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Practical Sustainability: Clean Your Filters!

Spring has sprung!  So it's time for spring cleaning.  And that means cleaning or replacing the filters in all of the equipment and appliances in your home that use them.  You'll find filters in your heating and air conditioning system, ventilation system, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner and elsewhere.  Dirty filters reduce the performance of your systems and cause them to use more energy as a result.

Clogged filters not only reduce the energy efficiency of your HVAC systems, but they have the potential to affect the quality of the air in your home.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, filters, "if loaded to excess, will become deformed and even “blow out”, leading to clogged coils, dirty ducts, reduced indoor air quality and greater energy use."

When Sunset Green Home's whole home ventilation system – a Zehnder ComfoAir 550 – was commissioned last fall, the intake and outflow of the system was tested and adjusted so that each room was receiving the amount of fresh air required by the system design.  Our LEED Green Rater, Rich Manning, recently stopped by the house and retested the air flow, which he found to have dropped below the design parameters.  His recommendation...change the air filters. 

Check out how easy it was to change the filters:


Where to Look for Filters in Your Home

Look for the following filters and make sure to replace them as part of your spring cleaning:

  • Refrigerator.  If you have an ice maker or a water dispenser on the door of your fridge then you likely have a filter.  You may have noticed that your water dispenser has slowed to a trickle.  That's an indicator that your filter is clogged.  You can easily order a new filter and replace it yourself.  You should find instructions on how to do it in your user manual.
  • Air Conditioner.  Whether you have a portable window unit, a through-the-wall installed unit, or central air conditioning, you will have filters – and they need to be cleaned every two or three months when your air conditioners are in use.  For window and through-the-wall units, it’s easy to clean the filters yourself – just open the front panel and remove the (washable) filter.  Clean it and replace it.  If you have central air conditioning and are somewhat handy, you’ll generally find air filters at the air handling units and potentially behind your return air grilles.  Remove the old filters and replace with new filters (which you can order on line from a number of sources).  Make sure to turn the A/C units off before replacing the filters.
  • Vacuum Cleaner.  Even the best quality vacuums can’t do their jobs if their air filters are clogged.  You want your vacuum not only to pick up larger bits of dirt and dust, but also to trap small particles that you may not be able to see.  One set of new filters is generally included in the package when you purchase new bags.  Don’t forget to install a new filter each time you open a new box of vacuum bags.
  • Ventilation System.  If you have a separate whole home ventilation system, make sure, as I described above with our Zehnder ERV, to change the filters regularly.  Check out the slide show above to see how easy it is!
  • Furnace.  Like your central air conditioning system, your furnace will also have a filter near its intake/outflow blower fan.  Turn the furnace off, slide the filter out of its housing, insert a new filter and close the access panel.
  • Kitchen Hood.  The range hood over your stove may have washable baffles or metal mesh filters.  Make sure to clean them regularly to keep your fan from having to overwork to clear the air.  Follow the manufacturer’s instructions – mine go right into the dishwasher!
  • Dryer Lint Filter.  While you’re at it, make sure to check the lint filter in your dryer (which you should clean before every load in order to reduce the risk of a fire).

It’s that easy!  You’ll feel better knowing that your filters are trapping the contaminants in your air and water, and your equipment will run more efficiently. 

Now that’s what I call Practical Sustainability!

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