Every day HVAC technicians help keep people comfortable by installing and servicing HVAC systems. HVAC technicians also play an integral role in improving the quality of indoor air by regularly changing the air filters designed to trap microbial contaminants such as mold, bacteria, and viruses along with allergens that can induce mild to serious health effects. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was wise to assume these air filters contain living pathogens since the highest-efficiency rated types do not actively kill organisms.
Best practice and recommendations
The current pandemic has raised awareness and questions centered around best practices to follow for air filter replacement. There are a number of recommendations that can be taken to help keep technicians safe while preventing the spread of dangerous airborne pathogens. Here are some recommended steps to replace an air filter:
- TURN OFF THE POWER for safety. Also, turn off any fans in the area at least 20 minutes prior to servicing a filter.
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE): This includes a face mask, nitrile gloves, and shoe covers.
- Remove the old filter. Simply slide it out of the slot that holds it in place.
- Check the condition of the filter. Does it look clogged with dirt and dust? Many factors can impact how fast a filter will become clogged, shortening the life of the filter. Click here to learn about pleated air filters and how you can extend filter life.
- Replace the filter. Immediately place the old filter into a plastic bag being careful not to shake or drop it. Sudden movements can cause microscopic particles to be released into the air. Twist or tie the bag shut and consider taping it to create a seal. NOTE: If the filter has a permanent frame, the media should be removed outside. Be sure to dispose of the old filter in an outdoor trash can.
- Insert the new filter right away. An arrow on the filter’s frame shows the direction that air should flow through the filter, which is always away from the return air duct and toward the air handler mechanism. When inserting the filter back in the housing, make sure that arrow points away from the return and toward the air handler. Write down the date you replaced the filter.
To maintain healthy breathable indoor air, standard HVAC air filters should be changed at least every three months, or at the minimum recommendation of the air handler manufacturer. In some situations, the filter may need to be changed more frequently. Changing an air filter on a regular maintenance schedule also keeps HVAC equipment in top working condition, prevents breakdowns, reduces energy consumption, and limits expensive repairs.
There are HVAC air filters that are specifically made to capture smaller particles like viruses. When considering a filter upgrade for better particle capture, TFS suggests a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of 13 to 16. High-efficiency filters can affect the performance of an HVAC system so it’s best to check with a professional contractor or the system manufacturer when upgrading a filter.
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