What to know about cleaning and replacing your air filters

HVAC maintenance is probably one of the most essential things you can do for the long-term durability and energy efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling system. Whether you’re in the midst of a hot Pittsburgh summer or need an abundance of heat to keep your home comfy and cozy in the winter, routine HVAC tune-ups can lessen the frequency or probability of costly HVAC failures, maintain your system’s energy efficiency and even prolong the lifetime of your unit.

One of the crucial aspects of HVAC maintenance is paying attention to your HVAC air filters and making sure they’re clean. If they aren’t, you’ll need to either clean them or replace them, depending on the type of filter you have. Either way, air filter maintenance is stress-free and quite easy for any homeowner to stay on top of.

Here’s what you need to know about air filters.


Why are air filters so important to your HVAC system?

As air moves through your ductwork system and your home, it can pick up considerable amounts of dust, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and other such nasty air pollutants. Air filters help to clean the air prior to it being cooled or heated again by your air conditioner, furnace, or heat pump and redeployed back into your home to keep you and your family both comfortable and safe.

To come to the chief point at hand, trapping and eliminating these particles from your breathing air has two main benefits: enhancing the quality of the air being sent back out into your home and shielding the mechanical components of your cooling and heating system from damage.

Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of why replacing your furnace filter is so crucial to your home’s comfort and your HVAC system’s efficiency.

More dust and allergens in the air can result in health concerns

A soiled or contaminated filter usually means that the blower is dispersing dirty, airborne particles all through your house. These include even tiny microorganisms invisible to the naked eye. This means you and your family will be routinely inhaling polluted air. If you have young children, someone with asthma or other breathing issues, or an elderly family member living with you, this can lead to severe health issues. The bottom line: you want improved air quality in your home.

A clogged filter creates inefficiency and higher costs

A filthy or clogged filter will certainly trigger a boost in your maintenance costs. If your blower stops running as a result of dust or debris particles stuck inside it or if your ductwork requires regular cleaning in order for your system to work as it should, you’ll be regularly spending money on the upkeep of your HVAC system. That’s why we say it’s certainly not worth throwing dollars away repeatedly on repairing and replacing the parts of your heating and cooling system when it makes far more sense to spend that money on just replacing your air filters from time to time.

Put simply, if your air filter is clean, your system will continue to function correctly, and you’ll need to spend less time and money on overall system repairs.

Stress less about your utility bills

Higher usage of energy clearly boosts your utility bills. Your HVAC system may not work properly if sensors are generating issues as a result of clogged air filters. Put simply, the sensors might not register the temperature change and, thus, won’t adjust the amount of power, so it’s being wasted. This means your HVAC unit continually runs on high, squandering even more energy and inflating your utility bill.

The fact is, the Department of Energy has found that dirty filters can result in a 15 percent increase in your home’s energy usage. That’s just one more of the many reasons why regular cleaning or replacing of air filters is essential.

A dirty filter cuts the life span of your HVAC system

A dirty filter indicates your system must work considerably harder to both heat and cool your home. This not only leads to unnecessary wastefulness and a boost in utility bills as just mentioned, but it could also result in your system overheating and burning out. Without a clean filter in place, nothing stops the dirt and debris from building up on your HVAC system’s coils. The caked buildup can lead to a complete system failure down the road.

In fact, at Schultheis Brothers, we have discovered that clogged or dirty filters are the principal source of system failure. Postponing the replacement of a dirty filter reveals that you’ll most likely have to pay considerably more when your system eventually fails due to a dirty filter. Stop waiting around for that to happen and get your air filter replaced immediately. A modest cost now is much better than a huge price to pay down the road.

Okay, just how often should I change or clean my filters?

As a rule, the consensus is that you should replace your air filter every three months.

However, there are several key reasons you should be changing your filter even more often, maybe as often as every month.

People living in your home have allergies or asthma . . .

People who suffer from allergies or respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD can be impacted by a dirty filter as their lungs are more sensitive to dust and debris. Regrettably, this can sometimes lead to serious health issues, including asthma attacks.

If you have people in your home with these ailments, it’s advised the average use of your air filters should be between 20 to 45 days. Any longer periods than that can be detrimental to the health of these individuals.

Pets are members of your household . . .

