How To Change An Air Filter In 5 Easy Steps

This month, I’m launching a new initiative on The DIY Playbook to teach you everything you need to know to maintain your home. It’s called “Homeownership 101”! I will be sharing a series of video tutorials and blog posts that walk you through the essential tasks to keep your home running smoothly.

I’ve also secretly been working behind the scenes on a digital document that will act as your “home diary”. It will contain a detailed monthly checklist of all of these homeowner tasks so you can stay on top of your seasonal chores. I hope to launch it next month and cannot wait for you to see it. It’s awesome and I think it will be a very helpful resource.

Why Change Your Home Air Filter Regularly?

how to change air filter regularly

When coming up with my big list of regular homeowner tasks, changing an air filter was at the very top of the list. Why? Well, because it’s something that you have to do multiple times a year to keep your HVAC system running smoothly. Yet, this simple step is one that people often neglect!

An air filter’s job is to clean the air circulating through your heating and cooling system.  When air filters get dirty, they restrict airflow to your HVAC system, making it work harder and longer, and leading to higher utility bills! They also have a max holding capacity, so once yours is full, the bacteria, allergens, dirt, and dust can come through into your air supply. That means if you don’t change yours, you’re breathing in all of that nasty crud.

How Often Should You Change Your Air Filter?

how to change air filter

I recommend changing your air filter every 30 to 90 days. I wouldn’t go more than three months without putting a new filter in. The duration between new filters can vary, depending on your home and who lives there. If you have pets or have respiratory problems, you might want to consider changing yours more regularly.

If you’re going through a home renovation, I would change your air filter weekly, until the project is complete. Large reno projects can kick up so much dust and it’s best to be safe with a fresh filter regularly. I would also recommend getting your ductwork cleaned and I explain more in this blog post.

The air filters we choose for our home

The frequency will also depend on the type of filter you buy. Filters with a higher MERV rating are often changed less frequently. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. These range from 1-20 (1 least effective and 20 most effective) and the MERV rating measures the ability to filter particles from the air. For example, hospitals use filters with a MERV rating of 16 or higher! If you have asthma, allergies, or pets, you will probably want to opt for filters with a higher MERV rating.

However, a higher rating doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. If it’s too high for your system, it will cause more harm than good. Take a look at your HVAC system to figure out what rating might be best for you.

5 Steps To Change Your Air Filter

Okay, so now that we realize how important air filters are and how often we should change them, how the heck do we change one? I promise it’s incredibly simple. Here are the five simple steps to follow…

Step 1: Turn Off The Power

first, turn off the power to your hvac system before you change your air filter

First, turn off the power to your HVAC system. You’ll just go to your thermostat and make sure that the heating, cooling, and fan are all set to “off.”

Step 2: Locate Your Air Filter

Finding our air filter on our HVAC system

Now, it’s time to figure out where the heck your air filter is located. In most cases, the air filter will be located directly on your HVAC system. It’s often found between the furnace and the air duct. If you have two HVAC systems, then each one will have a separate air filter. We have one in the basement and one on the second floor of our home.

how to find your air filter

If yours isn’t located there, then it’s likely in a return vent. This vent will be much larger than your normal vents. The return air duct pulls in the air from your home and sends it to your HVAC unit to be heated or cooled.

If you’re buying a new home, ask the home inspector where the air filter is located and get a thorough walk-through of how to change it. If you’re a renter, talk to your landlord and see if they will be changing it regularly or if you’ll need to stay on top of that task.

Step 3: Buy The Correct Size

Buy the correct size air filter for your home

You’ve found the slot and removed the old air filter. I hope it wasn’t too gross and full of debris. Check out the numbers on the sides of the old air filter, because you want to make sure it’s the correct size for your unit.

You want your air filter frame to be a tight fit inside the unit. This prevents air from getting around the filter. If it’s too small, then air can get around the edges, bypassing the filter altogether! The size of your filter is very important.

We have two HVAC systems in our house and we need different-sized filters for each. I buy these in bulk, so I always have a replacement filter on hand. You could also “subscribe and save” so the new filters are sent to your home every few months. This also offers a reminder to change it out for a replacement.

Step 4: Pay Attention To The Airflow Direction Arrow

Pay attention to the airflow direction arrow

If you’re going to take away anything from this blog post, I hope it’s this. Put your air filter in the correct way!

Make sure the air filter faces the correct way

When our inspector looked at our house before we bought it, he found the air filters on both of our units were put in backward.  Palm to forehead. Luckily, we paid attention to our inspector and learned the correct way to install new air filters. If we had just followed the former homeowners, we would have been putting them in wrong forever!

You can write filter Air flow direction on your unit

Look for the arrow on the side of the air filter. The arrow must always face toward the furnace and away from the return duct that carries the air. My units have “airflow (with an arrow)” written directly on them in Sharpie. You can do this too so you don’t forget. If you put the filter in backward, then it won’t work to filter out anything!

Step 5: Mark Your Calendar

Goodbye 2019 our reader survey

You’re almost to the home stretch. Now that you’ve ditched the old filter and you have that new filter in place, set a reminder to change it again. You can use a permanent marker to write the date of installation directly on the air filter and then put a reminder on your calendar to change it in at least three months.

You could also buy Your Home Playbook to stay on top of these home maintenance tasks. I send out a reminder on the first of the month with a to-do list for all of your monthly tasks.

how to change air filter

That’s it! You did it. I told you this was an easy home maintenance task. Now you can rest easy knowing you’re taking care of both the indoor air quality in your home and your HVAC system.

To see this easy step-by-step process via video, check out this Instagram reel.

P.S. We recently replaced our twenty-year-old AC units. I talk about the process, the install, and the price (yeesh!), right here.


The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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