New home - bad A/C - where to go from here?
I just moved into a new home, and the A/C unit isn't working. I have some information about my system... There are issues with the A/C unit that aren't related to the unit itself (such as who is at fault for it breaking, and who is responsible to pay for it to be fixed) - but those issues are for another forum, I'm just interested in understanding how to diagnose / figure out what is wrong, and figure out what needs to be done to get it working again.
The A/C unit and it's "issues"
When we were under contract, apparently something caused the A/C unit to be blowing constantly. We were never over there, but the story we heard was that the previous owner's wife went back there to get something (they moved out and it was vacant for about a month) and it was really cold in the house. I heard that when he went back over, and had to get something worked on.
From the seller's realtor, we learned something about how the a/c unit was "iced over" and that he had to pay $350 in electrical bills... later on I heard that the $350 was for a service call - so I don't know what exactly happened, or what was going on.
When we asked him to ask the previous owner about who serviced it when we noticed it wasn't working shortly after we moved in (clearly, whoever serviced it didn't fix it), we learned that he just "had a friend come over" to look at it. Who knows what the friend did... likely nothing...
The unit itself
The unit is a Rheem unit - model RAMB-036JAZ
serial number 6263F170109566
(on the unit it mentions it was installed in 2001).
- When the A/C is turned on at the thermostat, the fan in the compressor doesn't spin
- On the side of the compressor, there is a button labeled "high pressure reset" - this button appears to be damaged (the little rubber cap for it is ripped off) and appears to be permanently in the pressed state (trying to push it in just for the hell of it, I realized the button was already pushed in)
An HVAC technician took a look at the unit
We have a home warranty, which covers the A/C unit. A service person the home warranty company has do contract work came out and looked at the unit, and told us the compressor is blown. His opinion is that the compressor is blown and that the warranty company would likely not cover it because it was caused by lack of maintenance (which, imho, is a BS excuse - since just about any problem could be classified as a "lack of maintenance" depending on how broadly you define maintenance)
I'm not sure I trust this guy, and here is why:
- He told my wife that he thought our unit was undersized. He told us that we had a 2 ton unit and need a 4 ton unit (using a rule of thumb) for our 2000 sq. foot split level home. (Our unit is, in fact, a 3 ton unit - which I was able to easily determine based on the Rheem product number - so he obviously doesn't deal with Rheem at all)
My wife claimed he sounded like he knew his stuff, so I'm guessing he wasn't a complete idiot. All he really told her, however, was that it was "blown" and that his company would be happy to provide a quote if we wanted to replace it with the 4 ton unit. He did say he would contact the warranty company to see if they would cover the repairs. (He never mentioned anything about any upgrades to ductwork that would be involved in such a replacement, and made it sound like a magic "replace the box and the system works better" kind of upgrade)
What is likely the problem, and what will likely need to be done to get it fixed?
Is there any chance the parts are covered under warranty? From my research, I see that the "Scroll Compressor" has a 10 year limited warranty, and everything else has a 5 year warranty. I'm guessing this guy having his "friend" do something to it may have voided the warranty, and the "Scroll compressor" may not even be the problem.
I have found that I can buy an entire replacement unit for the outside compressor online and have it shipped to my house (obviously I would have it installed by a pro). Is it generally easier to repair a bad compressor or just replace it when you factor in labor and parts?
I do plan to do an HVAC load calc on my house to verify that a 3 ton unit will adequately cool my house - since I'm in a very dry climate (Utah) I wonder if the person installing the previous unit thought enough to look at just the sensible numbers... or if they just looked at the total numbers. If I do end up having to replace it, I want to be damned sure that the replacement is the right size.
Other interesting information
The house was built in 1999, but this A/C unit was installed 2 years later. I have no idea why they would need to replace an AC unit after only 2 years, but should I look at other areas of the house to make sure that there isn't something that would cause units to burn out prematurely? (such as wrong size unit, ducting... etc.?)
Man, that is a can of worms for sure! Numerous problems, but I'll give em a shot:
If you have a home warrentee and haven't had the system worked on yourself, they should honor the warrentee. Period. Nothing has changed since they sold you the warrentee. I hate courtrooms, but I'd persue this one...
You do have a 3 ton system, by the model number. You need a REAL HVAC technician to look at your system, even if you have to pay for it yourself. If you really do have a shot compressor, I'd do my best to make the home warrentee company pay. It is up to them to honor their warrentee. If they think they can win, they can pursue reimbursment from the original owner. But, it was up to them to do an inspection prior to writing the policy. If they failed to do it, they should eat the cost.
Get a QUALIFIED HVAC guy to check out the entire system. It's worth the money, even if you have to pay. You don't get major surgery without a second opinion, don't do it on your house, either.
Did the warranty company's "tech" tell you in writing what wasn't "maintained"? It sounds like a BS manuever on an outdoor fan motor, and probably why that person is their technician,if he can pass the blame to you so they don't have to pay,they will. I agree with a second opinion, and also with a small claims court if they refuse to pay and can't prove what caused the compressor's death. Lack of maintenance in this situation would have to be a condenser coil so dirty the head pressure is sky high, or indoor coil the same causing floodback. Get that second opinion. JMO.
If everything was always done "by the book"....the book would never change.
The damage to the button indicates there was an ongoing problem..
When we find one like that ,it's usually lack of air flow,on short Rheem air handlers,that do not have the the supply duct sized per the instructions.
Sometimes it's undersized ducts.
If you do need a larger system,you'll need larger ducts ,unless yours are a little oversized,which is unlikely.
