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HVAC SYSTEM FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
HVAC Air Filters, Classroom Unit Ventilators, Air Cleaners, & Air Purifiers

by Andy Carrow (Danforth Air Filtration & Air Purification, Buffalo, NY)

Answers To General HVAC Furnace Air Filter Questions, Answers About Cleaning HVAC Air Filters, Answers About Air Filter Efficiency & MERV Ratings, Answers About Air Filters For Classroom Unit Ventilators, Answers About Air Filters For Commercial Air Handlers, Air Cleaners, & HEPA Filters For Air Purifiers

Danforth Air Filtration & Air Purification and Danforth Indoor Air Quality Division work together to maintain Your HVAC / Air Filters / Air Cleaners / Air Purifiers, and coordinate required periodic testing and preventive maintenance on all types of air filtration & air purification systems in New York State

HVAC SYSTEM FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

FAQ Section 1 - General HVAC Furnace Air Filter Questions
FAQ Section 2 - Cleaning HVAC Air Filters
FAQ Section 3 - Air Filter Efficiency & Air Filter MERV Ratings
FAQ Section 4 - Air Filters For Classroom Unit Ventilators
FAQ Section 5 - Air Filters For Air Handlers, Air Cleaners, & Air Purifiers
FAQ Section 6 - Choosing Your Optimum Humidifier Model
FAQ Section 7 - Maintaining & Adjusting Your Humidifier
FAQ Section 8 - Finding Humidifier Parts & Accessories

Download the FREE HVAC Air Filter & HVAC System FAQ e-Book

FAQ Section 1. - General HVAC Furnace Air Filter Questions

1.1. How Often Should I Change My HVAC Furnace Air Filter?

The Service Life of Your HVAC Furnace Air Filter depends on the Filter Type and conditions in Your HVAC System.
The Service Life of Your HVAC Furnace Air Filter depends on the Filter Type and conditions in Your HVAC System.

There are several factors that determine when you will need to change your furnace filter. Key factors include the type of air filter, the dust load, and the pressure drop across your air filter. A higher pressure drop implies a higher resistance to airflow through the filter (see next question).

For Disposable Furnace Filters, the general rule is to change them once a month during the seasons when your HVAC system is running constantly.

 

Pleated Furnace Filters cost a little more than disposable air filters, but you may typically be able to obtain a service life of 2-3 months from each filter.

If you have a Washable Furnace Filter, like the DustEater Air Filters from Permatron, or a Metal Washable Air Filter like the KKM Air Filters from Flanders, we recommend inspecting it monthly and washing it once every 1 to 3 months, depending on your situation.

1.2. How Does Airflow Resistance Affect My HVAC System’s Efficiency & Costs?

As A Filter’s Filtration Efficiency Increases ,Resistance To Airflow Through The Filter Also Increases, Requiring More Energy To Drive Air Through Your HVAC System
As A Filter’s Filtration Efficiency Increases, Resistance To Airflow Through The Filter Also Increases, Requiring More Energy To Drive Air Through Your HVAC System.

In general, an air filter media with higher Filtration Efficiency, or higher MERV Rating, will also provide increased resistance to airflow through it.

This increased resistance requires your HVAC unit to expend more energy in order to move air through your filter. So you get the benefit of higher particle capture efficiency at the cost of increased energy consumption.

 

However, high quality filter manufacturers use modern filter media blends that allow increase in filtration efficiency with minimal increase in resistance. The slightly higher cost of a quality filter media is therefore usually worth paying for, because it can save you money by decreasing the stress on your HVAC system and increasing the energy efficiency of your unit.

1.3. How Can I Define My Air Filter Size If I Don’t Have A Filter In My Furnace?

Measuring The Nominal Air Filter Size From Your HVAC System Duct Dimensions
Measuring The Nominal Air Filter Size From Your HVAC System Duct Dimensions.

Your furnace air filter is typically retained in a track between the input side of the furnace and the cold air return duct. Defining your air filter size is a simple task that can be accomplished by measuring the size of the track that it slides into within your HVAC system.

Use a tape measure to measure the track dimensions from top to bottom and front to back. Also measure the width of the slot.

 

For example, if your track is 14"x24"x1" then your Nominal air filter size is 14"x24"x1".

Most air filter manufacturers will state a Nominal filter size, such as 14"x24"x1" and will usually also state their Actual filter size - which is often a bit smaller (ie 13-3/4"x23-3/4"x7/8"). This smaller size is designed to ensure easier installation into (and withdrawal from) your furnace filter track.

