My $11,900 tweezers

I had an operation on Thursday and was pretty immobile for the rest of the day and part of Friday. Which was unfortunate, because a puddle of water emerged from below one of our HVAC units and I was in no shape to do anything about it.

My guess was a blocked condensate line, but who knows? The unit is from the 90’s and that’s pretty much by the sell-by date, isn’t it? Anyway, and owing to my mobility, I called the company which thoughtfully put their sticker on the side of the unit and was willing to pay the service call tariff just to get it over with. Besides, who says I’m right about my amateur diagnosis?

The guy comes, pulls one of the panels, wrinkles his brow, and says “Whoa, you have some problems here.” He’s right, of course, there’s a major puddle on the floor, and if you look inside you can see the pan beneath the cooling fins is rusted - and the fins are encased in ice to boot.

Can’t be saved, you see, the rusted pan supports everything else, taking it out at this age would probably destroy e;very thing anyway. New geothermal unit, has to be custom built (of course), for the low, low price of $11,900. Take 12-16 weeks. But if I add $2,000 more they can deliver it in 2 weeks.

Long story short (too late), comes Sunday and I crawl into the HVAC room, pull the condensate line, it’s jammed with rusty bits and some other crud (spider web? Dunno) and I clean it out. Once, still jammed. Clean it out again, this time with some monster tweezers I have, pull out more crud. Put the pipe to my lips and blow through it and after some initial resistance, get it open. Pour in some Clorox. Rinse. Pour in some CLR. Rinse. Feel the bottom of the rusted pan, dry as a bone. Bang on it once or twice, no obvious weakness - just rusty on top.

That, of course, doesn’t solve the ice problem, but thanks to Google I find that the most frequent cause is air-blockage, which means the cooling fins don’t transfer the cool to the air, but just keep getting colder. And water vapor freezes, and there you are.

So I pulled the filters (2, one on top of the other) and find that the condensate water (?) had crept into the cardboard housing, wicked up all around and into the filter mass, and it was all now a gooey mess - and not passing any air at all. Defrosting them, even with a space heater on one side and a hair dryer on the other took a few hours, but it was done.

Turned it on. Voila, system working fine.

I think I’ll pass on the $12k replacement and just run it until it croaks, which I admit might not be the smartest thing but then there are two of them down there, and I can heat/cool half the house with one and move the air around if I need to, as I surely will someday.

Ah, I feel great. I’ll feel better tomorrow when the catheter comes out. (TMI, I know.)


I wish my HVAC problems were so simple. Our AC unit dates from the early 2000s. Which isn’t all that old, but it’s old enough. It was surprisingly cheap to install, and a few years later I found out why.

It is an R-12 system. And it was installed at the time most home ACs were switching to a different, less nasty to the environment, refrigerant. It was basically a clearance unit. I wasn’t quite as smart at the time.

Fast forward about 7 or 8 years, and the AC quits cooling. Fans blow, compressor runs, but no cooling. Call a qualified technician, and he finds out that the system is low on refrigerant - there is a small leak. Probably another fallout of the bargain basement installation. He is still able to recharge with R-12, but mentions that its only possible for a few more months. He also installs a bit of dye which may or may not reveal the leak. It doesn’t.

Here we are, another 7 or 8 or 9 years later, and we’ve got the same thing. No cooling, but the mechanicals work. It’s almost certainly low on refrigerant again. But now it can’t be recharged.

I’m going to have to throw away a perfectly good system - good except for one small leak somewhere - and replace it.

I’m tempted to charge it with a more modern refrigerant. Every place I read says that it’s a bad idea. That the lubricating oil used with R-12 is different and won’t work properly with a different refrigerant. Everything will be destroyed and I’d have to replace the system. Well, I’m going to have to replace it anyway.

I guess that means I don’t have $11,900 tweezers. I have an $11,900 pinhole leak. Similar pain, harder fix.



IMHO, you just bought yourself some time to get a second opinion/quote. Maybe even a third.

With a 12 week lead time, I don’t think you want to wait until it croaks, and then wait another 3 months to have it fixed. Be proactive, and get it taken care of. Maybe the second opinion will have a less drastic solution than “replace” since you got all the ice out. Maybe just change out the housing?

I also think you will run into problems if you ever have a coolant leak. I’m sure the stuff in your system is no longer legal. We had that happen to our unit a few years ago. All the coolant leaked out, and they couldn’t recharge it because it was now illegal. So we had to get a new unit.


1 Like

Ah, I feel great. I’ll feel better tomorrow when the catheter comes out.

Been there. Done that.

My guess is that you’ll feel better tomorrow after the catheter comes out. Just saying.



1 Like

True dedication Goofy! Hope you feel better soon.

Would the new system be covered by the IRA legislation that just passed? Can you wait that long?