That pesky thing called maintenance {air conditioner filters}

As a homeowner, every once in awhile I figure out something that causes me to have an “ah-ha” moment. Or more like an, “Oh dur, I’m such an idiot” moment.

One of the reasons I blog is to share all my mishaps as a clueless homeowner with you so that hopefully I can help at least one person out there not make the same mistakes I’ve made. No need for the both of us to touch a hot stove, right? Learn from my cluelessness.

Over the last several months Ben and I have been figuring out the blasted air conditioner unit. It really amazes me that I’m even allowed to purchase a home. Shouldn’t knowing how to operate an air conditioner be a requirement for home ownership? Apparently not.

We’ve lived in this house just shy of 2 years. The house was 6 when we bought it, which makes the house about 8 years old now. {I may not know how to operate an air conditioner but I can do math!}

When we moved into the house we noticed several large intake vents around the house.

There are 3 upstairs and 2 downstairs. Five intake vents in and of itself seemed like total overkill, but whatevs. I didn’t design the thing. We were pretty annoyed that the previous owners didn’t have any filters in these intake vents. Like, seriously, were they just sucking anything and everything through the 2 units in our attic? {We have 2 air conditioner units in this house – one for each level.}

So we did what any responsible home owner would do; we went and bought 5 air filters for these vents. And then we were extra responsible and didn’t change any of them for over a year! But that is beside the point. After more than a year the house was not cooling as well so we swapped out all the filters for new ones. But the upstairs was still so dang hot. So we called an A/C guy to come out and figure out why the upstairs bedrooms weren’t cooling off very well.

He told us that the A/C units in the attic each have a hefty filter in the actual unit and by adding the 5 additional filters around the house we were making the units work too hard to suck air through. He also mentioned that we should probably change those big honkin’ filters in the units.

Can I get a whomp, whomp, whomp? Whoops. My bad.

So we took out the 5 filters around the house and all was right with the world. Well, that’s actually not true. We still had to deal with the big fat filters in the units themselves. And can I just note here that up until a few months ago we literally HAD NO IDEA there were filters in the attic? Yup, we are awesome like that.

I know this sounds crazy but I am very partial to only one kind of filter – the 3M Filtrete Filters. (This is NOT a 3M post. I honest to god just love their filters.) I’ve even blogged about my love for these filters here.

I have had a hard time finding these large 4″ thick air filters at any local store so I reached out to True Value Hardware about getting some from them because they have them for sale online! {If you want to order any for your house, make sure they are the correct size first, and here’s the link to the filters.}

Have you heard of True Value Hardware? I’m sure you have because they love working with bloggers. They are so good to me. The fine folks at True Value Hardware kindly sent me several new Filterete filters – two for the units plus several extra for when we need to change ’em out.

Check out how huge these things are:

In order to install them we would have to brave the attic stairs of death, though.

I hate going into our attic! It’s hard to tell from this angle but the stairs are literally right next to that half wall overlooking the foyer. I am terrified I will fall off the stairs and over the wall. Yes, I’m just a little itty bitty bit afraid of heights. How did you know?

So I made Ben brave the stairs ’cause I’m nice like that. He carried our new filters up into the attic and I followed behind with the camera. And no, I didn’t fall to my death, thank goodness.

So like I said before, we have two units up there. Ben is kindly pointing them out for you to see.

Changing the filters couldn’t have been easier. I’m embarrassed that it took us almost 2 years. You’re suppose to change them like every 6 months or so. Whoopsie. Except the Filtrete filters are awesome so you only have to change them once a year.

Okay, so just find the little door on your unit where the filter is stored. Our A/C guy showed us where it was located but honestly I’m sure you can find it. It’s a big door!

Before you go tearing out the old filter just make note of the direction of air flow on the filter so you can put the new one in the right direction.

Pull the old nasty filter out…

And stick the new filter in making sure the little arrow for the direction of air flow is pointing the same direction. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

And now he maneuvers past all the closet doors I made him stick up in the attic. Have I ever mentioned my complete and utter distain for closet doors? Especially in the kids’ rooms? They seriously take up so much floor and wall space. I just hate ’em so I took them all down and shoved them in the attic.

Anyway… Here’s Ben lunging for the other unit so he can swap out that filter as well.

And we are done. What a piece of cake.

Moral of the story? Know whether your A/C unit has a filter in it or not. And if it does, change it more than once every 2 years.

Case in point?… Here are the at-least-2-years-old-if-not-even-older-than-that filters:

I hope you aren’t eating breakfast right now ’cause check out how disgusting this thing is!

That is more than 2 years worth of dust and debris.

It’s no wonder the house is a) always totally covered in dust (seriously, I dust constantly!) and b) our house doesn’t cool very well, especially now that we are in the summer months in Texas, which equate to days and days and days of 100 degree weather.

