There’s a lot that goes into making homes safe and comfortable. After plumbing and electric, many homes in warm and cold climates alike have heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to regulate temperature and air quality.
Installing or updating HVAC systems typically requires ductwork to effectively move air from the system to vents throughout a home or building. There are several factors that impact the cost of HVAC ductwork, including the size and layout of a home, materials used, and type of system.
This guide will give you the basics of how HVAC ductwork operates and key cost considerations.
What Is Ductwork?
In the broadest sense, ductwork can be defined as the channels used for transferring heated and/or cooled air through the rooms and zones of a home or building.
In many cases, HVAC systems need separate supply and return ducts to circulate, filter, and treat air continuously. Supply ducts bring air from the furnace, geothermal pump, or other type of system to blowers and vents to heat or cool an area. On the flipside, return ducts transport untreated air back to the HVAC system.
Some of the most common HVAC systems that need ductwork include:
• Geothermal or ground source heating and cooling
• Central gas heating
Between these different systems and a home’s unique characteristics, ductwork can be handled in a variety of ways.
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Installing New Ductwork
Figuring out how to install ductwork varies in complexity and cost between new construction and finished and furnished homes.
Additional steps that may be necessary for a finished home, such as cutting holes in existing walls, ceilings, and floors, may likely drive up the price of labor and require more materials and time for installation. Depending on where the system is placed, ducts may be run through closets, attics, basements, or up stairwells.
Since different homes require different amounts of ductwork, it’s helpful to think of cost on a linear foot basis. New ductwork can cost about $40 to $65 per linear foot, with the variation coming down to costs for materials and labor.
On average, retrofitting an existing home without ducts can run $2,400 to $6,600.
If you’re building a new home, including plans for HVAC ductwork from the getgo could reduce the overall installation cost. For starters, it would bypass the need to retroactively cut holes throughout a home for ducts and vents.
Additionally, it may be easier to design systems that utilize fewer linear feet since ductwork can be installed before walls and floors are completed.
If your home is already fitted with ductwork, replacing a portion of it or the entire system might be necessary due to leaks, cracks, or reduced efficiency over time. Since ducts are usually kept out of sight behind walls and ceilings or in attics and basements, accessibility is a key factor in repairing a system.
The replacement process involves both removing the existing materials and installing new ductwork. Replacing ductwork can cost from $25 to $55 per linear foot depending on the location of the existing system and choice of materials for the new ductwork.
Replacing ductwork in a home between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet can run $2,800 to $5,600; for a 3,000 to 3,500 square foot home, it can ring up between $4,200 and $7,800.
Exposed ductwork can be easier for you to reach and replace on your own, but a professional contractor may be necessary for more complicated repairs and getting to concealed HVAC systems.
Additionally, a skilled professional could likely complete the job in less time than a DIYer might, and time may be a more pressing factor than money in the middle of a cold snap or during a heatwave.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar program recommends getting quotes from contractors with North American Technical Excellence (NATE) or Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification to get the job done right on the first try.
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There are several types of materials to consider when planning how to install ductwork in a home. Broadly speaking, ductwork can be categorized as flexible or rigid, with options for materials within each category. Each comes with tradeoffs in terms of price, lifespan, efficiency, and flexibility.
True to its name, flexible ductwork is characterized by its ability to bend, which can come in handy when installing inside tight and tricky spaces.
In most cases, aluminum or non-metallic materials like plastic, polyester, and PVC are used for flexible ductwork. Let’s take a look at how they compare.
Flexible Aluminum: Costs between $4 to $7 per linear foot (excluding labor).
• Ideal for installing in hard-to-reach places
• Longer lifespan than non-metallic flexible ductwork
• Generally cheaper than rigid ductwork
• Poor energy efficiency without added insulation and sealing
• Needs to be reinforced to minimize kinks and bends to improve airflow and efficiency
Flexible Polyester: Costs between $1 to $5 per linear (excluding labor)
• Useful for compact spaces
• Generally one of the cheapest options
• Resistant to mold and rust
• Prone to tearing and less durable than flexible aluminum
• Needs to be reinforced to minimize kinks and bends to preserve airflow and efficiency
Rigid ductwork can be made from several materials, such as fiberglass and galvanized steel or aluminum. These options can also vary in shape (e.g., cylindrical or rectangular) and size. Additionally, there are differences in cost and features for each type of rigid ductwork.
Sheet Metal Ductwork: Made from galvanized steel or aluminum, these materials usually cost anywhere from $8 to $15 per linear foot.
• Greater durability than other materials
• Can produce less noise than flexible ductwork
• Less susceptible to mold and mildew
• Difficult to install if there isn’t space for long, straight lines of ductwork
• Adding insulation may be required for greater energy efficiency
• More expensive than flexible ductwork
Fiberglass Duct Board: Consisting of metal ductwork lined with fiberglass, this option costs between $5 and $10 on average.
• Built-in insulation improves energy efficiency and temperature control
• Easy to cut and seal
• Well suited for installing between a building’s rafters or floor joists
• Over time, they can release fiberglass particles into the air and be susceptible to mold and mildew
• Can be difficult to clean
• Often the most expensive option per linear foot
Sealing and Insulation
Depending on the structure of a home, the type of HVAC system, and other factors, sealing and insulating ductwork may be necessary for health and safety concerns. It might also improve the efficiency of a system, thus potentially lowering your energy use, and may help pay for itself through lower utility bills.
If combustion is involved in your HVAC system, which is generally the case for furnaces and central gas heating, harmful gases like carbon monoxide are generated in the process. Sealing ductwork can further safeguard that such gases are not circulated into the living space of home instead of being emitted outside.
While professional contractors are recommended for sophisticated ductwork insulation and sealing jobs, homeowners may choose to take a DIY approach to sealing near vents and other ductwork connection points with metal tape. These locations, especially vents, can be more accessible and are more common locations for leaks.
How Often Should Ductwork Be Replaced?
While we may immediately notice when the power goes out or the plumbing is backed up, it’s harder to tell if we’re getting the most out of a heating and cooling system.
Maintenance and cleaning can help extend the lifespan of ductwork and heating and cooling systems, but a time will come when replacement is a safer and more financially sound choice.
Erring on the side of caution, you may want to have a heat pump or air conditioner (including ductwork) replaced if it’s more than 10 years old. For a furnace, the estimated lifespan is around 15 years.
To keep your ductwork in tiptop shape, there are some maintenance tasks, like changing air filters monthly, that can be done on a DIY basis. More complex procedures, such as cleaning blowers, checking electrical connections, and lubricating mechanical parts, may be better handled by a professional contractor.
Having a maintenance checklist handy can be helpful for staying on top of your cleaning and maintenance schedule, as well as making sure a contractor checks all the boxes when inspecting your HVAC system.
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Whether saving ahead or responding to a sudden home repair cost, there are options available for paying for HVAC ductwork.
Installing energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems may qualify for a residential energy property tax credit. Additionally, some states and utilities offer incentives and rebates.
Although helpful, these incentives and tax credits still leave a portion of the cost to the homeowner. It can sometimes be difficult to save for potentially pricey repairs like these if a budget is already stretched thin.
One financing option you might consider is an unsecured home improvement loan. This is a personal loan designed to be used for home upgrades and repairs, and typically comes with a fixed interest rate, set term, and regular monthly payments. Unlike a home equity loan or line of credit, personal don’t require you to have equity in your home or use your home as collateral.
Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.
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