The Heat Pump Blues

So the heat pump died two weeks ago, and we called in folks from a reputable company in Orlando to replace it.  The crew, a heavy set man in his sixties, a skinny guy with a beard, and a short dude sporting a crew cut, showed up fifteen minutes early.  Heavyset wheezed as he worked on the air exchanger in a hall closet.  He explained that he had COPD.  Skinny leaped up a ladder into our attic and threaded new pipes from the east eaves over to the closet.  Crewcut dismantled the old condenser unit and began to install the new one.

My wife and I wore sweaters and jackets and huddled near the space heater I’d set up in the living room.  The crew worked efficiently from 7:45 to 4:30 with a nary a break, and Heavyset looked several times like he was ready to drop.  He told us, as he sat in a desk chair and wiped his forehead, that he’d had open heart surgery a year before and planned to retire as soon as he had trained his replacements.

Once everything got aligned, replaced, connected, charged, we flipped on the unit.  The fan blew in the exchanger, and tepid air flowed out of the vents.  The emergency heat light reddened on the new thermostat, and Heavyset explained that the unit was compensating for the cold air in the house and ducts.

After it ran for ten minutes, the temperature in the house rose from 66 to 67 degrees.  Heavyset decided that the unit was working well enough and called it a day.  I signed a check, and we bid them farewell.

The unit kept running nonstop for the next three hours, and the fan fairly roared in the heat exchanger.  The temperature refused to climb higher than 70, and we had kept the space heater running for part of that time.  Our new air conditioner wasn’t working properly.  And the whirr of the fan produced a high pitched whine that aggravated my wife’s vertigo.  Her ears have remained acutely sensitive to certain frequencies, and I could see her suffering.

I had a frustration melt down, barked some nonsense and slammed a few doors.  I eventually calmed down enough to channel my adrenaline toward fixing the problem.  I messed with the thermostat, but the air flowing out of the vents remained tepid.  I began to fiddle with the air filters in hopes of redirecting the air flow into the air exchanger.  Nothing I did short of removing the filter made the noise go away.  And the house grew colder as we headed into another night of below freezing weather.

We huddled on the sofa under the blanket and considered our options.  Judy said, “We could always move.”  We decided, for the time being, to leave the space heater on overnight, to turn the unit to emergency heat, pile blankets on our beds, and call the crew back in the morning.

Crewcut returned alone early the next day.  He listened carefully to me when I explained the problems, and his ears perked up when I said, “I listened to the condenser, and it would turn on for a few seconds, and then shut down.  It never really ran.”  He went outside and discovered that the outside unit had been overcharged.  He changed the pressure, came back inside and said, “It kept shutting down in self-defense.  It should work now.”

Crewcut used a laser temperature sensor to check the air flowing out of the living room vents, and he reported that all readings were in the low to upper nineties.  The house began to feel less frigid, and I turned off the space heater.  The whine persisted.

Crewcut tried many of the things that I had done the night before, and I said, “I think there must be a gap somewhere in the tray where the filter rests.  Air is getting pulled through the gap, and that’s causing the whistling sound.”

He considered the idea, and then began to peek in and around the platform holding up the air exchanger.  He brought out a roll of duct tape and taped a seam on the right side.  The whistling remained.  He crawled head first into an air intake vent leading up to the underside of the unit and eventually found a hair’s breadth gap between a rubber gasket and the base of the exchanger.  He duct taped the gap and the noise abruptly ceased.

I asked him if his duct tape had a warranty, and he said, “This is steel reinforced duct tape, and the adhesive is super strong.”

It took Crewcut two and a half hours to solve the problems, and I admired his patience and persistence.  He said that Heavyset had ended work too soon the day before, that the crew should have stayed longer to trouble shoot.

I didn’t care now that I knew that I hadn’t wasted fifty-six hundred on a unit that didn’t work.  I felt waves of relief now that the temperature of the house had risen to 73, that the air exchanger, while loud, didn’t whistle, and that my wife no longer suffered.

We wouldn’t have to move after all.


Now I Know Why the Enraged Plumber Drinks


A giant of a man from Ferret Plumbing rang our doorbell.  He stood 6 ft. 3 in. and weighed close to 300 lbs.  He held a tablet and smiled gently as Judy and I explained that we needed a new sink installed in our gleaming new kitchen counter top.  He asked me if it would be glued (hopeful raising of his eyebrows) or clipped (ominous rumbling undertone) in.  I shook out a baggy of clips from the sink’s box.  The plumber’s face fell. He gave me a sad look, held up the tablet and said, “Let’s tote up the charges before we go any further.”

