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 number one thing that Edmonton area homeowner's can do to secure their air conditioning and heating system between their regular tune-ups? It's a simple question with a simple answer; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Replacing furnace and return air filters is critical to the ideal operation of your HVAC system, as well as your home's air quality. Did you know indoor air pollution is one of 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 Edmonton homeowners, but there are usually two obstacles to actually accomplishing this task:

  1. Understanding 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 recommended guideline on the wrapping. It may instruct "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Check out the filters at the store and you'll see that some are engineered to only last a month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have created media air cleaners with filters meant to be changed once every 6-12 months. The norm seems to be once every three months for most higher quality filters, but we have a rule of thumb that we suggest our customers to go by. If they're dirty, change them! A dirty air filter can exacerbate or cause damage to expensive parts, like your compressor, so it's best to change it out more often than neglect it. If you want to stick to the manufacturer's recommended limit, we suggest writing the date on the filter when you swap it out, and programming 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 equipment manufacturer.

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

  • The type of air filter you are using
  • The overall air quality of your Edmonton area home
  • Pets – Birds, cats, dogs, hamsters (do you have one?), etc.
  • Number of occupants in the house
  • General air pollution in the Edmonton area or construction taking place nearby

For your standard 1"-3" air filters, the OEM specs basically suggest to change them every 30-60 days, which is really a great rule of thumb. But general rules aren't always for everybody. If you suffer from light to moderate allergies, you might require an upgraded air filter or change them even more often than OEM specifications. On the other hand, if you're in a remote area, own a seldom occupied home (like a vacation home) or an area where there are fewer cars around, annual replacement of your air filter may be quite sufficient. Why should you factor in your pets? 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 extremely dirty filters can cause weak HVAC performance.

In summary:

  • Seldom used 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. 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 Edmonton area home's air filter every 30, 60, 90, 120 or 365 days, or any date you find most convenient.

How to replace your return air filter

Most people know how to replace the air filter in their equipment, but some houses have an extra filter in the return ducts. Whether you have one or not is dependent on which HVAC system you have. Your system is engineered to handle a certain amount of pressure in your home, and the more filters you have the fiercer the blower motor works, which can reduce the life expectancy of your system if it isn't designed for it. Discovering whether you have a return filter and replacing it is simple:

  1. Locate 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 in place, pull it out and note 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 really affect your home's airflow, which is why we recommend checking in with 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 increased pressure on your system, so you should verify that your HVAC system was built to handle it. Otherwise, you might experience lowered heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and unit parts may break down much faster than normal.
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