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 the Wasatch Front region area homeowner's can do to ensure efficient functionality of their air conditioning and heating system between their regular 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 in 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 difficult for most the Wasatch Front region homeowners, but there are often two obstacles to actually completing this job:

  1. Determining just how often to replace your furnace or air conditioner filter.
  2. Remembering to change air filters when needed.

When To Change Your Air Filters

Most filters have a printed "expiration" date on the wrapping. It may instruct "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Pay attention at the store and you'll notice that some are designed to only last a single month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have released media air cleaners with filters meant to be exchanged once every 6-12 months. The standard seems to be once every 3 months for most higher quality filters, but we have a rule of thumb that we recommend our readers to go by. If they're dirty, change them! A dirty air filter can add or cause damage to costly equipment, like your compressor, so it's recommended to change it out more often than not. 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 adding a reminder for yourself in your phone or on a calendar. Also note that your filter manufacturer sometimes has a different recommendation from your HVAC system manufacturer.

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

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

For the common 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturer specs basically suggest to change them every 1 or 2 months, which is in fact a great rule of thumb. Still, general guidelines are not applicable to all. If you have to endure light to moderate allergies, you may need to upgrade the air filter or change them even more frequently 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 few automobiles and trucks, 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 quick. Clearly, the air filter is just doing its job by trapping 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
  • Common suburban home without pets: Change every 90 days
  • Got a cat or dog: 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

Barlow Service Experts offers a simple solution; 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. But wait… there’s more, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your the Wasatch Front region 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 you 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 what your unit's manufacturer recommends. Your HVAC is engineered to handle a maximum amount of pressure in your home, and the more filters you have the fiercer the blower motor works, which can shorten 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. Go to 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 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.
Crazy as it may seem, filters can greatly alter your home's airflow, which is why we recommend referring to the manufacturer. A more expensive HEPA filter that is designed to catch finer dust will reduce airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes increased pressure on your system, so you should verify that your HVAC system was engineered to handle it. Otherwise, you could experience reduced heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and system parts may break down much faster than the standard.
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