1.4. What Are The Differences Between Fiberglass or Polyester Disposable Air Filters and Pleated Air Filters?

Pleated Air Filter vs Fiberglass or Polyester Disposable Panel Air Filters vs Ring Panel Air Filter
Pleated Air Filter (left) vs Fiberglass or Polyester Disposable Panel Air Filters (center) vs Ring Panel Air Filter (right)".

Fiberglass Disposable Panel Air Filters are constructed with filter media made of glass strands, and this arrangement provides many holes for the airborne particles to pass through.

Polyester Disposable Panel Air Filters are constructed with filter media made from synthetic fibers. These filters can capture more particles than Fiberglass Disposable Filters, because they have smaller openings that provide greater restriction.

 

Pleated Air Filters provide a greater filtration surface area than Disposable Panel Filters. Pleated filters cost a little more than Disposable panel filters, but they are many times more efficient at filtering out particles from your HVAC system.

More information on Pleated vs Disposable Furnace Air Filters.

1.5. Do Disposable Air Filters Need Retainers?

Fiberglass (left) & Polyester (right) Disposable Panel Air Filters With & Without Metal Retainers
Fiberglass (blue media) & Polyester (white media) Disposable Panel Air Filters With & Without Metal Retainers.

Disposable Air Filters are generally available in 3 different configurations:

  • filters without retainers (no-metal retainers),
  • filters with 1-metal retainer,
  • filters with 2-metal retainers.
  • Metal Retainers offer increased support to both the frame and the media, helping to prevent any collapsing or blow-outs from occurring.

     

    Thus, no-metal retainer filters have the least rigidity, whereas the 1-metal and 2-metal retainers offer increased rigidity.

    Smaller Disposable Air Filters may be used successfully without metal retainers, but as filter size increases you should consider using 1 or 2 metal retainers.

    1.6. How Do Air Filter Media Pads Work?

    HVAC Air Filter Media Pads
    HVAC Air Filter Media Pads.

    Air Filter Media Pads are simply sheets of air filter media material that are supplied without any sort of holding frame.

    Using filter media pads in place of disposable air filters may reduce waste and filter cost.

     

    To use Air Filter Media Pads, you must purchase a reusable pad holding Frame sized to fit your unit, and install the media pad within the frame. Filter Frames are available from most air filter distributors, in a wide range of standard sizes.

    Find Air Filter Media Here and Filter Frames Here.

    1.7. What Are The Main Differences Between Pleated Air Filters and 3-Ply Ring Panel Air Filters?

    Pleated Air Filters are considerably more efficient than Disposable Panel Air Filters for typical Residential HVAC applications. However, in many Commercial/Industrial HVAC applications 3-Ply Ring Panel Air Filters may represent a superior choice over Pleated Filters.

    In general, compared to Ring Panel Air Filters, Pleated Air Filters offer higher filtration efficiency and dust holding capacity. Pleated Air Filters are also available in a wider variety of media types to allow for odor control or other special requirements.

    Ring Panel Air Filters typically provide superior performance and service life in the presence of moisture or high humidity. Ring Panel Filters also provide more cost-effective filtration than Pleated Filters in large HVAC systems.

     

    3-Ply Ring Panel Air Filter vs Pleated Air Filter
    3-Ply Ring Panel Air Filter (left)
    vs Pleated Air Filter (right).

    More information on Ring Panel Filters vs Pleated Air Filters

    1.8. What Are The Benefits of Metal Washable Air Filters?

    Metal Washable Air Filters
    Metal Washable Air Filters.

    Metal Washable Air Filters can be used in place of any 1" or 2" (nominal depth) air filter in an HVAC system. They provide a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution to the problem of using disposable air filters, which can become costly over the long-term.

    Metal Washable Filters are generally not as efficient as Standard Capacity Pleated Air Filters, but they don’t need replacing and can potentially be used for the lifetime of your HVAC unit.

     

    The only thing that is required to maintain performance from your Metal Washable Filter is to clean it once a month with warm soapy water, rinse it thoroughly, and make sure you dry it out well before reinstalling.

    High Quality Metal Washable Air Filters are offered by Airflow Technology, Flanders, Permatron, Purolator, and several other air filter manufacturers.

    1.9. How Often Should I Replace My Carbon Air Filter?

    Odor Control Air Filters Use Active Carbon (Sometimes Combined With Chemicals).
    Odor Control Air Filters Use Active Carbon (Sometimes Combined With Chemicals).

