Over the 30+ years I have been in the industry, I have seen so many changes to equipment, duct design, programmable thermostats, and more. However, after all of those changes, when I am asked, “How can I save money on air conditioning costs?” My number one answer is, “Your filter.” That’s right. The least expensive thing on your system turns out to be one of the biggest culprits of high energy bills. I have seen it all, from the person that wants to save money by installing a low-cost filter, all the way to the person that thinks they are doing a good thing by installing the most expensive one.
Check out these tips on how to pick out the right filter so you can start to save money on air conditioning costs:
Which filter is right for you?
Low-Cost Filters: $2-$4, Usually Merv 8 or Less
These filters actually can do the job in regards to keeping your system running efficiently, but you need to change them often. They will allow more dirt through them, but the dirt is usually still small enough to pass through your coil. You should change these filters every 2 weeks if you want to protect your coil from dirt build up. Seems excessive, but if you want to protect yourself from expensive coil cleanings, you must stay loyal. Usually when I tell people this, there is excitement of possibly saving money on filters. However, the pain of remembering to change them and how often will fade that excitement away quickly. If you are dealing with allergies, this filter option is not for you.
Mid Line Filters: $5-$8, Usually Merv 10 or 11
This filter is usually what we recommend to people that want to use the local Lowes or Home Depot. They are easy to find and the performance on these is pretty good. However, the package will say it’s a 3 month filter. Let me just say, that over 30 years, I have seen very few homes that are clean enough to get away with 3 months. These filters should be changed every 30 days and here is why. If you look at the life cycle of any filter, the day you put it in is the best day of system performance. The performance and efficiency of the equipment will drop every day that goes by after that. This is because the filter loads up with dust and begins to restrict the air that is needed over that coil. The average home with a 1” Merv 11 filter has enough build up on the filter to restrict the air on that unit. This gets to a point where the cost of the new filter can be paid for by a better performing system which you will get when you put that new filter in. If you are an allergy sufferer, this option is a little better than the low-cost filters, but not by much. Most pollen is small enough to make it through a Merv 11.
Expensive Filters: $12 and up, Merv 14+
Okay everyone, pay attention. This is my number one nemesis. Over the years, this has been one of the highest non call issues we have seen. Now I am not saying that all high Merv rated filters are bad, but I am saying that you do need to understand how these filters will affect your system. Here is an example. If you had a 16x20x1 filter on your system and wanted to go to the high Merv filter, you will reduce the air flow to the coil on your system upwards of 60% or more. That my friend is what will ruin your system and run your utility bill up. Stay away from these filters. Unless you can verify air flow over the coil, which most consumers eyes glaze over when I mention that, save the money.
Allergy Free and Washable Filters: $40+
Most of these guys are bad. Several are made up of layers of material that are supposed to statically charge when air goes through them. When they are new, they can be ok, but very few have the ability to internally wash out when you hose them off. Over time, that dirt builds up inside the filter and the performance drops greatly. There are a few brands that sell filters where you can take the frame apart and clean each layer. These are better, but who is going to do that? They are difficult to put back together. I find that most of these are not worth the money.
Why do people go with the High Merv filters?
Generally it is to deal with allergies, dust, or simply because they want better air quality. How can we still help these people and save our HVAC equipment? It is pretty simple. Call your HVAC company in for some help. There are filtration systems out there that can get you the protection of allergens, dust, and increase that air quality. These systems will not sacrifice your HVAC equipment or your wallet when paying your utility company. The filters that I am referring to are usually 4” or more thick, and have filter media that looks like an accordion. The key is that the higher the Merv rating, the more filter media must exist, which will offset the restriction caused by the denser media. There are great products out there that will catch almost anything airborne but not jeopardize the equipment performance.
Bigger is Better
So if you wanted my advice as an HVAC professional, I am always recommending bigger is better. Every system I sell goes out with at least a Merv 11 20x25x4 filter. My reason for this is because I find that people today are simply too busy to change filters even once a month. Our Merv 11 20x25x4 filter will at least buy my customers 3 months or so between changes. For my customers that want better air quality or have allergies, we look at products like the April Aire 5000 which is a Merv 16 filter that’s about 8” thick and has an electronic component to it. These filters can last anywhere from 8 months to a year.
Start Saving Money on Your Utility Bill Today
Just remember, good air flow is the key to a well performing system which will help reduce your utility bills better than anything else. There are other things that can help, but dollar for dollar, this is the easiest and fastest way to save money on air conditioning costs no matter where you are located.
Guest Author Bio: Vince Youndt is an experienced HVAC specialist and owner of Vertex Mechanical in Lancaster County, PA. He strives to keep his customers comfortable year round by providing quality equipment, installation and service for their heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical needs.