When you live in closed quarters with limited outdoor space the indoor air quality inside can be less than exemplary. How bad can it be? How about five times more polluted than the outdoor air. That goes double for apartments, where shared ventilation between units can cause nasty air particles to recirculate in the whole building.
That thought alone might make you wonder what can be done to purify the air inside your apartment. There are two primary options, an apartment air purifier or an air filter. Apartment air filters are designed to clean the air of common pollutants before it circulates through your home.
If you’ve never dealt with apartment air filters before the guide below will help you learn all of the essentials so you can breathe a little easier.
Should You Change Your Apartment Air Filter?
When you rent an apartment, it’s not always clear who is responsible for air filter maintenance. A new air filter should be installed prior to move-in, but that doesn’t mean the landlord is responsible for replacements.
Always check your rental agreement to determine who has to change the air filters for the apartment. If nothing is specified, you may be able to work out a deal with the property manager where they’ll reimburse you for air filters as long as you replace them.
Regardless of who is in charge of the changing, apartment air filters need to be replaced regularly to maximize air quality and HVAC efficiency.
How Often to Change an Air Filter in an Apartment
The general guidelines for how often to change an air filter in an apartment are the same for a single-family house or townhome. Most air filters last 1-3 months.
One to three months is a pretty wide range, but that’s because there are so many things influencing an air filter’s lifespan. They include:
- Number of people in the apartment
- Health condition of people living in the apartment
- Number and type of pets
- Outdoor air quality
- Quality of air indoors
- Indoor smoking
- Air filter construction
Since apartment air circulates more air across a larger variety of units, you may find the air filter in your apartment gets dirtier faster than one in the home. Further, mid-rise, high-rise and walk-up apartments may have more particulate matter circulating in the ventilation than garden-style apartment, causing your air filter to fill up faster.
When you first move in, check your air filter every month to see how dirty the filter gets. From there, you can better gauge your filter replacement schedule.
PRO TIP: Once you know the replacement schedule, place a subscription order for your air filters so that you always have the right number and right sizes showing up at the right time
Locating Your Apartment Air Filters
By now you’ve probably asked yourself, where is my air filter in my apartment? You may actually have access to two air filters if there’s a furnace and AC unit in your apartment. Furnaces are usually in a closet – be it with your laundry machine, your coats, or with your patio chairs on a balcony.
Furnace Air Filter Location
A furnace air filter is located in the blower, but the blower location is different depending on the furnace installation. The furnace filter is located in the:
- Intake side of a horizontal HVAC unit.
- Bottom door of a vertical HVAC unit with upward flowing air.
- Top door of a vertical HVAC unit with downward flowing air.
Don’t have direct access to the furnace? There’s still probably a filter that you can change from within the apartment. The landlord will replace the primary air filter in the blower, but you are likely responsible for changing the air filter at the return air duct connected to your apartment. The air duct register is usually rectangular and the size of a poster. Remove the grill cover to change out the air filter.
AC Air Filter Location
AC air filters can be located just about anywhere, which is why they can be difficult to hunt down. If you have a large apartment you may actually have more than one AC air filter that needs changing.
AC units with a single central air return register should have an air filter in the register. The register is usually located in an open area like a stairway or the hallway ceiling. Remove the register grill and the air filter will be right behind it.
AC units with multiple smaller return registers you’ll find the air filter at the front of the air handler. Air handlers are usually tucked away in the closet of the apartment. There will be a slot with a removable cover in the air handler. Remove the cover to access the air filter.
Buying Air Filters for Apartments
Purchasing apartment air filters can be a challenge. The best air filter for an apartment isn’t the same across the board. You may need a unique fit or custom sized air filter. Or you could have health issues that require a high-filtration filter.
There are a few key variables that have to be taken into consideration to find the best apartment air filter.
Apartment Air Filter Size
First and foremost, the air filter has to fit properly. Your register will accommodate filters up to a certain size and a precise fit is important for efficiency and clean air.
Big box home improvement stores are going to carry a limited selection of apartment air filters. And they won’t stray far from the most common dimensions. If your air filter is outside of the norm you don’t have to settle for a loose-fitting air filter. Online you’ll find two more options: cut to fit and custom sized air filters.
Cut to fit means that a larger filter was cut down to a specified dimension. There are a few downsides with this method. First, there’s a lot of room for error so it still may not fit just right. Cut to fit air filters are sometimes less structurally sound.
Custom sized air filters are just that. They are built based on specific dimensions. This method ensures structural integrity and high performance because it should provide an exact fit.
Read More: How to Measure Your Air Filter
Air Filter MERV Rating
Once you know what apartment air filter size you need it’s time to think about filtration and air flow. We’re talking about MERV rating.
The MERV rating will impact air quality and air flow. Air filters with higher MERV ratings can purify the air of more airborne contaminants, but the tradeoff is less airflow due to more air filter resistance. The system equipment has to work harder to circulate air, which reduces efficiency and causes components to wear more quickly.
When in doubt, check the MERV rating guidelines on the unit. Using an air filter with a MERV rating that isn’t recommended could damage HVAC equipment. If you’d like to try an air filter with a higher MERV rating discuss it with the property manager first. They may be able to verify whether or not it will work.
Read More: All About MERV Ratings
How to Change an Air Filter in an Apartment
Changing an air filter is one of the easiest apartment maintenance chores once you know where the air filter is located and which one will work best for your system. All you have to do is follow these simple steps:
- Turn off the power. There should be a power switch by the HVAC equipment. If you can’t find a way to cut the power to the equipment it’s best to turn off the power to the entire apartment. Better safe than sorry.
- Remove the vent/register cover. You may need a screwdriver to get it off.
- Look for directional arrows. Some air filters must be put in a certain way. Check the existing air filter for directional arrows to determine how the new one needs to go in.
- Remove the old filter. Watch out because it may be dusty and dirty. Having a plastic trash bag handy can help contain the mess.
- Put in the new filter. If the new air filter is properly sized it should insert easily into place.
- Replace the cover/register. Slide or screw the cover back into place and you’re done.
Even if you’ve never replaced an air filter for an apartment before it should only take about five minutes to get the job done and start breathing cleaner air!