Property Management Blog

Why Maintaining Your HVAC Filters is Important

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

This article is, believe it or not, is as much about peace of mind as it is anything else. Here we will address the importance of maintaining your HVAC filters, an exciting, nay, scintillating, topic, to be sure! At least I think so, but I'm an odd duck, so in a word, quack.

First, What is an HVAC?

HVAC is shorthand for Heating, Ventilation (and) Air Conditioning. People like me use that acronym frequently because, really, no one wants to write heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system repeatedly. Just doing that right now, and I think I need a nap.

Most people simply call it "The AC System," but during winter, they revert to "The Heating System," or just "The Furnace." All of which is misleading, because in most cases, all these systems work together and share components. For example, the heating system shares the "air mover" (blower) with the AC system, via the FAU, particularly in newer systems. FAU is short for Forced Air Unit. Feeling smarter already, right? To be honest, I thought FAU was Furnace Air Unit, but in a moment of doubt, I googled it. Ha, thanks, Google!

Also, the same ducts are usually used. Very rarely will you find separate ducts for each, heating and cooling. They do exist, however. Equally rare are baffled systems that regulate airflow per room at the touch of a button. Anyway...

How often should I replace my HVAC Filter?

Glad you asked. "Often" is the best answer. Quarterly is good too. And do you know why? One line, below, is the right answer, pick one below.

If you clicked lines one, two, or three, then you know where I'm going with this.

Dust Mites

Dust mites are all over the place, and do you know what their favorite snack is? Dead skin. Yep, these little freaks run around munching on that which you, and everyone else, sheds. Num.

There is a myth out there that most household dust is dead skin. That is not true, but it does make up a percentage of the dust in your house.  See this article:

So, remove the dust, and you remove dust mite food.

Your HVAC system filters trap dust and dust mites as well!


Keeping It Clean

Have you ever replaced the air filter in your car?  A lot of people don't, by the way (odds are they also neglect their HVAC filter too), and they pay for that with decreased fuel mileage. Motor oil gets dirtier quicker too.

Well, it’s sort of the same with your HVAC filter. The unit works much harder when the air filter is dirty. After all, it's like sucking a milkshake through a paper straw versus slurping up a soda through the same straw. It's a lot harder. And that takes energy. And you pay for energy. This brings us to:

Saving Money

A penny saved is a penny earned. Folks, it is hard these days to save a buck! That filter can either be costing you money or save you money… if it is dirty, cha-ching. But the savings don’t stop with your electric bill. Airflow is slow, so you get less effective air exchange. And eventually, the blower wheel will clog up, further reducing its effectiveness. Sooner or later, the system will fail, and you will have an expensive repair, AND the house will have no heating and cooling.

All the items above apply. Get rid of the dust. Save money. Keep it clean!

Washable filters

Washable filters are well and fine so long as you actually clean them, and allow them to dry before reinstalling them. I advise not using them at all, and I have an excellent reason for this: They wrecked my AC unit. My son put one in for me, and the airflow sucked the whole filter right into my FAU. I could replace the unit, but you know, I really like $11 electric bills in summer. The heatstroke, not so much...

Cost of Replacement

Let’s talk about replacement costs. Common parts that might need replacing include a Compressor and Blowers. A Compressor can set you back $1,800 parts and labor. A blower can set you back $375 parts and labor. Some day you will need a new unit especially if you own the property for more than 15 years. A new unit runs from $2400-$3300 depending on the size of the unit needed for your home.  

We have a Solution

Management One has been proactive and progressive on HVAC systems for quite a while. For more than 30 years, we have found that there are items that frustrate residents to the point of, well, frustration. Example: you have the excitement of moving into a home, yay!, being flat-lined when the very first week - whamo - the HVAC system fails! Boo. During the property rehab process, we send an HVAC tech to check the HVAC system top to bottom. You'd be amazed at how often they find something that is close to failing (like a capacitor or blower) or is not operating correctly. During the first six months of beginning this program, HVAC failures decreased a TON! I'd venture that is has cut failures from 1 in 10 to 1 in 250 or less.

Our intention when we began our new program was to perform maintenance on the HVAC unit between resident changeovers. The average term a resident stays in a home is about 4.5 years. However, we have long-term residents ranging from 10-30 years, thus no Rehab HVAC service. 

Fun Bonus Stuff:

The average home collects 40 pounds of dust every year! What does that even look like? Google it. There's someone out there who makes sculptures out of 40-pound collections of household dust. I know, right?

What is MERV?

Super high MERV value filters can cost you money because they block so much stuff (air included) that the system is working as hard as it would with a clogged-up filter!

 MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. It is a measuring system for air filters. The higher the value, the smaller the particle(s) it can capture. Too much MERV can be a bad thing. I think Johnny Carson would agree. You millennial's, ask your Boomer parents what that means.

Other systems

Did you know that some HVAC units have run capacitors and start capacitors, while others have combination run/start capacitors? A capacitor is sort of like a battery in that it stores electricity, and it can discharge a massive amount of energy very quickly, and recharges nearly as fast. Should your AC unit be running, but the fan outside is not turning, it is almost always the start capacitor for the fan. Best thing to do when this happens is to turn off the HVAC unit altogether not to burn out the compressor unit and call for service.

Heating Dries Things Out

Did you know that in winter, a gas heater dehumidified your home, naturally? Some heater units include a small water line that injects water into the outgoing heated airflow so that you, you know, don't get the frizzy hair.

Nationally, how much is the average AC repair bill?

Most homeowners report that they spend $362 on the average AC repair. In California, you can bet it's a little higher. And how much is the average summer electric bill? In my area, right around $400 a month. Yep, that AC unit is a Godsend, but it sure likes electricity!

Who Invented Air Conditioning?

Electric air conditioning was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902. However, people had been toying with the idea of cooling down on a warm day since the 2nd century. And where? China, of course. Sure, they had fireworks, gun powder, paper, before anyone else did, so why not? However, it was powered by prisoners who turned giant rotary fans. Even Ben Franklin experimented with chemicals and their evaporation properties to chill items down to as low as 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure, Ben was a pretty cool man, but not near as cool as Willis.

How many homes have AC in the US?

In 2015 it was determined that 87% of households in the United States had air conditioning. Whether they work or not, like mine, well, it is simply not addressed.

People in the Past Must Have Been Tough

If you have never been to Scotty's Castle, in Death Valley, do yourself a favor when it reopens in 2021. I have been there, and it is genuinely marvelous. Or the ghost town of Bodie, California, another great place to visit. Both places have something in common:  these folk lived without air conditioning. The average high in July at Scotty's castle is 102. In Death Valley as a whole, the average high in July is 116. You know, after 110, it's all bad.

Yet, some people lived in these places in the hottest months of the year, every year. Today, if your AC goes out in July, you're sure you're going to die a horrible death. Melting into the street, your head exploding like a melon at a Gallagher show. Millennial's, remember what I said about asking Boomers? Here is another opportunity for you to bond. See, I'm a giver.

Anyway, back then, you just dealt with it. Sweat a lot, drink a lot. You know life was simpler back in the day. No cars, no AC units. No HVAC filters. I'll bet no one back then ever gave any thought to how essential HVAC filters would be one day. Well, Willis Carrier, maybe, but no one else.

If you find yourself without AC this summer...view our Top 4 Places In Orange County to find a place to cool off. 

Orange County Beaches