When was the last time you changed the air filter in your home’s central heating and air conditioning system? Has it been a few months? If it has been longer than that, or you don’t even remember, you need to change it.
You may be wondering:
Why do I need to change my home’s air filter?
What’s the big deal about changing the air filter? To understand why you need to replace your air filter regularly, you need to know what an air filter does. Air filters are designed to capture large particles, dust and debris before it enters your air conditioner. Note that an air filter is not to be confused with an air cleaner, or Indoor Air Quality system, which removes harmful particles and chemicals from the air. The air filter’s primary purpose is to protect your HVAC equipment. This is why your furnace has an air filter as well. Evaporative coolers, also known as swamp coolers, do not use air filters.
Clean Air Filters Allow AC Units to Draw Air Properly
In order to cool your house, the air conditioner draws air from your home into the system. The air filter is typically placed at this entry point. The air goes through the filter and passes through the cold indoor evaporator coil. This cools the air, and ductwork redistributes this cold air back to the house.
What’s the bottom line?
If the air filter is too dirty, damaged or you don’t have one, the debris in the air is going into the air conditioning system. This can cause extensive damage and in most cases, eventually shut down the air conditioner.
A Dirty Air Filter Reduces Energy Efficiency
As dirt and debris builds up on your air conditioner, the unit has to work harder to keep the house cool. Openings become clogged, making it harder to draw in air. The air conditioner then works harder to maintain comfortable temperatures and can cause your energy bill to go up. Basically, the air conditioner is “spinning its wheels” and wasting energy.
Reduces the Life of the Air Conditioner
A well-maintained air conditioner can last 15 – 20 years; however, if the filter is not changed regularly, that time can be shortened. The parts inside the system have to work harder and wear and tear takes its toll on the system. The unit may run normally for a time, but major components will probably burn out and require unexpected repairs or replacement.
Poor Air Quality
Did you know that whatever goes into your air conditioner gets spread through your house? If your air filter is left unchecked, particles like dust and pet dander go into the air conditioner and duct work. Not only does it damage your air conditioner, it spreads through your house. You and your family breathe in the contaminants normally captured by the air filter. Smaller contaminants like germs and bacteria require a specialized air cleaner and UV lights as the air filter is not designed to eliminate those.
Dirty Air Filters Can Lead to Unexpected Repairs and System Faiures
How serious is it to leave your filter unchanged? Forgetting to change or install an air filter can cause your air conditioner to shut down completely. The reason is that there is not enough airflow to the coils. When there’s enough airflow, the air passes over the indoor evaporator coils, and that cool energy is extracted from the coil and transferred into the home through the ductwork.
When the filter is too dirty for air to get through, the coils become too cold because the energy is not being extracted. Water droplets on the coils turn to frost and eventually to a block of ice. When this happens, the unit shuts down. The ice will eventually melt, and the risk of water damage is high because the drain pan is not designed to hold that much water. This is usually what has happened when people call us because their air conditioner isn’t working.
This is one of the most common air conditioner repairs we see. Your HVAC professional only has two choices when this happens: defrost it overnight, which requires you to go without air conditioning, or melt it, which takes several hours. Once the ice is thawed, a new air filter needs to be installed and, the coils and components have to be cleaned, repaired and possibly even replaced.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Many New Mexico homeowners face this problem. It is a costly inconvenience for you and your family because these repairs usually happen when you least expect it.
How to Avoid These Problems
Thankfully you can avoid problems like this by replacing the air filter regularly. Air filters are inexpensive and easy to install yourself and are available at most home improvement stores. If you are not comfortable doing it yourself, TLC’s experienced technicians can do it for you.
If you decide to change the filter yourself, how do you choose the right air filter? It depends on how many months you intend to go between changes. As a general rule, for each month you use the filter, you need one inch of thickness. For example, if you want to wait three months, which is common, you need to buy a filter that is three to four inches thick. It is not suggested that you wait any longer than three months. Keep in mind that not all units are designed for thick filters. Your unit may only accept a one inch, which is fine if you change it regularly.
Because it is so easy to forget about the air filter, you may want to mark the calendar. You can also set a reminder on your phone or set up a Preventive Maintenance Agreement with TLC. When you change your filter regularly, you not only save yourself unnecessary repairs and frustrations, but you also give yourself of peace of mind.