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posted: 9/28/2013 1:00 AM

It's imperative to change furnace filters regularly

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By Dwight Barnett

Q. I'm having trouble changing the filters in my air conditioner. Every year I have to call a repairman just to change the filters. There are two filters on top of the fan, one on either side of the fan.

To get them out I would have to reach up past electrical wiring and a metal pipe, and I'm worried I might damage something important. I'm a retired widow and I need to do some things myself to save money. Do you have any suggestions to make this process easier?

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A. It is very important to change the filters in a furnace or air conditioner's blower section more than once a year. The dust and dirt that collect on the filters reduce the amount of airflow through the fan. The collection of debris on the filter puts a strain on the fan's motor, reducing the life expectancy of an expensive motor and increasing the energy use of the motor.

The reduced airflow also increases the amount of energy required to cool or heat the home.

What you are describing is a fan on a combination furnace-and-air-conditioning unit with the filters above the furnace fan. The metal pipe is the flue for the furnace and it radiates heat in the winter. You could receive a nasty burn if you were to touch the metal pipe while changing filters in the winter.

The wiring is most likely for the circuit board for the electronic controls of the unit. If you damaged the wiring or the board, the unit could fail and neither the furnace nor the air conditioner would work.

Here is my suggestion for you and lots of other homeowners who have restricted access to their filters. Change the location of the filter access. In your case, a slot big enough to accept a single filter can be cut in the sheet metal above the present location of the filters. A larger filter is installed and can be set at an angle on one of the original brackets now used to support the two filters.

If this does not work out, a secondary support bracket can be installed by an HVAC (heating/venting/air-conditioning) contractor. By setting the new filter at an angle, you are increasing the surface area that is exposed to the air stream inside the ductwork.

Once the new filter access is installed, make sure there is a filter cover to prevent external air from entering the controlled filter section. In some instances, it may be necessary to add an opening in an adjacent wall or ceiling to locate the cold-air-return ducts to install a filter.

Whatever you decide, the filter access needs to be easy to use to encourage regular maintenance of the filters. Your health and the health of the furnace/AC depend on a clean filter.

• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.

Scripps Howard News Service

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