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 best thing that Cleveland area homeowner's can do to ensure efficient functionality of their air conditioning and heating system between their regular tune-ups? Our advice is simple; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Changing furnace and return air filters is extremely important to the proper performance of your HVAC system, not to mention your home's air quality. Studies show that indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental health risks? You probably don’t consider it as you sit and watch TV, but this is the air you breathe day and night. Changing the air filters is not a tough thing to do for most Cleveland homeowners, but there are often two challenges to actually accomplishing this task:

  1. Knowing just how often to swap out your furnace or air conditioner filter.
  2. Remembering to change air filters when needed.

When To Change Your Air Filters

Most filters have a timeline printed on the box or plastic. It may instruct "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Check out the filters at the store and you'll notice 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 suggest our readers to go by. If the filter is dirty, change it! A dirty air filter can add or cause damage to pricey components, like your compressor, so it's recommended to change it out more often than not. If you want to follow 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. Keep in mind that your filter manufacturer may have a different recommendation from your HVAC unit manufacturer.

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

  • The type of air filter you are using
  • The overall air quality of your Cleveland area home
  • Pets – Birds, cats, dogs, hamsters (do you have one?), etc.
  • Number of people in the home
  • How much construction is taking place in the neighborhood around your home

For your standard 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturer specs basically suggest to change them bi-monthly, which is really a great rule of thumb. However, generalities may not be suitable for your specific needs. If you suffer from light to moderate allergies, you might require an upgraded air filter or change them even more frequently than OEM specifications. On the other hand, if you're in a remote area, own a less occupied home (like a vacation home) or an area with little auto traffic, annual replacement of your air filter 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 containing pet hair and dander, but extremely dirty filters can cause weak HVAC performance.

In summary:

  • Vacation home or single occupant homes without pets or allergies: Change 6-12 months
  • Common 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

It's simple; 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. But wait… there’s more, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Cleveland area home's air filter every 30, 60, 90, 120 or 365 days, or a specific date of your choice.

How to replace your return air filter

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

  1. Find your return air vents.
  2. Some covers have screws and some have tabs. Unscrew or pull tabs to remove from the wall.
  3. Look for a filter. If one is there, pull it out and record 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 asking the manufacturer. A higher quality HEPA filter that is designed to catch smaller particles will restrict airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes more pressure on your system, so you should verify that your HVAC system was built to handle it. Otherwise, you may experience lowered heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and HVAC parts may break down much faster than the standard.
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