In fact, check out the temperature upstairs before we changed the filters in spite of the fact that I set it at 76 degrees:

Yes, you read that right. We had our unit set at 76 degrees but the upstairs was up to 86 degrees. Those filthy filters were making it really hard for the unit to cool off the house. And can I just add that once the new filters were in place the house suddenly cooled off so quickly that we had to turn the temperature higher because we were getting cold! Yay for clean air filters and double yay for True Value Hardware for being awesome and sending them to me.

So. What have I learned here? I’ve learned that if you buy a house it’s a good idea to get to know your air conditioning units. Know what type of filters they need. Don’t just assume when you see 5 intake vents in the ceiling that you should put filters in them. And don’t just assume that your unit doesn’t have a filter in it.

I was shocked that our units had filters in them and I was even more shocked when I saw how huge they were. I should probably be embarrassed to admit that to you guys, but you know me, I just say it like it is. And if I didn’t know the unit had a big daddy filter in it, I’m guessing some of you don’t know either.

Promise me you will figure out where your air conditioning unit is located and then go check if it has a filter in it. And if it does, promise me you will check it and change it! No need to sweat our buns off now that it’s summer time. And no need to over-work your unit and cause it to break prematurely. Cause that would suck. A lot. Especially for me in Texas.

{As mentioned above, I was provided with my choice of air filters from True Value Hardware. I was not compensated other than free air filters. All opinions are my own.}

Oh, OH.MEEEE.GOSH!! I totally almost forgot to tell you one last thing…

During our talks with True Value Hardware over the air filters, they invited me to be a part of something pretty darn cool…

Do you want to know what?

True Value Hardware has asked House of Hepworths to be a part of the

2012 True Value DIY Blog Squad!!!!

I promise I will fill you in with all the details next week, but I just wanted to spill the beans real quick now. I don’t have all the info quite yet, but the contract has been signed, the ink is dry, packages have been shipped, and I am officially a True Value Blog Squad-der. And yes, I totally just made up that word.

Stay tuned for all the deets next week.

Okay, now one last thing…

Fess up. Do you have a clue where your A/C Unit is? Do you even know if it has a filter in it? Do you actually change it as regularly as you should?

How to change the filter in your A/C unit. Do you even know you have a filter?><br />
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  1. Wow THanks for the tip! I don’t know where the actual unit is to change that filter. Maybe in our “attic”. I am going to check that cause our electric bills have been crazy and we do not consume a lot of it either. 😉


  2. No joke! The same thing happend to me when we got back from Haven. It was so hot upstairs and my hubbs said it just had to be the air filter. We moved in a year and a half ago…oops I guess we’re almost as guilty!

  3. Hee hee!! I did a/c work when I was in the Navy, and I’m still not that good at changing out the filter! 🙂

  4. I just replaced my indoor & outdoor unit last week. I had 7 com

  5. Oops. Stupid smart phone cut me off. Anyway. I had 7 companies come out to give me quotes. In the process I told them that I use the Filtrete allergen filters. They said that even though it claims to be good for 3 months, change them every month. They said that so much dust get caught in them that the air handler has to work harder & will break much faster. I’m not sure if that’s why mine broke or if it was b/c both units were 31 yrs old. LOL!!!

  6. Well, at least you found out before your air conditioner completely pooped out on your tenants in July in Georgia for lack of maintenance! I’d never lived in a place that had AC before, so I didn’t know you had to MAINTAIN them! Silly us! Our tenants weren’t too happy with us. I’m so happy to hear we’re not the only clueless home owners!

  7. Important question: Did the temperature get any better upstairs???
    I’m in Oklahoma, {almost as hot as Texas}, my brother in law lives in Texas!, and he works for corporate Ace Hardware!
    Oh and duh! I worked for my father as a teenager vacuuming out the dust from seriously huge A/C units. But, alas I need to change my filters also, and clean the outside unit.
    Btw, I hate closet doors in the kids rooms also.

  8. My AC guy said to use cheapest possible filters md change monthly when electric bill comes in. It helps to connect the two, and mostly I remember. We are learning house inside out as we rebuild it from top to bottom system by system. Crazy some of the discoveries as we venture where most homeowners fear to go. Always better after though.

  9. I would love to hear the rationale for putting a/c units in a Texas attic! We just moved here 2 years ago and are facing our first summer in our 30 year old house. To change the filter means going into the stinking hot attic. And what about the poor hvac repairmen? Oh my!

  10. OMG! Thank you for this post…out air conditioner doesn’t have a filter, but our furnace does and I just checked it…totally BLACK! I’m so horrified! We just built this place and moved in 5 months ago…what the heck?!

