I often work from a home office. For the most part it’s quiet and allows me to work uninterrupted, but there is one thing guaranteed to break my concentration: telemarketers. On a typical day I get between 1-3 calls from someone trying to sell me something. Some of these are rather benign — charities, blood drives, and the like, and I can hardly fault them for disturbing my day for a worthy cause. Some are service providers I have a business relationship with (phone, cable, etc.) doing customer satisfaction surveys, which I only object to when they turn out to be merely a pretext for an upsell pitch. But the majority are the type of telemarketers most of us dread, aggressively pushing products I don’t need. Of these, two stand out as particularly persistent.
The first are the computer optimization services, promising to make my Windows PC faster and more efficient by tuning the machine and removing viruses and malware. How did they know I had a Windows PC? Many suggest they’re associated with Microsoft itself — or almost do so, as you can pick up the weasel phrasing when you slow them down a bit. Of course, having always had a Mac, I know immediately that this is just a cold reading technique, no different than a psychic suggesting I’ll get news from a relative whose name starts with “J”, knowing most of us have a Johnny, a Jimmy, a James, a Jerry, a Justin somewhere in our family. Though even if I didn’t recognize it as such, there’s still no way I’d let a stranger touch a machine with so much personal data on it.
The second class of persistent telemarketer seems, at first, much more innocuous — air duct cleaning services. Whether I need my ducts cleaned right now or not, I can’t fault them for asking, and if I only got an occasional call I’d probably think nothing of it. But I get several of these a week, enough that I quickly started realizing something must be fishy.
After all, no other class of periodic home service calls with such relentlessness — I almost never hear from eaves cleaners, lawn mowers, or rug shampooers, for example. And even if my ducts were dirty, don’t I have a filter on my furnace that should stop any (or at least the vast majority of) dust from making it into my house? And if it didn’t, wouldn’t the inside of my registers be caked with dust? Where’s my screwdriver?
As it turns out, my instincts seem to be correct here, at least according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. In their brochure, “Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?” they make two key observations.
- Studies fail to show that home dust levels increase because of dirty air ducts, as most of the particles simply cling to the duct walls. Most household dust is caused by cooking, cleaning, smoking, or bringing it in from the outside.
- Further, there’s no evidence duct cleaning prevents any health problems.
While the EPA doesn’t call duct cleaning a scam outright, they’re pretty clear that there’s usually no benefit, and they limit the number of scenarios in which it’s appropriate, i.e.:
- if there’s visible mold in your ducts;
- if there’s a vermin infestation in your ducts; or
- if you can see excessive amounts of dust actually being released into your home from your registers. Even here they note that the mere presence of dust on the registers is normal, easily cleaned by the homeowner, and does not indicate a problem.
They also warn against scam-like behaviour on the part of the duct cleaner, e.g. those “who make sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning”, stating that “such claims are unsubstantiated.” Additionally, they cite risks beyond your wallet — both from incompetence (poorly performed duct cleaning can release more dust into your home than none at all) and from the use of chemical biocides, which kill bacteria and mold, but are often inappropriate for use inside air ducts.
The EPA is a government agency, so it’s no surprise they’ve chosen their words carefully. I’m not under such official restrictions, so am in my unofficial capacity calling bullshit. Caveat emptor folks.
Photo courtesy of mikecogh via Flickr under Creative Commons.