Want Cleaner Indoor Air? Why Just Upgrading Your Furnace Filter Isn’t Enough

Furnace Filter Closeup

It seems like an easy fix.

You are tired of sneezing your way through spring, summer, fall and winter (while listening to your family suffer similarly).

So you decide to give your furnace filter an upgrade.

Maybe you will even treat yourself and get one of those high-density HEPA-rated furnace filters to catch all the tiny particles that keep invading your lungs.

Unfortunately, this is likely to cause as many problems as you assume it will solve. Most residential HVAC systems simply aren’t designed to handle high-grade air filters.

But there is still a lot you can do to clean, filter and purify your indoor air and feel better. Read on to learn how.

The Problem of Runtime

Runtime is problem number one when you are trying to put your furnace filter in charge of cleaning up your indoor air.

Runtime means the amount of time your furnace is actually on and running.

With Canada’s winters being what they are, your furnace is probably powered up all season. But how often does it actually cycle on (run)?

The air you are breathing inside your space is being filtered only when your furnace is actually cycling.

Some homeowners mistakenly decide to fix this issue by leaving their HVAC system in “on” mode rather than using the “auto” setting.

This may filter your air continuously, but wait until you see your power bills! There definitely is a cheaper way to achieve the same result (keep reading to learn about what to do instead).

The Issue of Airflow

Runtime isn’t the only obstacle you will face when trying to assign your furnace filter the job of cleaning your indoor air.

There is also the issue of airflow.

With insufficient airflow – exactly the type you will get when you try to pair a high-grade filter with most residential HVAC systems – yet again you end up with too little indoor air actually getting filtered.

You also end up with hefty power bills once again.

The Issue of MERV Ratings

The number one reason upgrading your air filter alone isn’t likely to upgrade your indoor air quality is that most residential (and even some commercial) HVAC systems simply are not constructed to handle super-dense air filters.

The MERV rating on your furnace tells you how much air filter density it can handle. Go higher than that and your risks of everything bad increase.

You will pay more for power.

You will burn out your blower motor faster.

You risk a home fire if your furnace overheats trying to push air through a dense filter.

And you still won’t get the air quality improvements you are going for.

What to Do Instead to Improve Indoor Air Quality

So now you know why simply changing out your furnace air filter alone is not likely to deliver the air quality improvements you want to experience inside your space.

Happily, there are other things you can do to achieve this same goal. And none of them carry the risks or expense we just described.

1. Add an external central HEPA filtration system

Did you know you can add a HEPA filtration system that will work with any make/model of ducted (central) HVAC system?

In this way, you don’t have to concern yourself with runtime, airflow or MERV ratings. The HEPA filtration unit does the heavy lifting of filtering out tiny particulates on the front end.

HEPA filters are the gold standard because they can catch floating particulates as small as 1/100th the size of one hair on your head!

Your HEPA filtration system will also keep working even when your HVAC system is not cycling.

2. Add an external ultraviolet air purification system

The external HEPA filtration system we just described takes care of airborne particulates (tiny solid particles) that are so concerning to human health today – and especially to the health of babies, children, the elderly and any family member with immune function issues.

But it doesn’t do anything about airborne liquid or gaseous toxins.

For that, what you need is a separate system called an ultraviolet air purifier.

This system uses the most powerful band of ultraviolet light (C) to neutralize the harmful properties of airborne liquids and gases. Formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, benzene, radon – these are just a few of the very common toxins ultraviolet air purifiers are designed to neutralize.

3. Add a heat recovery ventilator

There is one more step we strongly recommend if what you are seeking is a permanent solution to your indoor air toxicity issues.

That last step is to install a heat recovery ventilator. The HRV, as these units are nicknamed, is fast becoming the poster child for indoor air filtration – so much so that in Toronto, all new-construction buildings must include one.

Heat recovery ventilators do three things to clean up your indoor air: they continually exhaust stale toxic air, bring in a steady stream of fresh oxygenated air and help balance humidity levels inside your home.

HRVs are also great tools for lowering your power bills because they can move heat around to reduce the burden on your furnace and air conditioner to do the same.

4. For bonus points: schedule an indoor air duct cleaning

If you really want to reset your indoor air quality and experience what life is like when you have a continuous supply of fresh, pure air to breathe, the only thing for it is to schedule an indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing service.

Do this BEFORE you do any of the other steps on this list.

Why? Duct cleaning pulls out trapped duct toxins, sanitizes your entire duct network and leaves you with a clean air slate in your space.

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