How Often Should You Change Your Furnace Filters?

Allergies. Asthma.

These conditions collectively affect more than 24 million people across the nation.

But you have the opportunity to lessen a loved one’s or guest’s breathing problem by regularly changing your furnace filters.

Furnace filters might not be at the top of your “to do” list, but you owe it to everyone in your household, including pets with sensitivities, to replace yours consistently.

First, let’s discuss what role furnace filters play.

How Your Home’s Furnace Filters Work

Think of your furnace as your home’s heart. It moves air throughout your residence, circulating it to keep your house at a particular temperature.

However, the furnace itself is unable to tell the difference between clean and dirty air.

That’s where filtering comes into the picture.

Furnace filters look a lot like the filters in your vacuum cleaner or car. They are manufactured so air can pass through them, but particulate and residue remains trapped in their accordion-like layers.

What types of items do most furnace filters grab so they stop affecting your home’s air quality?

Dander, dust mites, insects, human and pet hair, insect droppings, and dirt are all commonly found in used filters.

In other words, your filters are essentially the lungs of your home, screening out all the unwanted particles that would otherwise get into your living and sleeping spaces.

Where to Find Your Furnace Filters

Now that you understand how your filters work, you need to be able to find them to replace them.

If your furnace was installed when you were living in the house, your installer should have walked you through the process of removing and replacing your filter unit.

However, if you recently moved to your home or have never been shown where to go, you might be confused.

Don’t be afraid to actually go to your furnace and poke around a little. As long as you don’t take off any plates or hit any switches, you’re unlikely to do anything that would require a repair person.

Of course, if you can’t seem to spot the place where your furnace filter goes, you can always call a local HVAC professional with excellent reviews. He or she will be able to come to your place and show you where to find your filter if you’re not sure.

How to Get Replacement Filters

After you know where your filter sits in your furnace, you will need to purchase a replacement for your old filter before you remove it.

Again, HVAC pros often sell replacement filters, so if you asked someone to come to your home to help, inquire about buying one from the company.

On the other hand, you can go to any home improvement store and find filters there. You may want to snap a picture of your old filter to use as a guide because you’ll see numerous choices.

When looking around, you’ll notice that filters are rated using a minimum efficiency reporting value, or MERV. Look for a filter with a MERV of at least eight and as high as 11. MERV goes up to 16, but it’s unlikely that you’ll need a filter with that high of a rating.

In general, the furnace filter that you pick as a replacement should be compatible with your furnace in shape, size, and function.

However, you don’t have to get the exact same model if there is one you feel would be better suited to your needs.

For instance, some furnace filters have tighter weaves than others, trapping more dust and debris.

They’ll be more expensive based on what they can do, but if someone in your home has allergies, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or even Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), the extra price can be worth it.

Be sure to get a few replacement filters on hand so you don’t have to keep going back to the store every time you need to switch one out.

Signs that Your Furnace Filter Should Be Removed

After replacing your furnace filter the first time, you’ll want to look for indicators that it’s time to replace it again.

Typically, you should opt for at least twice a year, but this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Certain homes collect more dust than others, and filters can get dirty quickly.

The following indicators are useful to consider when determining whether it’s time for a new filter:

  • People in your home are sneezing more often, even though they don’t have colds.
  • You have begun to notice dust patches collecting in the corners of the room and near the air vents.
  • You can smell a dusty odor when the furnace starts pumping air throughout the house.
  • Your family members with allergies and asthma are getting flair-ups when they are indoors, but the flair-ups seem to subside when they go outside.
  • Guests seem to cough and sneeze when they visit your home.

Remember that when you take out a filter that has been used for at least a week, it will always look dirty.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t working properly. In fact, if it were spotless, you should worry that it wasn’t allowing the air to penetrate the filter layers.

Even if you’re uncertain about the signs, if your filter is a couple of months old, change it and see what happens.

Do the signs go away? You know that the filter was the issue.

How to Dispose of Your Used Filters

Now that you have a basic timeline of when to swap an old filter for a new one, you should know that you can simply allow your garbage service to take away the filter. Furnace filters are not considered recyclable in most communities.

At this point, you should feel confident about handling this homeowner “to do” item. Be sure to share it with others in your home who might be able to do the task, such as your spouse or grown children.

Worried that your furnace might need more than a filter change to operate properly?

See if you recognize these red flags that your furnace requires a check-up.