I have a theory. When you live in your home long enough, and you spend a lots of time working on your home, you get to a point where you often ignore tasks or problems that should be glaringly obvious. These can be big or little, important or innocuous, and even potentially embarrassing that it's been left for so long.

Sure, you may have a mental checklist of things you need to take care of (fix the crack in the ceiling, clean the windows, mulch the garden, etc), but I'm talking more about the things around the house that you're aware of, you don't feel like doing, are still important yet are able to be ignored, and ultimately you have more interesting things to be working on. The various tasks work themselves into "out of sight, out of mind," scenarios where you're able to occasionally notice the trouble spot, but can quickly push it so far to the back of your thoughts that you decide to do nothing about it. In software development, we often refer to these as the "gremlins" of a system.

Nope, I'm not talking about the cute and furry little Gizmo mogwai...

I'm talking about the "get Gizmo wet then feed them after midnight gremlins," like Spike.

We have several of these little gremlins around our home, some far more glaringly obvious than others. Last week, while assessing the air conditioning on yet another 100+ degree sweltering day, I noticed one of the gremlins and decided I should actually take care of it. 

The gremlin I speak of was actually the completely dust covered and filthy air conditioning return intake vent. I realized that there's a pretty good chance this gremlin issue is more widespread than just our house, so why not fill everyone in on this (quite literal) dirty little secret in our home that was exceedingly easy to resolve.

As I mentioned, and anyone throughout the United States and much of Canada from about Colorado to the east coast knows, it's been HOT. 100 degrees by 1:00pm has been common, all time high temperatures have been reached in multiple cities, and air conditioners are working overtime to keep up. It's the once a summer heat that usually only hits for a few days, but we just wrapped up week number two.

At the early stages of this heat wave, I was trying to make sure our air conditioner was in fighting shape to take on the coming blasts from Hades. One of the top maintenance items you can do to help your air conditioner prepare for a heavy duty cooling period is to replace your air filter.

Replacing your filter allows your air handler to run more easily by letting it breathe in a less laborious manner. This reduced load uses less electricity, let's more air circulate, and allows for more effective cooling. Such a simple solution and quick task, you can't go wrong.

However, when I went up to change the filter from the air intake in the ceiling of our second floor hallway, our little gremlin that I had noticed months before, but had long forgotten about, reared it's ugly little head.

The air intake register was FILTHY!

We had purchased and installed this lovely and large period reproduction register on our air conditioner's return vent many years before. This register, which sits just outside our bedroom transom, matches the other vents throughout our home, has a great period look, and it sure beats the simple metal vent covers with the angled slits. 

Almost everything about this intake tends to make me happier than an every day one. From the look in our home, to the fact the hinges are cast iron antiques and actually match the pattern of our front door and first floor decorative hinges, it dresses up an area that is otherwise an eyesore enough to make it is appear into the ceiling. Here's Wendy, painstakingly painting it with an artist's brush, while we were renovating the space.

The one problem that negatively affects this intake though is the fact it is painted with flat ceiling paint and has a lot of dirt in the air that flows through it, resulting in it getting really dirty and looking really bad. Dust from everyday life and ongoing renovations tends to collect in the various details of the register cover, leaving us with a black and fuzzy mess. The dirt and dust then mars the otherwise clean and attractive lines of the intake.

After ignoring the filth for the last several filter changes, I decided it was high time to actually do something about it. Rather than grabbing the paper towels and the spray cleaner, I went for the vacuum. If I had used any liquid based cleaner it would have turned the black dust into a sludge that would have surely stained the flat ceiling paint.

Working first around the permitter of the grate, then in the middle, I slowly sucked the majority of the dust from the surface, nooks, and crannies. I made sure to make as little contact as possible since the paint marks so easily.

It was so simply that I wondered why I had looked at the dirt for so long but just kept pushing it out of my mind. After just a couple of minutes, the grate was looking...well, great!

After I was done vacuuming, I took care of a few stubborn spots with some spray cleaner, then the whole thing was clean once again.