Many homeowners don’t just reside with people in the house, they live with their pets, too. Whether it’s just one four-legged friend or a full house, animals can shed their hair and other particles that can quickly clog up filters. As a general rule, it’s recommended you change your filters at least every 60 days if there are pets in your household.

The size of your home will often determine the rate of filter cleaning or replacement . . .

The size of your home will also help decide how often you need to change your filter. For example, an HVAC system in smaller homes is expected to pump less air for the same amount of temperature change when contrasted to bigger homes, which obviously will be required to pump a greater amount of air.

This means, understandably, that smaller homes require fewer filter changes and vice versa. However, don’t rely strictly upon this logic all the time – you need to routinely check to see if they need replacing, no matter the size of the house.

That said, should I clean or replace my HVAC filter?

The answer depends on the type of filter you have.

Disposable filters should be disposed of once they become grimy or clogged. These filters are sensibly priced and are constructed with cardboard frames. It’s also a useful idea to keep a couple of these handy so you can simply replace them during the year.

Reusable filters are pricier upfront but can save you money in the long run since you can clean instead of replacing these filters. Rather than cardboard, these filters normally include fiberglass frames.

A quick note: society is inclined to think of “disposable” as “inferior.” That isn’t the case with disposable filters. True, they can’t be washed, but a number of disposable filters do an exceptional job of filtering out particles.

Generally, disposable filters will keep working for about 90 days. But, as we’ve noted, homes with allergy sufferers or pets should think about cycling through filters more often, around once a month.

Cleaning your reusable air filter . . . A DIY blueprint

If your filter isn’t disposable, then it’s washable. Reusable air filters are turning out to be more widespread, and they can last for quite a long time.

You’ll want to wash your reusable filter regularly. While you can get away with washing it around three times a year, we suggest washing it at least once a month.

Why? Well, to begin with, it takes next to no time. You can use the hose attachment from your vacuum to suck up any dust. When there’s lots of build-up, simply let the filter soak for about an hour in a bucket of hot water/vinegar mixture.

Allow the filter to fully air-dry before putting it back in the unit. This helps stop the build-up of mold and mildew in your HVAC system.

Of course, all the spraying and vinegar mixtures in the world aren’t going to mean a thing if your filter is beaten up. If there are tears, holes, or other physical damage, you’ll have to buy a new filter.

How to replace your disposable filter . . . A DIY blueprint

  1. Turn off your HVAC unit so it doesn’t begin running while you’re replacing the filter.
  2. Purchase the correct size filter. To find the size, check the old filter which should have the size printed on one of its sides. If you can’t locate the size of the old filter, use a measuring tape to verify its length, width, and depth.
  3. Be sure your replacement filter has the correct MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating for your system. It will range between 1-12 and point to the quality of the filtration. The higher the rating, the more airborne pollutants you can anticipate your filter eliminating from the air. We advise a filter with a rating of at least 5. If you do find an air filter with a higher rating, you can even consider purchasing a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. Be sure you don’t buy a filter that has a rating over 10 as these can restrict the airflow of your system.
  4. Take the old filter from its place, cautiously inspecting how it was positioned inside the cover or grille. Take the new filter and place it inside, making sure the airflow arrows are pointing into the unit.
  5. After replacing the filter, turn your system back on to assure the filter is placed correctly and the unit is operating as it should.

Keeping your filters clean

Here are a few steps we recommend in helping to keep your filters clean . . .

First, the significance of HVAC maintenance can’t be minimized. By routinely cleaning your filters, you can cut down on the amount of work your filter, and your furnace or air conditioner has to perform. Routinely cleaning around your HVAC unit to prevent it from pulling in dust and debris can also be a big help.

Second, you’ll want to keep your home as dust free as possible. If you don’t have time to dust routinely, think about hiring someone. After all, if businesses can employ office cleaning services to keep their HVAC system free of pollutants, homeowners can do likewise.

Trust Schultheis Brothers for HVAC maintenance and repairs

Whether it’s HVAC filters or any other part of your unit, make sure you look after your HVAC system to extend its service life. If you know your air filter’s not quite right and you’d prefer an expert to come and assess or replace it, reach out to the pros at Schultheis Brothers.


We’re here to help with all your heating, cooling, and filter needs.