How Often Should I Change My Air Filter?
Your air conditioner and heater both rely on a ton of different parts and components to work properly. A problem with any one of these components could have far-reaching consequences that include the possibility of your system shutting down entirely. Naturally, you want to do everything you can to make sure everything works right, but a lot of people tend to overlook or ignore one of the single most important parts of their heating and cooling system: their air filter.
Believe it or not, the overwhelming majority of HVAC problems and breakdowns can trace at least part of their cause back to the system’s air filter being dirty and plugged with too much debris. That makes changing your air filter an extremely important maintenance task to do when necessary. But when exactly is changing your filter necessary? How often should you check your filter to see if it needs to be changed? This blog answers those questions and more so you can make sure you always have the clean and reliable air filter your HVAC system needs.
How Long Does an Air Filter Last?
As a general rule of thumb, your air filter will last anywhere from three to six months before it needs to be replaced. However, this will vary greatly from home to home, based on a number of different factors. Homes with poor air quality will need to have their filter changed more often than homes that are cleaner, and homes with more factors that lead to dirty air filters will need to change their filter more frequently. In fact, in the most severe cases, you might find that your air filter fills up every two months… or less.
Here are just a few things that can cause your air filter to fill up sooner:
- High-odor activities like smoking. Smoking releases ash particles into the air that get pulled into your HVAC system and trapped in your air filter. Smoke particles also become trapped in your air filter, clogging it up. These particles can also imbue the air with odors that are then carried around your home. This is one of the reasons smoke odors are so difficult to get out of your home.
- Owning a pet. Pet dander and pet hair are huge contributors to clogged up air filters. While we love our furry friends, floating strands of hair can easily be pulled back into your HVAC system, where they become lodged in your air filter.
- Dust particles. Dust is a fact of life, but those who frequently leave their doors and windows open might find that they have to dust more often. Frequent cleaning and dusting will greatly reduce this issue, but it’s almost impossible to completely remove dust from an environment without an incredibly high-power air purification system that is typically reserved for specialized commercial use.
- High numbers of people. A small apartment that is lived in by only one person won’t fill up their air filter nearly as fast as a large home populated by several people. Larger families will need to change their air filter more frequently, particularly for systems in high-use zones that cycle more frequently.
If you have one or more of these factors present, you might find that you have to change your air filter more often. That’s perfectly okay, just keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to have a few extra filters lying around so you can change it when necessary.
How Do I Change My Filter?
Changing an air filter is typically pretty easy. There are generally two locations you might find your air filter: in the return duct of your indoor unit or covering the return vent register. In both cases, make sure you shut off the air conditioner or heater first.
For systems where the filter is in the return duct, locate the access panel on the front of your HVAC system’s indoor unit and open it. You should find the filter covering the return duct, where it is most likely held in place with a small metal bracket. Simply pop this bracket loose and carefully slide the filter out (try not to disturb it too much or trapped dust might be knocked free). Replace the filter with one with the same dimensions and a similar MERV rating, then lock it in place by putting the bracket back in.
Systems with the air filter covering the return register are even easier. The register will likely be located on the ceiling in your home and have hinges that allow it to swing open. Simply pop it open and this should expose the filter. You may have to loosen it from a small bracket or strap that holds it in place, but the filter should come right out. Simply replace it with a similar filter, lock it back in place, and close the vent.
In most cases, air filters are designed to be disposable. However, some filters are designed to be cleaned and reused once they become dirty. Make sure you know what type of filter your system relies on to ensure your system continues to operate properly.