Log in or register to create Field Kits and Sales Worksheets. Why register?

Proper Installation of Furnace and Air-Handler Filters

Scope

Replace HVAC air filters regularly to protect the equipment and maintain system efficiency
Replace HVAC air filters regularly to protect the equipment and maintain system efficiency

Install air filters on any ducted heating and cooling systems to filter air passing through the return air duct and outdoor air that is mechanically supplied to the air handler.

  • Locate the filter where it can be easily accessed by the homeowner for replacement or cleaning.
  • If the filter is installed in a filter media box attached to the air handler, the access panel for the filter should be fitted with a flexible, air-tight gasket to prevent air leakage.

See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

Description

Air filters are an important component of forced air HVAC systems. Filters are installed on the return side of the HVAC air handler to clean the air to protect the HVAC motor and to improve indoor air quality. Filters should also be installed in fresh air intakes to clean outside air that is brought into the home. Filters with higher MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) ratings of MERV 6 or above can trap pollutants like pollen, dust mites, and mold spores. However, a dirty, clogged filter can dramatically reduce air flow, increasing furnace run time and increasing both wear on the motor and energy consumption. For optimum operation of both the filter and the HVAC equipment, the filters should be replaced or cleaned frequently. Therefore, the filters should be located in a place that is easily accessible for the home owner.

If the furnace air handler is in an accessible location (such as a utility room, a basement, or an attic with a pull-down staircase), the filter can be installed in the air handler at the return plenum. The air handler box should be equipped with a filter media box that has a removable access panel cover that has a gasket for an air-tight seal when closed. The filter box might be prefabricated by the manufacturer or could be fabricated on site. The filter media frame should be appropriate for the size and type of filter desired. The filter dimensions and filter depth both influence filter capacity and air flow velocity. Filter sizing must be taken into account when designing the HVAC system to ensure that the HVAC system can handle the associated pressure drop, especially with high MERV filters. Increasing the filter surface area will decrease pressure drop; options for increasing surface area could include using more deeply pleated filters or larger dimensioned filters. Filters must be sized using the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Manual D (ANSI/ACCA 2009). For more information on furnace filter types, MERV ratings, and sizing, see the guide High MERV Filter.

If the furnace is in the attic, the attic should be equipped with a staircase or pull-down stairs and a permanently installed walkway that the homeowner or service technician can use to get to the furnace.

If furnace is accessible, locate the air filter between the return air plenum and the air handler box
Figure 1 - If the furnace is easy to access, for example in a utility room in the house, the filter can be located in a filter media frame between the return air plenum and the air handler box. 
(Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

If the furnace air handler is located in an inaccessible location such as a crawlspace or attic without a staircase, then the furnace filters should be located in the return grilles, with a filter located in each return grille.

If the home is equipped with a fresh air intake that is ducted to the air handler, a filter should be installed at the fresh air intake and the fresh air intake should be located where it is accessible so the filter can be replaced or cleaned as needed.

If the furnace is hard to access, locate the filters at each return air grille.  If there is a fresh air intake, locate a filter there as well.
Figure 2 - If the furnace is hard to access, locate the filters at each return air grille. If there is a fresh air intake, locate a filter there as well. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

How to Install a Filter in a Furnace Air Handler

1. Fabricate and install a filter media box on site. Install the filter media box between the return air plenum and the air handler box. Or, purchase an air handler that includes a pre-fabricated filter box. Ensure that the box is the right size for the filter to be installed. Filters must be sized using ACCA Manual D (ANSI/ACCA 2009). Improperly sized filters can cause mechanical failure.

Install the filter media box between the return air plenum and the air handler box.
Figure 3 - Install the filter media box between the return air plenum and the air handler box. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

2. Slide the filter into the slot and place the filter access panel cover over the opening. The panel cover should have a gasket to ensure an air-tight seal. The cover can be fastened at the edges with duct tape or magnetic tape, which provides additional air sealing and can be easily removed when the filter is checked for cleaning or replacement. If the filter cover is left off or unsealed, the air handler can pull unconditioned and/or unwanted air into the home. Leakage at the filter cover can contribute to poor indoor air quality if the air handler is located in a garage or other areas where the air quality is not desirable.

