Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Something else for the resumé

I like to do things myself.

Mostly just because I know things will be done right, but also because I'm cheap and impatient.

So when our A/C decided to quit this past Saturday (after coming home from a 20 mile run, no less!), I decided to jump in and see if it was something I could fix myself.

Side Note: I called Jarboe's right away on Saturday to see if they could send someone out, but since it was a weekend they would charge $100 just to come out. It wasn't too hot out this weekend, so we decided we could wait until Monday to schedule a regular service call.

Since I know NOTHING about A/C units, getting started was kind of a slow process. All I knew was that everything was running fine before I left for the gym, and after I got back the A/C would kick on for 30 to 40 seconds before shutting off. A few minutes later it would kick on and repeat the process.

The first breakthrough came from an unlikely source -- my beautiful wife! She remembered that the A/C unit at our apartment did the same thing once when the pipes froze up.

I missed it the first time I looked things over, but our pipes were definitely frozen.

After a few Google searches, it sounded like all I needed to do was change the filter (which was caked with dust), let everything thaw for a few hours, and it should be good to go.

Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy.

Once the pipes had thawed out, I turned everything back on. The pipes got cold again right away, but the main blower in the house (inside the furnace) would still only kick on for around 30 seconds before shutting off.

To make sure the pipes didn't freeze up again, I turned the A/C back off but left the fan "running" overnight, hoping we would wake up and it would be running continuously again.

Sunday morning, it was still repeating the on-off cycle, so I decided to shut if off and do some more searching.

A few forum responses seemed to agree that the next most likely cause could be the capacitor (or capacitator as Jennifer would say). They claimed it was easy to get to and relatively cheap, too (under $50, but usually around $10 or $20), so it was a good next step.

Well that's all well and good, but I couldn't find ours to save my life! (Did I mention I know NOTHING about this stuff??)

It turned out that I needed to remove another panel from the front of the furnace to get access to the blower, and the capacitor was attached to the outside of the blower housing.

There it is!

Unhooking the capacitor was easy. Just shut off the power (you should have already done this...), unplug it, loosen one of the screws from the bracket and slide it out. Don't forget to shut off the power! I killed ours with the main kill switch on the side of the furnace, and there's a special button that kills the power when the front panel is removed, but I probably should have switched off the breaker, too, just to be safe.

So with the capacitor in hand, I headed to Lowe's for some new filters and a new capacitor.

Only they don't sell those.

And the people who do, aren't open on Sundays.


All we could do for the remainder of Sunday was sit on the couch and move as little as possible. It wasn't too bad since we had a fan blowing right at us, but it was really stuffy in our house Sunday night.

So Monday morning I got up earlier than I normally do and headed to a local HVAC store as soon as they opened. When I asked if they had the capacitor in stock, they asked what company I was with.

"Umm... I'm not"

"Oh, we can't sell that to you then."

ARE YOU SERIOUS?? I HAVE A PREGNANT WIFE AT HOME, AND YOU CAN'T SELL ME A FREAKIN' BATTERY??? (Okay, it's a little different, but not much.)

"Okay, do you know anybody who can??"

They directed me to a place even further away from our house, but it was my best shot at this point. This new place could sell me the capacitor because he's a contractor, and they're just a supply shop. Regulations are ridiculous sometimes.

I was in and out of Baker's Heating and Air Conditioning in a matter of minutes with the new capacitor, and it only cost $12.

After 40 minutes of driving back home, I plugged it up and tried it out.

And nothing happened.

The motor didn't even TRY to start.


I tried the old capacitor just for comparison. Still nothing.

Side Note: This is where knowing what you're doing can save you time and money. At this point, I didn't know about the safety button that's activated by the front panel. Since I tried turning everything back on with that panel still off, the unit wasn't getting power, so it's no surprise nothing happened. 
When I talked to the guy at Baker's, though, he said the capacitor was definitely bad, but if the motor would start and get up to full speed before dying, then the motor was probably bad as well.

I had already talked to Jarboe's, and they were sending someone out between 2 and 4, so for a few minutes I thought about just waiting until they came. Pulling the fan and motor out seemed to be a pretty big job, and I definitely felt out of my element.

But it was only a little after 9am, and like I said, I'm impatient.

It looked like the fan would be difficult to get to; there was a pipe and electrical box in the way:

But I just started undoing screws until I cleared a path:

From there, it was just a matter of undoing the electrical connections and unscrewing a few more screws before the fan would pull straight out. I made sure to take lots of pictures just in case I needed to reference how things were wired up, but it was really straightforward.

Once I knew I could get to the motor, I called Baker's back to make sure they definitely had a replacement in stock before I drove all the way back over there.

It was a long drive, but it was absolutely worth it. I can't get over how helpful Ellis was with telling me how to swap out the motor. And he told me to call if I got stuck with anything and he'd walk me through it. I guarantee you I'll be using them again in the future -- you just can't beat that kind of service.

I'm pretty sure they do service calls, too, so even if you don't want to do it yourself, you should give them a call:

Fast forward and I'm back at the house, ready to pull the old motor and install the new one.

It really didn't take too long to switch them out. I did everything he told me to do, but I really took my time with it to make sure I didn't screw anything up.

Once the blower was back together I slid it back in place, screwed it in, and wired it back up. The new motor had an extra wire for an additional speed, so I just put a wire nut on that one and left it unconnected. Everything else matched up color for color.

Then it was time for the real test. And this time, I made sure to hold down the safety button!

Sure enough, it started up right away!

The new motor is reversible, and it was spinning the wrong way at first, so I had to switch two wires on the side to get it spinning the right way.

From there, it was just a matter of putting everything back where I found it and cleaning up.

I made sure it was actually blowing cold air before calling Jarboe's and cancelling the service call.

I've always wanted to be the dad that just knew how to fix things. When we first got our house, I was terrified -- I knew I was responsible for anything that could go wrong with the house, and when you don't even know what all can go wrong, it's definitely an intimidating feeling. I can't tell you how many nights I went to bed worrying about all the things I felt like I needed to be prepared for.

So when I figure something like this out, it really helps to de-mystify some of those unknowns.

And saving money is always a good thing.  All told, this repair cost us $170, plus the gas for the two trips to the store. I'm sure it would have been closer to $500 to pay someone to come out and fix it for us.

Plus, I got the satisfaction of doing it myself (and being my wife's hero).


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