. “It’s a huge fire hazard. If you notice a load of towels taking more than one cycle to dry, it’s time to get it cleaned.”

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