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

February 26, 2015

Occassionally we’re asked what is the best thing that Richmond area homeowner's can do to secure their air conditioning and heating system between their scheduled tune-ups? Our advice is simple; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Replacing furnace and return air filters is critical to the proper performance of your HVAC system, in addition to your home's air quality. Did you know indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks? It’s not thought of often, but it is extremely important to consider. Changing the air filters is not difficult for most Richmond homeowners, but there are typically two challenges to actually accomplishing this task:

  1. Determining just how often to swap out your furnace or air conditioner filter.
  2. Changing them when you’re suppose to.

When To Change Your Air Filters

Most filters have a timeline printed on the box or plastic. It may say "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Look around at the store and you'll see that some are meant to only last one 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 tell our customers to go by. If the filter is dirty, change it! A dirty air filter can contribute or cause damage to costly equipment, like your compressor, so it's best to change it out more often than neglect it. If you want to listen to 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 might have a different recommendation from your HVAC system manufacturer.

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

  • Which air filter your system requires
  • The overall air quality of your Richmond area home
  • Pets – Dogs, cats, etc.
  • Number of people in the home
  • General air pollution in the Richmond area or construction taking place nearby

For the common 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturers basically suggest to change them every 30-60 days, which is in fact a great rule of thumb. But general rules aren't always for everybody. If you have to endure light to moderate allergies, you might need to upgrade your 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 less 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. Of course, the air filter is just doing its job by containing pet hair and dander, but exceptionally dirty filters can cause weak HVAC performance.

In summary:

  • Vacation home or single occupant homes without pets or allergies: Change 6-12 months
  • Typical 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 great to receive discounts on service, tips and other helpful information directly to your email. In addition, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Richmond 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 of us know how to replace the air filter in their system, but some homes have an extra filter in the return vent. Whether you have one or not is dependent on the HVAC manufacturer's recommendation. Your unit is engineered to handle a maximum amount of pressure in your house, and the more filters you have the harder the blower motor works, which can decrease the life expectancy of your system if it isn't designed for it. Finding out whether you have a return filter and replacing it is simple:

  1. Find your return air vents.
  2. Some covers have screws and some have tabs. Unscrew or pull tabs to take off the wall.
  3. Look for a filter. If one is inside, pull it out and write down 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 dramatically alter your home's airflow, which is why we recommend checking in with the manufacturer. A more expensive HEPA filter that is designed to catch finer particles will obstruct airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes more pressure on your system, so you need to verify that your HVAC system was built to handle it. Otherwise, you might experience reduced heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and HVAC parts may wear out much faster than normal.
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