When your HVAC system is talked about in your Sarasota home, you may be concerned about high energy bills and thermostat settings. Or, perhaps you’re wondering why it’s so difficult to keep your home cool and comfortable. Before you change thermostat rules in your home or open another high energy bill, consider the benefits of choosing the right air filter for your HVAC system. You may just boost performance and comfort, and breathe easier with lower bills.
Protect HVAC Components
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and it is generally the most costly system under the roof. Not only is the HVAC system a valuable investment, it accounts for about half of the energy budget and ongoing maintenance expenses. If the HVAC system is well maintained and kept clean, it results in enhanced home comfort and manageable energy bills. If the HVAC system is neglected, however, it becomes a drain on the pocketbook and creates a host of problems for comfort and indoor air quality.
Choosing the right air filter and changing the filter regularly are simple ways you can protect the components of your HVAC system and maximize your investment. Here’s why:
- Pressure drop: The air handler or blower motor is the component most susceptible to damage and early failure. During a typical cooling or heating day, airflow is pulled through the return ducts many times. If the air filter is poor quality, debris will pass through and accumulate on the motor and fins. If the air filter becomes clogged because it has not been changed as it should, the air handler or blower must work exponentially harder to pull air through the return ducts. In time, the overburdened motor fails.
- Evaporator, electronics and compressor: For A/C and heat pump systems, debris accumulation or poor airflow at the evaporator coil obstructs airflow and heat exchange, which can cause ice accumulation. When heat exchange is obstructed by ice accumulation, electronics and the compressor are stressed and can malfunction and fail.
- HVAC efficiency: When the air handler, blower, compressor and other components are working double-time due to air filter issues, they are consuming more energy to perform their functions for cooling and heating your home. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy website, energy.gov, states that air filter problems can increase HVAC energy consumption by up to 15 percent. In our region, poor HVAC performance means sticky and uncomfortable homes.
- Ductwork: If you are curious about the quality of air filters you have been using, remove an air-supply outlet or return grille, and take a look inside the air ducts. If you see dust, debris and even mold, you can expect more of the same accumulating on the evaporator coil and other HVAC components. Moreover, debris may dislodge and re-enter the living spaces, and mold spores continue to circulate through the home. If you have not had a ductwork inspection in recent years, you may benefit from finding out what’s lurking in the airways of your home, and taking action to remedy potential health, comfort and efficiency issues.
Tips for Choosing the Right Air Filter
If you have strolled down the air filter section at the home improvement store recently, it’s clear that choosing the right filter for your needs may take a little homework. The first task is to identify your needs with the following questions:
- Do you want an air filter that captures mold spores?
- Are there very young or elderly members in your home?
- Is there anyone with allergies?
- Does anyone suffer from respiratory ailments, such as asthma or COPD?
- Are you concerned about germs, viruses and bacteria in your home?
- Do you have pets or smokers in the home?
- Does your home receive daily fresh-air ventilation?
- Do you want maximum protection for your HVAC system and household air?
Air Filter Ratings
The U.S. Department of Energy does not mandate air filter manufacturers to use a universal efficiency-rating system, such as is used for rating the cooling and heating efficiency of heat pumps. Without a universal standard required on all air filter packaging, the task of choosing the right air filter isn’t always easy. An effective strategy, however, is using multiple ratings to compare particulate-capturing efficiency, filter longevity and pressure drop. Following are five ratings to assist in choosing the right air filter:
- Initial efficiency: As a filter captures and accumulates debris, the resistance to airflow is increased because there is less area for air to pass. The initial efficiency rating of a filter is the particulate-capturing efficiency when the filter is brand new.
- Sustained efficiency: The sustained efficiency rating is a measure of the filter’s particulate-capturing ability during its recommended usage. It’s better to go by the sustained efficiency rating than initial efficiency, if both ratings are listed on packaging.
- Pressure drop: This rating is a good tool to compare the particulate-capturing ability of filters at the same pressure drop, which determines and compares efficiency.
- Dust holding capacity: The dust holding capacity of a filter is the total debris it can hold at a given pressure drop.
- MERV: The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value number is perhaps the simplest tool to use for choosing the right air filter for your needs. The filter packaging should display the number (though sometimes it doesn’t, and other times it’s a challenge to find), and you may also find a list of particulates the filter captures, such as mold spores, pollen, pet hair and dander and more. MERV numbers start at 1 (low efficiency) and go up to 16 (high efficiency). In general, stay away from filters rated below 5. Filters with MERV numbers 13-16 are high-efficiency filters that may create too much pressure drop for standard HVAC air handlers and blowers. Overall, air filters with MERV numbers 8-12 are excellent choices for protecting HVAC systems by capturing a wide range of airborne contaminants without too much airflow resistance.
Air Filter Design
Another consideration for choosing the right air filter for your HVAC system and home is filter design. Air filters are available in different types of materials, particulate-capturing method, permanent, disposable, efficiency and costs. However, since you have already decided upon the particulates you wish to remove from return airflow, you can narrow your search for choosing the right filter for particulate-capturing efficiency, filtering method and maintenance, when factoring filter costs and estimated additional energy usage from pressure drop. Following are popular filter designs to choose from:
- Disposable fiberglass: Flat-panel disposable fiberglass filters are typically rated MERV 4 or lower, and should not be considered unless all you’re concerned about is cost and basic protection of equipment.
- Disposable pleated: Low-cost disposable pleated filters are typically mid-efficiency media that offer nice particulate-capturing qualities and easy maintenance. Just throw away the exhausted filter and replace it with a new one typically every one to three months (or as suggested on packaging material).
- Electrostatic: Electrostatic filters are available in disposable and permanent (washable). Both types contain self-charging cotton fibers that use attraction and impaction to capture particulates. Permanent electrostatic filters may last eight years, which is cost-effective over time. However, you should consider convenience of maintenance, too. Permanent filters generally require machine washing to remove mold and bacteria, and air drying before reinserting.
- High-efficiency pleated: High-efficiency pleated filters are very thick and may require special installation in the ductwork. However, if you desire superior HVAC protection and indoor air quality, high-efficiency is worth a look.
Changing the Air Filter
The air filter is typically located behind air-return grilles or slotted in the ductwork just before the heat pump air handler or furnace blower. Try to move the filter side to side and up and down, if possible. You want to make sure there is no space for air bypass. Write down the dimensions of your current air filter. You will need it at the home improvement store. If your current filter fits snugly, you are good. If there is wiggle room, consider a new air filter with a gasket for a better fit.
Air filters are typically located behind air-return grilles or in a slot in the ductwork just before the air handler or blower. If your filter is located behind the air-return grille, you simply need a screwdriver to loosen the screws and remove the grille. You may wish to check the air handler or blower first to see if the furnace is located there before removing one or more return grilles.
If you would like more information or assistance choosing the right air filter for your HVAC system and home, please contact us at Aqua Plumbing & Air. We proudly serve homeowners in Sarasota, Bradenton and the surrounding areas.