The humble air filter is an extremely important part of your entire HVAC system. This is an inexpensive part, it’s easy to check and change without any DIY skills and yet it’s often neglected. The HVAC system relies on a steady supply of air to work efficiently and when that airflow is disrupted there can be serious consequences. In this article, we will look at what an air filter does and four potential problems that you want to avoid.

What is the Purpose of an Air Filter?

Many people believe that an air filter is designed to improve the indoor air quality (IAQ). This is only partially true, an air filter is designed to trap certain airborne contaminants, including pet hair, skin cells, dust, dirt, and more. But, any improvements to IAQ are a useful side effect of the main purpose of an air filter which is to protect the HVAC system. An HVAC system represents a significant investment and it makes sense to protect it with regular servicing and a clear air filter. The heating and cooling equipment is comprised of a number of expensive components and they are vulnerable to contaminants. Let’s take a look at some of the consequences of a dirty air filter in more detail. They are:

1.  Damage to HVAC Components

As we discussed above, the HVAC system components can be vulnerable to the dirt, dust, and debris in the air. The indoor air is circulated multiple times every day and it tends to pick up and loose debris present in your home. This material all passes through the air filter and the surface of the media can become clogged quickly. If the air filter has been removed or it doesn’t fit correctly, this debris can pass into the HVAC system. When it lands on the surface of parts, it can build up and lead to an unexpected repair bill. But, there is another problem, even if the filter traps the particulates, damage can still be caused to the system.

2.  Overworking the HVAC System

The HVAC system works in a circulatory manner to bring the home to the temperature that you set on the thermostat. The system relies on a steady airflow to distribute the treated air (hot or cool) throughout your home. When the air filter is clogged, this process is much harder and this introduces strain on your heating and cooling equipment. This happens because the system is still trying to reach the temperature that you set and it will work harder to compensate. This may cause more frequent repair bills as critical components fail and in extreme cases, it can even lower the lifespan of your system. Replacing your HVAC system can be an expensive proposition and taking steps to make that situation occur later is a smart choice.

3.  Short-Cycling Problems

If you’ve noticed that your heating and cooling systems seem to turn on and then off again quickly, you may be experiencing a short-cycling problem. There are a number of possible causes to explore, but one of them could be a dirty air filter and it needs to be cleared. When the HVAC system is turned on and off rapidly, it can damage the equipment and this may lead to an unexpected repair bill.

4.  Higher Energy Bills

When the air filter is dirty, the aforementioned overworking and short-cycling problems may expend more energy. The entire HVAC system will work inefficiency and this will lead to higher energy bills. Wasting energy is bad for the environment, but from a personal perspective, spending more for poorer performance makes little sense. The only way to deal with this situation is to clean or replace the air filter and keep track of your energy bills.

What is the Air Filter Change Interval?

Heating and cooling experts recommend that the air filters should be changed every month. Certain air filters with higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) values may need to be changed more often. These high-efficiency air filters are designed to trap smaller airborne particulates and they can become clogged faster than standard filters. If there are a lot of people living in the home or you have pets, your air filter schedule may differ. Pet hair is a major contributor to clogged air filters and a bi-monthly change may be more appropriate. If you’re unsure, change the air filter and check it each week to see how dirty it gets and base your changing schedule on the results.

How Do I Change My Air Filter?

This is a hard question to answer because every heating and cooling system is a little different. The full air filter change instructions will be detailed in the owner’s manual for your system. If you’ve misplaced the manual, find the make and model number and check the manufacturer’s website for a free pdf copy. When you change the air filter, it must be the same model as the filters listed in the owner’s manual. When you purchase the air filter, it should have a model number on the rim that you can check. The air filter should fit snugly into the filter housing with no gaps around the sides where air can pass through.

In Conclusion

An air filter is a relatively inexpensive part, but hopefully, we’ve shown that it’s a critical component in your HVAC system. It’s important to change the air filter regularly to prevent the four problems we’ve mentioned in this article. When you consider the minor inconvenience of an air filter change compared to failures, repairs, and higher energy bills, it’s a no-brainer. When you know the best interval schedule for your home, set a date on your phone, diary, or a calendar to make sure you remember. If you cannot remember when you last changed the HVAC air filters, do it now and set your schedule up from this point. If you want to upgrade your HVAC system or schedule some essential maintenance, contact your local heating and cooling specialist today.