Size the filter box for the appropriate filter, according to ACCA Manual D, taking into account pressure drop across the system.
Figure 4 - Size the filter box for the appropriate filter, according to ACCA Manual D, taking into account pressure drop across the system. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

If the system is designed to use a thinner filter, the filter box should be sized appropriately. Install an access panel cover with a gasket and duct tape the edges.
Figure 5 - If the system is designed to use a thinner filter, the filter box should be sized appropriately. Install an access panel cover with a gasket and duct tape the edges. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

Leaks at the air filter cover panel can draw in unconditioned or undesirable air.
Figure 6 - Leaks at the air filter cover panel can draw in unconditioned or undesirable air. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

3.   Complete air handler installation by installing wiring and condensate piping. Ensure that piping and wiring do not block access to the filter.

When installing piping and wiring, do not block access to the filter
Figure 7 - When installing piping and wiring, do not block access to the filter. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

How to Install a Filter at the Return Grille

1.   If the furnace is in a location that is difficult for the homeowner to access (for example, a crawlspace or an attic that does not have stairway or drop-down stairway access), then install filters inside the return grilles in the home.

2.   Ensure that grilles can be opened from within the home. Install grilles that can be removed safely, for example, grilles that are attached by a hinge along one side to minimize the risk that they will accidentally fall down while being opened.

If the furnace is hard to access, locate filters at return registers covered by hinged grilles that are easy to open from inside the home.
Figure 8 - If the furnace is hard to access, locate filters at return registers covered by hinged grilles that are easy to open from inside the home. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

3.   Install MERV 6 or higher filters that match the sizing designation specified by the HVAC designer in accord with Manual D (ANSI/ACCA 2009). Do not install filters with MERV ratings higher than that for which the HVAC system was designed. Higher-than-specified MERV filters will increase air resistance, increasing energy usage and possibly contributing to equipment failure. For more about filter sizing, see High MERV Filter. 

How to Install a Filter at the Fresh Air Intake

  1. Choose a location to install the outside air intake, such as a porch ceiling or eave, that is away from polluting sources and easily accessible to the home owner to facilitate filter replacement (see Figures 2 and 9). For more on outside air intake locations, see Ventilation Air Inlet Locations.

  2. Cut a hole for the air intake with dimensions similar to the grille and the filter to be installed. When selecting a filter size and MERV rating, consider air flow resistance because the pressure drop of this outdoor air intake duct and filter must be included in the Manual D calculations when designing the entire HVAC duct system. A MERV 6 filter should be adequate.

  3. Install a register box (boot) to which the duct will be attached. Most register boxes are at least 4 inches deep. This space will keep the duct terminus from touching the filter.  Allowing several inches of distance between the filter and the duct terminus helps to decrease the velocity of the air flow through the filter and also ensures that the full surface area of the filter is used, which will improve filter performance and increase filter life.

  4. Install a hinged grille at the exterior of the fresh air intake opening (see Figure 8).

  5. Install wire mesh insect and bird screen.

  6. Place the filter on the interior side of the grille and close the grille.

  7. Include instructions informing the homeowner to check this filter periodically for replacement with a similar MERV-rated filter. 

  8. If the outside air intake must be located in an inaccessible location, construct and install a filter media frame in a filter box that is positioned in an accessible place at the duct connection to the air handler return air plenum or somewhere along the fresh air intake duct that is accessible to the home owner.

Locate the fresh air intake away from pollution sources and in an easily accessible location, such as a porch ceiling, to encourage frequent filter replacement
Figure 9 - Locate the fresh air intake away from pollution sources and in an easily accessible location, such as a porch ceiling, to encourage frequent filter replacement. (Image courtesy of Calcs Plus.)

Ensuring Success

In homes with ducted HVAC equipment, the HVAC contractor should specify and install furnace filters at the return plenum of the air handler or at all return grilles and on any outdoor air intakes. The HERS rater should inspect to make sure that the filters are installed correctly. If the filter is installed at the furnace, inspect that a filter media box has been installed to house the filter and that this box has an access panel with a gasket to prevent air leakage.

Climate

No climate-specific information applies.

Training

Right and Wrong Images

Presentations

None Available

Videos

  1. Proper Installation of Filter
    Publication Date: July, 2015
    Courtesy Of: Train2Build

    Video describing how to properly install HVAC filters.

CAD Images

None Available

Compliance

The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

ENERGY STAR Certified Homes (Version 3, Rev. 08)

ENERGY STAR Certified Homes (Version 3/3.1, Revision 08), Rater Field Checklist

9. Filtration
9.1 At least one MERV 6 or higher filter installed in each ducted mechanical system in a location that facilitates access and regular service by the owner.52 
9.2 Filter access panel includes gasket or comparable sealing mechanism and fits snugly against the exposed edge of filter when closed to prevent bypass.53 
9.3 All return air and mechanically supplied outdoor air passes through filter prior to conditioning. 

