How to Replace Your Heat Pump Filter and Why It’s Important

As with most other HVAC units, heat pumps have an air filter that is designed to trap dust and debris. The air filter is an essential part of the system as it helps to prevent all of the important components from damage. Whenever your heat pump runs, air is drawn through the filter and most airborne particles are trapped so they can’t get inside the system. Unfortunately, the filter only has a limited lifespan and will eventually become too dirty to work properly, which is why you need to replace it regularly. To make this easier, here is a full overview of how to replace your heat pump filter and also the reasons why it is so important.

Locating Your Air Filter

Your air filter will generally be in one of two places depending on how your HVAC system is set up. Most commonly, the filter will be located within the return air plenum. This is the large sheet metal box that usually sits just next to the air handler where the HVAC blower and evaporator coil are located.

Although heat pumps can be quite effective at heating on even colder days, most homes in the Pacific Northwest still have some type of auxiliary heating as well. This could be some type of electric resistance heating, but it is still common to find homes that have both a heat pump and a gas furnace. If you do have a furnace, then your air filter will most likely be in the return air plenum that attaches to the side of the furnace.

Some HVAC systems are designed slightly differently and instead have air filters located within the return air vent itself where air is drawn into the system. Smaller homes typically have one large return air vent that is centrally located within the building. For larger homes, there may be multiple return air vents in different parts of the home or possibly one on each floor.

If you’re unsure of where your air filter is, the first place to check is next to your air handler. If you don’t see a filter sticking out the side of the return plenum, you will then want to take the cover off of your return vents to see if the filter is hidden behind it.

Installing the New Air Filter

Replacing an air filter is a simple task that only takes a few seconds, and the process is basically the same no matter where your filter is located. All you really need to focus on is making sure that you put the new filter in the right way as the air has to flow through the face of the filter.

Although both sides of the filter look quite similar, the backside is far more porous. If you put the filter in the wrong way and the air flows through the backside, most dust and debris will still flow through and the filter will have almost no effect.

Luckily, all filters have an arrow stamped on them that shows which direction they need to be installed, and this arrow should always point in the direction that the air flows through your HVAC system. If your filter is in the return plenum, the arrow should point toward your air handler or furnace. If your filter is in the return vent, the arrow should point toward the inside of the duct and away from the vent cover.

How Often Does a Heat Pump Filter Need to Be Replaced?

The general rule is that you should always replace your air filter at least once every three months, but there are many situations where you may need to replace it every month or two. If your home is older, we would typically recommend replacing the filter more often as older homes tend to be much dustier. The same is also true if you have pets since all of the hair and dander will cause the filter to become clogged more quickly. We would also recommend replacing your filter more often during the hottest and coldest parts of the year when your heat pump needs to run much more frequently as this will also cause the filter to clog more quickly.

The easiest way to know when it’s time to replace your filter is to make a note so that you remember to check its condition once a month. If the filter looks dark gray or black, you will want to replace it as soon as possible. If the filter still looks mostly normal but is covered in a thick layer of dust and debris, you may be able to slightly extend its life by gently removing everything that has collected on its face. After doing so, you will then want to hold the filter up to a light to see if you can see through it. If you can’t see through the filter after cleaning it, it also means you need to replace it as soon as you can.

Why Replacing Your Air Filter Regularly Is Essential

The more dust and debris that collects on the filter, the less air will be able to flow through it. This means that less air will be drawn in and forced over the heat pump coil and your system will produce much less hot or cold air. As a result, your heat pump will always need to run for longer to heat or cool your home, which leads to greater wear and tear on all of its components. This could lead to your heat pump breaking down and needing more frequent repairs. Even worse, the added strain could cause the heat pump’s compressor motor to burn out, in which case you will usually need to have the unit replaced.

A clogged air filter will also impact your overall home comfort and lead to your home constantly feeling too warm or too cold since the heat pump isn’t working as effectively. The fact that the unit will need to run longer also means that your energy bills will be much higher than they should be if the filter was clean and your heat pump working effectively.

If your filter is dirty and very little air can flow through it, it will often result in the blower drawing air into the system from other places, such as any gaps or holes in your ductwork. This can also be a serious issue as it can bring dust and debris into the system, which has the potential to damage the heat pump coil and the blower components.

If not enough air is being drawn into the system when your heat pump is cooling, it can also result in the coil beginning to freeze up. This is another serious issue that could ruin your heat pump if you were to continue to try to run the unit while the coil is frozen. Once the coil starts to thaw, all of the water can also overwhelm the condensate drain system. This can lead to water leaking out onto the floor and thus creating a risk of mold growth and water damage.

Although the main purpose of the filter is to prevent dust and debris from getting inside the system and damaging any of its components, it also works to improve your indoor air quality by trapping allergens and other contaminants. This means that a clogged air filter can also worsen your home’s air quality since it will no longer be able to filter out these contaminants from your air.

Tigard’s HVAC Experts

At Specialty Heating & Cooling LLC, we specialize in installing, repairing, and maintaining heat pumps, as well as furnaces, central air conditioners, and ductless mini-splits. We also offer a range of water heater and indoor air quality services, and we serve both residential and commercial customers in Tigard and throughout the surrounding areas. Give us a call today if you have any questions about your heat pump air filter or need to schedule a service appointment.

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