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The Best Way I Know to Slash the True Cost of Dirty HVAC Filters

Do I have a story to tell you—another lesson I’ve learned the hard way so you won’t have to. Truth be told, if my faux pas helps you avoid a huge expense, I’m happy to have suffered it.

While researching to help a reader solve the mystery of black grimy lines around the edges of his home’s carpet, I casually asked my husband if he’d replaced the filter in our heating ventilation air-conditioning (HVAC) system recently. I got one of those blank stares I could easily translate: Nope, didn’t even think about it.

When we bought this house, we had the HVAC system inspected, serviced and the filter replaced. Then we got busy with leasing it while we planned and executed our big move a year later. HVAC filter? Completely forgot about it. By the time I brought up the subject, it had been more than 2.5 years!

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The scariest thing ever was to open that door on the HVAC system, dutifully labeled “Filter.” I cannot adequately describe it but I can tell you that it was nearly black and covered in what looked like fur. So gross. I’m surprised the entire system didn’t just blow up out of sheer rebellion for lack of attention.

I have since learned about the true cost of a dirty HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) filter and it’s not pretty!

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Lately, Have You Checked the HVAC Filter?

Everyone agrees that we should change the filter in our home heating ventilation air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Actually doing that may be something else altogether. It’s all about the where, when and how of doing it that leads us to procrastination and selective amnesia.

It’s not difficult. The problem is in making it a priority. It’s not that big of a deal, right? If the thing still turns on and cools and/or heats the place, who cares?

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UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Consider these three unintended consequences, which should help push this simple home maintenance task up to a respectable place in your list of things that are important.

High energy bills

When the heat, ventilation or air-conditioning is running, 100% of the air in your home passes through a filter, typically twice every hour. When the filter is clean, the air passes through easily. When the filter gets clogged up with all the stuff it’s filtering out, the system has to work much harder to keep air moving.

The dirtier the filter, the less efficient the system can be—and more likely to develop problems. According to the Department of Energy, regular filter changes can reduce your energy bill by 5% to 10%. Conversely, a super dirty filter will send that bill through the roof!

Family health

A quality filter captures the harmful bacteria typically found in sneezes, coughs, viruses, and molds, as well as pollutants like dust and car fumes. If you have allergies or asthma, indoor air pollution can trigger your symptoms.

Most people don’t realize that indoor air pollution levels are actually much higher than those outdoors—two to five times higher, according to medical professionals. When particles become airborne, you can breathe them in and experience an allergic reaction. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in your home can harbor and then spread mold and other allergens.

Grimy carpet stains

It’s called filtration soiling and shows up as dark, shadowy, dirty lines on the carpet along baseboards, under doors, beneath draperies and along the edges and in the crevices of carpeted stairs.

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Filtration soil is as ugly as it is gross and comes from airborne pollutants passing through the carpet as the air is drawn through the crack between the carpet and the baseboard, around the drapes or under a closed door.

MORE: What are Those Grimy Black Lines Around the Edges of My Carpet?

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