It’s that time of year again. The time when you come home, turn on your AC, strip off all your clothes, collapse on some soft surface and wait for that cool, comforting breeze to wash over you. But it doesn’t. Ugh. Is your air conditioning broken? Chances are, it’s not.
Your air conditioner is not some sort of miracle machine. It’s a normal machine. Normal machines have normal parts that need normal maintenance and replacement. Your air conditioner is one of them. Please don’t just whack it with your fists in frustration. This will not help anything.
Don’t fret. The most important thing you can do to keep your AC functioning properly is really, really simple. Just change the filter. It’s easy, we swear. In fact, if you can use a dryer, you can do this. And the best part is that unlike a dryer, you only have to change your AC filter once every 30-60 days.
Dryers have lint traps to catch all the, well, lint, that falls off your clothes. ACs have filters to catch all the dirt particles in the air. Just like you have to clean the lint off the lint trap to keep air flowing through your dryer, you have to clean the dirt off your AC filter (or replace it) to keep the air flowing through your AC.
If this sounds like a chore you can skip, think again. Dirty filters kill your unit’s efficiency — raising energy consumption anywhere from 5-15% — which in turn costs you more money.
Now, how you go about this task and how often you need to do it will vary depending on the type of AC unit you have. The first step for either kind of system is to shut off your AC.
For window-mounted units, the filter is generally located in the front of the unit, just below the vents that blow out that delightfully cool air. Look for an access point and slide the filter out.
For central air conditioners, filters are generally located somewhere along the return duct. That’s a really unhelpful way of saying it could be anywhere in the wall, ceiling or in the AC itself. Check your user manual. Once you’ve located the filter, carefully remove it according to the instructions provided in your user manual.
Once you have your filter out, you have a choice to make. Some filters are washable. Just wipe them down with a damp rag and pop them back in. Others must be replaced. If your filter isn’t washable, you should take the old one to your local hardware store and pick out a replacement.
Filters are sorted from 1-12 based on their minimum efficiency reporting value, or MERV. The higher the MERV, the better the filtration it provides. But a higher number isn’t always better. The better the filtration, the more energy needed to pull air through. The more energy needed to pull air through, the higher your electricity bill. You’re probably going to want to compromise a bit here. Go with a filter rated between 6 and 8.
Got it? Great. Now grab your freshly scrubbed or purchased filter and simply pop it back in. Turn on your AC. Enjoy that cool air for the next 30-60 days and repeat.