  11. Yes, yes and almost. In your defense, ours are easy to get through, our unit is in the laundry room. We use Filtrete also. They work so much better than the blue ones…

  12. With my allergies, I’m changing filters constantly! I do have my bi-annual maintenance on my unit tomorrow morning. One VERY important tip…make sure the coils on your outside units are clean! If air can’t flow through them, they the refrigerant inside them can’t cool thus keeping your home very warm and potentially burning up the compressor in the unit. Compressors are $700+ to replace. If you don’t want to pay someone to come clean them, at the very least, spray them with your garden hose and be sure not to flatten the little aluminum fins! If the fins are smashed flat, there definitely isn’t any air flowing through them!

    Your friendly, former refrigeration mechanic 🙂

  13. I keep looking over and staring at our attic door in the hallway. I’m trying to decide it I want to put on my big girl pants and go up there or wait for David to get home from work in about 8 hours. 8 hot, melting hours! Our upstairs was actually 91 degrees yesterday! INSIDE! We have 2 units, upstairs is never cool, ac seems to run constantly and I had NO IDEA there are filters up there!!! Now I’m so curious I’m almost willing to brave the attic to see!

  14. Maybe because I’m old, but yes, I know where the filters are and how to change them. I had to do that myself when my husband worked out of the country for months at a time. I had to deal with several maintenance type issues on my own. Now that hubby is retired, he’s got all that responsibility again, but it’s always good that I know about that stuff too. Filters also have to be changed in the winter when our furnace is going. It’s good info you’ve passed along to a lot of new home owners, as well as those renting. I doubt the maintenance people in a lot of apartments check or change them automatically for you. Live and learn…

  15. You might think about duct cleaning–it’s amazing how much crud can build up there. New construction can be some of the worst, because a lot of construction debris makes its way into the ducts before grilles are installed. Just an idea. Check for coupons that come in the mail once a month (ours are Val-pak) and you can usually find a good intro rate.

  16. Our a/c unit is outside in our back yard, but it has never worked since we bought our home just about 3 years ago. We live in Denver, CO and it usually doesn’t get too hot, but we are in about a week straight of 100 degre weather and I’m dying! Our house is usually about 89 when I get home around 8:00 pm. I have a very intricate fan rotation system that involves me moving various fans around my house all the time, and I can usually get it down to 84 by the morning. If that doesn’t sound terrible enough, I’ve been woken up multiple times in the unspeakable time of morning to the smell of camp fires. The smoke isn’t really that close to me, but since a good portion of Colorado is on fire, smoke is just about everywhere. Hopefully next year we can afford to replace our a/c unit, until then I’ll keep swapping out ice packs to rest on my belly while I’m watching tv.

    Nikki Kelly @ the ambitious procrastinator

  17. I have been wanting to try those Filtrete filters, since I have horrible allergies. We’ve been changing our (cheap) filters monthly, so I get brownie points for that, right?

    But here’s something we learned recently: it’s important to shut off your A/C at the outside unit, lift the fan housing out and clean those fins with a cleanser (which you can probably buy at True Value). The cleanser works better than soap to lift up the grime that builds up on the condenser grill (plain water will just turn that to mud). Once we did that, the A/C was able to expel hot air from the house SO much better that our temperature dropped 10 degrees in under an hour… without changing the thermostat!

  18. I am so sending the husband down to the basement (he is down there anyways working on our basement reno!) to find out if we have filters on our units or not. We just hit the two year mark in our house so it is a perfect time to look.

  19. Thank you! I love these maintenance posts! I never knew you had to change out the filter in the attic and I never thought about the seriousness of cleaning out your dryer lint trap! HoH helping my house be more safe and run more efficient! 🙂

  20. charlie ward says:

    Thanks for sharing your post with us Allison! I came across your article while looking online at new air conditioner units because mine’s just broke and is not worth repairing. I always forget about keeping maintenance of air conditioner filters, but your post has not only entertained me it educated me as well.

  21. oh my gosh what a helpful post! i hate our attic too!

  22. I work for an HVAC company, and I can tell you we DO NOT recommend the 3M filters to anyone. They are far too restrictive and cause your unit to have to work much much harder, which will cause it to fail sooner. I know it’s nice to not “have to” change it for 6 months, but A/C’s are expensive, and that trek to the attic to change a filter more regularly is much better than forking over a ton of money because your unit is overworked. The 3M’s are the equivalent of a really dirty regular filter!

    Also, I second the comment about duct cleaning – all kinds of crud makes it inside (sometimes critters too) before the grilles get put on (the grilles are one of the very last things an HVAC person places, because the rest of the construction damages them). And stay away from the companies that say they can clean your whole house of ductwork for $99 – they only clean just inside the grilles and what they can reach in the ducts. Look for a company with an engine driven vacuum system with various tools that attach to the hoses. They will suck the crud outside of your home into the “vacuum” truck and clean the whole length of all of your ducts, not just the first 5 feet or so. HTH!

