From foul-smelling air to fast-rising energy bills, there are many signs that indicate a malfunctioning HVAC system. Unfortunately, determining the exact cause of your problem isn’t always easy. After you’ve checked the air filter, cleared the debris away from the outside compressor, and verified that your thermostat is still working, you may be at a total loss for an explanation. That’s because some of the most common issues are often hidden behind your walls.

These are problems that exist within the ductwork that’s designed to transport heated or cooled air and distribute it throughout your home. The following are six HVAC problems that start with faulty, damaged, or poorly installed ductwork.

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1. Insufficient Airflow

If your air conditioner is on full-blast and yet you’re only getting a very limited stream of cooled air, this may mean that you’ve got leaky ductwork. As ducting ages and wears down, small gaps or cracks can form in its primary materials. As a result, conditioned air leaks into the space behind the walls where it has virtually no impact on the temperature of your living environment.

Although ductwork is ideally out of sight, it should never be too far out of mind. These largely hidden systems should be inspected and thoroughly cleaned at least once every three years. If you live in a low-traffic home and don’t use your HVAC often, you may be able to schedule these services just once every five years. These visits will give the technician the opportunity to identify air leaks and resolve them. Once the work is done, you’ll get far better airflow and your indoor air quality will improve.

2. Hot And Cold Spots

Central HVAC systems should have the ability to create uniform temperatures and humidity levels throughout the entire home. Unlike multi-split AC and heat pump systems, central HVAC is governed by a single thermostat. Thus, if one room in the home is comfortably warm and another is incredibly chilly, you’re dealing with hot and cold spots. When hot and cold spots exist, the entire HVAC may be working harder to correct these differences in temperature. Moreover, indoor comfort isn’t optimal, and your energy bills will invariably rise. Much like insufficient airflow, hot and cold spots are a sign that the ductwork supporting your HVAC system has leaks.

3. Foul Odors Whenever The HVAC System Is Turned On

One of the most common causes of foul-smelling air in the home is problems with the HVAC ductwork. Damaged, defective, or improperly installed ductwork can experience issues with excess humidity. This is also true of aging ductwork that has developed air leaks. This extra moisture creates the perfect environment for mold and mildew development.

Even when ductwork is intact, it can still be a source of unpleasant smells. For instance, if you’ve got a pest problem in your ductwork, droppings and other leavings can create pervasive and unpleasant aromas. It’s important to have foul-smelling ductwork inspected and cleaned right away. No matter what the cause, it’s guaranteed to have a very negative impact on your indoor air quality (IAQ) and health.

4. Dirty, Dusty Filters That Stop Working Within Weeks

There are countless reasons why your air filter might collect dirt and other debris at a faster than normal rate. For example, if you have pets in the home, the addition of pet hair and dander can make it necessary to change this component once every 30 days. If you live in an especially dusty region or right near a major freeway, most new air filters will be quickly rendered ineffective just five to six weeks after you install them. Sometimes, however, the rapid accumulation of debris on the filter surface indicates problems with the ductwork. When ducts are damaged and broken, they often pull in particulates from the attic. Addressing this issue at its source by repairing your ductwork will reduce the frequency of necessary filter changes. It will also improve your IAQ.

5. Popping Or Whistling Sounds

A noisy HVAC system can give you quite a start, especially when you’re at home alone. Unexpected whistling and popping sounds can leave you wondering whether or not you’ve got a ghost in the attic. In reality, these noises mean that there’s probably a rip or tear in your ductwork that’s creating dramatic changes in air pressure whenever your heater or air conditioner is turned on. If your noisy HVAC system has startled you more than once, it’s probably time to have your ductwork checked.

6. Skyrocketing Energy Bills

Using your HVAC system on a daily basis is guaranteed to create a rise in your energy bills. As such, most homeowners recognize that utility bill increases during peak heating and cooling seasons are pretty much the norm. In fact, many households expect and prepare for these seasonal increases. However, if your energy bill has recently undergone a dramatic spike that’s far beyond the seasonal increases you’ve experienced in the past, one likely culprit is your ductwork. Air leaks, changes in air pressure, and all of the other above-mentioned HVAC problems can lead to energy waste. Moreover, damaged and poorly maintained ducts will often cause you to pay far more for energy that you aren’t actually using or benefitting from.

HVAC ductwork is just as much of an important part of home heating and cooling systems as all of the more visible HVAC components are. When ductwork fails, problems can develop quickly and their impact can spread just as fast. If you’ve never had your ductwork cleaned and inspected before, or if your ducts are due for an inspection, schedule an appointment now.