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Change your furnace filter to help keep allergies at bay and keep your furnace and air conditioner running efficiently. | Photo courtesy of ©

Change your furnace filter to help keep allergies at bay and keep your furnace and air conditioner running efficiently. | Photo courtesy of ©

I have unbelievably horrible fall allergies. I've never figured out what I'm exactly allergic to, though I suspect that ragweed is at least part of the problem. Normally I just deal with it and wait for everything allergenic to die. But I recently moved to a warmer, more temperate part of the country. And while I'm enjoying the late-summer temperatures, all that warm and temperate climates comes a horrible truth: Allergy season lasts longer in warmer areas. And since we haven't had a good freeze here yet, I'm still suffering.

I spent last Sunday in complete misery with clogged sinuses and heavy congestion. After that, I decided to go after some of the places in my home that could be exacerbating my allergies.

I did a lot of common sense things first, of course. I cleaned. I vacuumed. I dusted. I washed the pillows. One thing led to another, and then I was cleaning out the heaters. And that's what I wanted to share today, since maintaining your home's heating and cooling systems can help your allergies and help your system work more efficiently.

We (obviously) haven't had to use our heaters very often yet, but I'm very careful about them in general. Many years ago, I lived in Japan. All the little apartments I lived in in Nishinomiya were heated and cooled by ceiling-mounted, one-room heating and cooling units. They had filters you were supposed to clean out monthly.

But hey, I was a new college graduate! I was living abroad! I had things to do! Cleaning out a filter monthly was a good idea, but it wasn't necessary, right? Oh, such naïveté. Three months into my stay, I developed a persistent, dry cough. After weeks of suffering, I realized that my heating unit was causing it. It was blowing dusty air into the room, and I was obviously allergic to the stuff. I cleaned out the filter, made a habit to do so regularly, and my cough cleared right up.

Ever since, I've been very careful about taking care of my heating and air conditioning units. My current apartment, much like Japan, has wall-mounted radiators in every room, and while they don't have filters, I have to dust their fans off every six months. Since we haven't used them all summer, I took this opportunity to clean them out. There's no sense in welcoming the first cold days of autumn by filling your house with dust, after all.

Most people don't have radiators, though. The most common way to heat a house is with a furnace. And furnaces and air conditioners need their filters cleaned every couple of months. (How often you need to change them will depend on your filter and your furnace. You can see one person's cleaning ritual in this Energy Saver blog post from this spring.)

If your HVAC system is in dire straits, you may even want to clean out your HVAC ducts. This highly informative article from the EPA explains the entire process and explains when you may need to clean out your ducts and when you will not. They go to great pains to explain that just cleaning the dust out of your ducts will not necessarily increase the air quality in your home, though. And it certainly doesn't need to be part of your yearly home maintenance.

But no matter how you heat (or cool) your home, you want to make sure that the systems you're using have clean filters. This will ensure your appliances are working like they're supposed to. It could also help the air quality of your home, which will make life a little easier on those people among you who deal with allergies of any sort.