While we all take our HVAC systems for granted from time to time, one of the most underrated and frequently overlooked superstars of any heating and cooling system is the air filter.  These simple devices are a crucial piece of maintaining a comfortable and clean home, yet so many of us fail to do the very basic step of replacing the filter on a regular basis.  In fact, this is so common that it is estimated that more than 80% of American households neglect to change their filter on a consistent basis, with 29% saying they never change the filter!

Most consumers don’t have a firm grasp on how the HVAC system works in their homes, but as a crash course I’ll try to explain the basics here.  When your unit turns on, you can often hear the blowers begin to push hot or cold air through the vents in your home.  As you’ve probably gathered, this is where most of the air treatment takes place, but what about the air it’s replacing?  The air that was sitting in your office or living room gets pushed to a central place (or places, if the home is large enough) and returns to the main unit to be warmed or cooled and pushed back out of the system.  

It is in this process where the air filter becomes important.  Not only do the particles of dirt, dust, pollen (especially here in Wake Forest this time of year!), pet dander, and dried skin cells cause problems for the equipment in your HVAC system, they’re also rather undesirable things to come blowing out of your registers every time the system kicks on.

I know what you’re thinking – with a sophisticated and powerful system like the air conditioning systems in most homes, surely a simple little thing like replacing an air filter can’t be that big of a deal!  Well, that’s just not true.  In a worst-case scenario, if air is mostly blocked by a clogged air filter, the overworked HVAC system could be damaged, causing repair costs of $4,000 or more!  

Now, of course this is a worst-case scenario, but here are a few issues that can be caused by a dirty air filter:

  • Higher costs on energy bills.  IF the system has to work harder to pull air through the filter, you’re going to have to pay more on your electric bills every month.
  • Reduced temperature control.  If the air in your home isn’t circulating as it should, it is more difficult for the system to reach the desired temperature throughout the house.
  • Dirtier air.  As mentioned before, you likely don’t want the dirt and debris of the home constantly blowing through the house every time the system starts working.  This can also be one of the most crucial items to inspect for those who suffer from allergies.

Hopefully, this has convinced you to take your air filters more seriously.  The question then becomes how does one replace the filter, and how often should the filters be replaced?

The how is a relatively simple question to answer – just look through your home, and see if you can identify a large return vent that should look similar to this:

In nearly all cases, there are two tabs on the top side that must be opened, and the grate will swing down.  Simply remove the old filter and replace with a new one of the same size.  If this is your first time replacing the filter, check the old one first for the size.  Typically, it’s a 20 x 20 x 1 in most residences, but be sure first before purchasing filters at your local home goods store.  Be mindful of the way the arrows point on the side – this will tell you which side should be placed to the interior of the wall.

As for how often, this generally depends on the needs of the home.  Pets are usually the biggest factor – if you have one or more furry friends in the house, you’ll probably want to replace the filter each month.  If you don’t have pets and your family is three people or less, you can probably change the filters every 60-90 days assuming no one has any allergies or other breathing issues.  If you’re still unsure, change the filter every month; the cost is relatively small and it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry!

Above all, if you’re not sure how to replace the filter, where to find it in your home, or have other concerns about the steps above, your friends at Southern Seasons Heating and Air are here to help.  Reach out to us and we’ll be able to walk you through the process and answer any other questions you may have about things as simple as an air filter, or more complex such as a full system replacement.

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