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Changing furnace filter is key to keeping particles down

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By Ed Pfeifer
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 7:27 p.m.

Sometimes I long for the days when buying something was not an exercise in complex decision making.

It used to be that most things we bought required only that we knew what size fit or which color we liked. But today, such is not the case.

This brings me to the would-be simple task of buying a furnace filter.

In recent years, the old blue fiberglass furnace filters that we have all seen and used have fallen out of favor with most consumers. In their stead, a new breed of impressive-looking pleated filters have come forth.

All filters are measured on the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value scale, which measures the level of particulate removed from the air. The higher the MERV rating, the more and smaller particulates the filter removes.

Typical blue fiberglass filter panels are a MERV 4 or lower. They are functional, but largely ineffective at filtering the finest atmospheric dust. Pleated filters boast a higher MERV rating — normally a MERV 5 or higher.

So, generally speaking, it makes sense to choose a high MERV rating. But, because high MERV ratings can result in more restriction on the furnace's airflow it is imperative to check with the manufacturer of your furnace to confirm the highest MERV rating that they recommend.

Based on my experience, a MERV 8 pleated filter is acceptable for use in most forced air furnaces.

Pleated filters also boast a longer effective life, usually 90 days compared to the 30-day term of a fiberglass panel.

It would appear then, that pleated filters in the appropriate MERV rating are the best choice. But as with most things that are better, pleated filters are more expensive than their fiberglass cousins.

Now in the interest of keeping my stated intent (see above) I really do want to make this buying decision simple. So here goes...first contact the manufacturer of your furnace and find out their best recommendation for MERV rating. Next, proceed to the hardware store and buy that filter. Forget the price issue, buy the best filter for the furnace.

Ed Pfeifer is the owner of Pfeifer Hardware Inc., 300 Marshall Way, Mars and a freelance columnist for Trib Total Media. If you have questions, call the store at 724-625-9090.

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