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How Do You Keep Your Heating and Air Conditioning Running Smoothly?

The answer is simple—change your filters.

What’s the best way to make sure your home’s heating-and-cooling system works when you need it? As simple as it sounds, it’s to change the filters regularly.

Bill Wetzel, co-owner of Gaithersburg Air Conditioning & Heating, says old filters are a big cause of system failures: “Some people don’t realize they have air filters that need to be changed on their units. A filter that’s been in there longer than it should be puts a strain on the system. You can really do some damage.”

When dust and contaminants aren’t filtered properly, they not only can escape into the air; they also can end up on the evaporator, motor, blower, and other parts of your HVAC unit.

Disposable filters generally last 30 to 90 days, Wetzel says. A filter’s packaging should indicate its lifespan, he says.

“But it also depends on the house,” Wetzel says. “If you have five kids and three dogs, replace the filter more often than they say. The more traffic in the house, the more that’s getting kicked up in the carpets. If you’re a retired couple with no dogs, no kids, and you’re nonsmokers, you can double the estimate.”

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Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.