The monthly mail flier advertising a $99 all-house air duct cleaning service sounded like a good deal to retiree Mary Rees. But it ended up costing her a lot of grief and $600 for mold contamination cleanup that didn’t work – and another $3,725 in an insurance claim to USAA to repair her 2,600-square-foot house’s duct work. “This just came as a total surprise,” Rees said. In April, she contacted CMT Air Duct Cleaning to clean her duct system, but after the four-man crew had been in her house just 10 minutes, they told her the entire duct system was totally infested with mold. Instead of the $99 price they quoted her, it would cost $600 to clean the ducts, eradicate the mold and treat her air duct system with anti-bacterial supplies.
Rees agreed to the treatment. After the crew left, her house started to smell musty, so she called USAA, her insurance company. They sent an agent to her house who said the Reeses had a fiberglass – not metal – duct system. Fiberglass cannot be treated with chemicals and brushes. The entire duct system was ruined and it needed to be replaced at a cost of $3,725. During the past two years, consumers have filed 11 complaints with the Texas attorney general’s office against CMT Air Duct Cleaning. The company started out as a carpet cleaning service and then branched out into the air duct cleaning business. It has crews in San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas. “That’s not a lot of complaints compared to the volume of business we do,” said Joel Leon, manager of CMT Air Duct Cleaning. “We’re a big company and sometimes things happen. But the percentage is very low.” Leon, in CMT’s Richardson headquarters, said Rees got a full treatment for mold including four kinds of chemicals.
The company offered to send another crew to do the job again, Leon said, but Rees refused. “We’re not giving bad service,” Leon said. “We do more than 1,000 houses a month in San Antonio. If we damage ducts, we replace them.” But Rees plans to take CMT to small claims court for $600 plus her $250 insurance deductible and court costs. Rees also says she doesn’t want anyone else to get the kind of treatment she received. “I’m mad,” Rees said. “It’s eating at me and I want to settle this thing.” Air duct cleaning is a relatively new field.
The Environmental Protection Agency has created a 12-page publication on the subject after it received a lot of calls from consumers wanting information, an agency spokesman said. The EPA advises consumers it is probably not necessary to clean their air ducts if no one in the household suffers from allergies, unexplained symptoms or illnesses, or if the air ducts are not contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold. “If a service provider fails to follow proper duct cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems,” according to the EPA. “A careless or inadequately trained service provider can damage your ducts or heating and cooling system, possibly increasing your heating and air conditioning costs or forcing you to undertake difficult and costly repairs or replacements.” The National Air Duct Cleaners Association, based in Washington, D.C., certifies companies that pass its testing and membership requirements. CMT Air Duct Cleaning is not a member of the association.
When it comes to duct cleaning, if the price sounds to good to be true, it probably is, said Wiley Gillit with Gillit Duct Cleaning in San Antonio and a member of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. Gillit says a 1,500-square-foot house generally costs $325 to $400 for an entire cleaning of the heating and cooling system.