Footnotes:

(52) Per ASHRAE 62.2-2010, ducted mechanical systems are those that supply air to an occupiable space through ductwork exceeding 10 ft. in length and through a thermal conditioning component, except for evaporative coolers. Systems that do not meet this definition are exempt from this requirement. Also, mini-split systems typically do not have MERV-rated filters available for use and are, therefore, also exempted under this version of the requirements. HVAC filters located in the attic shall be considered accessible to the owner if drop-down stairs provide access to attic and a permanently installed walkway has been provided between the attic access location and the filter.

(53) The filter media box (i.e., the component in the HVAC system that houses the filter) may be either site-fabricated by the installer or prefabricated by the manufacturer to meet this requirement. These requirements only apply when the filter is installed in a filter media box located in the HVAC system, not when the filter is installed flush with the return grill.

ENERGY STAR Revision 08 requirements are required for homes permitted starting 07/01/2016.

DOE Zero Energy Ready Home

Exhibit 1: Mandatory Requirements, 6. Indoor Air Quality. Certified under EPA Indoor airPLUS.

Install only HVAC filters that are rated MERV 8 or higher according to ASHRAE 52.2-2007 (at approximately 295 fpm).

Advisory: Filters perform best when the filter rack design includes the following features, which are also included in some manufacturers’ filter media boxes: Flexible, air-tight (e.g., closed-cell foam) gasket material on the surface that contacts the air-leaving (downstream) side of the filter; and friction fit or spring clips installed on the upstream side of the filter to hold it firmly in place.

Do not install any air-cleaning equipment designed to produce ozone (i.e., ozone generators).

American Lung Association

The American lung Association Health House® guidelines require filters to have a minimum rating of MERV 11 (ALA 2012).

2017 California Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards

The 2017 California Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards require all HVAC filters to be MERV 6 or greater. Filter media that provide at least 50% particle efficiency in the 3.0- to 10-µm range according to AHRI 680 are considered to meet the MERV 6 criterion. HVAC filters are required to conform to the design pressure drop specification on the return grille label.

2017 California Appliance Efficiency Emergency Rulemaking for Residential Air Filters

The California Energy Commission has proposed to amend the California Code of Regulations, Title 20, Sections 1606, Table X, and 1607(d)(12) to delay the date by when residential air filters for use in forced-air heating or forced-air cooling equipment that are sold or offered for sale in the State of California must comply with the mandatory testing, certification, and marking requirements in the appliance efficiency regulations, from July 1, 2016, to April 1, 2019.

ASHRAE Standard 52.2-2017 - Method of Testing General Ventilation Air-Cleaning Devices for Removal Efficiency by Particle Size

Standard 52.2 establishes a method of laboratory testing to measure the performance of general ventilation air-cleaning devices in removing particles of specific diameters.

ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2016 –Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality

ASHRAE Standard 62.1 sets specifications and measures for ventilation system design and indoor air quality.

ASHRAE 62.2-2010, ASHRAE 62.2-2013, and ASHRAE 62.2-2016

ASHRAE Standard 62.2 sets specifications and measures for ventilation system design and indoor air quality in low-rise residential buildings.

ANSI/AHRI Standard 680, 2009 Standard for Performance Rating of Residential Air Filter Equipment

Standard 680 establishes definitions, classifications, test requirements, data requirements, ratings, operating requirements, marking and nameplate data and conformance conditions for residential air filter equipment.

This Retrofit tab provides information that helps installers apply this “new home” guide to improvement projects for existing homes. This tab is organized with headings that mirror the new home tabs, such as “Scope,” “Description,” “Success,” etc. If there is no retrofit-specific information for a section, that heading is not included.

SCOPE

Replace the air filters in ducted heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment with new filters having a MERV rating of 6 or higher and a resistance to airflow that does not exceed the allowable pressure drop for the HVAC system.  

  • Check the condition of the HVAC filters. If the filters are loaded with particulates, replace with new, higher MERV filters when performing HVAC-related home performance upgrades and when responding to comfort complaints. Make sure the new filters do not exceed the allowed pressure drop for the HVAC system.
  • If the homeowner requests a high-MERV (or HEPA) filter, verify the pressure drop will still be within acceptable limits.
  • Provide homeowners with information for future filter replacement, such as the date of the next filter replacement, designed pressure drop for the filter, and installation instructions.
  • Follow safe work practices as described in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Standard Work Specifications when replacing and handling HVAC filters and inspecting air handlers.

