When Should I Change My Air Conditioner's Air Filter at Home?

February 26, 2015

Every once in a while we’re asked what is the most important thing that Elkhart area homeowner's can do to secure their air conditioning and heating system between their seasonal tune-ups? That’s an easy one; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Buying new furnace and return air filters is crucial to the ideal operation of your HVAC system, as well as your home's air quality. Research suggests that indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental health risks? We know it's the last thing on your mind, but this is really important stuff. Changing the air filters is not a tough thing to do for most Elkhart homeowners, but there are often two challenges to actually accomplishing this task:

  1. Understanding just how often to change your furnace or air conditioner filter.
  2. Replacing them at the proper time.

When To Change Your Air Filters

Most filters have a timeline printed on the packaging. It may instruct "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Check out the filters at the store and you'll see that some are meant to only last one month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have produced media air cleaners with filters meant to be swapped once every 6-12 months. The norm seems to be once every 3 months for most higher quality filters, but we have a rule of thumb that we tell our readers to go by. If the filter is dirty, change it! A dirty air filter can contribute or cause damage to pricey components, like your compressor, so it's better to change it out more often than neglect it. If you want to stick to the manufacturer's recommended limit, we suggest scribbling the date on the filter when you swap it out, and setting a reminder for yourself in your phone or on a calendar. Also be aware that your filter manufacturer may have a different recommendation from your HVAC unit manufacturer.

Choosing how often to change your air filters relies upon several factors:

  • Which air filter your system requires
  • The overall air quality of your Elkhart area home
  • Pets – Dogs, cats, etc.
  • Occupancy of the home
  • The level of air pollution and construction around the home

For your standard 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturer specs basically say to change them bi-monthly, which is really a great rule of thumb. Still, general guidelines are not applicable to all. If you suffer from light to moderate allergies, you might require an upgraded air filter or change them even more often than OEM specifications. On the other hand, if you're in a less populated area, own a seldom occupied home (like a vacation home) or an area with little auto traffic, replacing your air filters each year may be quite sufficient. Why do pets matter so much? They have a tendency to shed, which can clog your air filter in no time, just like a vacuum. Clearly, the air filter is just doing its job by trapping pet hair and dander, but extremely dirty filters can cause seriously reduced HVAC performance.

In summary:

  • Seldom used home or single occupant homes without pets or allergies: Change 6-12 months
  • Average suburban home without pets: Change every 90 days
  • Got a cat or dog: Change every 60 days
  • Multiple pets or have allergies: Change every 30-45 days

How To Remember To Change Your Air Conditioner's Air Filters

Here’s an easy way to stay on top of this; sign up for the Service Experts Email Club. This is a convenient way to get money-saving discounts and other helpful information on your smartphone, tablet or desktop. Plus, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Elkhart area home's air filter every 30, 60, 90, 120 or 365 days, or the date of your choosing.

How to replace your return air filter

Most people know how to replace the air filter in their equipment, but some homes have an additional filter in the return vent. Whether you have one or not is dependent on what your unit's manufacturer recommends. Your unit is designed to handle a set amount of pressure in your home, and the more filters you have the harder the blower motor works, which can decrease the lifespan of your system if it isn't designed for it. Learning whether you have a return filter and replacing it is easy:

  1. Locate your return air vents.
  2. Some covers have screws and some have tabs. Unscrew or pull tabs to pull off the wall.
  3. Inspect for a filter. If one is in place, pull it out and note the size.
  4. Verify the filter type is the one recommended by the manufacturer.
  5. If filter is dirty, replace with the manufacturer's recommended filter of the same size and type.
Incredible though it may seem, filters can really alter your home's airflow, which is why we recommend checking in with the manufacturer. A higher quality HEPA filter that is designed to catch smaller dust will reduce airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes greater pressure on your system, so you need to verify that your HVAC system was made to handle it. Otherwise, you could experience uneven heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and HVAC parts may die off much faster than the standard.
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