Click, click went his fingers for a minute or two.  Sad smile.  He said, “Got a pencil?  You’re going to want to write these down.  Ready?  It’ll cost you $300 dollars for me to attach the faucet to the sink.”

“What?  Don’t you charge by the hour?”

“We used to.  Now we charge by the job.  Let’s see.  I’ve got to look up the next step:  clipping in the sink.  Then there’s connecting the plumbing.”

“Wait a minute.  You’re breaking this up into three jobs?  Is this going to end up costing us $1000?”

“Yep, that’s about right.”

“That’s crazy!  We bought all the fixtures, and you’re charging a $1000 dollars just to put them in?”

“New policy, sir.  From corporate.  We lose money if we get tied up on a job for five or six hours when we could be going out on more jobs.”

(“That makes no sense,” I thought.  But then I remembered that they charged a fee for just showing up.  That was the money they were “losing”.)

“Forget it,” I said.  “Corporate can go fuck itself,” I thought.

The plumber smiled in relief and trudged out to his van.  It was the end of the day and he hadn’t wanted to do the job.  He returned to the front door to tell me, “They’re going to call you up to confirm that you cancelled the job, but they’ll try to charge you for my visit.  Tell them you met me on the porch, didn’t let me inside, didn’t take a quote for the job.  Come up with a reason.”

After the man drove away Judy said, “I can attach the faucet in 20 minutes.  $300!”

We dug out the instructions and made our first attempt.  A part was missing, a spout base ring.  I drove to Home Despot and exchanged our box for another.  The new box didn’t have a spout base ring either, but the lady at the customer service counter pointed to a metal washer and said, “That’s it.”  I noted that the instructions showed a part with grooves on the inner surface, and she replied, “You can’t pay attention to these directions.  They’re not that accurate.”  “Fuck me,” I thought.

I took the box home and Judy and I attached the faucet to the sink.  But there was a problem:  when we screwed down the base plate tight enough so that it wouldn’t swivel, the spigot couldn’t move from side to side.  Judy said, “That part’s missing.  This just won’t work.  We’ll have to get another brand.”

She looked up designs on the internet, found a few that were highly rated by customers, and went to the Home Despot site.  She looked up instructions for different models, and we chose one that required two simple steps.  I went back to Home Despot, got a refund for the faucet (“Why are you returning this, sir?”  “It’s missing a part.  This is the second one we’ve tried, and both boxes are missing a spout base ring.  I don’t know if they changed the design and didn’t bother to change the instructions, but either way this thing doesn’t work!”), and returned home with the new model.  We attached it in ten minutes and saved $300.

The next step was to apply silicone gel around the rim of the sink’s cut out, press the sink into it’s hole, and clamp the underside to the counter.  I fiddled with the clips and couldn’t figure out how to insert the damn screws.  I discovered that they turned lefty tighty instead of righty tighty.  I took one and slid on my back into the cabinet under our counter and said, “Ahhhhrrrrrgggg!” as the edge of the shelf cut into my back.  I reached up and fiddled with the clip, but everything I did, as I tried to follow the vague instructions, pushed the sink up instead of clipping it down.  I began to curse out loud following a family tradition that my father handed down to me:  a high decibel rant that questioned the clip’s parentage and the brains of the dumb**** who designed the goddamned thing as well as the language skills of the (expletive referring to a sexual act punishable by death according to Leviticus 20: 11) moron who wrote the instructions.

Judy remained calm and looked up a video on youtube.  We discovered that the head of the screw in the clip slid into a groove on the underside of the sink.  I flopped down under the sink, said “Ahhhrrrrgggg!” as the lip indented a rib a few sixteenths of an inch, reached up into the darkness, found the groove and slid the clip in.

We applied the silicone, pressed down the sink into the hole, and I began to slide and screw in the clips.  30 minutes later I emerged from the underside of the sink covered in sweat.  My back and arms ached.  Judy put in the drains and sealed them with plumber’s putty. She sealed the edges of the sink on the top side with silicone gel.  I cut two pieces of plastic pipe (tailpieces) using a hacksaw and miter box, and screwed them in place so that the sink drains connected to the drain pipes.  Then I connected the water lines.

Before I opened the water valves I asked Judy if I should place a bucket underneath.  I expected my handiwork to explode under pressure.  Judy said, “What the hell.  Let’s just try it.”

The damn thing worked.  We felt a brief moment of triumph, and then Judy retreated to the bedroom and lay down for a nap.  I pulled out a bottle of whiskey.