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

Sometimes we’re asked what is the number one thing that Philadelphia area homeowner’s can do to protect their air conditioning and heating system between their regular tune-ups? The answer is simple this; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Replacing furnace and return air filters is critical to the effectiveness of your HVAC system, not to mention your home’s air quality. Studies show that indoor air pollution is one of 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 Philadelphia homeowners, but there are often two challenges to actually completing this job: 

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

When To Change Your Air Filters 

Most filters have a timeline printed on the box or plastic. It may read “Lasts up to 3 months” or “Change filter every 90 days”. Look around at the store and you’ll notice that some are engineered to only last a single month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have created media air cleaners with filters meant to be changed 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 exacerbate or cause damage to expensive equipment, like your compressor, so it’s recommended to change it out more often than neglect it. If you want to listen to the manufacturer’s recommended limit, we suggest marking the date on the filter when you swap it out, and setting a reminder for yourself in your phone or on a calendar. Also be aware that your filter manufacturer may have a different recommendation from your HVAC system manufacturer. 
 
Determining how often to change your air filters can depend on several factors: 

  • The type of air filter you are using 
  • The collective air quality of your Philadelphia area home 
  • Pets – Dogs, cats, etc. 
  • Number of occupants in the house 
  • How much construction is taking place in the neighborhood around your home 

For your typical 1″-3″ air filters, the OEM specs basically tell you 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 have to tolerate 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 low population area, own a seldom 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 should you factor in your pets? They have a tendency to shed, which can clog your air filter quick. Naturally, the air filter is just doing its job by trapping 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 
  • Average suburban home without pets: Change every 90 days 
  • Got a cat or dog: Change every 60 days 
  • Several 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. Also, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Philadelphia area home’s air filter every 30, 60, 90, 120 or 365 days, or the date of your choosing. 

How to replace your return air filter 

Most people know how to replace the air filter in their system, but some homes have another filter in the return vent. Whether you have one or not is dependent on what your unit’s manufacturer recommends. Your system is engineered to handle a certain amount of pressure in your home sweet home, and the more filters you have the more the blower motor works, which can shorten the life of your system if it isn’t designed for it. Finding out whether you have a return filter and replacing it is a piece of cake: 

  • Find your return air vents. 
  • Some covers have screws and some have tabs. Unscrew or pull tabs to pull off the wall. 
  • Look for a filter. If one is inside, pull it out and write down the size. 
  • Verify the filter type is the one recommended by the manufacturer. 
  • If the filter is dirty, replace with the manufacturer’s recommended filter of the same size and type. 

Crazy as it may seem, filters can dramatically impact 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 dust will restrict airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes greater pressure on your system, so you should verify that your HVAC system was made to handle it. Otherwise, you may experience uneven heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and unit parts may die off much faster than normal. 

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