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 most important thing that Fort Lauderdale area homeowner's can do to ensure efficient functionality of 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. Changing furnace and return air filters is critical to the ideal operation of your HVAC system, not to mention 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 a tough thing to do for most Fort Lauderdale homeowners, but there are typically two challenges to actually completing this job:

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

When To Change Your Air Filters

Most filters have a printed "expiration" date on the packaging. It may read "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 meant to only last one month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have produced media air cleaners with filters meant to be exchanged 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 tell our customers to go by. If the filter is dirty, change it! A dirty air filter can exacerbate or cause damage to costly parts, 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 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 note that your filter manufacturer may have a different recommendation from your HVAC system manufacturer.

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

  • The type of air filter you are using
  • The collective air quality of your Fort Lauderdale area home
  • Pets – Birds, cats, dogs, hamsters (do you have one?), etc.
  • Number of people in the home
  • The level of air pollution and construction around the home

For your standard 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturer specs basically say to change them bi-monthly, which is really a great rule of thumb. However, general guidelines are not applicable to all. If you put up with 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 low population 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 fast. Naturally, the air filter is just doing its job by trapping pet hair and dander, but extremely 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
  • Typical suburban home without pets: Change every 90 days
  • Add a dog or cat: 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

Here’s an easy way to stay on top of this; 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 Fort Lauderdale 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 unit, but some homes have an extra filter in the return ductwork. Whether you have one or not is dependent on what your unit's manufacturer recommends. Your HVAC is designed to handle a maximum amount of pressure in your home sweet home, and the more filters you have the harder 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 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. Check 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.
Incredible though it may seem, filters can greatly affect your home's airflow, which is why we recommend checking in with the manufacturer. A top tier HEPA filter that is designed to catch tinier particles will obstruct airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes increased pressure on your system, so you should verify that your HVAC system was made to handle it. Otherwise, you may experience lowered heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and unit parts may die off much faster than normal.
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