Regular HVAC maintenance is an important aspect of homeownership. Properly maintaining and caring for your air conditioning and heating systems could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. After a long winter working overtime to produce enough heat for your family, your HVAC system will likely be ready for a filter replacement. It is important to ensure your filters are up to date and prepared for the hard work your HVAC system will endure during the hot summer months.
Why You Should Replace Your Filters
Even though it is one of the simplest and easiest ways to ensure your heating system is running smoothly, many people fail to clean or replace their air filters over the course of the year. It is important to understand why air filters are necessary for the health of your heating and cooling system. Air filters hold an important function in keeping your family safe. In fact, they protect against mold, pollen, animal fur, bacteria/microorganisms, dust and dirt, fivers and lint, and metal, plaster, or wood particles. The air filtration occurs when the disbursed air is sucked back into the HVAC system where it is then conditioned and used again.
When your heating system or furnace has dirty or clogged air filters, it unnecessarily drives up energy bills and causes problems in your system. When airflow is blocked it causes system malfunctions and equipment damage. In order to prevent this, be sure to check your air filters at least once a month, especially during the fall and winter when your heating system is working harder.
Types of Filters
When changing your air filters, it is important to understand the different types of filters to ensure you are using the right equipment. Most HVAC and furnace filters are disposable, made of biodegradable paper or similar media, and shaped in cells, screens or fins designed to trap as much airborne debris as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, the size and thickness of your air filter have nothing to do with its efficiency. What you need to look at is the MERV rating. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.
MERV ratings range from 1-16. The higher the MERV rating on a filter, the fewer dust particles and other contaminants can pass through it. Filters are tested for pollen, dust mites, textile and carpet fibers, mold spores, dust, pet dander, bacteria and tobacco smoke. Most residential systems can adequately remove airborne contaminants with a filter rated MERV 7-12. MERV 13-16 is typically found in hospitals and general surgery settings.
The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the pores are for the air to flow through an HVAC filter. This can create more resistance in airflow than a system is designed to manage, thus making it inefficient. Reducing the airflow in your system can actually worsen the air quality in your home and put a damaging amount of pressure on the fan of your furnace or AC system. So it is worth doing some research. Find out what the highest MERV rated filter is that still allows for maximum airflow in your system or hire an expert from Home Comfort Experts to do the research for you and your home.
Filters can typically be purchased in economical multi-packs, and there are many types that will fit different models of furnace/HVAC units. It’s important to use the appropriate filter for your unit; using the wrong filter that doesn’t fit the unit properly can create the same types of problems as having a dirty filter.
Your HVAC installer can show you where the filter goes and how to remove the old one and install a new one. Your unit may also have an affixed label with directions for easy filter replacement. There are two basic types of furnace filters – fiberglass and polyester/pleated. The right filter for your home depends on how clean you want your air:
Fiberglass filters are the most common and the most affordable. These filters are disposable. Fiberglass filters are good for catching larger debris in the air, like lint and dust, and they work great for airflow for just about any system. However, they aren’t recommended for homes where people have allergies. Fiberglass filters need to be changed regularly, at least monthly. They are made by layering fiberglass filters over each other to form a screen and keep their rigidity with the help of a metal grating around the layers.
Disposable Pleated Filters
While polyester/pleated filters are more costly than fiberglass filters, they are made from higher quality materials and absorb a significant amount of dust, dirt, and allergens, especially smaller sized particulates like pollen, pet dander, and bacteria. These filters are made of polyester instead of fiberglass and are molded in a pleated shape. Polyester/pleated filters only need to be changed about every 90 days. They also hold onto any filtered material well when you’re replacing them.
This filter has electrostatic cotton or paper fibers that attract and contain small particles, making it the best option for homes with children, pets, or smokers. While it is affordable in standard sizes, custom sizes can be more expensive.
Using the same technology as its disposable counterpart, this option has a machine-washable filter that can be reused for up to eight years. Like its counterpart, it’s affordable in standard sizes, but can be pricey if custom sizes are needed.
These consist of 4-5″ pleated synthetic cotton and are attached to a metal grid to prevent leaks. The pleats do not necessarily mean a higher MERV rating. Rather, it creates more surface area to trap particles. These filters are used in hospitals, as they trap the smallest of particles, and are useful to those with respiratory issues or autoimmune disorders. Of course, this filter costs more and can only be installed in homes with air filter equipment that can handle the size of the filter.
How Often You Should Change Your Air Filters
Depending on the size and type of your heating and air conditioning system, as well as the type of filters you use, how often you need to change your air filters may vary. It is recommended that you undergo routine HVAC maintenance by a trusted and experienced professional technician to ensure your filters are changed regularly, as well as to address any other unforeseen problems your HVAC system may have.
The short answer for when to change your air filters: when they are dirty! Where you live, how many pets you have, if you are a smoker, if you or a loved one suffers from allergies, what kind of air filter you have. All of these factors and more determine how often your air filters should be changed.
Spring is a perfect time to have a maintenance and safety inspection performed on your heating and cooling system. After running hard to keep you warm all winter long, your air filters have likely built-up dust and debris. Before you send your HVAC system working overtime to keep you cool in the summertime, be sure to have a professional maintenance and safety inspection performed.