A whistling Air Conditioner (AC) filter can be caused by a dirty filter, low return airflow, closed dampers, a refrigerant leak or large debris in the ducts. Duct leaks, a malfunctioning blower, or incorrectly configured ducts can also cause an AC filter to whistle during operation.
AC and HVAC units are normally quiet when working properly. However, if your AC filter produces a whistling sound, it’s important to determine the cause and fix it sooner rather than later.
In this guide, we take you through all the reasons why your AC filter is whistling, as well as their diagnosis and solutions. We also cover the causes of air vent squeaking and how to stop them from being noisy.
13 Reasons Why Your AC Filter Is Whistling
Whistling noises are almost always the result of escaping air in your air conditioner. Because air can escape from various places in your AC or HVAC system, identifying the source of the whistling noise can be tricky.
Here are all the reasons that can cause your AC filter to whistle:
1. Dirty air filters
Air filters keep dust, allergens, and other undesirable particles out of the air conditioner. These filters accumulate dust and become clogged over time, limiting the airflow.
In a clogged filter, the vibrating length of a fiber is significantly reduced. The shortened fibers vibrate at a high frequency as the air flows. These large-amplitude vibrations of 5000Hz or higher are perceived as a whistle.
Restricted airflow also causes overheating in the air conditioner.
You can check the filter for dirt and debris by removing it.
- Wash the air filters regularly. Proper cleaning ensures adequate ventilation and the normal operation of the unit.
- For some air conditioners, it might be difficult to unclog the filter, and will require a technician.
- Replace the air filters every three months. During summer, when dust and allergen particles in the air are at their greatest levels, the filters should be replaced every month.
If you are worried that your AC filter keeps bending, Plentiful Air has a complete troubleshooting guide to help you fix it available here.
2. Low Return Airflow
Low return airflow is the most common cause of whistling in your air conditioner. This is because of a blockage in the return vents.
The return vents draw air from your home to the AC unit so that the evaporator coils can cool it. If the return vents are blocked, your AC unit has to work harder to pull enough air through the unit. When the high-speed pressurized air passes through the return vents, the air conditioner makes a whistling sound.
The return vents are present in open areas, staircases, or hallways in a AC/HVAC system. The heavy dust, furniture, or boxes in your home can block these return vents. Your system will have minimal airflow if these vents are blocked or covered.
- Remove any obstructions or debris that might be blocking the return vents.
- Ensure there are no pieces of furniture directly in front of a return vent.
3. Blocked Ducts
Many small items such as dust, debris, and hair can get stuck in the ducts of your HVAC or AC system. The air passing through such clogged ducts can cause a whistling sound.
- Cleaning the ducts typically requires professional equipment. Therefore, it’s better to call an AC/HVAC professional. They will clean the debris from ducts.
4. Refrigerant Leaks
Refrigerant leaks can cause an AC or HVAC system to whistle. A refrigerant leak can occur in your air conditioner’s internal valve or refrigerant lines. Increased compressor pressure can cause a refrigerant leak that produces whistling or hissing sounds from your AC system.
A refrigerant leak can severely damage the system the longer you ignore it.
Turn the unit off while you investigate the refrigerant leak in the system.
- To address the refrigerant leaks, contact a qualified technician.
- You might have to replace the entire device, if there’s a serious issue.
5. Too Many Closed Doors
If too many doors are closed, there’s not enough space for air to go back to the return vent.
The air then returns through the little space beneath the doors. This puts pressure on the blower to draw more air inside, which causes the whistling noise.
- If your home’s HVAC or central AC system is connected to multiple rooms, leave some of them open to ensure sufficient airflow.
6. Closed Dampers
Closed dampers can easily cause air conditioner whistling. The dampers are specific to the HVAC system. These are the movable plates with ductwork that allow you to control the air by directing it to specific parts of the home.
The closed dampers can restrict the airflow and produce a whistling sound.
- Locate the dampers close to the inside unit, usually within 4-6 feet of the main duct.
- Once you find the dampers, open them fully.
- Adjusting the dampers is just like opening or closing the lever. It can be cumbersome as you’ll have to check the dampers for various rooms, so you might consider taking the help of an expert.
7. Improperly Configured Ducts
Improperly configured ducts can create a whistling sound in your central AC or HVAC system.
The duct system should supply enough air to the air blower. Wrongly configured ducts will not allow enough air to travel through, raising the air pressure inside. As a result, airflow is restricted, resulting in a whistling noise.
For example, if a return grille in the ductwork is too small to push lots of air through its small cross-section, you will hear a whistling sound.
Usually, the HVAC professional installs specifically sized ducts. Any error in duct configuration can interfere with sufficient airflow, creating noise.
