When the air is cleaner, the whole family feels better. That’s only one of the many benefits of keeping up with the easiest, quickest HVAC maintenance there is. Unfortunately, homeowners don’t always change the filter on time.
Changing the air filter on a furnace, air conditioner, heat pump or any forced air system keeps the indoor air fresher. It blocks much of the dust, pet hair and other debris from entering the system and it can help homeowners get the longest lifespan from the equipment.
Here’s why it’s so important and what can happen when the filter gets neglected.
Clean Filters Mean Healthier Air and a Cleaner System
Dust, pet dander, mold spores and other particles in a home make their way through the air and into to the air return on a furnace, heat pump or air conditioner. The more efficient the filter, the more particles it can trap.
Filters are rated on the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value or MERV scale, which ranks efficiency on a scale from 1 to 16. The higher the number, the denser the filter and the more small particles are blocked.
The more particles the filter catches, the fewer particles can go into the system and back into the home again. That keeps the air cleaner and the system cleaner, too.
High-Efficiency Filters Aren’t Always Appropriate
One of the most common mistakes a homeowner can make, aside from forgetting about the filter change, is upgrading to a high-efficiency filter when it’s not appropriate. While denser filters trap more debris, they also make it more difficult for the system to breathe.
Imagine putting a piece of cheesecloth over your mouth and breathing through it. Now imagine breathing through a thick bath towel. Homeowners should only use a filter that’s rated as appropriate for the system.
An ordinary fiberglass filter is one the lower end of the MERV scale, but changed frequently, they still perform fairly well. According to Family Handyman, a basic fiberglass model still captures about 80 percent of 50 micron particles. Smaller particles aren’t as likely to stick in the filter, but the tradeoff is a system that breathes more easily. At the higher end of the scale, as much as 99 percent of tiny, 0.3 micron particles are trapped, including bacteria and fumes.
Dirty Air Filters Aren’t Just Unhealthy
When the air filter is dirty, less air passes through. At first, that can help the filter capture more particles. But soon, the particles toward the back of the filter can work loose. Some of them go back into the home and some stick around inside the appliance.
A dirty filter can’t remove as many particles, but that’s only part of the problem. The dirtier it gets, the more the system struggles to breathe. Over time, neglecting a simple, comparatively cheap filter can make the system consume more energy and ultimately shorten its lifespan.
Particle buildup inside the system can also damage its parts. Wiring may get coated with dust, as well, creating a fire hazard. That’s not as likely on a newer system that’s sealed well. But on an older system, dust can find its way almost anywhere, including around a furnace’s burners.
It’s easy for any homeowner to take the HVAC system for granted. It’s usually installed inside a utility closet, basement or outside the home and a simple thermostat adjustment gives warm or cool air. But out of sight, the system is always working. With every cycle, air is drawn in, bringing with it particles of dust, viruses, pet dander and mold.
With a clean filter, a furnace, air conditioner or heat pump can work as it was intended. If it’s dirty, the air quality, utility bills and the life of the system all suffer.
You’ll inspect many types of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in your career as a certified home inspector. It doesn’t matter if you have experience or not. ICA School can teach you everything that you need to know. Enroll now and start learning at your own pace.