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

Every once in a while we’re asked what is the most important thing that Birmingham area homeowner’s can do to protect their air conditioning and heating system between their scheduled tune-ups? The answer is simple this; remember to change the heating and air conditioning air filter. Changing furnace and return air filters is crucial to the ideal operation of your HVAC system, plus your home’s air quality. Research suggests that indoor air pollution is in 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 Birmingham homeowners, but there are usually 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 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 notice that some are designed to only last a month, while other manufacturers (like Honeywell) have produced media air cleaners with filters meant to be exchanged once every 6-12 months. The industry standard seems to be once every three months for most higher quality filters, but we have a rule of thumb that we tell our readers to go by. If they’re dirty, change them! A dirty air filter can add or cause damage to pricey components, like your compressor, so it’s better to change it out more often than to let it go. 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 sometimes has a different recommendation from your HVAC system manufacturer. 
 
Choosing how often to change your air filters can depend on several factors: 

  • Type of filter your A/C system requires 
  • The overall air quality of your Birmingham area home 
  • Pets – Cats, dogs, birds, etc. 
  • Occupancy of the home 
  • The level of air pollution and construction around the home 

For your typical 1″-3″ air filters, the manufacturers basically suggest to change them bi-monthly, which is really a great rule of thumb. But general guidelines are not applicable to all. If you put up with 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 remote area, own a less occupied home (like a vacation home) or an area with few automobiles and trucks, changing your air filter every 12-months may be quite sufficient. Why should you factor in your pets? They have a tendency to shed, which can clog your air filter quick. Of course, the air filter is just doing its job by capturing pet hair and dander, but exceptionally dirty filters can cause seriously reduced HVAC performance. 

In summary: 

  • Vacation home or single occupant homes without pets or allergies: Change 6-12 months 
  • Typical 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 

Here’s an easy way to stay on top of this; sign up for the Service Experts Email Club. This is a great to receive discounts on service, tips and other helpful information directly to your email. But wait… there’s more, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Birmingham 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 of you know how to replace the air filter in their system, but some houses 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 fiercer the blower motor works, which can reduce the life of your system if it isn’t designed for it. Learning whether you have a return filter and replacing it is easy: 

  • Locate 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 in place, pull it out and record 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. 

Incredible though it may seem, filters can dramatically 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 finer debris will restrict airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes increased pressure on your system, so you ought to verify that your HVAC system was engineered to handle it. Otherwise, you could experience uneven heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and HVAC parts may wear out much faster than normal. 

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