True Story 1
Five years ago, when I inspected a house in Glenroy, I could see there must have been about 30mm of dust and dirt built up in the return air vent. However, the grill over the return air vent had been freshly painted. I advised the home owner that the system should be cleaned since it had not been cleaned in the past 15 years. The home owner told me that she did not want to get the ducts cleaned because the return air grill area had been freshly painted and she was concerned that the paint could be chipped or scratched and that would spoil the look. I felt very strongly that a system as dirty as that could have a great impact on the family’s health and well being and I asked if anyone in the family felt unwell or started sneezing when the system is turned on. The owner answered quite adamantly, saying that nobody living in this house had any problems with the system. With my experience, I was doubtful, but could not think of anything else to say on the subject. As I got ready to leave, the owner said she has a son who had moved out 2 years ago and he had suffered from very bad asthma for 20 years. We shared a moment of silence as what she had said sank in, then after a brief pause, she asked when she could get the job done… and don’t worry if a little bit paint gets damaged.
True Story 2
Just two month ago, I inspected an age care facility in Croydon. Their air conditioning system has not been cleaned in over 20 years, and I could see there must have been at least 4cm of dust and dirt built up in the return air duct. It was disgusting. I explained to the manager that this dust and dirt build up is a fertile breeding ground for dust mites and bacteria and is very unhealthy for the elderly occupants of the facility. The manager was shocked at what we told him, and did not realise that they could have become so filthy. Although he could see the need to do the job, he explained that he could not go ahead because he did not have the budget to do so. I was disappointed; not because we did not do the job, but because the contamination could compromise the health of the elderly residents. Much of the building was sealed off from the outside world, meaning that the air that they breathed in, day after day, was passing through these filthy ducts. The residents in the facility can be vulnerable and many have chest related weaknesses. I feel passionately that one day, there should be a push to include compulsory duct cleaning, conforming to regulatory standards, as part of the hygiene protocols required of health and age care facilities. It will help those vulnerable people who need a little bit of extra help to breathe easier and enjoy a healthier life.
True Story 3
Four years ago, I inspected a house in Caulfield. When I was shown the return air duct I saw it was very dirty, and the dust build up was very obvious. I was ready to explain to the elderly couple how important it is to clean the ducts, but they interrupted me and just asked when we could do it. I was a little surprised, as normally, clients might need a bit more information about duct cleaning before making a decision. I said that it seems as if they are already aware of the need for duct cleaning. The couple said that 3 days ago at the midnight, the wife could smell something burning and woke her husband to get him go and investigate. The husband got up and took a look around the house, checking all the electrical appliances but finding no obvious problems. However, he could still smell burning, so he searched again, still finding nothing, until he noticed wisps of black smoke coming from one of the heating ducts in the living room. He quickly turned the heater off and called the fire brigade. When the fire brigade investigated, they found that the fire was coming from the heater. As the heater was in the middle of the house, under the floor, as a result of a previous extension to the house, it could have been a disaster if the fire had spread through the duct work. They also found that the system was very dirty, with the fan motor covered by a build up of dust and lint. This incident was a very sobering education and they quickly came to value the benefit of keeping the system clean.
True Story 4
One month ago, we inspected a private hospital in Essendon and quickly found out there was a significant dust build up in the return air duct. The maintenance manager was shocked to find that the condition of the ducts was so bad. As we walked past an operating theatre, my professional curiosity made me ask if the duct work in this theatre had been cleaned. The maintenance manager replied that it had been cleaned a few years ago, as if this indicated that he did not have to worry about that set of ducts. However, when I inspected the theatre’s return air duct, it too, turned out to be filthy. I strongly advised the maintenance manager to have this cleaned as soon as possible. Imagine if you or your loved ones were having surgery in that theatre, I said; imagine if miniscule particles of dust and other contaminants were gently wafting over you as you lay there, settling in your open wounds… I’m sure you can imagine the possible results. However, the maintenance officer said they wouldn’t be doing it because they did not have the budget for it. I felt so strongly about it that I challenged him, asking what they would do if someone sued the hospital as a result of their contaminated air ducts. This would be a very bad outcome for all involved. Unfortunately, my strength of feeling I put into my challenge annoyed the maintenance manager and turned him off completely. My colleague, Bob, gave me a nudge and said, “Hey mate, you shouldn’t have said something like that, people don’t like it”. Yes, I know that I lost that sale, but I don’t regret saying it. I’m actually glad that I was bold enough to make a point.
On the way back to the office, I came back to the same thought that I had when I inspected the aged care facility. Duct cleaning should be included as an essential part of the hygiene standards in all hospitals and health care facilities. Just because the dust build up inside the ducts isn’t immediately visible, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there, being spread throughout the facility, breathed in by staff and patients alike. Those vulnerable people who need a bit of extra help or care have an absolute right to breathe fresh uncontaminated air.