Frequently Asked HVAC Questions: Air Filters
July 26, 2018
The air filter, also called a furnace filter, is an integral component of your HVAC system. It’s not permanent, and must be replaced on a regular basis to do its job. Our HVAC FAQs address the important points you need to know to better understand how the air filter works and how to take care of it properly.
HVAC FAQ: What Are the Different Types of Furnace Filters?
Furnace filters come in many shapes and sizes so you can find the best solution for your air quality needs that fits your HVAC system. Filters protect delicate system components from airborne contaminants that could cause mechanical failures. By removing these contaminants from your indoor air supply, they also work to improve air quality.
The different types of furnace filters include:
Fiberglass or synthetic filters are a cheap and disposable option for your furnace. They catch up to 80% of particles 50 microns and larger and 25% of particles between 3 to 10 microns. Considered minimum protection, fiberglass/synthetic filters prevent dust and dirt from building up on heat exchangers, fan motors, and other surfaces. The larger particles are trapped and eliminated, so your furnace components remain clean. They allow your system to have maximum airflow but don’t filter harmful contaminants affecting your health.
Polyester filters are made using the highest quality materials available and are median-sized. They trap and eliminate 80% to 95% of particles 5 microns or larger. A polyester filter costs fours time more than the average fiberglass/synthetic filter, but it offers more protection against pollutants that cause health issues.
Electrostatic filters use self-charging fibers to attract particles out of your air. You can purchase disposable or washable electrostatic filters depending on the requirements of your furnace. Washable versions offer a MERV rating between 4 and 10 and last considerably longer than the average filter. Maintenance on a washable filter requires soap and water to wash the filter and letting it completely dry before reinstalling it. If you install it before it completely dries, you run the risk of mildew and mold growth.
A pleated filter offers high-efficiency results by trapping particulates 0.3 micron in size, such as bacteria and viruses. Pleated filters are more efficient and last longer compared to fiberglass/synthetic filters. They eliminate more pollutants from your air without sacrificing airflow within your system.
High efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters provide high-end filtration by trapping up to 99% of particles 0.3 microns or larger. Even though they are excellent at eliminating indoor pollutants and create a healthier environment in your home, they can drastically reduce your system’s airflow, costing more money in energy usage.
HVAC FAQ: Why Is It Important to Have Good Quality Air Filters?
With a good quality air filter in your system, contaminants in the HVAC equipment as well as in the home will be kept to a minimum. A good quality filter also helps your heating and cooling equipment perform more efficiently.
A good quality air filter comes with the following advantages:
- Installing a good quality air filter into your furnace or air conditioner is essential for your health. The air filter traps and eliminates particles, and other contaminants in your indoor air so you can breathe easier in your home. Not only does an air filter increase your indoor air quality but it prevents damage to your electronics, furnishings, and the structure of your home.
- A high-quality filter also keeps your heating and cooling system running longer without the risk of breakdowns. A filter keeps your entire unit clean, preventing dust and debris from settling on important components. The cost of repairs will increase when your system is dirty, shortening the lifespan and causing you to install a new before you are ready financially.
- Not only do you save money on repairs with a quality air filter but you save money on your energy costs. A clean air conditioner, furnace, heat pump, or other HVAC system will operate more efficiently, reducing your energy costs over time. Cheap filters have to be replaced more often and don’t eliminate as many pollutants in your home as one that is higher quality.
HVAC FAQ: How Often Does My Air Filter Need Changed?
The frequency your air filter needs changed depends on the type of filter you use and factors relating to your household environment.
Most filters have a recommended guideline detailing how long they last or when they should be changed. When you purchase a new filter, check the packaging for these details. The standard time recommended to change a high-quality air filter is at least once every three months. However, if the filter appears dirty, change it immediately! Dirty or clogged air filters prevent healthy air flow, damage components inside your air conditioner, and decrease your system’s efficiency.
If your filter doesn’t indicate when it should be changed, there are some factors to consider when deciding how often to change it:
- Number of occupants in the house
- The overall air quality in your home
- The type of filter your air conditioner requires
- Any construction or remodeling in or around your house
- If there are pets in the home
When you have more contaminants in the home, from pets, people, and activities, air filters should be changed more frequently.
HVAC FAQ: How Can I Tell if My Air Filter Needs Changing?
Air filters need to be changed on a regular basis to be effective. The manufacturer will recommend the frequency the filter should be replaced, but other factors may warrant a change sooner. Watch for these signs that your furnace filter needs changing:
- The filter is noticeably gray in color, and you can see dirt and dust built up on the filter media.
- Your home is dustier than usual.
- Your heating or cooling system is cycling longer than it usually does.
- Your current filter has been in use longer than the manufacturer’s recommendation (anywhere from one to six months, depending on your filter)
HVAC FAQ: Can I Run My HVAC System Without an Air Filter?
While your heating and cooling system will run without a filter, you definitely shouldn’t do it. Running your HVAC system without an air filter can cause serious problems, such as:
Condensate Drain Problems:
Without a filter for your air conditioner, your condensate drain won’t be able to perform its job of draining condensation and moisture from your unit. Condensate accumulates on the Freon tubing and then drips down to the pan. The pan drains outside and helps your air conditioner with dehumidifying the air in your home. The filter keeps debris from gathering in your condensate drain and clogging it, causing water damage to your system.
Air Quality Problems:
The most common problem with running an air conditioner without a filter is decreased indoor air quality. Dust is stirred in a home when the AC unit is running and continuously cycles throughout the air, never settling. The dirt, dust, and debris is sucked back up through the intake, pumped back through the air vents, and remains suspended in the air until someone breathes it in or it clogs the unit.
Freon Tube Problems:
An air conditioner pulls air from your home and blows it across copper tubes filled with Freon. These tubes are always wet and when unfiltered air blows across them, dirt and debris stick to the condensate and coat the fins. When this occurs, your system performs inefficiently and overloads your air conditioning system.
Any dirt and debris that doesn’t stick to the Freon tubes will travel down the line to your ductwork. The debris will accumulate inside the ductwork, becoming trapped by the ribbed aluminum tubes. This allows moisture to build up inside your ductwork, creating the perfect place for mold to grow. Mold spores will begin to circulate throughout your home whenever the HVAC system is running.
Get Answers to HVAC FAQs on HVAC.com
HVAC.com has the answers to all HVAC FAQs on our website! If you have a question that’s more specific to your home, working with a trusted local heating and cooling contractor will give you the clear answers you need to care for your home and system.
Use our HVAC Contractor Directory to find HVAC professionals near you. Enter your ZIP code to search all heating and cooling contractors in your area who can assist you with all your air filter needs.