After finding a coupon in a recent mailer, we decided to go ahead and get our ducts, vents, and furnace cleaned.  It seemed like good timing too, our firstborn was only a couple months away and we’d been doing quite a bit of construction around the house.  Thought it would be a good idea to make sure we had clean air blowing around for the new little guy.  We ended up calling Midwest Aircare, who promised 12 vents, 1 main, and 2 return vents cleaned for $69.95.  Thought is was a good deal, so we called them.  They asked several questions on the phone, how old the house was, how many vents and returns we had, ect, then set up the appointment.

The service tech came out on time, then assessed the situation.  We only had 6 vents, but we had 4 returns, and 2 mains.  He said he could do everything, but the second main and additional 2 returns would be another $300 total.  I asked why I would do that when I could just get another coupon which offered that additional service for $69.95 and have them make another trip out tomorrow.  He said he didn’t know, but he’d see if he could work something out, then got to work.

The cleaning process is quite simple and a little archaic.  He cut a hole the size of a dinner plate in our main vent near the furnace, then hooked a large vacuum up to that hole.  Then a small rubbery air hose was forced down the upstairs vents to stir up dust and debris.  The vacuum downstairs then sucked all the debris out.  Two problems, one, large pieces of debris (plaster, chips of wood, ect) are too heavy to be stirred up by the air blowing around, so they don’t move.  And second, the very fine particles of dirt, mold, whatever that are stuck to the sides of the duct-work are often to sticky to get knocked off by a rubbery hose whipping about.  The end result left a lot to be desired.

The service tech “cleaned” my 6 vents and one of the mains, but refused to do any of my return registers.  He said those shouldn’t count as returns since they were near the floor.  I explained this is the common practice with many old houses and since they already knew the age of my house before they came, shouldn’t they have some idea what types of returns I had (also, the coupon had no disclaimer on what types of vents or returns they wouldn’t do).  No answer, but he was kind enough to do a full house inspection.  Offered my a killer deal, “the works” package for $2,900ish.  This included mildicide, insecticides, mildew control, ultraviolet light to kill spores and mold, all the ducts, mains, returns and the furnace cleaned, new filters, and the AC unit cleaned out.  I told him I had $69.95 budgeted and that’s all I was going to spend.  He said he might be able to do it for $2,100, but he’d have to call his boss.  “Don’t bother”, I said, “I’m only going to spend $69.95”.  After 10 minutes on the phone and us haggling back and forth, he finally got the total price down to $950, then finally, $350.  What a deal!  I still said no, told him thank you, but I would like him to finish the job he started.  He still had not cleaned any of my return vents and had two large holes he had cut in my main vent lines downstairs that needed to be patched.  He said he couldn’t do the returns because he had “already spent to much time on this job” (he’d been there for just over 45 minutes).

I then tried to bargain with him.  Since there were only 6 vents, not 12 like the coupon said they would do, how about throw in another main or return for free.   He said “no, that’s how we make our money, when people have less stuff than what the coupon says.”  I said ok, then just do the 2 return vents like your coupon says.  He insisted he was already losing money by being there so long and didn’t feel like he was supposed to do any returns since they were the “older style” (even though his coupon stated “2 returns”).  I balked, he said he would do one return, but that was it.  Figuring this was the best I could do, I said “fine”.  “But”, he said “I will have to charge you $35 each to patch those two holes I cut in your mains to hook the vacuum up”.  I assured him I would not be paying that $35 since he cut the holes, he could fix them (bless his little heart).

Long story short, we got all 6 vents, only one return, and one main cleaned for $69.95 after at least 30 minutes of arguing, haggling, and gnashing of teeth.  None of the vents came very clean, each had a fine layer of dust stuck to the metal.  After asking around, I’m no the only one who’s had a horrible experience with Midwest Aircare.  And I feel bad for the little old lady who calls this company and gets the “$2,900” estimate.  Think of the profit margin if they were willing to do it for $350!  Not saying all duct-cleaning companies operate this way, but in the future I’m just going to change my furnace filter and maybe stick a shop-vac down a vent every once in a while.