  23. What great information you have provided, I have told my husband that we need to stop buying the 3m filters and try different ones.
    Thanks for sharing

  24. Thanks for sharing! Something we do when we change our filter is to write the date we need to change it again on the side of the filter that shows on the outside. I used to put the date I changed it, but then I always had to remember if it was a 3 month filter or 6 month or 1 year. Our filter is in the basement and we’re down there often so it’s easy to check and see if we’re due for a change.

  25. That’s funny that I ran across this today… we just changed our air filter today. Our air was running non-stop but the house was at 82 degrees even though it was set at 72. I felt the registers, and there was almost no air coming out.

    We’re getting our basement finished, and there was a LAYER of drywall dust on the filter. My hubby popped in a new one, and almost immediately there was a huge difference!

  26. our a/c will freeze up during the summer and it is because the filter needs to be cleaned. Ours is not nearly that thick and can be hosed down, and then put back in place.

    And super excited for you on the True Value blog squad thing!! Woohoo! We don’t have in Atlanta or at least not in my area – we have Ace?

    Loved meeting you at Haven too, by the way! you looked super cute 🙂

  27. Since having an expensive repair bill not long after we moved into our new home, I’m downright religious about changing the AC filter at the first of every month.

    I also flush the condensation discharge line with bleach once a month to keep it clean. All it takes is a little gunk in there to cause it to back up and cause big problems. I use an old turkey baster to squirt about 1/2 cup of bleach down the pipe and clogs are a thing of the past!

    Preventative measures, cheap. Repairs, not.

  28. This is what we were told. Use the cheap filters and change monthly. I don’t see how the air can flow as well with the thick filters. Just saying!!

  29. OMG! I am 39 years old and had no idea! We rented a huge house and only 1 intake – 1 filter which seems weird – and 2 thermostats – I am going home now to crawl in the attic! Thank u!

  30. An air conditioner’s filters, coils, and fins require regular maintenance for the unit to function effectively and efficiently throughout its years of service. Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increases.

  31. I just spend over an hour trying to figure this out! Im a single mother and have learned to do a lot of household maintenance and repairs via YouTube, but everything I found made this appear so complicated! Either I didn’t understand the lingo or I couldn’t find where the filter was located because none of them showed a system that looked like mine! I finally did my “mommy go to” which would be go to one of the blogs and you made this sooooo simple! I changed it in less than 5 min!

  32. One of the areas we all forget is the initial air intake louvre to the outside world. This is the source of the air before it hits the main filter system and contains a lot of seed, leaf and pollen debris. Most commercial AC units will use a pre-filter system to protect the main filter. This is not so common on domestic AC and so you should fit a Permatron PreVent filter on the outside of your air intake. You can clean this with a hose or a vac and it stops your main filters from getting dirty as quickly. In the UK these are available via

  33. Nice blog. Thank you for sharing.

  34. @WednesdayBean says:

    It’s funny, I just moved to Texas and just went digging around the attic and couldn’t make heads or tails of where the A/C filters might be so I googled and your set-up looks almost identical to mind, attic stairs, half-wall, A/C units, everything. It didn’t surprise me to learn you’re in Texas, too! I’m glad I’m not the only one figuring all this out! Thanks for the help!

  35. Great information for people out there! Changing these filters is a huge maintenance benefit. If your AC units of your furnace are constantly running on old filters, they have to work that much harder and don’t last as long! Good advice!

  36. Wow thanks a bunch for the blog, ours just started acting up and our home is less than 5 years old and from the pictures you posted, if I didn’t know better I’d thought that was my house my attic and my ac! Going up to check it out! Thanks again

  37. Wow thanks a bunch for the blog, ours just started acting up and our home is less than 5 years old and from the pictures you posted, if I didn’t know better I’d thought that was my house my attic and my ac! Going up to check it out! Thanks again

  38. Hi there. This is an awesome post. Thank you! I think you guys might’ve put your filter in backwards. The big tube is pulling from the air intake vents and flowing towards the unit into the house. I’m pretty sure this is the case. Another AC maintenance tip is to pour 1/2 cup of bleach mixed with 1/2 cup of hot water down each of the open, white AC pipes. Highly technical description, I know. I can see one of these pipes in the photo where you label Unit 1 and Unit 2 with your husband pointing at them.

    I feel like we all need a freaking homeowners class! Oy. I let my sprinkler system run a whole winter the first year we were in the house. I had no idea! Made my wastewater bill super high for the rest of the year. Also in Texas 🙂


  1. […] month I wrote a post about our complete lack of A/C Unit maintenance knowledge. Hopefully our stupidity will be your […]

  2. […] already discovered we are incompetent home owners and had too many air filters in the a/c unit. Now we’ve done yet another project on our quest […]

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