As public health officials scrambled to understand and control the spread of COVID, homeowners invested more money into indoor air quality than ever. Subsequent research supports some of the positive results of their efforts, like increasing ventilation, says Grant Vogel, director of product development for Vogel Heating and Cooling in Fenton, Missouri.
When Vogel Heating and Cooling cleans ducts, it teaches the team to help customers think about their goals and decide on the best approach for their situations. In the long run. Vogel believes that teaching homeowners about the benefits and limitations of duct cleaning helps differentiate premium services from the crowd. “Many companies know nothing about this, so they just sell duct cleaning,” Vogel says. “When you’re the type of company that doesn’t do other things, and all you care about is selling, you don’t really care about solving problems.”
Vogel believes in providing whatever service or product will resolve the customer’s concerns. “We are a building science company at our core," he says. "We don’t care how we achieve air quality; we just care about achieving it, so we’re not tied to one solution or another.”
When customers request duct cleaning, Vogel coaches his team to ask why it’s important to them and what results they are looking for. Sometimes they have odors that indicate microbial growth. “I think microbes are your most common concerns,” he says. “Duct cleaning can address fungal growth or mold.” Some customers are moving into a new home and want the peace of mind of knowing it’s completely clean. Other customers have evidence of pests. “Mice get into everything,” Vogel says. “They might see droppings in the filter or in the return duct.” Construction or remodeling projects can overwhelm filters. “After a construction project, providing duct cleaning and an evaporator coil verification and cleaning is not a bad idea.”
A few problems are too extreme for duct cleaning. “I would not include a sewage issue,” Vogel cautions. “I’ve seen situations where toilets backed up and leaked into the ductwork.” When he works with remediation companies, anything contaminated by sewage is removed and replaced.
When customers have more normal concerns about dust or particulates, Vogel encourages frank conversations about filtration. “If you have a good filter in place, you’re capturing everything,” he says. “If they have dirty ducts, we need to figure out where the filtration problem is and fix that.” Coils are wet and capture a lot of dirt, so coil cleanliness is a bigger issue than duct cleaning. “You probably need to take the coil out to wash it properly. But what you’re going to emphasize with the customers is that they should not have this over and over again.”
Vogel’s duct cleaning advertisement strategy depends on the time of year. “We run marketing campaigns on social media and online in the late winter and early spring when we have technicians available,” says Danny Gula, Vogel’s marketing manager. Checking on people’s systems is a great way to meet new customers and form relationships during slow seasons. “We ask why they are calling and take time to diagnose problems. We wouldn’t market duct cleaning during busy seasons when people are calling because their furnace or AC is broken, and the technicians are scheduled all day, every day.”
A single technician can clean a home duct system in about eight hours. Preparation for the process starts directly above the coil, often in a basement. “We put a bag like an inflatable balloon above the coil to protect it from debris” that will be loosened by the process, Vogel says. They connect a hose from a negative pressure machine to the ducts to pull dust out of the system.
Once the system is ready, the technician goes away from the coil, often upstairs, and starts agitating the duct with a tool to loosen debris. They work from vent to vent, unblocking and blocking grilles and registers as they work through the house. When they have worked their way back to the coil, they make small holes in ductwork for the final agitation. Everything gets pushed back to that central point near the furnace and is sucked into the vacuum filtration.
Vogel is selective about adding chemicals to a duct system. “Competitors may offer deodorizers as an accessory item to boost sales, but it’s not needed,” he says. “We don’t disinfect unless we have a problem to address.” In those cases, Vogel recommends Oxine. “It’s potent, but it’s well-tested, well-regulated and safe for duct systems.” The technician wears a respirator during the application, and the customer must stay out of the home for an hour afterward.
In the residential market, Vogel does both servicing and installation, which makes up about 15 percent of their total business. Vogel operates throughout most of St. Louis County and St. Louis City, as well as into Illinois.