Home Service Companies - Avoiding Scams and Getting the Most for Your Money
If you're like me, you've probably seen advertisements for duct cleaning services in your Sunday circular that feature pictures of dust mites they promise to eliminate. The truth is that having your ducts cleaned will not take care of a home dust mite problem. It is true that a very small amount of the dust mite allergen that becomes airborne could settle in your ductwork; however, ducts are far from the humid, fibrous environments where the mites live and produce their allergenic waste. Dust mites are lazy, lumbering creatures who are unlikely to crawl up your wall and into your air registers. Duct cleaning can be a worthwhile service in the event you have had severe flood damage as there may be mold spore in your ducts that could circulate through the home. Also, if you have had a major construction project, fire, or other cause for large particulates to have settled in your ducts, you may consider having them cleaned. The general maintenance recommendation for duct cleaning service is about every 20-25 years. It should be noted that more recently built homes with flex (accordion-style) ducts should not be cleaned as the ducts themselves can be damaged If you are concerned about airborne particulates coming from your duct work, we recommend a good furnace filter in conjunction with our DustCheck Vent Filters. They're both easy to install, electrostatically charged to trap small and large particles, and less expensive than paying a company to clean your duct system every few years!
Whole House Filtration Systems
There are a number of well-known companies that market whole-house filtration systems. First, be wary of those that do not have HEPA filtration. Remember, HEPA is the NASA-developed material that filters 99.97% of all particles down to .3 microns. That means mold, pet dander and pollen allergens, among other things. Second, it is important to remember that whole-house filtration systems can have a pretty big footprint. If your attic or basement is pressed for space, it may be difficult to add a whole house filter. Plus, you will need to hire an HVAC professional to install most whole-house systems. Whole-house systems can filter large volumes of air and may be something to consider if you are building a new home. However, you will pay for this efficiency, often upwards of $2,000 per unit. Plus, like any room air cleaner, you must change the filters periodically (frequency depends on the unit). For economy and effectiveness, we recommend HEPA room air cleaners for most people. The majority of your time is spent in the bedroom, so buying a few highly efficient room air purifiers for the rooms where your family sleeps will greatly reduce the airborne allergens you inhale. Even buying a third or fourth machine for a home office or playroom could still be a less expensive strategy than a whole-house system.
After a year full of severe rain and hurricanes last year, mold is on the minds of millions of people nationwide, and for good reason. Mold is a serious allergen that can cause a range of symptoms from standard allergic reactions to short-term memory loss and dizziness. As mold gets more and more "bad press", more and more people and companies are looking to make a quick buck. Tragically, Katrina victims and other flood-affected people are often targets. While there is no sure-fire way to know whether a mold remediation company is going to do what they say they will, you CAN do some things to figure out if you actually need their services in the first place. Often, what appears as mildew in and around the shower tiles is just that - mildew in and around the shower tiles. It can be cleaned with a non-toxic cleaner like NAS-12, then treated with a mold-resistant sealant so the fungus doesn't come back.
However, mold can be a more serious problem, growing on sheetrock, baseboards and in basements or crawlspaces. For a more thorough examination into how and what to look for, plus details on various mold types, visit our Learning Library article about Mold Assessment. Before trying any mold or mildew cleanup projects, allergy-sufferers in particular should use safety precautions like gloves, masks, and goggles. And remember, not all mold projects should be do-it-yourself. If your mold problem is severe and requires the help of a professional or outside contractor, here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau:
- Make sure they have experience in cleaning up mold - ask for references and check them out.
- Obtain two to three bids.
- Find out how long the firm has been in business.
- Contact the BBB for a reliability report.
- Work with your homeowner's insurance company. An insurance agent should be able to recommend a reliable and reputable remediation company. For other tips, click here.
Some Additional Recommendations:
- Be wary of companies that do their own mold-testing. It is just as easy and more reliable for you to do your own mold test with a kit that will provide you a printed lab report. Then you know the readings actually came from your home and not from somewhere else.
- Companies should not use chlorine bleach as their primary remediation tool. Bleach will not kill mold and is not EPA recommended for this purpose. It will change the surface color and temporarily clean away the spores giving the appearance that the problem is solved. But since the roots are not destroyed, the mold will return several weeks later. Furthermore, bleach fumes can aggravate asthma. Take a look at our Mold Cleanup Kit for tips on what we recommend for safe remediation.
Having your carpets periodically cleaned is a necessary evil. But cleaning your carpets isn't just an aesthetic practice, it can be good for your health, too... if it's done right. Here are some tips:
- Only have wet-extraction or steam cleaning done during the drier winter months. I recommend adding Dust Mite & Flea Control powder to a wet-extraction carpet cleaner to take care of dust mites and fleas for 6 months.
- Summer carpet cleaning should be done with a dry method or a do-it-yourself cleaner. The moisture from wet-extraction methods can cause mold growth in your carpet during the more humid summer months.
- Ask what the company is using to clean the carpets. Their products may contain harsh chemicals and strong fragrances that could irritate someone with allergies or asthma. Ask if chemical-free or fragrance-free options are available.
- Beware of pricey add-on services and upsell treatments they may try to sell you. Cleaning is cleaning and there should be no hidden "special" treatments or costs. Call us about our mold sealant and allergen-preventatives - they are lab-tested and proven to do what they say they will do.
- Don't just pick a company based on the lowest price. Companies should quote you per square foot, not per room, and offer a money-back guarantee.
- Do your homework. Check the carpet cleaning company's references, and check with the Better Business Bureau to be sure they are reputable.
Mattress cleaning franchises have recently made inroads in the U.S. but such businesses have been active in Europe and the UK for many years. These companies or individuals come into your home and utilize a variety of methods to eliminate dust mites from your bedding. Some use extremely strong vacuums to suck out the mites, dirt and allergens. Others run a strong UV light over the surface of the mattress and pillows that kills mites, bacteria and other organisms. While the efficacy of vacuuming mattresses is questionable, there is scientific evidence to support the effects of UV light on organisms and mite allergen. The problem with these services, which can be costly to begin with, is that as soon as you start sleeping on your bed again, you are re-filling that mattress with food for dust mites to return and feed on. Such companies want to provide you with regular service as your mattress fills back up with allergens and mites over the next year or so. Our recommended way to avoid exposure to dust mite and other allergens in your bedding, and save you money, is to use zippered allergen-barrier encasings. The fabrics we use are guaranteed to trap dust mites and their allergen, plus most come with lifetime warranties. Mite-proof mattress and pillow covers are the #1 doctor-recommended solution for preventing allergens in your bedding from getting into the air you breathe. I am so glad that Americans are thinking of ways to make homes and living environments healthier. After all, when my dad worked to make our home more allergy-friendly, it drastically reduced my allergic symptoms. There are lots of simple solutions to make a healthier home, and should you want or need to hire outside service companies for cleaning or remediation, be sure that they are reputable and doing their job in the healthiest way possible.