    Carbon Air Filters are widely applied in HVAC systems in order to provide odor control. They do this by using media loaded with highly porous carbon particles that are able to adsorb odorous molecules onto their large internal surface area.

    Carbon Air Filters do not provide a specified service life and the amount of time that your carbon filter will continue to control odors will depend on the amount of exposure that it receives.

     

    The most effective way to know when to change out your Carbon Filter is to understand that "Your Nose Knows". Once the carbon media becomes saturated with odorous molecules, the filter will not absorb any more, and you should be able to smell that the filter requires to be changed!

    More information on Carbon Air Filters.

    1.10. Why Do I Need An Equipment Protection Filter?

    Equipment Protection Filters Protect Your Air Conditioning Unit.
    Equipment Protection Filters Protect Your Air Conditioning Unit.

    Equipment Protection Filters are typically installed over externally sited Air Conditioning Units to prevent your system from incurring costly damage that may happen based on weather, construction, and even normal daily use.

    Equipment Protection Filters also help maintain peak operating efficiency by preventing ingress of leaves or other debris into the unit intake grill.

     

    These filters are easily installed with a range of fixing options, and may be quickly removed for regular cleaning. A range of standard sizes are available in the Air Filter Catalog, and custom sizes are available using the Equipment Protection Air Filter Finder Tool.

    For more specific information about Equipment Protection Filters call Danforth Filters at 1.866.581.4999 or email us at filterinfo@jwdanforth.com.


    FAQ Section 2. - Cleaning HVAC Air Filters

    2.1. Is It True That Air Filters Become More Efficient With Age?

    This is true - INITIALLY:

    HVAC Air Filters Become More Efficient With Use Until The Media Becomes Too Clogged.
    HVAC Air Filters Become More Efficient With Initial Use. Eventually, The Filter Media Becomes Clogged - Restricting Airflow.

    Following installation in your HVAC system, a new air filter begins to trap particles from the air stream (ex. pet dander, dust, etc.).

     

    These trapped particles partially plug up holes in the filter media, which is then able to trap even finer particles that would have been able to pass through the originally larger, more open, holes.

    This effect initially increases the filtration efficiency of your air filter, reducing the amount of particles that get through the filter, thereby ensuring that your system, and your air, are clean and healthy.

    However, once the holes in your filter media become too restricted, the rate of air flow through the media decreases. This puts a back pressure on the system preventing it from operating correctly. This means that it is important to regularly clean (see below) or replace your HVAC air filter.

    2.2. How Can I Clean My Furnace Air Filter?

    Only Washable Air Filters Should Be Cleaned With Water.
    Only Washable Air Filters Should Be Cleaned With Water.
    For other Filters You May Try Gentle Vacuum Cleaning.

    Washable Air Filters may be cleaned using warm water with a mild detergent, then rinsing thoroughly with clean water. For information about cleaning Metal Washable Air Filters, see the next Question.

    Be sure to let your washable air filter dry completely before installing it back in your furnace.

     

    Disposable Air Filters (with fiberglass or synthetic media), and Pleated Air Filters should not be washed with water.

    However, you may be able to extend their service life by carefully cleaning with a vacuum cleaner. Avoid high suction rates or vigorous rubbing, which may damage or puncture the filter media.

    2.3. How Should I Clean A Metal Washable Air Filter?

    6 Steps To Clean Your Metal Washable Air Filter.

    To Clean Your Metal Washable Air Filter follow these 6 simple steps:

  • Turn off your HVAC system
  • Pull out your air filter
  • Wash your air filter with warm soapy water
  • Rinse your filter thoroughly
  • Let your filter dry completely
  • Reinstall the filter & restart the HVAC unit
  •  

    Note: Some Metal Washable Air Filters are spray coated to help lock in filtered particles. You can easily replace the expensive spray coating with spray-on cooking oil, which will have a similar effect on capturing the particles.


    FAQ Section 3. - Air Filter Efficiency & Air Filter MERV Ratings

    3.1. What Is An Air Filter MERV Rating?

    HVAC Air Filter Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) Rating Scale 1-20.

    MERV, or Minimum Efficiency Rating Value, is a parameter that tells you how efficient an air filter is at capturing particles that impinge upon it after passing through your HVAC return air system.

    An air filter’s MERV Rating is obtained by subjecting it to very specific testing protocols.

