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

February 26, 2015

Occassionally we’re asked what is the number one thing that Dallas area homeowner's can do to maintain their air conditioning and heating system between their seasonal tune-ups? That’s an easy one; 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, plus your home's air quality. Studies show that 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 Dallas homeowners, but there are typically two challenges to actually getting it done:

  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 say "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Pay attention at the store and you'll notice that some are engineered to only last a single month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have released media air cleaners with filters meant to be swapped once every 6-12 months. The standard seems to be once every three months for most higher quality filters, but we have a rule of thumb that we recommend our readers to go by. If it's dirty, change it! A dirty air filter can add or cause damage to expensive components, 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 scribbling the date on the filter when you swap it out, and programming a reminder for yourself in your phone or on a calendar. Also be aware that your filter manufacturer might have a different recommendation from your HVAC unit manufacturer.

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

  • The type of air filter you are using
  • The entire air quality of your Dallas area home
  • Pets – Dogs, cats, etc.
  • Number of people in the home
  • General air pollution in the Dallas area or construction taking place nearby

For your standard 1"-3" air filters, the manufacturers basically say to change them every 1 or 2 months, which is in fact a great rule of thumb. However, generalities may not be suitable for your specific needs. If you suffer from light to moderate allergies, you might need to upgrade your air filter or change them even more often than OEM specifications. On the other hand, if you're in a less populated 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 do pets matter so much? They have a tendency to shed, which can clog your air filter fast. Clearly, the air filter is just doing its job by containing 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
  • Average suburban home without pets: Change every 90 days
  • House with a pet: 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

Levy & Son Service Experts offers a simple solution; 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. Plus, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Dallas 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 people know how to replace the air filter in their equipment, but some houses have an additional filter in the return ductwork. Whether you have one or not is dependent on the HVAC manufacturer's recommendation. Your HVAC is engineered to handle a maximum amount of pressure in your house, and the more filters you have the harder the blower motor works, which can decrease the life of your system if it isn't designed for it. Learning 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 take off the wall.
  3. Look for a filter. If one is in place, pull it out and write down 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 asking the manufacturer. A top tier HEPA filter that is designed to catch finer dust will obstruct airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes greater pressure on your system, so you need to verify that your HVAC system was engineered to handle it. Otherwise, you might experience uneven heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and unit parts may die off much faster than normal.
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