Which are the Best Air Conditioning Filters? Does Cost Really Equal Quality?
Air Conditioning filters: Which one should I buy? This is the most commonly asked question among air conditioning specialists, and for good reason. Proper airflow is so crucial to a functioning system that the very first thing an expert technician will do upon arrival is check the condition of the filter. Here in South Florida, with a vast number of homes having undersized duct work, choosing the best one is even more imperative.
Problems stemming from unclean filters can cause headaches far beyond just the decrease in air quality.
The Cost of Dirty A/C Filters
- Strained Components. The blower fan and the compressor have to run longer to offset restricted airflow. This causes an uptick in electricity use, which means higher utility bills. The blower motor can also overheat, shortening its life and this is your system’s most expensive component, so there’s no fun in having to replace it.
- Air Bypass. This is a condition resulting from a clogged filter when unfiltered air circulates continually through your duct work, lining the ducts with thick coats of accumulated dust and dirt.
- Poor Air Quality. Dirty filters can serve as a breeding ground for microorganisms that contaminate the air. Allergens like dust mites, pollen and mold spores build up when a filter’s too clogged to remove them.
- Environmental Impact. Because a dirty filter causes an increase in energy use, an increase in green house gasses and other pollutants follows.
So that’s the dirt. Now, what’s the fix? First, figure out the size. This is done easily enough by looking at your old filter and matching it up at the store. You can also check your HVAC owner’s manual.
A/C Filters are sized two different ways:
Nominal Size – This is the approximate size of the filter, rounded up to the nearest whole inch. Most products are displayed with the nominal size on the packaging, making the sizes easier to identify when shopping.
Actual Size – This is the exact size of the filter.
Filters can differ from each other in not just size, but also in material make up and pricing.
Types of A/C Filters
- Fiberglass Mounted in Cardboard Frame. Inexpensive and commonly used, it is of the least quality. They are usually $1 each.
- Flat Paper Mounted in Cardboard Frame. The next step up from the fiberglass, they are around $2.50 each.
- Pleated Paper Mounted in Cardboard Frame. The pleats increase the surface area which pulls in more particles than the flat paper. They cost about $4 each.
- Electrostatic Medium in Plastic Frame. Made from monofilament, it electronically charges the particles needed to be filtered out. It is a lifetime filter that requires frequent cleaning. Each filter is around $30.
A/C Filter Performance
There is an element of subjectivity in picking the right A/C filter. A home might have certain requirements or preferences – if there’s a resident suffering from asthma or sever allergies, if there are indoor smokers or odor causing pets. In these cases, you might look for a Premium Grade A/C Filter: one that captures large particles like dust mites, household dust and lint, pollen and pet dander and small particles like bacteria and mold spores. These are features in mid range filters as well but the premium comes in the filter’s ability to capture smoke, smog, microscopic allergens and particles that carry odor.
Otherwise, a simple good quality air conditioning filter is the best choice. One thing to keep in mind about the expensive premium quality filters is that their ability to suck every undesirable particle out of the house comes at a cost beyond just the upfront price. They provide so much resistance that air has a hard time getting through and this restricts the airflow. The more expensive filters require more frequent replacement because of this.
Industry Secrets for Selecting an Air Conditioner Filter
- Pleats. The more scrunched up the filter is, the more particles it traps. When spread out, there’s a difference in surface area between the filters with more defined pleats and ones with less. If you can eyeball the filters, you’ll be able to see this difference. Go for the thicker, “ridged,” more defined pleats.
- Ignore the wiring. The layout of the wiring on the filter’s outer side does not factor in to the quality of the filter. It’s only a structural element.
- Be aware that expensive air filters only have a small effect on indoor air quality. Some companies market themselves as “vastly improving air quality” but the truth is, filters can capture the allergens and dust mites that would’ve only passed through the filter to start with. A filter’s real job is to keep these particles from the air coils and causing clogs.
- You can use a 4 inch media filter in place of a 1 inch pleated filter as long as there’s enough space for it behind the grill. The media filter is usually used on the backside of the furnace fan system within a specific air conditioning system that comes in only new home construction or after retrofitting. But even with an older system the filter can be utilized in the return-air grille. This allows for media filter technology without the cost of retrofitting or replacing your A/C system.
Hands down, the most advocated AC filter is the 1 inch pleated filter. For a look at the top rated a/c filters, check here and remember, stay away from the high dollar products. They’re unnecessary. The most important thing is to change the filter once a month and in the dog days of a South Florida summer, check the filter at least once every couple of weeks.
To have a specialist use a monometer and read how much air is being pulled through your system, or to address any other air conditioning concerns, contact AAA Able Air Conditioning and Appliance Inc. today and take advantage of our 30 plus years experience. Our family owned and operated business knows what it means to have your household or office running cool and comfortable this summer. As a Florida Power and Light (FPL) Participating Contractor, we value our standing in the community and can help you qualify on rebates. With our same-day A/C service, offered all day, every day, you’re just a phone call away from getting your A/C or appliance back on track.