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Air Filters – Why Change Them?

A reader wrote in and asked, “If the air filter in my home is clean when I go to change it, is it really working, and does it really need changing?”

AC Filters - Clean and DirtyYour heating and air-conditioning system sucks in air from a room, pulls it over coils to heat or cool it, then blows the tempered air through ducts to the other rooms in your home. The air filter is stationed at the point where air is pulled into the system. It traps air-born particles that get sucked in with the air and keeps them from blocking the blower and clogging up the coils. Clogged coils can’t heat or cool the air passing over them, and they may damage the system. So, the air filter helps your heating and cooling system do its job, keeps it running efficiently and protects it so it will last longer.

Filters also help keep dust from building up in your ducts, or being blown into other rooms of your house. In recent years, this air cleaning function has become more important to homeowners, and manufacturers have designed filters that use your heating and air system to remove microscopic particles like dust, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, plant and mold spores, and even smoke from the air in your home.

It’s an often heard maxim: Clean air filters save energy and money. Routinely changing or cleaning the filters from your home’s heating and air conditioning system helps the units run more efficiently and enjoy a longer lifespan.

But what do these filters really do? How can you tell if they’re working? How often should you change them, and what should you do if they look clean when it’s time to replace them?

High-grade filters are the most efficient way to clean the air in your home. But what do they look like when they’ve done their job? When it’s time to change your filter — anywhere from 1 to 3 months after you installed a fresh oneit should look dirty.

A build-up of dust is usually apparent. There should be gray, ashy-looking material on the duct side of the filter.

If your filter looks clean after it’s been in place for the recommended time, here are some things you should check:

  • Does the filter fit properly into the holder? If the filter is loose or too small for the space, the air can circulate around it instead of going through it. Measure the filter space and purchase a filter that fits snugly.
  • Is the filter installed upside down? There is a correct air-flow direction for most air filters. Look for arrows on the filter frame, and install the filter so that the arrows point toward the fan.
  • Is the filter you’re using right for the job you want it to do? If you’re using a low-end filter, it’s not going to catch much dust. Upgrade to a filter with a higher MERV rating to increase the air cleaning efficiency.
  • Check your rate of air exchange. If your system is functioning properly, it should run for about 15 minutes per cycle, with a cycle rate of not more than three in an hour. If it runs shorter cycles, it isn’t creating the desired rate of air exchange. Call a professional and get your system checked.

Your home environment and how often you run the heat or air can also affect how quickly your air filter gets dirty. If your home is well sealed, you have no pets, no dust-prone furnishings like carpet and fabric-covered furniture, and you dust and vacuum every day, your air filters will have fewer air-born particles to collect. Also, the system only filters the air when it’s running. If you install a new filter, but don’t turn on the heat or air conditioning until a month or two later, the filter should still be relatively clean since the system hasn’t been forcing air through it.

If you have a question about heating, air conditioning, plumbing, or any other home energy related topic, please use the comment link below to contact our Myrtle Beach heating and air specialists, and we’ll answer you back, or may even write our next post to cover your question and answer.

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