     

    There are currently 20 different MERV Ratings (MERV 1 - MERV 20) each with their own specific associated filtration efficiency. For Example a MERV 8 air filter provides 40% efficient filtration, whereas a MERV 16 air filter provides 99% efficient filtration under the conditions of the test procedure.

    More information on MERV Ratings.

    3.2. How Should I Choose A MERV Rated Air Filter?

    Choosing The Right MERV Rated HVAC Air Filter For Your Needs.

    A lower MERV Rating, implies a lower filter efficiency, but also lower costs in running the unit. Conversely, a higher MERV Rating, implies a higher filter efficiency and usually means higher costs to run the unit.

    On moving from MERV 1 to MERV 20 you increase the filtration efficiency (ie. the amount of dust the air filter is able to capture) due to the media becoming less porous.

     

    Because of this decreasing permeability, your unit will be required to cycle on more often in order to maintain the same amount of airflow passing through the system. This causes more energy to be used, raising your operational costs.

    More information on MERV Ratings.


    FAQ Section 4. - Air Filters For Classroom Unit Ventialtors

    FAQ 4.1. Can I Use Pleated Air Filters In My Classroom Unit Ventilators?

    Improve Performance & Extend Filter Service Life By Using MERV 7 or MERV 8 Pleated Air Filters In Classroom Unit Ventilators.
    School Building Managers Can Improve Performance & Extend Filter Service Life By Using MERV 7 or MERV 8 Pleated Air Filters In Their Classroom Unit Ventilators.

    Many schools are asking about the benefits that Pleated Air Filters offer compared to Disposable Panel Air Filters. Increasingly more building managers are seeking to install Pleated Air Filters into their classroom unit ventilators.

    The main benefits of switching to Pleated Air Filters are the increased particulate capture efficiency and the increased filter life span compared to Disposable Air Filters.

     

    In fact, many modern classroom units will benefit significantly by upgrading to a Pleated Air Filter with a MERV rating of MERV 7 or MERV 8.

    Note: Pleated Air Filters will provide a bit more resistance to airflow and will capture more dirt - so you must monitor them to ensure the unit does not shutdown from lack of airflow.

    FAQ 4.2. Can I Use 2-Ply Sleeve Roll Filter Media In My Classroom Unit Ventilators?

    Cut Filtration Costs By Using 2-Ply Sleeve Panel Air Filter Media For Classroom Unit Ventilators.
    School Building Managers Can Cut Filtration Costs By Using 2-Ply Sleeve Panel Air Filter Media Instead Of Disposable Panel Air Filters In Their Classroom Unit Ventilators.

    In general, replacing Disposable Air Filters with 2-Ply Sleeve Panel Media in Unit Ventilators and Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners (PTACs), reduces filter replacement costs and also reduces waste.

    It is important to inspect the media regularly (monthly), just as you would for a Disposable Air Filter.

     

    Just reuse the internal wire support ring and purchase a replacement roll of the 2 Ply Sleeve Media in the correct width for your unit.

    Simply cut the proper length required for each Ring to fit your unit and slip it on, discarding the spent filter media.


    FAQ Section 5. - Air Filters For Air Handlers, Air Cleaners, & Air Purifiers

    5.1. What Are The Benefits of Air Cleaners & Air Purifiers?

    Simple Air Filters provide MERV 7 or lower rated Air Filtration Efficiency

    Air Cleaners (Better) achieve MERV 8-16 Air Filtration Efficiency or Equivalent

    Air Purifiers (Best) achieve HEPA Filtration (MERV 17+) Efficiency or Equivalent

    More about the differences between Air Cleaners & Air Purifiers

    Using a Portable or Fixed Air Cleaner or Air Purifier in your home or office reduces airborne particulates and, in many cases, also removes any odors or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

     

    Air Cleaners & Air Purifiers.

    Air Cleaners are equipped with high efficiency air filters that may be rated as high as MERV 16 (or equivalent) efficiency and may also include Carbon Filtration to remove odors.

    Air Purifiers are generally considered to have HEPA filtration and often Carbon filtration in them. Some units also contain chemical media cartridges to remove gases and vapors.

    5.2. What Are The Benefits Of HEPA Filtration?

    HEPA Filter.

    High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filters (HEPA Filters) are a form of extended surface media air filters offering high filter efficiency with MERV Rating 17+.

     

    A ’True’ HEPA filter must be at least 99.997% efficient - allowing no more than 3 particles in 10,000 to penetrate the filtration media.

