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A Beginner’s Guide to Air Filters

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Every HVAC system depends on an air filter in order to operate smoothly and clean the air that passes through it. However, aside from knowing that it exists and that they need to change it, the average homeowner knows very little about this piece of the puzzle. That’s not necessarily a good thing when you consider that the overwhelming majority of HVAC problems can be traced back in at least some capacity to a dirty or blocked up air filter. To help you take better care of your heater and air conditioner, enjoy better air quality in your home, and to help you eliminate some of those pesky problems that require repairs, this blog will cover a few of the things you need to know about your air filter in a complete beginner’s guide to air filters.

How Often Should You Change Your Air Filter?

One of the first questions that most people come to us with is “how often should I be changing my air filter?” There is no straightforward answer to this question other than “as often as you need to.” And this isn’t necessarily helpful because how often you need to change your filter varies from home to home. Do you have pets? You’ll need to change your air filter more often. Do you live in a small home like a condo? You may not need to change it as often. If the air in your home is generally cleaner or you don’t run your HVAC equipment all that often, then you can usually go several months between changes. If your home is larger, has dirtier air, or you run your HVAC system frequently, then you will need to change your air filter far more frequently.

As a general rule of thumb, we advise all homeowners to do the following 3 things:

  • Have several spare air filters on hand at home so you can change your filter when necessary.
  • Check your air filter at least once per month. Set a monthly alert in your phone and stick to it—it takes just a minute or two to check your air filter and then a minute or two more if you need to swap it out.
  • Change your air filter when you notice that your air filter appears to be dirty or full of dirt and debris. Dispose of your air filter by removing it and gently placing it in a trash bag in order to avoid disturbing the dust or contaminants that have become lodged in your filter.

Are Certain Air Filters Better Than Others?

If you struggle with indoor air quality problems, then you could very well be searching for a better air filtration option. For some people, this may simply mean changing your air filter to one that filters out more debris. This is measured by a value known as a MERV rating: the higher the value, the more debris an air filter screens out of the air flowing through it. However, bigger is not always better—too high of a MERV rating can cost you dearly in the long run, and lead to far more trouble than it’s worth.

An air filter that’s too strong or filters too much can greatly diminish your HVAC system’s performance. Replacing your current air filter with a hospital-grade air cleaner will improve your air quality, but at a tremendous cost—the reduced airflow through the filter will place a lot of added strain on your HVAC system as a whole, leading to a lot of extra energy consumption and potentially an obnoxious breakdown. The same can be said for an air filter that is thicker or has a much higher cleaning rating than the one you currently use.

Before making any drastic changes to your air filter, you should consult your HVAC system’s owner’s manual to learn what your manufacturer says your system can handle. You can also consult with an HVAC professional to hear what they have to say about ways you can improve your indoor air quality by adjusting your air filtration.

How Do You Change Your Air Filter?

Changing your air filter is simple. The overwhelming majority of the time, your HVAC system’s air filter is going to be located in your air return duct that leads back to your HVAC system’s indoor unit. Simply open the panel on the front of your air handler, find where the duct is feeding air into your system, and you’ll probably find your filter held in place by a spring-loaded clip. Simply unhook this brace and remove the filter in order to slide it out and dispose of it. When putting your new filter in place, always make sure that the side with the metal or cardboard grid is facing away from your return vent so it can provide extra support to the paper in your filter. Likewise, always do this with your HVAC system shut off. Letting your system run without an air filter in place for even a minute or two can be incredibly harmful to your valuable and expensive equipment.

What Can Happen If You Don’t Change Your Air Filter?

What can happen if you don’t change your air filter? Trust us, you don’t want to find out for yourself. Dirty air filters lose their ability to effectively strain debris out of the air in your home, leading to increased problems like allergies or asthma attacks. This also leads to dirty components inside your HVAC system and dirty air ducts that spread problems like dust, mold, and even bacteria and viruses throughout your home. This not only leads to reduced quality of life on a day to day basis, but can even lead to damage to your expensive HVAC system, and that’s something nobody wants to deal with.

Struggling with air quality? Looking for a better option for air filtration? Call A-TEMP Heating, Cooling & Electrical at (503) 694-3396 today.