What air conditioner filters work best?

When it comes to keeping your HVAC system maintained, nothing is more important or easier than making sure your filters get changed out every month or two.  Dirty, neglected filters have real affects on your AC system that end up costing you more in repairs and early replacement down the road than if they were changed regularly. 

When the air filter gets dirty it becomes restrictive to airflow passing through it, so your unit needs to work harder to "breath in." This puts stress on the small components like the capacitor and can cause them to run on a higher amperage, costing you more to run. Restrictive airflow can also cause your outside condenser coils to freeze over, creating a ice block over the coils and cause your HVAC unit to blow warm air in the summer. Dirty filters also allow more dust and crap past the filter and to build up on the indoor evaporator coil.  This lowers the efficiency of the heating and cooling system, costing you more money and not making you as comfortable as a properly operating unit would.

There are several types of air filters for your heat pump or furnace. Unfortunately, the kind most homeowners use is the most damaging to the AC system. However, as long as they are changed regularly, about every 2-3 months, you are still ahead of the curve. These filters are promoted as allergen reducing filters and have a 1" pleat or rib. The little known downside to them is that with only 1" of surface area, the heat pump or furnace will really have to work hard to suck air past the filter.  Have you ever tried to breath through only one straw? That's what is happening to your AC system every time it's turning on with the 1" pleated filters. 

We recommend using the cheap throw away filters because of the low airflow restriction. Your heat pump or furnace has to work a lot less to breath in and get the full capacity of air past the cooling coils. The only downside is that the cheap throw away filters do not catch as many airborne particles as the 1" pleated filter. If you are looking for the ideal filter that does both, capture airborne particles and doesn't put the heat pump or furnace under a lot of stress, look for the 4" HEPA filter. 

So what filters are the best? We love the 4" HEPA filters because it filters the dust and allergens better than either of the other filters plus it allows maximum airflow to pass through it, not stressing the AC system. The HEPA filters are becoming more commonly found at your local Home Depot or Lowes and they only need to be changed every 3 months. The only downside is that they are more expensive than the 1" pleated filters, but not that much more. 

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Tags: air, efficiency, energy, filters


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Comment by Leslie Jackson on July 13, 2018 at 4:18pm

Hello, Leslie here, with Home Energy magazine. We just got an inquiry from a reader about a DIY air filter solution restricting the air flow TOO much ...  Hope you can direct us to the source of an answer, if not having an answer yourself. Thanks so much!  Here's her e-mail:

I need a suggestion. We just replaced our 17-year-old evaporative cooler with another one. Works great. 

I have found that the diffuser blows dust and dirt into the house. I cut a circular pad for each diffuser from a sheet of 24 in. x 36 in. x 1 in. Permaire Pad Air Filter by Natural Aire. The product is made of natural fibers and can be washed and reused. 

It does restrict the airflow and it does help with the dust.

Is there some product the I can use and cut myself that restricts the airflow less. I thought of cutting circles of aluminum screen, like that used for doors and windows, but I am not sure how well it will keep out the dust.

Any suggestions appreciated. I cannot find any answers to this on the web.


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