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Should I Replace My Ducts Everytime I Buy a New HVAC System?
One of the details we ask people when we come out for a new AC installation is how the air distribution around their house is. We like to ask if there are any hot or cold spots in the house. Are there any bedrooms, offices, or living areas that they would like to have more air? About 80% of the people we ask say they’re just fine with the airflow they have. All the rooms seem to be balanced just fine.
Some people will say yes, they do have a problem room and would like to have better comfort in that room. In an effort to rack up the price of your new HVAC system, salespeople looking out for their commission checks will recommend you spend the extra $5,000 to $10,000 to change your ductwork to solve the problem. Is that really necessary? Not every time. Here’s why.
Ducts can be repaired individually. You don’t have to replace every duct in your house to get better air in one or two rooms. Those rooms can have more airflow delivered to those rooms by increasing the size of the duct leading to the room. Another way to get more air to a room is to relocate the duct on the supply plenum to a more advantageous spot for getting air there. Typically towards the end of the plenum.
You can fine-tune this process by cutting in manual dampers that can be adjusted to decrease the amount of air going to one side of the house so that it can be diverted elsewhere in your home. I still recommend a professional do this because messing around with the ducts like this is the same as shutting down registers in your home to get more air to another side of the house. This airflow disruption can cause high static pressure, affecting the more expensive mechanical parts of your air conditioning system.
The aerodynamics of the delivery system is essential to the longevity of the system, so unless you know how to check static pressure in the ductwork, repairs like this should probably be left to the pros.
Your supply air ducts connect to your forced air unit, either in the closet, garage, attic, or package unit on the roof. The air from that unit gets sent into a big box called a supply plenum. Attached to that supply plenum are several ducts that lead to each room of your house. Here’s how to tell if those ducts are in good shape or not:
• The ducts are strapped properly or lying on the floor of the attic.
• Those ducts are straight, not bent or kinked, restricting airflow.
• The duct’s vapor lining on the outside of the duct is not torn or melted.
• Good to decent insulation, which maintains the temperature of the air as it heads towards the room that duct leads to.
There’s not a lot more you can ask from your ducts. If they’re adequately strapped, meaning each duct is straight or has long sweeping bends (no kinks) that lead to where they need to go, and they have metal or vinyl straps that secure them in place, that’s a good sign. Another thing that you’d like to see for your ductwork is that the vapor lining, which is yellow, pink, grey, black, or silver, is in good shape.
Ductwork has an R-value to insulate your ducts to a set standard. 30 to 50 years ago, those standards were not as high as they are today. So, ductwork has evolved in performance through the following stages:
• The yellow and pink material is insulation. It may or may not have a clear wrapping to prevent vapor from forming on the duct. The ductwork may be original to the house if you have this setup, as it’s not too common to install them this way anymore. You can expect this ductwork to be 30 to 50 years old. It has an R-Value of two (R-2). Not the best in the world, but I’ve seen people keep it because it works just fine, and I support them on that decision.
• Grey ductwork typically has an R-Value of four (R-4). Once again, not the freshest ductwork we see out in the field, but if the ducts still meet those guidelines from above, people have chosen to keep that ductwork a little longer.
• Black and silver ducts can have an R-Value of either R-6 or R-8. R-6 has been around for the last 25 years or so. R-8 is the newest standard and has the thickest layer of insulation surrounding the inner lining.
I tell people your ductwork’s life averages about 30 years. Some people replace them every time they get a new system, but most of the people I sell equipment to don’t. That’s because it’s impractical to do so. Yes, the higher R-value of the ductwork, the better performance you’ll have. The ductwork will hold the hot or cold air it’s delivering inside it better. That translates to cooler or warmer air in your rooms, depending on which season it is. Your decision is whether you want to spend the extra money to change your ductwork out every time you change your HVAC system. Good luck! Hopefully, I have armed you with some useful knowledge going into your next project.