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How To Prevent Debris From Bypassing Your Central Air Conditioning And Heating System Filter

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Central heating and air conditioning systems depend on a supply of clean air to keep them operating efficiently and to achieve a long lifespan. That's why air filters at the intake must be kept clean or regularly replaced. However, in the effort to maintain the filter, it's easy to overlook the cracks and crevices that exist around the filter. Inadequate sealing around air filters can allow damaging debris to slip into the entering airflow. Below is what you can do to improve the sealing around the filter and its intake location:

Improving your air filter's energy efficiency - what you will need:

  • Aluminum foil tape
  • Scissors
  • Adhesive weatherstripping
  • Clean rag
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Masking tape
  • Flashlight

Improving your air filter's energy efficiency - step-by-step procedure

1. Understand the problem - While it may not seem like much, gaps that surround the filter can permit more debris to enter than you might realize. Even a small amount of debris will build over time, and it becomes a matter of not if, but when energy efficiency will drop and the system will fail. In addition, once debris enters the coil, ductwork, and air handler, it can be difficult to clean it out; that makes being proactive important to prevent it from entering in the first place.

2. Examine the air filter grille and ensure it fits tightly - A loose grille can prevent an air filter from properly seating in its mount, so take a close look at your system's grille. The grille should be tight when fastened against the filter, and it should not rattle when shaken lightly. If it does, you will need to check for broken or loose fasteners, or the grille itself may be bent out of shape. Replace a damaged or worn-out grille with a new one from the manufacturer of the system.

3. Look at the gaps around the filter and fill them as necessary - After checking the grill, remove it and set it aside. Turn on the system, if possible, to allow the suction created by the in-flowing air to hold the filter in position; if not, temporarily tape it in place using masking tape. With a flashlight, closely examine the gaps around the filter. If you can see the duct work or air handler between the filter and its mount, then there are definitely problems that need to be addressed. Even if there is no visible "daylight" behind the gaps, they may still be too large if you are able to move the filter from side-to-side in its mount.

If you have gaps inside the mount, a simple solution is to place aluminum foil tape along the inside walls of the mount to shrink the size of the crevices. Despite its name, ordinary cloth-backed duct tape will weaken and fail, so use only genuine contractor-grade aluminum tape. To install, begin by dampening an old rag with rubbing alcohol and use it to scrub away the dirt and debris on the mount. After the mount is clean and dry, cut a strip of aluminum foil tape to size and carefully place it on the inside walls. Keep cutting and placing strips as needed to shrink the gaps to a size where the filter just fits inside the mount without wiggling.

If the gaps are too large to seal with aluminum foil tape, or you wish to add an extra layer of protection, then you can install self-adhesive weatherstripping inside the mount. Again, use an alcohol-dampened rag to wipe away dust and other gunk that will prevent the weatherstripping from adhering to the mount's shoulders where the filter rests. Cut the weatherstripping to size, remove the liner from the adhesive and stick the weatherstripping in position along the edges of the shoulders; this will help reduce or eliminate airflow from passing around the sides of the filter and flowing underneath it.

To learn more about improving the efficiency of your HVAC system, contact an expert like C B Lucas Heating & Air Conditioning.


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