There is something so pleasurable to me about sitting in a hot car after a long day of work in an overly air-conditioned, windowless cube. Opening the car door is like opening an oven, but instead of wincing, I relax into the heat. My muscles start to unhitch themselves and smooth out against the hot leather. After five minutes or so of pure bliss, I crank on the A/C like a good Houstonian, and finish the trek home.
However, what I do not find pleasurable in the least is living without a properly working A/C unit. When your home will not go below 84 degrees Fahrenheit in a humid-plagued city, suddenly the simplest tasks become completely energy depleting. You can’t imagine (unless you’ve been in this unfortunate situation) the sweat you can break when doing as simple a task as folding laundry, or the amount of writhing around in your bed you will succumb to while trying to flatten out to increase your surface area at night in order to sleep, or how too much heat seems to be a catalyst for pointless arguments. This has been our life for the month of June.
You may recall that when Paul and I purchased our home, we were quite put off by the outdated A/C and heating units. Each time we were in the house, we loved everything about it…but found ourselves breaking a sweat (literally). We did our homework and found out the cost of how much it would be to replace the two compressor units. Then at the negotiating table, we asked the owners to drop their price by $5,000, which would cover our costs. They balked and offered $600 off the price, which they calculated is what it would cost to place new Freon in the system. We were sorely disappointed. Finally, they decided to give us $800 off the asking price, plus pay for a year on a Home Warranty extended plan (approximately $475) so that if they A/C units died on us in our first year, the home warranty company would pay the cost. We accepted.
Over the last 9 months we’ve stumbled along with our home warranty company. Our first service call was for the dishwasher when it would not turn on. We paid a $60 service fee only to find that one of us (or the cat—and both of our votes are for the cat) turned off the light switch that gives the machine power. Oops. Then we called in the winter after finally deciding to turn the heat on (it was getting down to the 40s that day), only to find that the heater would not kick out any heat. For another $60, we found that the pilot light needed to be relit. Problem fixed. Our third call was for the downstairs A/C unit, and it was made in the break of a sweat after a week of the unit not getting our temperature below 84 degrees Fahrenheit, even though it churned all day, and all night (while writhing in my sheets at night I would calculate the added electricity cost from our unit pumping out lukewarm temperatures through our vents, the warm air and high costs slowly boiling us to death like a frog).
First Service Call
On a Friday afternoon in early June I sat on the couch and read a magazine while a technician worked on diagnosing our unit’s problem. I knew what the problem was: it wasn’t working, most likely because it was ancient. I was preparing for the worst though, and assumed that he would “temporarily”, semi-fix the problem and then we would never hear from him or our warranty company again.
Diagnosis: The coils were dirty.
Action Taken: After calling our home warranty company, he was approved to complete the maintenance work of cleaning the coils and flushing out the line before adding all new Freon.
I asked him if he truly thought that cleaning the coils and replacing our Freon would solve the problem, as he had pointed out earlier that the unit was from 1990 and sounded horrible. He said that if he tried to get our warranty company to replace the unit, he could lose his job (I appreciated his honesty). When we paid our $60 service fee and signed the document, he said that if it still is not working, we could call anytime within the next 30 days and someone would come out again for free.
Second Service Call
The next day, I used our digital camera to document the time, date, and temperature (both our target of 76 degrees Fahrenheit and the 82 degrees Fahrenheit the unit was producing), and then I called the company again. Two days later, our same serviceman came back. It was dreadfully hot and we were both sweating the evening out on our couches. He came in, took a look at our target temp and the actual temp, and said “Okay, well I am going to have to get your home warranty company to replace the compressor”.
Diagnosis: System is not working.
Action Taken: Called Home Warranty company to get approval for a new compressor. They approve. *For the record, the technician does not lose his job, as he comes back again later in this story.
We were gleeful, we were dancing around our home, we were feeling great…but the feeling dissipated into frustration and impatience as we sat and waited another two and a half weeks for the part to actually be shipped from our home warranty’s warehouse to the A/C company.
Third Service Call
I get a call at 9:30 in the morning saying that a technician will be out at our property in one hour to install our unit. After getting approval to leave my job and work at home for the day, I rush out of the office with a smile on my face. The technician comes and installs our system, taking about 3 hours to do so. He measures the temperature of the air coming out, and it is only 77 degrees. I knew from my free energy home audit weeks earlier that the temperature on a working A/C unit should be 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or 20 degrees cooler than the air that is going into the system. He levels with me and says that my system is ancient, and that our technician should have gone up to bat for me with our home warranty in order to get us a new system. After speaking with that same technician on the phone outside, he gives me a weird excuse like “well, try it out for a few hours because it was 85 degrees when I got here, so it may take a lot longer to cool down”. I argued with him that he showed me with his own instrumentation that the air coming out of our vents, after installing a brand new compressor and brand new Freon over an hour ago, was only 77 degrees, and that this means my home would never reach a target temp. in the 60s. He smiled, assuring me that I could call them back in a few hours. I smiled while shaking his hand, assuring him that he would be hearing from me in a few hours.
Fourth Service Call
This time when I call them back (3 hours later, at 80 degrees in our home), our original technician squeezes us in the next night.
Diagnosis: The fan is not running to full capacity.
Action Taken: Replaced fan motor, fan blades, and capacitor.
By the time he leaves the temperature coming out of the vents is below 70 degrees and dropping, and we think this could be it. Except that the next day the compressor shuts off for a period of two hours, even though it never reached its target temp. It does this again the day after that. This time when I call the A/C company, they insist that I have to go back through my home warranty, which I do, and they end up coming out four nights later.
Fifth Service Call
Diagnosis: A valve has gone bad.
Action Taken: Replaced the valve.
While writing this paragraph, I can feel and hear the low hum of our system kicking on. The wave of cool relief down my back makes me smile very appreciatively, albeit with an air of newly gained wisdom. I spent the better half of June on the phone, making well over 15 phone calls to two different companies—and trust me when I say that I wish I had all of that time back. But price-wise, we did very well. I priced the components that we had replaced, and the approximate cost would have been $1300, plus labor. All in all, that is at least a $1240 savings for us! Because it took an entire month for our unit to be restored, I complained about our monstrous electricity bill (to come), and they gave me an address to their reimbursement department to compensate us. Again, another win in our favor.
However, our overall lesson learned is to not allow the seller of a home sign us up for a Home Warranty plan instead of fixing the problem themselves, or knocking off enough money from the asking price. In our case, things turned out fine, but it could have been truly ugly.