The AC systems in our homes or businesses are the only reliable way to maintain the indoor comfort levels when the warmer weather arrives. When we are too hot, any chance of relaxation disappears and our productivity will be negligible. For this reason, it’s important to get the best performance and energy efficiency from our investment. A critical and yet underappreciated component in modern AC systems is the air filter. This simple part is crucial to the entire cooling process and yet many people neglect it. In this article, we will take a closer look at the function of the AC air filter and what happens if it isn’t changed regularly.
What is the Purpose of the AC Filter?
If you ask most people this question, they are likely to say that the air filter makes their indoor air cleaner. This is only partially true. The air filter does trap certain particulates, but it’s no replacement for a dedicated air purifier. Any improvements that are made to the indoor air quality (IAQ) are not the primary purpose of the air filter and they should be considered as an added bonus. The air filter is designed to prevent the passage of airborne contaminants into the rest of the AC system where they could cause damage or reduce energy efficiency. Certain HVAC components, such as the compressor and blower unit are sensitive to dust, debris, pet dander, and other contaminants.
Where Do These Airborne Contaminants Originate?
Even the cleanest home is prone to dusty surfaces if the cleaning needs are ignored for a short time. As humans, we shed a lot of skin on a regular basis and this material settles on surfaces. Another source of dust and dirt is the material that follows us every time we enter our homes or businesses from outdoors. This material can blow in behind us or it may have settled on the surface of our clothes and shoes. This is equally true for pollen and other allergens which can enter the home through a variety of different vectors. After all, to keep your IAQ high it’s important to ventilate our rooms regularly to boost those oxygen levels. Pet owners are particularly at risk of poor IAQ due to the shedding of hair and dander. The HVAC equipment also draws in fresh air from outdoors to keep the heating and cooling systems working at optimal efficiency. So, even if your home looks clean, it’s likely that you have a lot of airborne contaminants that you cannot see.
How Are These Contaminants Moved Around?
These contaminants do settle on surfaces, but they are captured and circulated throughout the indoor spaces via the HVAC system. The air in our homes and businesses passes through these systems several times each day. All the air will make multiple journeys through the air filter and airborne particulates up to a certain size will be trapped. This is why the air filter gets dirty and clogged, and busier homes or those with pets will get clogged more quickly.
What Are the Negative Health Effects?
Airborne particulates lower the IAQ which can lead to feelings of nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and more. But, prolonged exposure to these contaminants can trigger allergic reactions, such as asthma attacks, and exacerbate pre-existing breathing conditions. According to data released by the EPA, most homes have an IAQ that is worse than the polluted air outdoors!
Are There Other Causes of Concern?
Yes, there are a number of negative effects that you can avoid with a regular air filter change, let’s examine them in more detail. They are:
1. Overworked HVAC Equipment
The first problem is that the HVAC system needs a steady airflow to operate efficiently. When the air filter is clogged the airflow is diminished and this will force the equipment to work harder to compensate. When any complex system is overworked, it’s more prone to failure and an unexpected repair bill may be the result. In extreme cases, the useful lifespan of the equipment may be shortened leading to an earlier than expected replacement.
2. Lowered Energy Efficiency
As the system works harder to achieve the temperature set by you on your thermostat, it will consume more energy. This will drive up your energy bills for no improvement in performance and it will cost a lot of money over an entire year. Even high-efficiency HVAC systems cannot function properly if the air filter is dirty and the airflow is reduced.
3. Moisture Problems
When airborne particulates can enter the HVAC system, they can introduce moisture. This condensation may ultimately result in corrosion problems that can be expensive to fix. Another common problem is the growth of mold and mildew in areas that are hard to reach. Most homes and businesses have a certain level of mold growth that we cannot see. But, when mold spores are released into the HVAC system, they can be distributed to every room via the ductwork and vents. Toxic mold inhalation should be avoided because it’s bad for our health and it’s a well known trigger for allergic reactions. The production of mold spores will lower the IAQ dramatically and it’s often accompanied by a damp or musty odor. In some cases, you may even see the growth or black patches of toxic mold across walls and ceilings.
When you consider all the problems related to a dirty air filter, it’s clear that it makes good sense to change it regularly. How often? Well, that will vary depending on your individual circumstances, but a good rule of thumb is to change the air filter every month. If you have a busier home or you own pets, you may want to change the air filter more frequently. Make sure that the air filter model matches the requirements of your HVAC system and the model number can be found on the rim of the filter. When you purchase an air filter, buy in bulk to save money and to ensure that you have spares on-hand.
If you want to schedule some essential maintenance for your AC system or you want to improve the IAQ, contact your local HVAC specialist today.