Did you know that your air filter is one of the most critical components in your furnace? It might seem surprising that such a cheap part has such an essential role to play, but regular filter maintenance is one of the best things you can do for your HVAC system. Using the right filter will increase efficiency and air quality while using the wrong one can potentially ruin your entire heating system.
Fortunately, furnace filter maintenance is also one of the easiest things you can do around the house. This guide will help you understand three essential facts about your air filter so you can learn when to replace it and how to choose a suitable replacement for your home.
1. Filter Replacements Aren't One Size Fits All
If you can locate your furnace filter, you should pull it out and read the size information. Filter sizes use three numbers that tell you the filter's width, height, and thickness. When buying a new filter, you'll need to choose one that matches your existing filter width and height, although you may have some flexibility when selecting your furnace thickness.
In general, you can install a thicker filter if it will physically fit in your air handler compartment. Thicker filters may last longer and provide superior performance, so they're an option worth considering if you're willing to spend a little more upfront for better air quality. Never choose a filter that you need to force into your compartment, and avoid selecting filters thinner than what came with your system.
2. Check Often, Change As Needed
Your replacement intervals will depend on numerous factors, including the thickness of your filter and your home environment. You'll need to replace thicker filters less often, while you'll need to perform more frequent replacements if your home includes pets or smokers. Regardless of conditions, it's a good idea to check your filter's condition at least once per month, especially during heavy usage.
Filters can get dirty relatively quickly, so you don't need to replace yours if you can see some specks of dust. Instead, look for significant discoloration or heavy soiling. Your filter should also have a recommended replacement interval printed somewhere on the casing. If the filter looks dirty and you're past this interval, it's probably a good idea to replace it.
3. Upgrade Cautiously
Filters come with MERV ratings that tell you the filter's efficiency at catching increasingly smaller particles. A filter with a higher MERV rating can catch more contaminants, but these filters are also more restrictive. Upgrading to a higher MERV rating can create a substantial static pressure drop in your HVAC system, potentially reducing your heating efficiency or even damaging your furnace.
If you'd like to upgrade your filter, consider discussing your choice with an HVAC technician. They can help you understand if your system can deal with the higher pressure drop or potentially offer other options for improving your home's indoor air quality. This approach is usually safer than blindly upgrading to a potentially more restrictive filter.