How Often Should I Change my Filter?


What Happens When You Forget to Change Your Filter?

So you know you’re supposed to change your air filter regularly, generally every three months or even more frequently. But, life happens and often changing filters is something that we store in the back of our minds as we think about day-to-day life—work, kids and our social lives—and we might just forget. So what’s the danger in this? How will forgetting to change your air filter affect you, your family and anyone else who enters your home?

Problem #1: You’ll experience a poorer quality of air in your home.

An air filter works to trap harmful particles like mold, pet dander and bacteria that would otherwise pollute the air in your home. If a filter isn’t changed in due time, it will simply run out of room to collect more of these contaminants. Say you spill some juice. You grab a paper towel and cover the spill. After the first paper towel becomes too saturated to absorb more juice, you throw it away and grab and second one to continue cleaning up the spill. That second paper towel is necessary to keeping your home clean in the same way a new filter is.

Problem #2 : Your HVAC system will work less efficiently, or not at all.

In short, when you forget to change your furnace filter, contaminants like pollen and dust clog the filter and keep it from doing its job—cleaning the air that circulates throughout your home. And preventing your filter from doing the work it was deigned to do, not only keeps your HVAC system from doing the same, but also may harm it. Your HVAC system is powered by a fan motor that will have to work harder and harder to push air through a clogged filter. This additional pressure may cause the fan motor to overheat or even break entirely. Replacing a broken HVAC system will cost you—but so will letting an HVAC system run with a dirty filter. More work for the fan motor translates to higher charges on your electric bill. Additionally, a dirty evaporative (cooling) coil can dramatically reduce your airconditioners performance.

Problem #3: You’ll inadvertently make your home dirtier.

If your air filter becomes too clogged, the dust and dirt particles that it won’t be able to trap will simply recirculate throughout your home. This means dirt will collect quickly on surfaces within your house. Chances are, if you notice you’re dusting more frequently, it’s time to change your filter. No one wants to live in a dirty home, and cleaning more is certainly a pain, but it’s important to remember that the worst part of having more dirt in your home comes from breathing in that dirt. Failing to change your filter means living in an environment that will negatively affect your family’s health—especially if they have allergies, weak immune systems or other medical conditions. Furthermore, failing to change your filter can be negative for the environment as a whole. Remember, how clogged filters make your HVAC system work harder? As they expend more energy, your carbon footprint increases. Though changing your air filter may be an easy task to forget, it’s one that is important for your family’s health. You want to make sure the air they breathe is clean, especially if they suffer from allergies or conditions like asthma. If you need help remembering to change your air filter, try setting an alarm on your phone or marking your digital or paper calendar. Or you might align changing your filter with other important events on your calendar. Find one chore that you do every 3 months or more frequently depending on your needs, and plan to change your filter at the same time. If you’re noticing more dust in your home, or having more trouble with allergies than usual, you can take the hint that perhaps it’s time. When in doubt, just take your air filter out and see how dirty it looks. Changing your filter may be hard to remember, but the good news is, it’s a quick and easy way to improve your quality of life.

Should I Worry about Indoor Pollution?

When you think of air pollution, you likely picture smog settling in above the world’s biggest cities. You may think of smoke stacks and dust churned about in streets from millions on their way to and from work, school and everything in between. What you likely will not think of when you hear the term “air pollution” is your own home. But the truth is, often indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air, major cities included. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that air in homes is generally 2 to 5 times more polluted than air outside. This is alarming, especially because the majority of people spend most of their times indoors, going from home to the office, school or store, then perhaps to a restaurant in the evening. Of course, if we're lucky, we get out of the house on a nice day. We go to the park or sip coffee on a patio if we can. However, those who likely have the most difficulty getting out of the house on a whim—the elderly, the very young or the chronically ill—are also those who are most likely to suffer most from consequences of indoor air pollution.

So where does indoor pollution come from?

  • >> Burning gas, kerosene, incense, oil, wood, coal and cigarettes or other forms of tobacco
  • >> Cleaning and personal hygiene products
  • >> General moisture or things like wet carpets that contribute to mildew, bacteria and mold
  • >> Harmful building materials like asbestos, lead or formaldehyde
  • >> Inefficient or damaged HVAC systems
  • >> Contaminates that come in from outside including outdoor air pollution, radon and pesticides
  • >> Pet dander, insects and dust mites

Burning fuel, for heating, releases carbon monoxide among other pollutants and the fire in your fireplace comes with its own set of contaminates. Cleaning products you use daily may contain harmful chemicals. For instance, the “air freshener” you use may actually be harming your air rather than cleaning it. Pollution from the outside, including car exhaust from your garage, creeps in through open doors and window or vents.

How do indoor air pollutants affect you?

Different pollutants will affect your body in different ways and will harm some more than others. At the most basic level, indoor pollutants will cause symptoms that most who suffer from allergies know well: watery eyes, coughing and sneezing and shortness of breath. Over time, minor problems with allergies may turn into major ones when people are repeatedly exposed to the same contaminants over time. They may also inspire fever, problems with digestion, and dizziness. Indoor air pollution can cause allergic reactions or spread airborne illnesses like chicken pox or influenza. People who have breathing problems like asthma will be even more susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollutants. Each pollutant contains its own list of side effects, some that can be as severe as death when contaminates like carbon monoxide become highly concentrated within a home.

What can I do to cut down on indoor air pollution?

  • >> Choose personal hygiene and cleaning products that do not introduce harmful toxins into your home.
  • >> If you live in an older house, make sure your home is free of asbestos and lead paint, especially when remodeling.
  • >> Do not use pesticides indoors.
  • >> Watch for moisture in areas like your basement. Make sure you don’t leave carpets, curtains or towels wet.
  • >> Choose an air filter with an appropriate MERV rating and change it regularly.
  • >> Smoke outdoors instead of inside your home.
  • >> Check that gas-powered heaters are functioning correctly and make sure their flame is blue.
  • >> Clean your chimney annually.
  • >> Use a HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner.
  • >> Grill outside—not inside your garage or home.
  • >> Don’t close your garage door when your car is still running.

Arming yourself with the knowledge about where indoor air pollution comes from and how you can fight it is the first step in making your indoor air healthier.

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