Filter Frenzy: Attic vs Return Air Filters

Filter Frenzy: Attic vs Return Air Filters

Posted by Lisa White and Gay Harris on Oct 31st 2023

Where your air filter is located can make a huge difference in your home's air quality!!! We're diving into the epic face-off between attic and return air filters.

First to note, your house should NOT use both a whole house filter in-unit AND filters in the returns unless you use the fiberglass cheap filters in the returns just to catch pet hair and the heaviest dust. Why? Because you would double restrict your air flow and possibly burn up your unit too quickly… and you will be using more energy to run your unit. We have had just a few customers over the years that their AC contractor changed out their system to use a whole house filter but did not tell them to quit using the ones in the returns.

Many new home builders are putting a whole house filter in-unit in the attic. Also, when family’s ac units need to be replaced, some are changing to the attic whole house unit instead of keeping their filters in the returns throughout the house.

Is this the best idea for the homeowner? There are some pros and cons to either filter location worth thinking about.

The pros of a whole house filter system:

  • Often builders recommend this because they have been trained this is better for the customer only having to change 1 filter and less often.
  • It is quicker and easier for you to change 1 filter if you have easy access to the unit(s) in your attic. This is especially true if you have a large house with multiple returns.

The cons of a whole house filter system:

  • The attic system often does not collect as much dust from your house as returns in the wall or ceiling do. The further away the filter is from the living space - the less efficient the filter is for trapping the heavier particles in your living space.
  • Because the unit is in the attic and not easy to check on, some people do not change them as often as needed because they forget or its too hot or too cold to want to get up there. This can cause multiple problems including restriction of air flow which can lead to water build up in the drain pan and increased energy costs. Water standing in a hot, dark attic is a perfect medium for mold to grow... yuck!!!
  • Finally, all the dust particles, pollen, etc. have to go through the ductwork to get to the filter causing more places for harmful particles to grow. This can lead to more allergy symptoms and/or greater maintenance expenses to have the ductwork cleaned every few years.

Options and ideas:

If you are having a home built and the plan is for an attic unit you may be able to change that decisionof where the filter goes in the acsystem to return filters depending on the stage the builder is at on the build. Check with them as soon as possible!

If your system is new - less than 6 months old - and you have not had a lot of dust already go thru your ductwork - you can choose to keep the 1" Green Screen filters in the air returns and take the one out of the unit. This can also be done with older attic units but the air ducts most likely will need to be cleaned first so the dust that is in them will not get into your system. You don’t want the dirt in the ducts to be sucked into the ac unit.

Ask us about our auto ship program.

Possible Solutions:

If you have the whole house filter in your attic system already and want a better and often less expensive option, we do offer a Carboard Frame with our 4" Orange/White Screen for your whole house unit. They replace the 4” pleated filters generally sold for these units. FAQ'S Our Screens load into 3 zones allowing more dust and dirt to be caught for less restricted air flow. Also, the tacky layer traps the fine dust and the harmful microscopic particles. Contact us for more information on what works best for you!  4" Cardboard Frame Orange/White Screen

We have two options for holders in the returns: the Permanent Grid or the Metal Frame (If your return grates are screwed in you will need to change them out to the drop-down kind to use the Screens.) The Grids are easily installed and stay there permanently so all you do is lower the return grate door and place a new Screen into the space and close the door. Some people choose the Metal Frame... read to see which you prefer, and remember, if you change over to using air returns your air ducts will need to be cleaned if they are dirty.  Air Return Starter Packs

Indoor Air Quality is very important these days! We would love to help you with this, so, give us a call or check out our website and find out why our Screens are the way to go! Keep up with us on FaceBook too! SHOP HERE

So, which one is the champion for you? It all boils down to your unique needs and home layout. Remember folks, there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to clean air! Here at Superior Air Quality we care about the decisions you make for your indoor air quality.

Stay tuned for more practical and fun facts about our indoor air quality products. And remember, breathe easy with Superior Air Quality!