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How to change Filter in HVAC System

how to change filter in hvac system

The filter is a crucial part of every HVAC system, helping it run efficiently throughout its lifespan. Changing the filter regularly ensures that your home has consistent access to clean air and the system operates optimally. Every 90 days is recommended, but that can vary. We’ll review how to change the filter in your HVAC system and answer some helpful FAQs to ensure your system runs smoothly.

How to Change an HVAC Air Filter at Home

How do I change my AC filter? Confirming the correct size and always installing the filter in the direction of the airflow is essential. Changing an air filter at home requires no tools or professional expertise and can be accomplished in minutes.

Follow these simple steps to change your HVAC filter with ease:

  1. Turn off the HVAC system at the thermostat.
  2. Open the HVAC filter door.
  3. Pull out the old filter.
  4. Before installing the new filter, double-check that it’s the right size by comparing it to the old one.
  5. Insert the new filter in the compartment. Make sure the airflow arrows are pointing in the right direction.
  6. Replace the filter door.
  7. Turn the system back on at the thermostat.

How Do I Know if My Air Filter Needs Changing?

If you forget how often to change an air filter, there are usually some key signs that a change is due. These clues indicate the need for a filter change and shouldn’t be ignored:

  • Increased energy bills: A clogged filter can interrupt airflow, while dusty cooling coils can make an HVAC system work harder. Either circumstance may increase energy bills by as much as 15%.
  • Worsening allergies: If your family’s allergies suddenly worsen, it could be a sign that the filter is clogged and unable to remove pollutants.
  • Dusty air vents: Dusty buildup around the air vents usually indicates a clogged filter.
  • Can’t remember the last change: If you have no memory of the last time you changed the filter, it’s likely due for a change.

How Long Can You Go Without Changing an Air Filter?

While we recommend changes every 90 days, how often to change an air filter in your HVAC system can vary. Homes with allergy and asthma sufferers, pets, or small children may require a change every 6-8 weeks to ensure optimum air quality. The following factors can also dictate how often to change an air filter in the home:

  • Frequency of use: How often you use your HVAC system will affect how dirty the filter gets. Constant use requires frequent changes, while seasonal or intermittent use necessitates fewer.
  • Size of home: HVAC systems in smaller homes may pump less air, potentially resulting in less frequent changes.
  • Type of filter: Cheaper fiberglass filters require monthly changes, while higher-end pleated filters can go as long as six months without being changed.

What Happens if You Don’t Change Your Filter?

While keeping track of how often to change an air filter can seem insignificant, it could have big implications. If you don’t change the filter in your HVAC system regularly, your home’s air quality can suffer.

A dirty air filter can cause the following problems:

  • Increased energy usage may result in higher utility bills.
  • Your HVAC system works harder, risking breakdowns and repairs.
  • The system can take longer to heat or cool your home.
  • Air quality within the home may decrease due to a higher level of pollutants.

Where is the HVAC Filter Located?

Where is the HVAC filter located in your system? There is almost always a filter in the return duct, where it enters the unit. Larger homes likely have more than one unit, while others may also have filters in return vents in the wall or ceiling. Make sure you change every filter to ensure clean air flows appropriately throughout your home. Here’s how to change filter in HVAC system on a wall, ceiling, and the unit.

How to Change a Wall Filter

Return vents in the wall should appear larger than a typical air duct vent and are usually square or rectangular. Before replacing, ensure your new filter is the right size and that you turn your HVAC system off.

Here’s how to change filter in HVAC system wall vents:

  1. Move the bottom clips on the return vent cover to the open position or remove the bottom screws.
  2. Lift the cover to access the old filter.
  3. Remove the old filter by pulling it outward.
  4. Place the new filter in the vent with the arrow facing into the return, not into the room.
  5. Adjust the filter as needed, ensuring it fits snugly and properly.
  6. Close the grille, move the clips to the closed position, or replace the bottom screws.
  7. Turn the system back on.

