Changing your HVAC air filter regularly is important for health and safety reasons, but also for the continued functionality of your heating and cooling system. When an air filter is old or dirty, it doesn’t function as well as it should.
The purpose of a filter is twofold:
- A functional air filter can remove much of the pollen and dust that accumulates in the air inside your home or that comes in with the air your HVAC unit pulls in from outside. That leaves the air in your home with fewer allergens, which can make a marked difference for those suffering from respiratory issues. Plus, with less dust and debris coming into your space, you may find that it’s easier to keep floors and other surfaces clean.
- Air filters also keep larger debris out of your HVAC unit. This debris can include items such as pieces of insulation that have come loose or large clumps of pet hair that have made it into the unit. By removing these items at the filter point and keeping them out of the ducts, the air filter reduces fire hazards and helps keep the passageways for airflow clean, which helps your HVAC unit operate at optimal efficiency.
But how often should you change your air filter to achieve these benefits? The answer is: It depends.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T CHANGE YOUR AIR FILTER
First, you lose out on the benefits listed above, which means the air in your home may be dirtier than expected. You may also put undue strain on your HVAC system as the air filter becomes full of debris and dirt. Those particles clog the air filter, making it harder for your system to pump air through. That puts a strain on the blower, which works harder to do its job, which leads to increased power consumption costs and potential long-term damage to your unit.
When your air filter is impeding the functionality of your HVAC system, you also have knock-on effects. Air may never reach the farthest rooms or spaces of your home — these are the areas that are usually difficult to heat or cool, to begin with. Air may also get trapped on the other side of the filter in the air conditioner or heat pump, and that can lead to freezing or overheating. Finally, if you let your air filter get overly dirty — especially if there is any moisture trapped in it — mold or bacteria may set up shop, which can reduce the air quality in your home even more.
WHEN SHOULD I CHANGE MY HOME AIR FILTER?
How often you change your air filter depends on a variety of factors, including your environment, how many people or pets live with you and the type of air filter your use.
For basic air filters, which measure 1 to 3 inches in thickness, manufacturers advise that you change them every one to two months. However, if you have an average house in a clean suburban area and you don’t have pets or allergies, you may be able to get away with changing your air filter every three months. This is especially true if you’re diligent about cleaning and vacuuming regularly to keep dust buildup to a minimum.
If you have a single pet, such as a cat or dog, you may find you need to change the filter more often. Consider trying a filter change every 50 to 60 days and adjusting from there depending on how you perceive the air quality in your home. The effect your pet has on air quality will depend on size, how often your pet goes outside, how much fur they shed and how often they’re being groomed.
If someone in the home suffers from allergies or you have multiple pets, try changing your air filter every 30 to 40 days and adjusting from there to meet your needs.
Other factors that can impact how often you need to swap out air filters in your home can include:
- The overall quality of air in your home; if someone smokes in the home or there are environmental factors such as a dusty outdoor environment, you may need to change your filter more often.
- The number of people living in the space; more people typically means more debris for a filter to manage.
- Any exterior air factors, such as pollution, construction, excess pollen or dust.
TIPS FOR KEEPING AIR QUALITY UP IN YOUR HOME
In addition to changing your air filter as needed, you can take other actions to keep the quality of air up in your home. Here are a few tips.
- Employ natural products when cleaning to reduce harsh additives in the environment.
- Use an air purifier to help your filter keep up with removing particles from the air.
- Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible, especially during allergy season.
- Keep pets clean and well-groomed to reduce hair, fur and dander in the air.
- Vacuum regularly, including carpets, hard floors, curtains and furniture.
- Wash bedding and other large fabric items regularly in hot water to prevent the proliferation of dust mites.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IT’S TIME TO CHANGE YOUR AIR FILTER
If you’re not sure whether you should change your air filter, do a visual inspection. If it looks clean or mostly clean, it’s not ready to be swapped out. However, if it’s covered in a layer of debris and you can’t see the filter (or can only see smallish patches), then it’s time for a change.
The TLDR here is that you really do need to change your air filter (or wash it, if you have a washable model) every one to three months. How often will depend on environmental factors and needs of those in the house, but when in doubt, swap it out.