Three years ago, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) teamed with Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC on an exposé in which they revealed many of the tricks that shady duct cleaning companies use to scam customers. Through hidden cameras at the homes of paying customers, the report showed how one particular company promised clean air ducts for a cheap price, but the price ballooned to ten times the promised amount, and the workers didn’t actually do any of the work they promised.
Unfortunately, the NBC special did not profile an isolated incident. Many other duct cleaners are taking advantage of customers, and it’s easy to do because ducts are hidden behind walls, so it’s difficult to judge if the job was done properly, if at all. Three years have passed since their exposé, but the scams are all still the same.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid deceitful HVAC companies and their air duct cleaning scams.
1. Avoid Gimmicky Offers
The phrase, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” applies to this situation. The allure of many disreputable duct cleaning companies is the promise of cheap service. In the Dateline profile, it was through newspaper ads promising $49.95 duct cleanings. This astoundingly cheap offer is too good to pass up, so many consumers bit the bait. Unfortunately, it was also too good to be true. They soon informed the customers that the job might cost a little more for their “unique” problems. Very quickly, the job went from $50 to $500, and for extremely shoddy work.
Good work comes at a price. Unusually cheap offers are always a bad sign. How can one determine what is a normal price? Simple…
2. Get Estimates
This is the simple act of increasing one’s sample size. Get estimates from three to five (or even more) duct cleaners and see what their prices are. The reputable companies will offer a free inspection, then inform the homeowner of what needs to be done and what it costs. They will not make false promises to lower the costs, nor will they unleash the surprise of extra costs.
3. Check Licenses and Certifications
A legitimate HVAC cleaning company will have a NADCA certification, and will be able to show it on request. Illegitimate operations will not have this certification. Often, they will trick homeowners into believing that they have another equally important certification, such as through the EPA or another organization. However, the only thing that matters for duct cleaning is the NADCA certification.
4. Avoid Sprays and Sealants
In the Dateline profile, one of the scammers told the homeowner that she had soot in her air ducts, which would require some special sprays and sealants to remove. However, NADCA advises against chemical use. The chemicals are not only costly, but they are unnecessary and can even be health hazardous. Even the biocides and ant-microbial sprays that sound beneficial are generally unnecessary. These chemicals are used to tack on extra costs, yet the risks far outweigh the benefits.
5. Refuse Steam Cleaning
Some disreputable duct cleaners will claim that steam is necessary to clean the ducts rather than vacuuming and other traditional methods. Not only is this false, but it also poses a threat to the homeowner. Steam introduces moisture into the HVAC system, which could quickly lead to mold. Pumping steam into air ducts for any reason is a terrible idea.
6. Verify All Results
Before and after pictures, videos, or views should be available upon request. The homeowner has the right to see if the job was done satisfactorily. If the company is unwilling to show physical evidence of the work they performed, then it’s safe to assume that they either did a poor job or they did no work at all.
7. Check References and Reviews
Good companies have references in the community and reviews online that can be checked. Beware of companies that have negative references or reviews. Also beware of companies that change their names or locations regularly, as these are usually the signs of scam companies that bounce around and change their image to dodge their bad rep, and possibly even evade the law.
The important thing for avoiding scam artists is to be a good consumer. By comparing prices, doing homework, and not falling for the gimmicks, consumers will get the services they demand. But any failure to do research and be careful could result in paying for a costly scam.
If you are considering an air duct cleaning, click here to inquire about a free estimate.