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.