Our air conditioner had a new filter, a clean intake, was ready to fight the heat, and a long standing gremlin had been destroyed.

Feeling energized (isn't it weird how little things can make you feel wonderful?), I looked at the crack in the ceiling I've needed to fix for a few years. After a brief pause, and some contemplative thought, I said to myself, "Nah, I'll take care of that another time." I guess you need to pace yourself.

Do you have any gremlins around your house you need to take care of but have been putting off? How do you motivate yourself to actually do the work? If you have any tricks on getting your rear in gear, I'd love to hear them. It's not like we have any shortage of things we need to get accomplished, but it's always wonderful to check the little things off the list.

Comments 14


7/9/2012 at 12:07 PM
So. Many. Gremlins. I don't even know where to start, haha.
Gremlins are ok, you just need to be sure they don't get the best of you (and that you don't get them wet or feed them after midnight).
7/7/2013 at 1:36 PM
How in the heck do I reach the air intake in our stairwell? Holy mother of pearl, it's DIRTY! And so high up, my vacuum can't reach it. Help!
7/9/2012 at 1:31 PM
Well, I never thought I'd say what a pretty air vent, but what a pretty air vent!

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that I've never cleaned the extractor vent in my bathroom. Ever. I've lived there over 3 years. It wasn't pretty...
Why, thank you.

Our bathroom vent is actually on our list too, I was just looking at it this morning and thinking, "I really need to clean that."
7/9/2012 at 7:29 PM
You'll clean it one day, right after you [insert billion other things to do here]
7/10/2012 at 10:10 AM
OMG, those air return filters. I have to practically take the dining room apart to get to them, since they are under a grate in the floor that usually has my antique treadle sewing machine sitting over it. WHY??? When I replace the furnace some day, high on my priority list (along with fuel efficiency) will be 'easy to replace filters'. Just saying.

My current gremlins are fingerprints and key marks - for some reason, I just noticed this morning how bad the casing on the front door looks. I'll be grabbing some cleaner tonight when I get home.

Oh, and the place that the neighbors darn trumpet vine (terribly invasive, I wish they'd never have planted it) is coming through the back yard privacy fence AGAIN. I just cut it back weekend before last.
Oh boy, I guess we should be thankful we don't have to move heavy furniture to get to our grates. (But then again, we have NO excuse for neglecting them!)

Fingerprints are the worst. Having a white banister definitely makes grubby hand and finger prints really obvious!
7/10/2012 at 10:40 AM
Oh my, it is a good thing we have a dog otherwise our gremlins may kill us in our sleep. Many of ours involve touch up painting. I know it won't take long to do but it just seems to keep moving down the list.
I hear you on the painting touch ups. I don't know about you, but it seems like when I return home from a trip is the time that the gremlins present themselves. Maybe it's looking at your home with fresh eyes? Last year after a week long business trip, I repainted our kitchen door, and several of our cabinets. :-)
7/14/2012 at 6:21 PM
I would honestly suggest that you consider repainting it in a higher gloss paint (at least a satin or semi gloss). I would think that it's a pain in the butt to have to be really cautious and careful dealing with the flat paint, especially for an item that needs at least an annual cleaning.

I had a similar issue when I decided to build a new (custom) attic door. I originally wanted to paint it flat white to match the ceiling, but I opted against this since every time I need to go up there, I'd likely end up getting my dirty paws all over it, and then have to wash it (carefully). I ended up painting it with my regular semi-gloss trim paint, and the difference in gloss really isn't that noticeable. The simple fact that it's white on white makes it blend-in.

Just food for thought.
7/14/2012 at 6:23 PM
Also, I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you have matching antique and repro grates throughout your home. I'm really considering changing mine, since I only have 4, and all of them are rather plain and ugly (and one is mis-matched), but it's still pricey to get them (plus shipping), and it's not very high on my to-do list.
7/14/2012 at 6:24 PM
6 sorry, not 4.
7/14/2014 at 1:07 AM

Could you please tell us where you purchased the reproduction grate?
Thank you.

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