Tuesday, June 16, 2015

When noobs try to fix air conditioning.

We had been having very moderate weather due to all the cloud cover from hurricane remnants the past month. That all stopped last weekend.

Last Saturday afternoon we realized it would be 106 by Tuesday - so we decided to fire up the air conditioning to test it out. Bunnies don't take that kind of heat very well. They can not pant like a dog. Heat is a very big deal around the Snarkolepsy household for this reason. It always elicits a bit of panic.

Anyway, we fire up the AC and nothing.

Since it was a Saturday, and we knew from previous experience that HVAC guys do not work on weekends in our city - we started taking it apart to find the problem. (I think they don't work weekends because the parts place is not open on Sunday. I know a lot of these guys are affiliated with a certain company, but i think most of them basically get parts from the same place we do.)

Air conditioning is NOT a DIY project. If you do not know electricity fairly well, you could kill yourself. Seriously. Less bad than killing yourself is killing the entire unit. So HVAC is a tricky project. Killing the entire unit is very costly.

Having a bad HVAC experience, and having a family member who used to do HVAC makes us more bold than most. You could replace half the parts in your unit for the cost of one house call from an HVAC guy. The mark up on these part is breathtaking. And really, there are only about 10 parts inside those machines. Even playing the Russian roulette game we do, you'd almost have a new unit for the price of one house call if you are handy. We don't really know what any of these part do, but you can figure out what some of them don't do. For instance half the parts go to gas. You can rule them out basically. Now you are down to five parts and Russian roulette ensues.

Anyway, we open up the unit and look at the blower motor and figure that is the problem. If it isn't the problem - why not? That thing looked like it couldn't breath at all. All the holes were almost completely clogged. We'd actually replaced one of these before in that bad experience at a previous house. The motor was easy to get out of the housing and life went on. Our unit though would not let the motor go from the housing. We tried three types of penetrating grease. It wouldn't pound out. We thought about fire, but if you heated it up the wrong way you'd make the shaft expand and you'd never get it out. So we tried a control heat with a soldering iron. Of course looking back at it now, that was ridiculous. Nothing would budge this motor and we decided we might just have to buy the motor and the housing.

We get to the parts house early on Monday, and the inform us that we'd mushroomed the shaft by hitting it. They tell us to go home and grind it down, and if we managed to do that - they had a puller. Within an hour we were back. They pull the motor. We are now on our way home with a new motor. We were feeling pretty optimistic. We spend the rest of the day cleaning the housing and putting the motor back in.

Fire it up - nothing. Which was a super bummer. But now we are only down to 4 parts or so. With the new blower motor you also get a new transformer. (correction - capacitor) We figure the next most important part is this box. We don't know what it does, but it's easy to pull out. Things get quite scary after this point.

Tuesday morning we show up at the shop, and the guys are like....... um... we don't think this is the problem. Because we were getting nothing from heat or AC. We tell the guys we will be back on Wednesday morning. I was suppose to be in a conferences all week, and Mr S. had to work obviously. I was already missing the start of my Augmented Reality conf on Monday.

Now we are down to three parts. The next part gets a little nervous making. I don't know electricity well. So, I'm basically a super neurotic OSHA inspector. This wire isn't taped well enough not to ground out. Etc.

Next we think it is box below, but realize both of these parts are one part. And to get them out, there is a ton of scary wiring behind it. These wired go directly to the fuse box. We take the part down, and even thought Mr S. had tested it and wasn't getting 24 volts - we get there and they test the part and it's fine.

Now we get to wire this thing back in. We are down to roughly two parts. And I'm starting to give up hope because we have taken out three parts at this point. Three major parts. Maybe we didn't wire something up correctly, but there hasn't been any smoke. You'd think there would be if the wiring wasn't correct. I resign myself to calling a guy out. It has been almost a week since our first heat spike. The AC guys must have worked through their backlog by now. My Chiropractor has an HVAC family in another city far away, and he said their business had 60 calls before they even got in on Monday.

Saturday comes and we can concentrate only on the AC and not other stuff from life.
Mr S. starts testing through the whole system, jumping whatever to see if the fan motor was wired in correctly. All seems well. He manages to get the blower motor to fire by jumping two leads on this box.

Finally he jumps the thermostat, and the machine is ALIVE! The thermostat is apparently the problem.

Sure it took us a week to fix. But Mr S. fixed it! Next time we should probably start out looking at that first. It still had a display, so we thought it was really unlikely that was the problem. And really it was the newest thing on the whole system. It was the last item we thought would be bad.

I don't regret replacing the blower motor. I'm fairly confident that a lot of AC guys would have replaced it too and charged us three times the price. Once those parts go in, you own them if they were bad or not.


  1. Though it took you a week to finish, at least you now have an intimate knowledge on how your AC works, and would probably be able to fix it again if something goes wrong. And while the parts you’ve replaced wasn’t exactly broken, at least you were able to get better ones, so your AC can run more efficiently. Cheers!

    Tommy Hopkins @ AccuteMP

  2. Air Conditioning is not something to be taken lightly.. It may seem as simple as pressing a button but you should always get your HVAC guys to do it. Safety should come first.. your life or paying a couple guys to check out your window unit?

  3. It’s great that you had the guts to do this on your own, since it’s quite a dangerous thing to do — especially if one isn’t that familiar with it. Anyway, I hope things are doing better with you AC unit now. All the best!

    Rosa Nelson @ HVAC Service Philadelphia

  4. And you call yourself a noob? You should be proud of yourself for finishing this repair in just a week. Haha! After all, you said so yourself than an AC repair could be like a Russian roulette because of how dangerous it could be. I’m glad you took slow but sure steps toward this project, and it turned out a success. :-)

    Lane Pemberton @ Metcalfe Heating & Air Conditioning

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