Considering the cost of the repairs, it'd be worth calling another local AC company (contact your real estate agent, they probably have a list of contractors they use for all sorts of construction work, quite useful if you're new to the area) and get a 2nd opinion.
IMHO, home warranties are a scam. I took the $500 cash instead when I bought my place. Glad I did. I know they wouldn't have covered anything that happened here.
Thanks for the feedback so far
Thank you for all the feedback so far - I have some news - which I think is probably good news...
Yeah, the issues with the warranty company are a pain-in-the-butt...
The techs came back today to look at it. The same guy who came back before, along with someone else. They called back and told my wife that the compressors was EXTREMELY dirty - like, disgustingly dirty and they wanted to clean it. The warranty company wont cover cleaning it, but they gave us a figure of what they would charge and it seemed like a reasonable figure for two guys labor for an hour so we said "ok, go ahead and do it"
2nd Diagnosis (same company): Dirty-as-all-hell Compressor
My wife is at home now and talked to them after they finished up. They showed her a picture of the compressor - I guess it was really gross - it was full of leaves, mud, cotton, and dryer lint (I'm going to put something to redirect the output of our dryer - which is about two feet away from the AC - so it definitely points away from the AC) - They showed her a picture of it, and she said it was gross (too bad I didn't get her to have them email me one, I kind of want to see what it looked like) - The AC vents are blowing cold air now...
Regarding the High Pressure Reset Button
The way the tech explained it is that the button is there to get the thing going again temporarily until it can be serviced - and that the broken button was caused by someone who just kept pushing it and pushing it (likely the previous owner's friend) - but he mentioned that the little circuit in the button shuts down to prevent damage to the compressor and that it actually saved us from having to replace it.
They still have to replace that button, but they said that the warranty company will actually cover that part of it. (Good, the warranty company actually covers SOMETHING!)
Things I'm still going to look into
- Run an HVAC load calc on my house to verify that the 3 ton compressor is the proper size
- Look at the ducting to see if it's the proper size
- Look at a way to prevent tons of nasty crap from getting into my compressor
The techs did mention that they thought our unit was a nice one (nice is relative, of course - I think there are some pretty crappy ones around my neighborhood) - they liked the scroll compressor in it. From my understanding, it's a 12 SEER unit which to me means that unless the thing breaks, I don't think I'll recoup any energy savings for five or more years by replacing it with a more efficient unit... which is good news.
Thanks for all of the expert advice and information
Does what I've been told seem to add up? I'm a lay person, but to me the explanations seem plausible, and in light of the system blowing cold air now (where before it was just blowing air around from the blower in the system) it seems like cleaning the nastiness may have fixed it.
Is there any simple preventative maintenance I can do myself, or is it best to just leave it to you guys?
The techs also mentioned they recommended we have it cleaned out at least once a year to keep it from getting all nasty again.
Can you post some pics of the air handler and supply duct that is attached?
I'd have them check and clean it once a year.Redirecting the dryer vent is a good idea!
Last edited by dash; 06-11-2007 at 06:10 PM.
Ok so it sounds like they cleaned the condensor.
That red button is the high pressure cutout.if the condensor was pluged it will trip on high head and pushing the button will rest it .but it would continue to trip untill the coil is cleaned.
i still have a probloum with then trying to sell you a new compressor.ether the first tec did not no what he was doing or he was a crook.
Good idea to have an ongoing Maint. Service Agreement to catch problems before they balloon into big issues.
Avoid anyone who want to sell you a unit based on "rule of thumb"
Duct sizing extremely important. I find many systems that are choking due to lack of return, poorly installed ducts and overall poor installations. Good airflow is very important to the longevity and economy of your system. Find a reputable contractor who can perform a Manual J, S, and D.
Avatar is a tribute to my Great Grandfather, Andrew Stewart. This pin was one of his advertisements for his heating and plumbing business. I never knew him but must of inherited his love of things mechanical since I am the only blue collar worker in the family
Pictures of air handlers and ducts in the utility room
In response to Dash - I have posted images of the stuff in my utility closet. These images show the ducts and the air handler, and for added bonus - the gas furnace.
Yesterday, the outside temperature was around 80 to 85 and the thermostat was set to around 72 degrees. The AC unit was turning on and running for about ten minutes, then shutting off, then about ten or fifteen minutes later it was running again.
I'm assuming that this is probably ok - since my unit is probably sized to take heat out when it's over 100 degrees outside (I'm in Utah), and for days when it's in the mid 80's it's an oversized unit (so it runs for short bursts at a time) - but since I'm investigating everything anyway I thought I would ask to see if that's normal...
Thanks again for all the help.
Thanks for posting the pics.Your "air handler" is actually a furnace with a cooling coil on top of it.I was concerned about an air handler problem,which you don't have.
Did they look at the indoor cooling coil ,to be sure it is clean??
Prior to signing a maintenace agreement don't they say they have to inspect everything prior to agreeing to take on the equipment and repair at your cost to put it in good working order. If so and they never did too bad on them!
the few that i have seen, HW service contracts stated that the contract signer, in some cases this means a realtor, or ho, ..., certifies all equipment is maintained and in good working order at the time the contract was signed,
granted some Home warranties are pretty shady, and some contractors are VERY shady but protect yourself, don't take the contractors word for the denial make sure a hw rep contacts you and tells you why you have no coverage,
side note some warranty co's offer a second opinion to the customer, if a denial is placed and you had all your services done to the equip. and you think you have been taken, some times a extra charge sometimes not