DESCRIPTION

How to Install and Specify High-MERV Filters in an Existing Home

  • At the HVAC equipment, identify the return grille label, if available. Write down the initial resistance (inches water column, inch w.c.) of the HVAC filter at the design airflow rate (cubic-feet per minute, cfm).
  • Go to each HVAC filter location and write down the dimensions of the existing filters. If there are air gaps around any of the filters, then use a measuring tape to determine the appropriate dimensions.
  • When purchasing or ordering new HVAC filters, use the resistance-to-airflow specified on the return grille label to purchase a replacement with the appropriate resistance-to-airflow. If the return grille label doesn’t exist and specified filter resistance-to-airflow for the HVAC equipment is unavailable, try to determine the resistance-to-airflow of the spent filter (either on the filter, or via internet or retail sales person). If no information is available for the resistance-to-airflow, consider purchasing the same or a similar model of HVAC filter as the spent filter. Use the filter dimensions you’ve written down to ensure the replacement is the proper size. Identify filters with a MERV rating of 6 or higher. If possible, select a filter with the static pressure measurements listed on the packaging or online.
  • Once you’ve acquired new HVAC filters, note the installation date and recommended replacement date on the edge with permanent marker so the homeowner can track the replacement cycle. Also note the MERV level and the specified air filter resistance-to-airflow if these are not already printed on the filter.
  • Turn off the HVAC equipment or set the thermostat so it won’t operate while replacing the filters.
  • Remove the spent filters from the ducted HVAC equipment.
  • When installing the new HVAC filters, remove the plastic wrap but do not remove the cardboard framing. Identify the airflow arrow and align the filter so the arrow points toward the HVAC equipment in the return duct or return register grille.
  • Insert the HVAC filter into the designated slot.
  • Restore any levers, gaskets, seals, or grilles to their appropriate condition.
  • Turn the HVAC equipment back on or return the thermostat to the appropriate temperature.
  • Contractors, show homeowners how to replace their HVAC filters and advise that they be replaced every three months, or more often if needed, especially in homes with HVAC equipment that runs six to twelve months per year, with four or more occupants, pets, smoking indoors, allergic occupants, or construction taking place within or outside the home. Show the homeowner the installation date and recommended replacement date noted on the filter frame.
  • Contractors, advise homeowners to check HVAC filters periodically. Filters should be replaced immediately if the filters are clogged with debris, have collapsed fins, are making a banging noise when the system comes on, or are damp or moldy.

More Info.

Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

Case Studies

None Available

References and Resources*

  1. Author(s): Air Conditioning Contractors of America
    Organization(s): Air Conditioning Contractors of America
    Publication Date: December, 2013
    Standard outlining industry procedure for sizing residential duct systems.
  2. Author(s): ASHRAE
    Organization(s): ASHRAE
    Publication Date: January, 2016

    ASHRAE Standard 62.1 sets specifications and measures for ventilation system design and indoor air quality.

  3. Author(s): ASHRAE
    Organization(s): ASHRAE
    Publication Date: January, 2013

    Standard defining the roles of and minimum requirements for mechanical and natural ventilation systems and the building envelope intended to provide acceptable indoor air quality in low-rise residential buildings.

  4. Author(s): Department of Energy
    Organization(s): DOE
    Publication Date: April, 2017

    Standard requirements for DOE's Zero Energy Ready Home national program certification.

  5. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: December, 2015

    Webpage with links to Document outlining the program requirements for ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, Version 3 and 3.1  (Rev. 08).

  6. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: October, 2015

    Document outlining specifications that were developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recognize new homes equipped with a comprehensive set of indoor air quality (IAQ) features.

  7. Author(s): Springer
    Organization(s): Home Energy Magazine
    Publication Date: November, 2009
    Information sheet about efficiency and health benefits of MERV filters.
  8. Author(s): U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: December, 2009

    Summary of available information and resources on residential air cleaners, including HVAC filters.

  9. Author(s): Singh, Rider, Ngo, Butzbaugh, Driskell, Babula
    Organization(s): California Energy Commission
    Publication Date: April, 2014

    Proposed HVAC filter labeling standard and underlying analysis by the California Energy Commission.

  10. Author(s): The Family Handyman
    Organization(s): The Family Handyman
    Publication Date: January, 2012
    Brochure describing HVAC filter options for efficiency and IAQ.
  11. Author(s): National Air Filtration Association (NAFA)
    Organization(s): National Air Filtration Association (NAFA)
    Publication Date: November, 2014

    NAFA’s user guide for understanding ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 52.2-2012.

Contributors to this Guide

The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

Last Updated: 12/12/2017