How to Change a Ceiling Filter

How do you install an HVAC filter in a ceiling return? Most vent covers have hinges that allow it to hang in place while you work. Confirm that the filter is the correct size and that you’ve turned the system off before beginning.

How Often to Change an Air Filter

Follow these steps to change an HVAC ceiling filter:

  1. Slide the clips on the cover off to the side or remove the screws to open the cover and access the filter.
  2. Pull out the old filter.
  3. Remove any dust from around the return with a damp cloth.
  4. Insert the new filter, ensuring the arrow on the filter is pointing inward towards the return.
  5. Make sure the filter sits flush inside the return.
  6. Close the grille cover, slide the clips into the closed position or replace the screws.
  7. Turn the system back on.

How to Change the Filter at the Unit

While some filters may be visible at the point where the return duct enters the HVAC unit, others may be behind a cover. If your home has two HVAC units, make sure you change the filter at each location, turning the system off before beginning.

How to change filter in HVAC system at the unit:

  1. If there is a cover, remove the clamps that hold it in place.
  2. Pull the cover off to access the filter.
  3. Remove the old filter by sliding it out from the top and bottom metal tracks.
  4. Insert the new filter with the arrow pointing towards the HVAC unit. Slide the filter in as far as possible, ensuring it stays in the top and bottom tracks.
  5. Replace the cover and reposition the clamps.
  6. Turn the system back on.

Considerations for Choosing the Best HVAC Filter

HVAC filters range in their ability to screen out certain particles. If someone in your home suffers from asthma or allergies or if you have a pet, certain filters may be better than others. The different washable and disposable filters below consider these factors to help you choose the best HVAC filter.

Washable Air Filters

Washable or reusable, air filters are highly effective at screening out dust, dirt, and allergens. This also includes pet hair and dander, making it the best HVAC filter for pets. However, these filters must be cleaned every three months to function optimally. Cleaning options include vacuuming with a narrow hose attachment, rinsing the filter under running water, or scrubbing it with a damp soapy cloth. Always allow the filter to air dry completely before replacing it.

Our top pick for reusable filters is an electrostatic filter. This type of filter uses an electrostatic charge that attracts dust and other particles, preventing them from entering your home. This highly effective method makes this the best HVAC filter for allergies and one of the best air filters for asthma. The following pros and cons can help determine if this filter is suitable for your home:


  • Saves money over time by not requiring frequent replacement
  • Highly effective at screening out everyday dust, dirt, allergens, and pet hair
  • Reusability can be considered a “green” option


  • Higher initial cost
  • Filter is only effective when cleaned regularly

Disposable Air Filters

Disposable filters vary in their ability to filter out dust, dirt, and particles that can affect asthma and allergy sufferers. However, they ensure clean air for those without these conditions and adequately protect your HVAC system.

Fiberglass and pleated filters are the two most common types of disposable filters. While fiberglass filters are the least expensive, they generally provide a lower-quality filtering ability. Pleated filters with cotton or polyester folds are considered the better disposable option for filtering out dust and allergens. However, fine particles may still escape pleated filters.

A notable exception to the general performance of disposable filters is HEPA filters. These High-Efficiency Particulate Filters screen out over 99% of air contaminants, making them the best HVAC filter for cigarette smoke.

This list of pros and cons for disposable filters can help you choose the best HVAC filter option for your needs:


  • Cheaper initial cost
  • Fiberglass option provides a cost-effective option for homes without allergies or respiratory conditions
  • Pleated option still provides a low-cost choice with adequate performance for asthma and allergy sufferers


  • Regular replacement can increase costs over time
  • Doesn’t provide the highest quality filtering ability for asthma and allergy sufferers
  • Won’t completely filter out the finest particles

The filter is a crucial part of every HVAC system, helping it run efficiently throughout its lifespan. Changing the filter regularly ensures that your home has consistent access to clean air and the system operates optimally. Though knowing what the best HVAC filter is for you and how to change filter in HVAC system can prevent problems, malfunctions may still occur. When they do, call Dependable Heating and Air for a professional HVAC repair.

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