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Air filters are an extremely important and valuable part of your heating and cooling system. They keep your air clean, healthy, and easy to breathe. They keep your equipment running smoothly all year long. They even keep components in your HVAC system from wearing out and breaking down too quickly as a result of too much dirt and other airborne debris that can cycle through.

However, air filters are very much an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” thing. Most people don’t pay nearly enough attention to their air filter and it’s always surprising how many people don’t know even simple and basic things about how their air filter works, what it does, or what they need to do to replace it. In this blog, we have this information so you can learn how to care for your filter, and in turn care for your air conditioner and heater.

Where Is My Air Filter?

Your air filter is located between your main air handler and your return register. If you locate the closet or area where your indoor HVAC unit is located, your air filter will likely be right in between where a giant air duct connects to your main unit and the unit itself. You may have to lift a metal panel to find it. Usually, your air filter is held on by some sort of a brace.

If you aren’t sure where to find your air filter, or if a quick glance doesn’t make it obvious, consult your owner’s manual to find out. If you can’t find or don’t have a copy of your owner’s manual, find the make and model number on the label on your HVAC system and run a quick search for it online. There’s a strong chance the manual has been posted somewhere.

How Are Air Filters Measured?

Air filters have two primary measurements they are classified by. The first is physical dimensions. These are usually written in the form of three measurements, in inches. For example, an air filter that’s 16 inches long by 20 inches wide by two inches thick would be written as “16x20x2”.

The second type of air filter measurement is airflow. An air filter that has a lower filtration rating allows more air to flow through it, but in turn doesn’t trap nearly as much debris from the air. Conversely, a filter that does trap more contaminants and particles doesn’t allow as much air to flow through and thus requires a stronger blower motor to pull air through it. This measurement is known as a filter’s MERV rating and is usually given in the form of a whole number. The higher the number, the more a filter will remove from the air. However, more is not always better when it comes to your home—if your system isn’t designed to handle that type of an air filter, the entire system will struggle and cause all sorts of even bigger problems in the future.

How Often Should I Change My Air Filter?

As with an air filter in your car, you’ll need to change your home’s air filter periodically. As you run your heating and cooling system, your air filter removes dirt, dust, and other airborne contaminants from the air, trapping them in the fibers that make up the filter media. However, once the filter becomes overly full and jammed up with debris, it can’t allow air through to your HVAC system nearly as easily. This leads to inefficiency, extra wear and tear, more breakdowns, and increased costs.

This means it’s an extremely important responsibility for homeowners to change their air filter periodically. We strongly recommend setting a constant reminder on your calendar or in your phone to alert you once a month to check your filter. If your filter appears to be full or dirty, replace it straight away. Always keep a few spare air filters on hand in the event that a replacement becomes necessary—they cost just a few dollars and are available at pretty much every home improvement store.

How Do I Change My Air Filter?

Changing your air filter is extremely simple. First, shut off your HVAC system entirely to make sure nothing turns on while you’re working in it. Then, lift the metal panel that covers your filter and loosen any latches or braces that hold your air filter in place. Carefully slide your filter out and then use a hand vacuum to suck up any dust or debris that may have accumulated just inside your return vent or where the filter sits. Unwrap your new filter and slide it into place with the metal or cardboard support grid facing away from the return register. Then clamp the new filter securely into place and shut your panel again. You’re now free to turn your HVAC system on again and enjoy the cooled or heated air you need.

A practical bit of advice: it helps to have a plastic trash bag nearby so that you can quickly and easily slide the used filter into it. Some of the dust and debris in your filter can be easily disturbed and sent back into the air if you aren’t careful. Try to move the filter as slowly and gingerly as possible and don’t accidentally bump it into things. Throw the filter away in your outside trash to keep the dust and debris out.

If you’ve got an indoor air quality problem or your HVAC system is acting up, turn to the experts from Carter Services! Dial (310) 872-1898 today to schedule a service appointment.