The Fundamentals of Commercial Air Duct Cleaning

Because of the complexity and diversity of HVAC systems in commercial settings, the process of commercial air duct cleaning requires planning, experience, and skill to accomplish effectively. The approach will vary according to the size of the building, the number of thermostats and other components, and the type of ductwork (flex, interior insulated, etc).

A commercial air duct cleaning tech examines an air duct in a church setting.
A commercial air duct cleaning tech examines an air duct in a church setting in Dakota County, MN.

Typical settings of commercial air duct cleaning

Commercial air duct cleaning will cover a huge array of industries, businesses, and organizations. Some of the more common settings include the following:

  • Apartments/senior living
  • Schools/community centers
  • Churches
  • Office spaces
  • Retail spaces

Apartments and other multi-unit properties are typically heated and cooled by self-contained units (MagicPaks, Skypaks, etc), with ducts that extend out the top of the unit and run room to room through the soffit of the apartment perimeter. These ducts are cleaned in a fashion similar to single-family residential ducts, with tentacled whips and an industrial containment system.

Schools, community centers, and other similar buildings with large gymnasiums often have large ductwork located high in the ceiling. In these settings the easiest and most effective cleaning method will be to crawl through the ducts with protective equipment and powerful handheld tools. A lift is almost always required due to the height of the ceiling.

Churches and other houses of worship typically have very large HVAC systems, consisting of rectangular and/or cylindrical ducts. Many of these ducts will be interior-insulated, which is helpful for sound attenuation; however, over time the insulation can break down, at which time spraying with an HVAC insulation sealant would be recommended. Chapels often feature transite or in-slab ducts; cleaning of this type of ductwork, which is subject to moisture intrusion, is a specialized and laborious project.

Office and retail spaces are usually heated and cooled by RTUs (rooftop units) or AHUs (air handling units). Cleaning of these units is typically included in any air duct cleaning project. A frequent indicator of the need for air duct cleaning will be when the building occupants complain that the supply diffusers and return grilles—the most visible parts of the HVAC system—are dirty. This is often the reason customers cite when they first call for a commercial air duct cleaning estimate.

A commercial technician employs the crawl-through method to clean the air ducts in a community center in Dakota County, MN.

Methods of cleaning commercial air ducts

During the bidding phase of a commercial project, the project manager will survey the property, consult the blueprints, and assess the HVAC system to determine the method that will be the most effective for that project. The most common methods for cleaning commercial systems include the following:

  • During a crawl-through cleaning, the technician wears a Tyvek suit and respirator. He accesses the ductwork through a 16-inch access panel and enters with a vacuum hose and appropriately sized dust-brush heads. He moves methodically through the ductwork, cleaning as he goes.
  • Tentacled air whips are the workhorse of both commercial and residential duct cleaning. Their many tentacles thrash swiftly and vigorously inside the ductwork in every direction. This extreme agitation loosens debris from the walls of the ducts, then,
  • reverse- and forward-skipper balls are used to push debris to the desired location, where the vacuum is positioned.
  • High-pressured air triggers are effective for cleaning components such as reheat coils; after a tentacled whip or a dust-brush head has been used to loosen debris, a high-pressured air trigger blows it through the coil to the vacuum.

What does all this mean for you?

A little knowledge goes a long way. Savvy property managers and maintenance supervisors will inquire as to the history, experience, skillset, and processes of the company they entrust their HVAC cleaning to.

Let us show you how we can work together to ensure optimal results for your HVAC cleaning project.

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