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 Buffalo area homeowner's can do to protect their air conditioning and heating system between their scheduled tune-ups? The answer is simple this; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Changing furnace and return air filters is critical to the ideal operation of your HVAC system, in addition to 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 Buffalo homeowners, but there are often two challenges to actually getting it done:

  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 recommended guideline on the packaging. It may say "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Pay attention at the store and you'll see that some are meant to only last a single month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have released media air cleaners with filters meant to be swapped once every 6-12 months. The industry standard seems to be once every 3 months for most higher quality filters, but we have a rule of thumb that we recommend our friends and family to go by. If the filter is dirty, change it! A dirty air filter can contribute or cause damage to costly 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 writing the date on the filter when you swap it out, and setting a reminder for yourself in your phone or on a calendar. Also note that your filter manufacturer may have a different recommendation from your HVAC equipment manufacturer.

Choosing how often to change your air filters hinges on several factors:

  • The type of air filter you are using
  • The collective air quality of your Buffalo area home
  • Pets – Cats, dogs, birds, etc.
  • Number of people in the home
  • General air pollution in the Buffalo area or construction taking place nearby

For the common 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturer specs basically say to change them every 1 or 2 months, which is really a great rule of thumb. But generalities may not be suitable for your specific needs. If you put up with light to moderate allergies, you might require an upgraded air filter or change them even more regularly than OEM specifications. On the other hand, if you're in a less populated area, own a infrequently occupied home (like a vacation home) or an area with little auto traffic, changing your air filter every 12-months may be quite sufficient. Why do pets matter so much? They have a tendency to shed, which can clog your air filter fast. Naturally, the air filter is just doing its job by containing pet hair and dander, but tremendously 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
  • House with a pet: Change every 60 days
  • More than one pet 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. When you do, you can elect to receive (or not) great email coupons and newsletters with a lot of tips and discounts on AC repairs and tune-ups. But wait… there’s more, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Buffalo 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 another filter in the return ducts. Whether you have one or not is dependent on what your unit's manufacturer recommends. Your HVAC is made 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 decrease the lifespan of your system if it isn't designed for it. Finding out whether you have a return filter and replacing it is simple:

  1. Go to your return air vents.
  2. Some covers have screws and some have tabs. Unscrew or pull tabs to pull off the wall.
  3. Check for a filter. If one is in place, 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.
Amazing as it may seem, filters can greatly impact 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 reduce airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes greater pressure on your system, so you ought to verify that your HVAC system was built to handle it. Otherwise, you might experience uneven heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and system parts may break down much faster than normal.
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