- To fix this issue, you’ll have to replace the ducts with ones of an appropriate size.
8. Duct Leaks
The ducts in your central AC or HVAC system can develop holes or cracks. Air can escape through these duct leaks, producing a whistling sound.
The ductwork has many joints that are sealed together. If these joints develop cracks, the air can escape through them. Leaky ducts also consume lots of energy, increasing your bills.
- You can contact a licensed professional to diagnose if the leaky ducts are causing the whistling noise. They will repair and insulate any cracked ducts.
9. Malfunctioning Blower
If you hear a loud whistling sound from the indoor unit, the problem is most likely a malfunctioning blower.
The blower fan removes warm air from your home and replaces it with cooled air. The fan motor or belt can wear out over time, resulting in a loud whistling sound as your AC or HVAC system runs.
- You’ll need to contact a certified specialist to fix this problem, and they’ll either replace or repair the blower motor.
10. Compressor Issues
Your AC or HVAC system can emanate whistling sounds because of compressor issues. If the pressure inside the compressor gets too high, the whistling sound can intensify to a screaming sound.
- Turn off the unit as soon as you identify the whistling sound from the compressor.
- You can either replace the compressor on your own or contact a professional.
- Start by determining whether or not the compressor has failed.
- Check to see if the AC unit starts properly.
- Spot and inspect the switches in your circuit breaker panel.
- Check if your AC unit is getting power and blowing cold air. If the answer to both of these questions is yes, your compressor is in good working order. If this is not the case, you can proceed.
- Locate the fuse box beside the power relay and ensure it’s in good working order.
- Make sure all of the refrigerant has been removed before uninstalling the compressor.
- Remove the orifice tube, expansion valve, and receiver drier.
- Clean all extraneous materials from the AC or HVAC unit.
- Install the new compressor, orifice tube, and receiver drier.
11. Inappropriate Equipment
If you have replaced the HVAC or AC unit parts, you may hear a whistling sound if the new parts are incompatible.
These mismatched parts can give rise to many problems. One of the most common is restricted airflow, which causes strange noises from your air conditioner.
- You should always seek professional guidance so that you can purchase only the most compatible parts for your HVAC system when necessary.
12. Lack of Return Inlets
An appropriate number of return inlets is essential for good airflow. Lack of return inlets can cause a whistling sound.
- Contact an experienced professional to diagnose the problem precisely. They’ll install new return inlets if required.
13. Manufacturing Fault in the Unit
A new AC or HVAC unit can start whistling just after installation or after a few days of use. This can be due to a manufacturing fault that restricts the airflow.
- Call your AC or HVAC technician to diagnose the problem.
- The only solution to this problem is replacing the entire unit or just the problematic parts.
Why your air vents are squeaking
The air vents in an AC or HVAC system can squeak due to a:
- Lack of return air
- Blocked or shut off supply and return vents
- Narrow air ducts
- Ductwork clogged with debris such as nails, screws, plastic, and other small items.
- Ductwork design problems
- Shut off dampers
- Faulty grille
- A low number of return inlets
- Dirty air filters
How to Stop Vents from Whistling
Here are some general steps that you can follow to fix the whistling air vents.
- Clean the air vents from dust and debris.
- Remove any obstructions, such as drapery and furniture that might block the air vents.
- Clean the air filter.
- Once an appropriate airflow is restored, the whistling sound will go away.
- If this doesn’t fix the problem, call an experienced professional to diagnose the problem.
Some other ways to help prevent whistling from air vents in HVAC or AC systems include:
- Use a different style grille that can direct the air more efficiently. Noisy vents have a lot to do with design. You can try installing an Aluminum-based egg-crate grill (Amazon link) that will reduce noise and improve the airflow.
- You can make HVAC system air vents whistle-free by installing soundproof material such as duct liners, and soffits (Amazon link). Duct liners are porous material that can absorb whistling sounds from air vents.
- Use flexible ducts to reduce the sound when extremely necessary. Flexible ducts can be bent in various shapes. These bents resist the sound waves, lowering the whistling sound.
- Cover a few vents with a magnetic cover. Remember that covering too many vents can build pressure on your air conditioner, interfering with airflow.
- Upgrade your old HVAC or AC system
- Get professional help to stop vents from whistling.
A whistling AC filter is mostly related to restricted airflow. You don’t need to worry about the whistling in AC or HVAC systems, as more than ninety percent of such issues can be fixed. However, you shouldn’t ignore whistling sounds for long. Otherwise, it can damage the whole unit. You can either try a few simple fixes or hire a professional to get rid of whistling.