Imagine what would happen if you tried to brew your morning coffee without using a filter. The end result would be full of coffee grounds, and the whole process would clog up your machine.
A furnace filter functions in much the same way as a coffee filter. These humble household heroes are important for two main reasons — they strain out debris from the air in your home, and they support your furnace by protecting its inner workings.
How clean is your air?
It’s not pleasant to think about, but household air is full of dust, bacteria, smoke, pet dander and pollen — all of which carry the potential to detrimentally affect the health of those who live in your home. Filtering out this debris can make a big difference in the quality of the air you and your family breathe every day.
When dirt and dust get sucked into the furnace unit, they can weigh down the blower wheel and other moving parts, throwing everything out of balance and wearing out the overall system much more quickly. If you can’t remember the last time you changed out your furnace filter, chances are you’re overdue.
Get to know your filters
All furnace units include a filter with size and complexity depending on your individual system.
Disposable filters are the most popular variety, fairly inexpensive to replace and can readily be found at most hardware stores and home retailers. For any filter you’re buying, make sure to take note of the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating on the packaging. The higher the rating, the more efficient the filter will be. Low MERV ratings between 1 and 4 will filter out most garden-variety dust, mites, pollen and carpet fibers; moving up to a 13 to 16 rating at the top end of the scale will also remove harder-to-catch smoke particles, bacteria, germs and viruses.
Available in a wide range of sizes, disposable filters should be changed out every 30 to 90 days depending on the amount of dust and debris in your home. A good rule of thumb that’s easy for most homeowners to remember is to change your furnace filter at the start of each new season.
Washable filters don’t need to be frequently replaced like disposable filters — maybe once every three to five years, but they do require regular cleaning at the same 30- to 90-day intervals to do their job effectively. Electrostatic features in both disposable and washable filters electrically charge the air as it passes through to help trap more dust and debris.
If you have pets that shed heavily or family members who suffer from allergies, you may want to consider a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter to sift out a greater volume of potential irritants from the air. However, keep in mind that these filters can sometimes be so dense, they actually wind up restricting the airflow into your furnace with negative impacts its functionality.
Which filter is right for you?
Deciding what kind of filter is best for your home depends on your specific needs and how much you want to spend. A simple disposable filter that you change out once a month can control the dust and debris in your household air quite nicely, but if you want to significantly improve your indoor air quality and/or the life of your furnace system, you might find it well worth upgrading to a higher-end product.
Basic disposable filters usually start around $20 and can run up to several hundred dollars for the most sophisticated models. Most average homeowners can expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 to $50 for a decent disposable filter that will meet their needs just fine.
Changing out your furnace filter isn’t a difficult task. Just locate the filter rack on your furnace system, remove the old filter and slide in a new one. Make sure the arrow on the filter is pointing in the same direction that the air flows into the unit, and you’re good to go until it’s time for the next replacement.