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How to Change an AC Filter in 7 Easy Steps

How to Change an AC Filter in 7 Easy Steps

Even if you don’t know anything about maintaining your air conditioner, you probably at least know the basics of owning one: schedule an annual AC service and change the AC filters as often as necessary. That’s as good a start as any! Something as simple as keeping your AC filter clean will make a world of difference when it comes to how efficiently your air conditioner performs. And with the summers we get in Delaware County, PA; Hunterdon County, NJ; Ocean County, NJ; and the surrounding areas, we need our air conditioners to be as efficient as possible. Let’s take a closer look at what changing your AC filters entails.

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Why It’s Important to Change Your Unit’s Air Filter

Imagine not dusting or vacuuming your home or office for an entire month. Consider how much dirt and filth can build up on your floors, counters, and other surfaces in that time frame. Now think what happens if you do not change your AC filter for a month. While it is important to change your filter regularly to help ensure your AC unit’s efficiency, most people do not do it because they either do not think it is a priority, or they do not realize the importance of doing so. Believe it or not, dirty air filters can restrict normal air flow making a huge difference in the air quality in your home and causing your energy use to gradually increase. The longer you neglect to replace your AC filter, the more likely you will find yourself with a malfunctioning unit. If you leave it unchecked for months, your system could completely break down and need to be replaced altogether. While finding out that you need a new unit is the worst case scenario, neglecting your air filter can also cause other problems.

Diminished Air Flow and Air Quality

The longer you neglect your air filter, the more clogged it becomes with dust, dirt, and other contaminants, such as mold, pollen, and allergens. So, if you notice that you or other members of your household are coughing, sneezing, or are just getting a lot more sick than usual, it is likely that the amount of good air entering your home has been impacted due to a filthy air filter. Using a high energy particulate air filter (HEPA) will trap the particles and provide better air quality.

Short Cycling Can Occur

Because your air filter is dirty or clogged, it is likely that your heating and cooling system will turn on and off more often. This is called “short cycling,” and the more often your unit does this, the chances that it will overheat or break down increases. Furthermore, the likelihood that it will break down increases because it is kicking into overdrive to make sure your home is the proper temperature.

Higher Energy Bills

If your air filter is clogged and your unit is short cycling, it is likely that your energy bills will rise. And, the fact that your unit simply has to work much harder—and thus use more energy—to heat or cool you home, your energy bills will reflect that by being much higher than usual. By not changing the filter regularly, you are reducing the life expectancy of your AC by at least 5-10 years. Also, replacing parts and repairs can get costly. The cost of purchasing filters is minimal when compared to digging deep into your pockets to replace parts or make repairs. Changing your filter monthly during peak season can save you about 15% per month on your utility bill.

How Often Should You Change Your AC Filter?

If you’ve been scouring the internet trying to find the answer to this question, you’ve probably come across a lot of different responses. Some technicians will recommend changing filters every 30 days, while others will say that you can wait up to 90 days. Some will fall right in the middle at 60 days. Why is it so hard to find a straight answer? Because every household has different needs, which makes it impossible to find a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re ever unsure about whether or not your air filter needs changing, here are 4 signs that will likely indicate that it’s time.

1. There Is Dust, Dust, and More Dust

When a filter has not been changed in a while it can become “full” with dust.  When this happens, the only way for your filter to pick up more dust is to release the same amount of dust.  This will allow more pollutants to get into your home and affect the air’s quality. If you are discovering that your furniture is more dusty than usual and/or your loved ones (with allergies) are having a harder time breathing, there is a strong chance the air filter could be to blame.

2. Your Home Isn’t Being Cooled Correctly

Notice that little to no air is coming from your vents? Is your home taking longer to cool than usual? Even though there are many issues which may be causing these problems, a dirty air filter could be to blame. Think about drinking water through a straw: if you squeeze the straw, creating a restriction, then less water will make it through the straw. A dirty filter can create the same effect.

