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Choosing proper furnace filter simple way to keep home air warm, clean

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By Ed Pfeifer
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:00 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 in the modern world, 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 has come forth.

They all sport qualifying insignias and interesting ratings. But, when it's all said and done, they are still just air filters, so let's make it simple.

To begin with, all filters are measured on the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value scale (MERV), which basically 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. The increased surface area and density of the pleats trap more particulates than the woven fiberglass, which makes them the clear choice for better filtration.

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 research and 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. As one might expect, filter life can be hastened by elevated levels of dust in the home caused by increased activity, remodeling, etc.

Nonetheless, the pleated filter still outlasts the fiberglass, which is a very real benefit for many consumers. Most of us have a difficult time remembering to change filters every month, so the more generous lifespan of pleated filters suits our absent-minded ways.

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. Sometimes, the cost might be three to four times higher. But again, pleated filters routinely provide triple the life and double the filtration.

Now, in the interest of keeping my stated intent — I really do want to make this buying decision simple. So here goes — first contact the manufacturer of your furnace, and find out its best recommendation for MERV rating.

Next, proceed to the hardware store and buy that filter; that's right, buy it.

Forget the price issue; buy the best filter for the furnace.

Repeat this process every time you need a new filter. The payoff will be a furnace with proper airflow and cleaner air in your home, two things that far outweigh the higher cost.

See, that really is simple!

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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