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

February 26, 2015

Occassionally we’re asked what is the most important thing that Edmonton area homeowner's can do to secure 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. Buying new furnace and return air filters is critical to the ideal operation of your HVAC system, plus your home's air quality. Studies show that indoor air pollution is among 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 Edmonton homeowners, but there are often two hurdles to actually accomplishing this task:

  1. Understanding just how often to swap out 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 box or plastic. It may say "Lasts up to 3 months" or "Change filter every 90 days". Pay attention at the store and you should see 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 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 suggest our friends and family 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 recommended to change it out more often than neglect it. If you want to follow the manufacturer's recommended limit, we suggest marking the date on the filter when you swap it out, and programming a reminder for yourself in your phone or on a calendar. Also note that your filter manufacturer might have a different recommendation from your HVAC unit manufacturer.

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

  • The type of air filter you are using
  • The overall air quality of your Edmonton area home
  • Pets – Dogs, cats, 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 manufacturers basically say to change them every 1 or 2 months, which is really a great rule of thumb. But general rules aren't always for everybody. If you suffer from light to moderate allergies, you might require an upgraded air filter or change them even more frequently than OEM specifications. On the other hand, if you're in a remote area, own a infrequently occupied home (like a vacation home) or an area where there are fewer cars around, changing your air filter every 12-months may be quite sufficient. Why do we call out our beloved pets? They have a tendency to shed, which can clog your air filter quick. Obviously, the air filter is just doing its job by containing pet hair and dander, but extremely dirty filters can cause diminished 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
  • Add a dog or cat: Change every 60 days
  • Multiple pets or have allergies: Change every 30-45 days

How To Remember To Change Your Air Conditioner's Air Filters

Rob's Albertan 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. Also, your email subscription preferences let’s you set a reminder to change your Edmonton 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 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 unit is made to handle a set amount of pressure in your home sweet home, and the more filters you have the harder the blower motor works, which can reduce the life expectancy of your system if it isn't designed for it. Finding out whether you have a return filter and replacing it is easy:

  1. Go to your return air vents.
  2. Some covers have screws and some have tabs. Unscrew or pull tabs to pull off the wall.
  3. Check for a filter. If one is inside, 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.
Crazy as it may seem, filters can greatly alter your home's airflow, which is why we recommend asking the manufacturer. A more expensive HEPA filter that is designed to catch smaller debris will obstruct airflow more than a cheaper filter. With restricted airflow comes more pressure on your system, so you should verify that your HVAC system was engineered to handle it. Otherwise, you could experience reduced heating and cooling efficiency in your home, and system parts may die off much faster than normal.
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