11 Little-Known Facts about HVAC Air Filters

We’re in the full heat of summer. You’ve spent all day at work before commuting home in a hot car. You’re looking forward to coming home and relaxing in the air conditioning with your favorite hobby.

Then you walk in the door and it’s like you’ve slammed into a wall of heat. Instead of a much-needed rest, your evening has turned into a service call with a repair technician.

While they won’t solve all your temperature control woes, HVAC air filters play a solid role in your HVAC system’s functions. If you want to save yourself from a day like the one above, you have to know how to keep your HVAC air filters in tip-top shape. Here are the facts every homeowner needs to know:

1. An HVAC Filter’s Purpose Is to Protect Your Equipment

Plenty of homeowners think the air filter is meant to improve their air quality. “I’m not sensitive to dust,” they say, “so I don’t need to worry about changing the filter.” Then they get a rude awakening when their HVAC system shuts down.

In reality, these filters are meant to keep dust and other particles out of your system. This is important knowledge for two reasons. First, it tells you that keeping up with changing your air filter isn’t optional. Second, it lets you know that some HVAC air filters have little or no effect on your air quality.

2. Not All HVAC Systems Use Standard Sizes of Filters

Some homeowners assume they can head to a home improvement store and pick up the filter they need. That’s when they come home with the wrong size of the filter and find out the hard way.

There’s no one standard filter size. There are certain sizes that are more common than others, and these are the ones you might be able to find in a store. However, it’s important that your air filter fits like a glove. If not, it can let damaging particles into your HVAC system.

To get the right size of the filter, it’s important to measure. Don’t take out the old filter and assume it was the right size.

Keep in mind as well that not all HVAC systems use a size of filter that’s available through average channels. In some cases, you may need to buy a custom size for your air filter.

3. You Should Change Your HVAC Air Filter At Least Every Two Months

When you’re a homeowner, there’s no shortage of tasks to keep up with on a regular basis. Too often, people forget about changing their HVAC air filter or they underestimate how important it is.

The rule of thumb is to change your air filter at least every two months. Keep in mind, though, that people in certain areas may need to change theirs more often. If you live somewhere with poor air quality, for instance, you might need to change your filter every month instead.

4. Not All Air Filters Focus On Allergens

It’s a common misconception that HVAC air filters will filter out allergens. By default, that’s not the case.

Remember, HVAC air filters are meant to keep debris out of your system, not out of your lungs. Standard filters are designed to catch large particles like dust. Small particles like pollen, mold, and most other allergens will get right through.

If you want your air filter to keep allergens to a minimum, look for a filter that’s designed for this purpose. These filters are usually called high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters.

5. HEPA Filters Vary in Efficiency

Speaking of HEPA filters, they’re not all created equal. Each filter will have a MERV rating, which stands for minimum efficiency reporting value. Most of the time MERV ratings range from 1-16 although they can extend up to 20 in some cases.

The higher a filter’s MERV rating is, the smaller of particles it will catch. If you’re looking for serious air quality, a high MERV rating could be the way to go.

Before you go looking for those sky-high ratings, though, check out your HVAC system. A filter that’s too restrictive can limit your airflow so much that it causes a blockage and damages your system. Each HVAC system can handle a certain level of filter efficiency, so check this before you go all-out.

6. A Dirty Filter Can Cause Your Energy Costs to Skyrocket

A breakdown might be the most noticeable problem you can create by forgetting to change your HVAC filter. However, a dirty air filter can also add up to serious energy costs. As your air filter traps particles, those particles take up space and limit how much air flows through your system.

Let’s say it’s 80 degrees outside and your thermostat is set to 75. Maintaining the lower temperature takes a lot more work when there’s less air getting through your system. That adds up to a longer-running air conditioner with higher costs.

7. You May Need to Change Your Air Filter More Often Based On the Circumstances

We’ve talked about the general timeline for how often to change your HVAC air filter. As with any rule, though, there are exceptions.

Let’s say you have a filter with a high MERV rating because you suffer from airborne allergies. If you live in an area with a lot of pollen in the spring, that pollen will block up your filter in a hurry during the spring. As a result, you’ll need to change your filter more often in the spring than you do in the winter.

So how do you know when it’s time to change your air filter? If you wait until you see a difference in your energy bill, the damage is already done.

One way to tell is to take out the filter every few weeks and look at it. You’ll be able to tell how dirty it is by the darker color in the fibers. However, it’s also a good idea to pay attention to how much time your HVAC system spends running each day. If you notice that your home isn’t cooling or heating as well as it used to, that could be a sign that it’s time for a new filter, too.

8. Neglecting Your Air Filter Can Cause Your HVAC System to Fail

For many homeowners, it’s this impact on real dollars and cents that make them remember to change their air filters.

There are plenty of ways a dirty air filter can cause your HVAC system to fail. When the particles build up in the filter and restrict the air flow, it can clog up your system.

Most people who live in hot climates have seen what happens when their air condition has to work too hard. It freezes over and that takes the whole unit out of commission until it’s fixed. In other cases, the lack of airflow can cause the system to overheat.

Any of these issues can lead to a pricey repair, not to mention the discomfort of a home that isn’t climate-controlled in the meantime. When you take this into account, the small cost of those new filters every few months can save you far more than they cost.

9. HVAC Air Filters Only Make Your Air as Clean as Your System Is

People are quick to blame their HVAC air filter when their home has poor air quality. In reality, though, it could be a problem elsewhere in your HVAC system.

Your home’s air passes through your HVAC system several times each day. If there’s mold, dust, or other debris inside the system, your air is sure to pick it up and your filter can’t catch everything.

This is why regular maintenance and cleanings for your HVAC system are so important. Before you jump to changing the type of air filter you’re using, find out the last time you had a professional clean your HVAC system. If it’s been more than a year, you’re due for a cleaning.

10. HVAC Air Filters Aren’t the Only Way to Get Better Air Quality

As we mentioned, your HVAC air filter can only do so much when it comes to cleaner air. If you want better air quality but your HVAC system doesn’t work well with filters that have high MERV ratings, you have other options.

Many homeowners choose to get a dedicated air purifier. They come in a range of prices to fit most families’ budgets, and they clean your air without bogging down your HVAC system. You can also put them in specific rooms. For instance, if you have one child who struggles with allergies, you can put an air purifier in his/her bedroom.

Another option is to minimize the amount of debris in your home in the first place. This could mean speeding up your cleaning routine so you can dust out of the home before it gets to your lungs. If you have pets, regular grooming sessions can cut down on the dander and fur in your air.

The Importance of HVAC Air Filters

They say the first step toward a healthier life is knowledge, and that’s true when it comes to air quality as well. Your HVAC air filters can impact your health as well as your budget, and the facts above can help you get the most out of your filters.

If you’re looking for a new favorite filter, shop our furnace filters or air conditioner filters today.

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