Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Ennui of Summer

It's August in South Texas, where daytime temperatures are flirting with that 100-degree mark and the ground and all green, growing things are turning crispy brown despite the sprinkler system's best watering efforts.  I'm packing my bags, getting ready for a trip down to my beachfront condo on Captiva Island to escape the heat.  I'm trading the relentless scorching hot days of Texas for the fresh offshore breezes and daily afternoon showers on an island in South Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, where temperatures are easily 10 degrees cooler.

It was Monday morning, just days away from my trip to Florida and I had no cares in the world, my only quandary being what sandals to pack.  I was sitting at my breakfast table, enjoying my morning coffee.  What could go wrong?

I suddenly realized that it seemed to be getting rather warm in the house.  I got up out of my chair and walked to the thermostat and there, before my astonished eyes, was the readout:  85 degrees and climbing!  That's not good!  The fan was running, and I remembered that it felt appropriately cool when I got out of bed earlier that morning.  This must have just happened.

A quick check outside and indeed....the compressor was not running.  Then a quick check of the circuit breaker and it had been tripped.  I flipped it to off then flipped it back on and it immediately tripped again.  Well, crud!

I pulled out my paperwork for the A/C unit and found the phone number of the company I'd been using for years to service my unit.  They assured me that someone would be out to look at it within the next two hours and that they'd call to let me know they were on their way.  Did I say how much I love this company?
The old compressor is "toast."  It shorted to ground and the
hard start capacitor exploded.

Sure enough....within an hour I got a call letting me know they'd just left their last job and were on their way, would be there within the half hour.  And they were.  As soon as they popped open the panel on the compressor, they identified the problem  The hard start capacitor had exploded.  A check with an ohmmeter showed a ground fault and the compressor was declared DOA.

close up of the exploded start capacitor.  the insides were all
black and melted.  Wow!

We reviewed all of my options for replacement and I chose what I felt would be the best unit for my home, my lifestyle, and my expected tenure in this house.  Because of the Freon regulations and the recent Federal change in SEER requirements, my entire system including the coil, compressor, and furnace would need to be replaced.  For the heart of the HVAC system I went with a 4-ton Trane 20 SEER variable speed compressor.  Not cheap, unfortunately, but definitely the cadillac of systems.

Temperature in the house up to 91 degrees, on the way to 93 degrees.

It's no surprise that the HVAC companies are absolutely covered up with service calls in this, the hottest month of the year in Greater Houston.  So Thursday was the soonest they'd be able to do the install work.  This meant almost 4 days without A/C.  Meanwhile the temperature inside my house had climbed to 93 degrees.

Nice portable a/c units...this one in my bedroom easily cooled
the room, the adjoining large master bath and the huge walk in closet.

And here's another reason why I love this company.  They had two LG portable AC units delivered to my house late Monday evening.  The two young men hauled them in, unpacked them, set them up and showed me how to change the settings with remote controls.  Very cool!

The portable unit in the living area.  A bit of struggle for this unit to get
anywhere near a comfortable temp during the day, because of all the open
space and high ceilings in the living area, breakfast room, kitchen, dining room.
But way better than nothing at all!!

I had them put one unit in my bedroom and the other one in the living area.  The bedroom unit quickly got the bedroom, master bath, even the large walk in closet down to a comfortable temperature within an hour.  The unit in the living area had a much tougher job.  It struggled to somewhat cool the large open area of living area, kitchen, breakfast room, dining room and foyer.  I closed off the laundry room, guest bedroom and bathroom, and office, which helped, but no doubt about it.  The very large open area was a struggle for that little unit.

I went to bed that night, filled with thoughts of dread and frustration.  Dread at the prospects of getting the actual work done on Thursday, so close to my departure the next morning for my Florida trip.  What if something goes wrong?  What if the job spills over to the next day?  Frustration at the unneeded and unexpected expense so close on the heels of my very expensive attic remediation work in January.  Now that I've completed my 50 States 50 Half Marathons quest, I'd hoped to pull back on spending for the next year or so, try to recover a bit and rebuild my savings account.  Now this.

Temperatures soared the next two days.  The little portable A/C units were able to recover overnight and get the house temperature down to 78 or 79 degrees, but it quickly warmed up throughout the day, reaching over 90 degrees in the living area.  The bedroom/bathroom suite stayed comfortably cool throughout the day, but that's not where I was spending my daylight hours.  And it seemed that each day, the house got a little warmer as it accumulated a heat load in the windows and walls, the furnishings, the cabinets and closets. Thursday was not going to come soon enough.

In the midst of this fiasco I needed to get a run or two in, get laundry done in preparation for my trip, and get packed before the distractions of Thursday's service call/installation.  The temperature in my laundry room became almost intolerable as I cycled the loads through the washer and dryer because I kept the laundry room door closed to preserve whatever cool air that little portable AC unit could generate out there in the living area.

On Thursday morning I received a call from the company letting me know that they were loading their gear and equipment and would be getting to my place within the next couple of hours.  I could not wait!

They arrived and with tremendous efficiency got started.  Earlier in the morning I'd pulled the two retracting stairwells down part way to encourage better air flow through the attic and the ridge vents before their arrival.  I knew it was going to be suffocatingly hot up there in the attic.

old compressor and plenum/coil.  

One man got the old compressor disconnected, bled and flushed the lines, and then moved the new compressor into place and started the hook-ups.  The other two crew members got started in the attic disconnecting the plenum coil and the furnace and getting them moved out of the attic.

New Trane unit.  So much bigger and taller than the old
unit.  High-end features and maximum seer rating.

As efficient as they were, it was still a long, hot job to get this done.  The temperature in the living area steadily climbed into the 90's and as miserable as I was, I had to remind myself how miserable it had to be for those two who were working up in that hot attic.

The new coil (left), furnace (center), and plenum (right).  Obviously much
better quality than what was removed.  The coil is a totally different design
with much greater surface exchange area!  Much larger plenum with thickly insulated walls.

By late afternoon they had everything installed, and started charging the compressor unit.  He had me step outside so that I could hear just how quiet this new unit is.  Wow!  I couldn't even hear it until I was standing right next to it, and then it was just a slight humming noise.

Great job, folks!

Good job guys!  Lots of ice water, several bottles of cold Gatorade were donated to their effort, along with nice cash tips for each of them.  "Buy something cold," I said to them as I slipped the folded money into their hands.  They knew exactly what I meant.

Next for me:  hop on a plane to my place on Captiva Island, without worrying about a broken A/C.


  1. It is nice to hear of companies with such great customer service.

    I think your indoor temps were a little warmer than ours during our heat wave. 87 was about as warm as we saw in the house with no A/C

    Have a great relaxing time on the island.

  2. That was really impressive! They quickly arrived with all the AC units that you'll ever need as soon as you called. Talk about good customer service! It’s sad that you had to endure all four days of near 100 degrees weather. At the very least, you won’t have to worry about that anymore. Good day!

    Henrietta Fuller @ Bri-Tech Heating and Cooling