    HEPA filtration controls the spreading of airbone particulates and toxic or infectious agents. HEPA Filters can be used in a wide variety of applications including, but not limited to: Biological Safety Cabinets, Pharmaceutical Applications, Surgical/Operating Rooms, Health Care Facilities, Museums & Libraries...

    More Information About HEPA Filters

    5.3. Will A HEPA filter Remove Odors From The Air?

    HEPA Filters Remove Airborne Particulates, But Cannot Remove Gases or VOCs.
    HEPA Filters Remove Airborne Particulates, But Cannot Remove Gases or VOCs.

    HEPA (Filter) is the acronym for High Efficiency Particulate Air (Filter).

    HEPA filters are specifically designed to remove fine particulates from the air, but they cannot remove gas phase contaminants or odors.

     

    To remove odors or VOCs, you need to use Carbon Filtration. Special chemical cartridges are also available to remove a wide range of gases.

    Other Air Cleaning technologies such as Bi-Polar Ionization or Photo Catalytic Oxidiation (PCO) are also available to remove odors and VOC’s.

    5.4. What is Bipolar Ionization?

    Bipolar Ionization Air Cleaner.
    Bipolar Ionization Air Cleaner.

    Bipolar Ionization is the process by which reactive positive and negative Oxygen ions are generated and then mixed with Ambient Air.

    These reactive Oxygen ions then seek out and react with oppositely charged airborne contaminants that are distributed throughout our living space.

     

    This reaction with Oxygen ions precipitates airborne particles such as mold spores, pollen or pet dander. It also breaks down VOC’s and neutralizes odors.

    The active Oxygen ions can even disrupt the DNA of airborne bacteria and viruses to control their spread, as well as neutralizing any static electric charges. More About Bipolar Ionization Air Cleaners

    5.5. Are Class 1 Filters Considered Fireproof?

    Used Class 1 Air Filters May Contain Flammable Particulates.
    Used Class 1 Air Filters May Contain Flammable Particulates.

    UL 900 Class 1 Air Filters are NOT fireproof.

    In fact, recent changes to UL Standards are moving away from using this classification for air filters. The UL 900 testing that is performed on these filters is done on a clean filter. Once an air filter is in use, and has started to build a (flammable) dust load, the UL classification becomes invalid.

     

    In point of fact, a UL 900 Class 1 Air Filter rating only means that the unused clean air filter does not contribute fuel when attacked by flame or emits only negligible amounts of smoke.

    More About Air Filter Flammability Standards

    5.6. Do I Need Differential Pressure Gauges To Determine When To Replace My Air Filters?

    For Commercial Air Handling Units, differential pressure gages are highly recommended as one method of monitoring the air filter’s life cycle.

    Clean Air Filter - Low Pressure Drop. Dirty Air Filter - High Pressure Drop.

    Each air filter manufacturer provides initial and final recommended Pressure Drops, at which point the filters need to be inspected for possible replacement.

     

    Some building managers believe that their Air Filters may still have some limited service life remaining after they reach their final recommended Pressure Drop.

    If you do continue to use your filters after reaching their final Pressure Drop Rating, you should certainly inspect them for penetration or damage - which would serve to decrease the apparent Pressure Drop across a highly loaded filter.

    You must also understand that as the Pressure Drop increases, your system requires more energy to force air through the filter, and the added cost in wear & tear and utility bills may exceed the price of installing a new air filter.

    Regularly filter changeouts and replacement with high quality air filters is an investment that will provide clean air in your building and also protect your HVAC system.

    Air Filration & Air Purification Expertise

    Danforth is a certified NAFA member with over 20yrs experience in HVAC air filtration and HEPA Air Purification systems. We conduct HVAC System Audits, and can help you find the optimum Air Filtration or Air Purification System for Your facility.

    Danforth can assist you with standard or custom air filters and standard or custom air filter housings to meet your exact needs.

    Danforth can advise you on your air filtration system design, and make sound recommendations to optimize your system to maximize performance and minimize ongoing maintenance & cost.

    $SAVE$ - Discount pricing on quality Pleated Air Filters and all other air filters at www.danforthfilters.com. Visit the Secure Online Store for standard air filter sizes. For custom-sized pleated air filters, use the Custom Pleated Air Filter Configuration Tool to build and buy your own filter.

    Danforth Air Filtration & Air Purification - Replacement Air Filters, HEGA Air Purifiers, & Associated Filters. NAFA Certified Specialist For Residential, Commercial, & Industrial HVAC And HEGA Air Purification

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