Are your allergies being caused by dust in your ducts?Sacramento allergies are notoriously bad. While being known as The City of Trees might make for pretty streets and lots of shade, all that plant life also puts allergens and pollens in our air. But, did you know that the quality of the air in your home might also be causing allergy problems for you and your kids? The runny noses, coughing, and itchy eyes could be caused by Sacramento dust building up in your supply and return ducts—not just the outdoor air quality we usually blame.

Dust will build up in your HVAC system’s ducts—that’s just a fact. It comes from all sorts of places, like the outdoors, our feet, carpets, pet hair, and dander. But, with the proper upkeep and maintenance, you can reduce the dust in your vents to a level that won’t irritate you, or your children.

are your dusty ducts causing your allergies?

Your supply and return ducts are usually out-of-sight, out-of-mind, but could dusty ducts be the cause of your allergies? | Photo via Flickr user Jon Ross

Maintaining a Clean Blower Filter Is Key

The easiest—and most important—thing to be aware of when it comes to keeping your cooling system free of dust is the blower filter. The filter in your HVAC needs to be regularly changed. We recommend doing so twice a year, before the warm and cold seasons when you use your HVAC system the most.

Now, seeing as Sacramento’s near total lack of summer rain can make the area dustier than most places, we often suggest also changing your blower filter midway through the summer. And, putting in a fresh filter can be easy for an experienced DIYer:

  1. Make sure your new filter has the same airflow rating as the previous filter.
  2. Find the filter enclosure on the furnace or AC unit (where the fresh air return duct is located).
  3. Remove the old filter.
  4. Put in the new filter, paying careful attention to match the airflow arrows on the unit to those on your new one.

If you find the thought of changing your filter yourself particularly daunting, don’t sweat it. Your local HVAC professionals can take care of it for you, and will be happy to schedule you for regular air filter maintenance.

Other Filter Considerations

Air filters are the first line of defense against dusty ducts —and the specifics make a big difference in their effectiveness. Filters with a high MERV rating keep out more dust. So, if you have a 1-inch filter in your HVAC right now, switching to a filter with a better MERV rating can significantly increase your air quality. We often suggest trying to make this change when nobody is around, and the HVAC is not in use, to reduce the potential for odd odors or emissions that may bother you and your family.

Worried that your filter is clogged? Simply go back inside your HVAC unit and do a visual check. You’ll be able to see how much debris has piled up on the filter’s surface. I also suggest you look for rips or holes, check that the filter is properly fit into the frame to avoid air leaks, and double check that the fasteners are in place and installed correctly. If you find cracks between filter frames, or even between the bank and the duct wall, caulk them—or call a professional for a second opinion on how to keep those filters working at their peak.

Let Your Furnace Fan Help You Clean

Another practice I recommend to keep your ducts dust-free is to turn your furnace fan on after cleaning your house. Dusting, sweeping, and stirring up your home in general sends dust particles up into the air around you. Those particles are no good for your sinuses, especially if they’re already taxed by Sacramento’s allergen-heavy outdoor air. Turning your furnace fan on for a short while after you’ve gotten your home all shiny and clean can give your filtration system a better chance of keeping dust from building up and turning hazardous.

Take the Fight Outside

The fight against dust in your ducts should not take place entirely in your home, especially after one of Sacramento’s sweltering, and dusty, summers. I recommend calling a professional to handle the upkeep of your outdoor AC unit, but if you have experience with condensers, you can exercise caution as you tackle the job yourself.

Outdoor AC Condenser Units

Outdoor condenser AC units | Photo via Flickr user A Yee

  1. Shut off the power to your air conditioner—for safety’s sake—before performing maintenance on the unit outside. You should find an outdoor shut-off box somewhere near the unit, and you should also go to your breaker box to turn the power off there.
  2. Once the exterior AC unit is safely powered down, remove the fan cage from it by taking off the fasteners and lifting up the grill.
  3. Use gloved hands, or a wet/dry vacuum, to clean any leaves or other dusty debris that may have fallen into your unit.
  4. Once you are finished there, you should use a garden hose to spray the fins of the unit—using a pressure washer might bend the blades, so make sure to stick with your hose.
  5. Put the cage back on the same way you took it off, and then clean the space surrounding your unit, being sure to remove any dry leaves, cut branches, or other vegetation within 2-feet of the unit in all directions.

This cleaning process will keep dirt particles from contributing to a dusty clog in your unit that can eventually cycle into your home. When the summer finally ends, you can also use a condenser cover to help keep materials from falling into the unit during the winter, thereby making this cleaning process easier next spring.

Finally, keep in mind that sometimes DIY does more harm than good. Scheduling a regular HVAC check-up with a professional you trust whenever the seasons shift from winter to spring or summer to fall can keep the dust out of your ducts and, more importantly, out of your home. You, and your kids, will be sure to notice more than just the season’s change in the air.

Worried about the air quality in your home? Give the professionals at Bell Brothers a call to schedule regular maintenance on your HVAC system and air filters.