Your HVAC system is like a respiratory system for your home. It breathes in and breathes out. And just like your own respiratory system, if it can’t breathe in sufficiently, it suffers and eventually suffocates.

The key to keeping this airflow moving is a clean filter. Unfortunately, HVAC filters are usually out of sight and out of mind, and it can be easy for homeowners to run their systems with dirty filters for days or even weeks. But they do so at their peril -- the effects of neglected filters can range from annoying to disastrous.

Airflow to No-Go

The role of the HVAC air filter is to prevent particles from flowing through the system where they can accumulate and cause all sorts of damage. We’re not just talking tiny specks of dust -- pet hair, dirt, leaves and just about anything that’s tracked into your home can get trapped in the filter, and once it’s there, it stays there until the filter is replaced or cleaned.

Operating your unit without a filter is clearly not an option, but running it with a clogged filter isn’t much better. Here are a few of the major consequences of operating your system when it can’t catch its breath:

Compromised Efficiency: You’re not saving any money by purchasing fewer replacement filters. When you run your system with a clogged filter, it has to work harder to reach its target temperature. And that extra work comes at an energy cost. A clean filter is vital to maximizing HVAC energy efficiency.

Short Cycling: When an air conditioning or furnace cycle stops before hitting its temperature goal, it’s an HVAC effect known as “short cycling”. A clogged air filter can trigger this by trapping stagnant air inside the system, which can trick the system into stopping the cycle early or force it to shut down to avoid overheating. This can put excessive wear on your system components, and often leads to unpredictable temperature and humidity swings inside your home.

Frozen Coils: During A/C season, dirty air filters can also trap cooled air inside your HVAC system, which can eventually lead to frost buildup on the condenser and evaporator coils. If the frost continues to build, it could cause the unit to seize up.

Poor Indoor Air Quality: While the air filters primarily protect your HVAC system, they also filter irritating particles out of the air you breathe. When a filter is clogged, this ability is severely hampered. This can result in dirty, unpleasant indoor air, which can be a particular concern for anyone with asthma, allergies or another respiratory condition.

Like Clockwork

HVAC filters vary in their designated lifespans, but most household filters are built to last one month or three months. Know which type you’re using, and make a serious effort to remember to replace them on time. Mark your calendar, set a reminder on your phone -- whatever it takes. Excessive reminders are less of a hassle than prematurely replacing your HVAC system due to accelerated wear.

Not sure how to change your filter? HVAC system already in need of repairs? Whatever the problem may be, your local home comfort experts are ready to spring into action.

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