This is the first post in a recurring 'column' by our resident HVAC and home repair expert (and my brother) Robert Maro.
Properly maintain your heating system.
Install a programmable thermostat.
The energy savings will offset the cost of a basic unit in less than
a year. Programming your thermostat from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day while no one is home, or while everyone is tucked in bed, will cut your heating bill up to 10 percent.
Insulate heating ducts and keep them in good repair to prevent heat loss.
Your system can lose up to 60 percent of its warmed air before it reaches the register, if ducts are not properly insulated in unheated areas such as attics and crawlspaces.
The single most important thing you can do to keep your air conditioning and heating system working efficiently is to make sure the air filter is matched to the unit and is clean. Air filters can also provide other benefits such as cleaner air and reduced allergy symptoms.
Function - Originally the primary purpose of air filters was to keep system components (blower and evaporator coil) clean. Clean air to breathe was a fringe benefit. Now, more attention is given to cleaning the air we breathe.
Condition - A dirty filter can have many negative effects:
How Often Do I Need To Clean or Replace My Filter?
This can vary greatly. It can range from one to two months for most homes to every couple of weeks for some businesses. Don't wait for the entire filter to become matted with dust. If most strands of fiberglass (or other material) are coated with dust, it's time to replace it (or clean it, if applicable). Some filters clog more quickly than others. A good rule of thumb is to check your filter every time you get your utility bill.
How well a filter cleans the air depends on the filter, what is in the air and the airflow through the filter. Cleaning ability should be compared on the basis of standardized tests designed to test the filter's efficiency on the size of particles important to you.
Types of filters:
Conventional 1' fiberglass throwaway filters
Found in most residential applications. Lowest first cost, but least effective. Many are coated with an adhesive substance to help collect dust. For this reason, this type of filter should not be cleaned in any way to 'extend' its life. The dust and adhesive are both removed when cleaned, rendering the filter almost useless.
1' Pleated Filters:
One Inch pleated fiters may be more expensive than your Fiberglass throwaway fiters but are more than worth the price you pay. The larger surface area and higher density material does a much better job fitering the air and keeping your equipment in top order.
Permanent mesh filters
These come in 1' and 2' versions and are made from different types of materials and consequently have a wide variety of effectiveness. Some of the older types such as aluminum mesh are no more effective than good fiberglass filters. These require the application of a filter adhesive spray after cleaning (washing) and drying. The filter adhesive should be available where you buy the filter.
These cleanable filters also come in 1' and 2' versions. Most filters advertised as allergy free are of this type. There are many different designs, and performance can vary. Some manufacturers claim very high efficiencies, but keep in mind that different manufacturers may use different tests to determine efficiencies. If the tests are not the same, the results may not be comparable. All electrostatic filter makers claim that the air movement through the filter creates a static charge that collects very tiny particles of dust. Like their 'permanent' counterpart, electrostatic filters require frequent and thorough cleaning and may consume more blower power.
Electronic filters are always connected to an electrical power source. Although some versions can be installed into a standard wall-mounted filter grill, many require> installation into the air return duct. They usually come with a pre-filter, which collects the larger particles of dust and, therefore, reduces the frequency of cleaning the main filter cell. The pre-filter has to be cleaned about once a month, but the main filter may go as much as six months between cleanings. These are the most efficient, and most expensive, of all-residential filters.
Other specialized filters such as activated carbon for odor control are available. Or 4 or 5 inch pleated Media filters.
Filter installation is important. Many filters have arrows indicating the correct airflow direction. These filters should be installed so that the air will flow in the same direction as the arrow. If there is no arrow, the strongest part of the filter (often reinforced with metal grid) should be next to the air conditioning system so that the air exits at the reinforced part of the filter. Correctly installed, the filter should fit tightly and securely. If the filter does not stay in place during operation, it will not be effective.
A word of caution.
The same characteristic that makes a filter more efficient may require more blower power and could possibly overload your blower and reduce airflow through the system. Before purchasing any air filter, particularly 'high efficiency' filters, be certain that it is properly sized for your system. Because 'high efficiency filters' may have more resistance to airflow, they may have to be larger in square footage than standard types. Also, it doesn't matter how efficient your filter is, if the air return duct is not thoroughly sealed against air leaks; unfiltered dirty air will enter the air stream. The dirtier or more restrictive the filter, the more air will come in the return leak. This air is often hot, humid, attic air, which increases the work of the furnace, decreases the comfort and increases your cost.