3. Puddles of Water & Frozen Coils

As dust is released from your “full” air filter, it can begin to collect within your coil, the indoor portion of your air conditioner. When enough dust has collected, your air conditioner will not be able to work properly and it will begin to “freeze” into a block of ice. When the ice melts it will typically overflow and leave large puddles of water on the floor. If you come home to a warm home and a puddle of water, there is a chance this is all due to a dirty filter.

4. Your Energy Bill Is the Highest It’s Ever Been

We all accept that our energy bills will be a bit higher once you turn on the AC. But, if your energy bills have soared, you might have a problem. A dirty air filter will force your air conditioner to run more frequently and for longer periods of time in order to cool you home, and each one of these cycles costs you money. Therefore, if you notice your energy bill going up for no apparent reason—and you don’t recall the last time you changed your filter—it may indeed be the cause of that incredibly high bill you are staring at right now.

How often you change your AC filters can also depend on the type of filters that you use, how large your household is, whether you have children or pets, the condition of your indoor air quality, and many other factors. We’ve created this infographic below to help explain the different types of air conditioner filters you should be familiar with.

AC Filter Types Infographic

As a premier air conditioning company serving the Philadelphia region, we know that air filters should be changed every month, especially in the summer when you use your air conditioning unit the most. In addition, you should also consider changing it monthly if you live in an environment more prone to pollutants that can affect your home’s indoor air. Do you:

  • Have pets (with lots of pet dander)?
  • Have family members who have allergies, asthma, or smoke?
  • Live on a ranch or farm?
  • Have construction that occurs around the home?

Ultimately, regularly changing an air filter in your air conditioning unit is essential not only for the continued efficiency and longevity of your system, but also for maintaining indoor quality which will keep everyone in your home happy and healthy!

Here are a few tips to help you remember when to change your air filter:

  1. Set up reminders on your phone, computer, or tablet. Just keep in mind that the frequency in which you change an air filter also depends on its type. For instance, a high-efficiency filter will not need to be changed as often.
  2. Write the date your air filter should be changed on the next filter.
  3. Place the air filters somewhere that you will always notice them, such as your laundry room, a closet, or a spare bedroom.
  4. Make changing and/or checking your air filter a part of your regular spring cleaning routine.

How to Change Your AC Filter

  1. Locate your filter. First things first, you have to know where to find your filter before you can replace it. This part may be tricky depending on what kind of AC system you own. The two most common places where the AC filter resides are either the air return vent or the air handler/furnace. You can check your user manual if you’re not sure or call your trusted Hutchinson tech for help. Once you know where to find the filter, the rest of the steps are a piece of cake.
  2. Turn off the AC unit. Safety first! Make sure to turn off your air conditioner once you’re ready to replace the filter. This is important for two reasons. First, having the power on while working on appliances is not safe. Second, you don’t want the system to suck in dust and debris while you’re in the middle of changing the filter.
  3. Pop open and remove the cover. The filter will be enclosed inside the AC unit. Remove the cover, which should come off pretty easily.
  4. Take out the old filter. Just reach in and slip the filter out. If it looks clean, you may be able to gently dust it off and reuse it. If it’s full of dust and grime, then proceed with the replacement.
  5. Find the airflow direction. Before you insert the new filter, you’ll need to align it in the same position as the old filter was before you took it out. How? By looking for the arrows that signify the airflow direction. Make sure the arrows point away from you and towards the AC unit.
  6. Insert the new filter. Once your new filter is positioned correctly, just slip it into its spot. It should fit snugly inside.
  7. Replace the cover and turn the power back on. Voilà! You replaced your own AC filter!

According to EnergyStar, a division of the EPA, dirt and neglect are the top causes of cooling system inefficiency and failure. Changing the air filter on your air conditioning system is the least expensive thing you can do to maintain your cooling system. Remember, if you need any help, don’t hesitate to contact a Hutchinson expert! Our residential comfort consultants will be more than happy to act as your guide. If at any time you feel like your AC unit isn’t running properly, you can also contact our emergency air conditioning repair hotline and we’ll send someone to your home right away. Our air conditioning services span from Hunterdon County, NJ, to Ocean County, NJ, to Philadelphia, PA, and everywhere in between. Contact us today to learn more!