The Idiot’s Guide to Homeowning: Changing the Air Filter
It was too much to hope the tools would be pink.
I had asked my grandfather to put together a toolbox for me to bring to my condo when I moved in. He gathered what I imagine are the sensible and practical items everyone should have.
I examined them with a sour face. “These are dirty. Uck.”
My grandfather did not react, except to say with total calm, “Jennifer, you’re going to need these, so just put them where you can’t see them and don’t look at them if you think they’re dirty.”
“Ok, fine,” I sighed.
(“Don’t look at it” is another of my grandfather’s pieces of advice for anything that bothers me. Bugs, for instance, excite a mixture of fear and disgust. As a child, warily eyeing a creepy-crawly scurrying toward or around me, I would frantically look away when he, totally unbothered, would say “just don’t look at it.” This also happened as an adult.)
I did need the tools – specifically, the screwdriver – when I finally decided to change my air filter.
Nearly a year after moving in, I had a vague recollection of the home inspector changing it, and of either my real estate agent or my mother telling me to pay attention so I would know what to do. But what I actually paid attention to was the previous owner saying there were extra filters in the closet, and that the unit beeped at 500 hours to let you know to change it.
So, I waited for 500 hours to rack up.
Since I kept it set on 85 during the summer, resisted turning on the heat until around Thanksgiving, and then used the energy saving (read: always freezing) mode, into early March the unit had still run for only over 300 hours.
Sometime mid-winter, I had this vague idea I should probably change the air filter. Instead, I decided to follow the “don’t look at it” approach. It didn’t galvanize my laziness that a co-worker told me she didn’t believe in the need to change filters because the “HVAC people probably have a deal with Lowe’s and Home Depot to sell them.” That bought me a few more weeks of ignoring the issue.
Finally, my worry about breathing gross air overcame my aversion to physical exertion.
The machine is behind a door in a hall closet, so I moved all the crap out of my closet and was just allowing myself to be pleased at my industriousness when I faced what was not a door. Instead, it was a wall with more wall on top and no knobs or handles or strings. I knew the HVAC was behind here but had no clue how to get to it. How did the home inspector get through this Alice-in-Wonderland door? Why didn’t I pay attention like I was told?!
I rapped on it. I jiggled it. I pushed. If a mushroom had floated by, I would have been Mario trying to suss out getting to Bowser for the level-ending fight.
Then, I noticed a small screw at the very top.
With so many other options for putting things together, screws really make me angry. Unlike, say, velcro, screws require extra equipment.
I wasn’t sure unscrewing was the correct solution, so I did it gingerly, expecting the closet to fall apart around me with every rotation.
The top wall became looser and I seemed to be on to something. I lifted it out with some difficulty – it is big, heavy, and unwieldy, with still no handles or grips – and saw the HVAC.
Getting access to the actual air filter was another ordeal, just like getting the wall off as described above, but in miniature.
The filter was a little moldy and dirty but, I was relieved to note, probably not even the most disgusting thing I had seen that week.
The last step was putting the wall back in place, which required my placing it into the gaping hole and trying to balance it with my hip while reaching above to screw it in, and then grunting and yelling as it fell to the floor. This happened eight or 10 times. Bits of the wall fell away as the screw tore into it but couldn’t get purchase. Examining the tattered holes, I was pleased to gather, between grunts and shouts, I hadn’t been the only one to have difficulties getting the top wall back onto the other wall.
Finally, something aligned, the wall stayed in place, and I screwed it in.
I flung the screwdriver into my grandfather’s toolbox and threw everything back into the closet before something fell down or apart. If that happened, I was figuring I just wouldn’t notice if the space was full of crap, and I was very happy about that.
And also grateful that I could now ignore the air filter again for another year.