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When Should I Change My Furnace Filter?

Heater Air Filters: When to Change and How to Find ThemThe rule of thumb is to change your furnace filter four times a year. Figure it at the start of each season.
That’s especially the case if you have central air because your cooling uses the same ductwork. However, depending on the circumstances, you may have to change it more often.

Your furnace filter is responsible for keeping the HVAC system running smoothly. It also plays an important role in your indoor air quality. Changing it is inexpensive and very easy to do yourself. If you’re not sure where it is or how to do it, you’ve come to the right place.

Talk To Somone About Your Furnace

In this post, we’ll run you through how to find the filter and how to change it. Then, we’ll talk about whether or not you need a specialized one, and if you should change them more often. Changing your furnace filter, or screen, is a simple, but essential step you can take to keep your HVAC system running smoothly. But, many don’t know where to find it, how to change, or when to do it.

How Your Furnace Air Filter Works

The furnace filter is a disposable screen that traps debris, dirt, and other particles as they pass through your ductwork. This way, that stuff doesn’t get into the system and damage it. Also, it doesn’t come out of your vents and into the air in your home.

The screen is made up of cotton, fiberglass, and other materials stretched across a wire mesh. When particles hit it, they get stuck on the screen instead of continuing through the ductwork. Eventually, however, there’s so much stuff on it that not even the air can pass through it easily. Once that happens, you run into problems. We’ll get into those a little later. For now, let’s find your filter...

Find Your Furnace Air Filter

You can see the difference after a filter has been used for a whileFirst things first: How do you find the filter on your furnace? Just look for a slot on the side of the unit close to the floor. Once you find that, reach in and carefully pull out the filter. That’s all it takes!

There’s nothing to disconnect. The screen just sits there unattached. Once you take it out, look at the fabric part. The screen goes in white but darkens as it collects more junk. If it’s completely gray, you should change it more often than you have been.

Now, look on the cardboard frame. You’ll see the dimensions in inches printed there. That tells you what size you need to buy. The run-of-the-mill ones are between $10-$30. The price goes up as you get into more heavy-duty or specialized filters. Most people need regular ones. But, let’s look at situations where you should consider something else.

When Do I Need Specialized Filters?

If you have problems with indoor air quality, getting a more heavy-duty or specialized filter. There are quite a few factors to consider. But, for now, we’ll look at a few of the big ones.

Tobacco Smoke

Cigarette and tobacco smoke aren’t as much of an issue as it used to be. But, along with affecting indoor air quality, it also affects your filter.

Particles in the smoke get trapped there just like other things. If there’s a heavy smoker in the house, start pulling the screen out once a month to see how quickly it fills up. Once it’s grey, throw it away. Meanwhile, look into charcoal or activated carbon filters to help with the odor, too.

Ultimately, though, you’d need to get an air purifier to cut down significantly on the smoke and its traces. But, we should warn you that nothing absolutely gets rid of all the smoke residue. And, it can hang around for a long time, while potentially causing problems for people down the line.

Dust and Seasonal Allergies

Another reason to get a different filter is if you have allergy sufferers in the house. It’s especially important for people with seasonal allergies or hay fever.

Maintenance For Your Heater

Those symptoms are brought on by pollen. And, those pollen particles are usually small enough to pass through a regular filter. The same goes for small dust mites and other allergy-inducing particles. Consider changing the filter every six weeks. And, look into ones with MERV ratings. The higher the rating, the smaller the particles they’ll catch.

Pets and Indoor Air Quality

One more thing to consider here: Pets. They’re cute, they’re furry, and that fur has to go somewhere. Usually, it’s the HVAC system. In these cases, try changing your filters every two months. And, remember to take a look at the fabric when you pull it out. If it’s completely covered, consider replacing them even more often.

Problems With Clogged Air Filters

So, what happens if you never change your filter? Maybe nothing at first. But, let it go long enough, and you’ll notice problems.

The first thing people usually notice is decreased air circulation. As we mentioned, eventually the screen gets so gummed up that air can’t pass through properly. When that happens, you’ll hear the furnace click on, but you won’t feel as much air through the vents. You won’t feel as warm either.
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Next, you’ll notice your energy bills creeping up. That’s because the system is working harder and harder to do its job. Those problems can keep getting worse until the heating system breaks down. Eventually, it just gets worn out and something breaks. And, if you’re lucky, it’s a replaceable part. But, it could be much worse.

Cracked Heat Exchangers

The worst-case scenario is a cracked heat exchanger. This is a part deep inside the furnace. If it cracks, it leaks carbon monoxide. Then, your HVAC tech has no choice but to red-tag it. That means they shut it off permanently. There’s no option other than replacing it. How can a filter cause this?

Well, it happens if the heat generated by the system can’t get out the way it should. It backs up back into the system and overheats it. If you ever notice the unit blowing cold air in the winter, that’s why: The furnace is trying to cool itself down. But, eventually that heat and temperature fluctuations cause cracks to form. Then, you’re suddenly in the market for a new HVAC system.

Fortunately, it takes a long time for that to happen from not changing the filters. Swapping them out at least four times a year will go a long way to preventing them from causing this kind of damage. And, having your system looked over once or twice a year will go a long way, too. Preventative maintenance can add years to the life of your furnace.

If you’re concerned about your HVAC system or indoor air quality in the greater Rochester area, give Airquip a call at (585) 641-3080. We’ll give your system a tune-up before winter hits. And, we’ll help you find the best solution to any air quality problems you’re having.
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