The air in your home naturally contains contaminants like dust, dander, mold spores, and even pollen. This particulate matter can irritate your sinuses and cause those with allergies to have frequent flare-ups. Fortunately, the air filter on your HVAC system is meant to remove these harmful airborne contaminants so your family can breathe easily.

Filter Efficiency

As with all appliances or systems, you can choose from a variety of designs, features, and qualities when it comes to purchasing your new filter. The higher the quality of the filter you choose, the more contaminants that are going to be removed from your indoor air. However, the higher quality air filter you get, the more expensive it’s going to be for your budget.

When it comes to HVAC air filters, there’s a specific rating system known as MERV. This simply gives a numerical value to how efficiently the air filter performs. MERV values range from one to 16. Higher MERV ratings offer improved filtration.

In general, filters that have a rating between one and four are going to be the most commonly used. They provide a basic level of filtration and are relatively inexpensive for homeowners to purchase. For those who are looking for more filtration in their system, getting a filter with a MERV rating between five and eight will help to provide adequate filtration due to the cloth or pleated paper stylings of the filter.

Families who are dealing with allergies may opt for an air filter with a MERV rating between 9 and 12. These filters have a high efficiency, trapping particles that are one micron in size or larger. Those with respiratory problems will likely opt for the highest MERV filters with ratings between 13 and 16. These are the highest efficiency filters available in residential settings and can trap unwanted particles that are as small as 0.3 microns in size.

While some filters technically have a MERV rating above 16, they tend to be too thick and dense to work adequately in a residential HVAC system. In fact, they can even restrict airflow, which is why they are best used in commercial settings.

Fiberglass Filters

While understanding the importance of MERV ratings will take you far when it comes to picking out an adequate air filter for your HVAC system, you also need to understand the different types of materials that are used to construct these filters. Fiberglass is the most common type of filter material. It’s easily disposable and relatively inexpensive for the average homeowner.

This will fall into the MERV scale of between one and four. Fiberglass filters are ideal for trapping large airborne particles. However, they tend to miss dust and other small contaminants that can cause allergies and sinus flare-ups.

Pleated Filters

Typically constructed of polyester or cotton folds, pleated filters fall into the MERV scale of five to eight. These are slightly more expensive than the basic fiberglass filters because they can trap smaller particles. Pleated filters can filter out dust, mold spores, pollen, and pet dander. This is ideal for those who suffer from allergies.

HEPA Filters

Known formally as high-efficiency particulate air, HEPA filters are on the higher end of the MERV rating scale. They are very effective at not only removing particulate matter, but they can remove some virus and bacteria irritants from your indoor air. These specialized filters are typically recommended for homeowners who have respiratory illnesses and come at a premium cost.

Keep in mind that the more filtering your air filter does, the more difficult it can be for your HVAC system to pull in air. For this reason, we recommend that you speak with a licensed HVAC technician about higher-rated filters, such as HEPAs, to ensure that they won’t negatively affect the performance of your heating and/or cooling system.

Washable vs. Disposable

A fairly newer type of HVAC air filter to hit the market is the washable filter. Just as the name suggests, you can easily pull out the filter and wash it instead of disposing of it. These filters are more expensive than your typical disposable filters. However, being able to get multiple uses out of them is convenient for some eco-conscious homeowners.

If you do decide to invest in a washable HVAC air filter for your home, you’ll need to keep a couple of things in mind. Every time you remove the filter to wash it, you must ensure that you thoroughly dry that filter before reinstalling it. Otherwise, you create a breeding ground for unhealthy mold and mildew. Additionally, you should stick to a mild detergent and a gentle brush to remove stuck-on debris. Heavier chemical cleaners can leave behind unnecessary residue that can affect the future performance of your washable air filter.

Maintenance Tips

Once you decide on the filter you want to start using, you should understand your maintenance duties. While your licensed HVAC professional will take care of replacing your air filter during their normally scheduled HVAC maintenance visits, you’ll still need to replace the filter in between those service appointments. As a general rule of thumb, you always want to have at least one clean air filter on hand.

Make it a habit at the beginning or end of each month to check the condition of your HVAC system’s air filter. Physically pull out the filter from its housing and inspect it. If you can’t see through the filter any longer, then you need to replace it or clean it, depending on the type of filter that you have.

Most homeowners will find that they need to replace their HVAC air filter every two to three months. However, the frequency of your system’s necessary filter changes is going to vary widely depending on several factors. The higher your MERV rating, the more often you’ll be changing out your filter. If you have more pets or a high amount of traffic in and out of your home, expect to change your filter more often.

What Happens if You Don’t Change Your Air Filter?

If you lapse in changing out your HVAC system’s air filter regularly, you could end up facing some real problems. First, your HVAC system will have to work harder to force air through the dirty filter. This can lead to premature damage to your system’s internal components and shorten your system’s overall lifespan.

When your filter is full, the contaminants that it would normally filter out of your air will end up stuck inside your ducting. This can cause a further restriction in the airflow of your HVAC system. You may even discover that you’ll need to invest in duct cleaning services to handle the excess debris build-up.

Give the Pros a Call Today

Affordable Air & Heating provides professional furnace maintenance services for Santa Clarita, CA, and the surrounding areas. We can also help with all of your heating, cooling, indoor air quality, insulation, air duct cleaning, and mini-split needs. Simply contact our friendly staff, and we’ll get you set up with a service appointment.

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