Without a clean air filter, your HVAC unit works harder and is prone to more breakdowns. Compared to other DIY home improvement projects, changing air filters is a quick and painless process that can be done in less than an hour. However, many homeowners are unaware of how often air filters need to be replaced, leaving their system vulnerable to damage. Keep reading to learn when and how to change your air filter.
Why Changing Your Filter Is Important
Air filters trap pet hair, dust, and other irritating particles so that your air conditioning system delivers fresh, clean air back into your home. Eventually, the filter traps so much dust and debris that air can’t properly filter or travel to the HVAC unit, leading to:
- High energy bills—When an HVAC filter is clogged, your system has to work harder to pull air through to cool or heat the room. This causes it to run for longer periods of time, increasing the energy your home uses.
- Health concerns—If a filter isn’t working properly, dust and allergens can circulate throughout your home and cause allergies and respiratory illnesses.
- System failure—An HVAC system has to work hard to pull air through a clogged filter. This continuous strain on the unit can cause it to break, causing you to pay for expensive repairs or replacements.
How to Change Your Air Filter
You should ideally change your air filter every three months, however, there are certain factors to consider when determining when to change out an old filter.
- Type of air filter—Some air filters are more effective than others. Lower quality fiberglass filters are more affordable, but they don’t last long and need to be changed every month. Pleated air filters are high-quality filters that are very effective in trapping particles and last up to 90 days.
- Pets—If you own pets, change your filters every two months to keep your air clean.
- Allergies—If you suffer from allergies, even the smallest amount of dust or debris in the air can trigger a reaction. To ensure your system is pumping only clean air, change your filters about every 50 days.
- Children—If you have young children in the home, keep the indoor air quality high by replacing your air filters every two months.
- Home use—Homes that use their HVAC system daily need more frequent air filter replacements than a vacation home that doesn’t filter air regularly. If your home’s heating and cooling system only run a few times a year, replace the air filters every six to 12 months.
While these factors affect the frequency of air filter replacement, you should visually inspect your filter every month to check for excess particle buildup. If the dirty air filter is completely layered with dust and debris, it’s a good idea to change the filter even if it hasn’t reached the end of its recommended lifespan.
How to Change Your Filter
Here’s how to change your air filter when it’s time for a replacement.
- Purchase the right size filter—To find the size of your filter, check the old filter, which should have the size printed on one of its sides. If you can’t locate the size of the old filter, use a measuring tape to check its length, width, and depth.
- Turn off your unit—Flip the switch on your thermostat to turn off the unit, or turn your system completely off at the circuit breaker.
- Locate the filter—Your air filter is located in one of two places: a return duct or the air handler located in an attic, basement, or utility closet.
- Remove the grille or cover to the air filter—If your air filter is located in the system’s air handler, open the access panel. This may require a screwdriver to remove the small screws securing it. If your filter is in the return duct, flip the latches that hold the grille and remove it.
- Remove the old filter and insert the new one—Take the old filter from its place, carefully inspecting how it was situated inside the cover or grille. Take the new filter and place it inside, making sure the airflow arrows are pointed into the unit.
- Replace the cover and turn your system on—After replacing the filter, turn your system back on to ensure the filter is situated correctly and the air conditioner is running smoothly.