How One Twig Almost Costs Us Thousands Of Dollars

We went for our (as of now) final camping trip of the season a week ago Friday.  It’s a typical fall in Michigan, where the weather was hot and steamy when we left on Friday, but cold by the time we returned on Sunday.

As we were running around to get everything ready, it was downright uncomfortable in the house.  The temps were only in the low 70’s, but the humidity was stifling, made all the worse when you’re running up and down stairs and in and out of the camper to get everything packed.

I decided that even though we’d be leaving in a couple of hours, there was no reason to exhaust ourselves, and that I was going to turn the air conditioner on.

mb-201309acOur standard temperature setting for the AC is 74 degrees.  When I turned it on, the temp was 76, so I knew that it would run, and probably just long enough to provide some cool down, but more importantly, some relief from the humidity.

I turned it on and at first everything seemed pretty normal as the house seemed to be cooling down, but it wasn’t too long at all (maybe 15-30 minutes), when I noticed something was amiss.

When the system is running, you can feel the cool air throughout the house as it’s coming out.  You don’t necessarily feel the flow, but you can just tell it’s getting cooler.

I wasn’t getting that feeling.  I walked over to the thermostat and saw that it was now 77 degrees.  Yes, the temperature had gone up from when we turned it on.  This is not good, I thought.

I went over to one of the registers to see what was coming out, and it was blowing pretty warm air.  Definitely not cool at all.

Yet I could hear the system running.  The blower was running in the basement, and at first I thought maybe it was at the end of a cycle, where the system turns off the compressor and runs the blower for another minute or two.

Nope.  I could hear the compressor running too (it’s loud).   Something was definitely not right.

I went over to the laundry room window, where you can see the compressor, and I could see right away that the blades weren’t moving.  I don’t much about how they work, but I know it draws in air from the sides (which is why you have to keep the coils free of dust) and blows it up as the powerful fan runs.

Except the fan wasn’t running.

I ran over and turned the system off, and both the compressor and the blower shut down.

I went outside to see what was going on and two things hit me at once.

  1. The unit was hot – I imagine that the system was trying to cool, but without the air flow, it was getting very hot.  The outside of the unit was warm to the touch (not hot), and you could just smell heat.  It had definitely been on its way to overheating before I caught the problem.
  2. There was a stick coming right out of the grate that was also sticking down into the path of the fan.  It was just big enough to stay wedged in there, and I’m guessing it was just thick enough to impede the progress of the fan.  We have some trees in the area, and the chances of it landing exactly where it did and pointing down and everything else were so slim that I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief.

I easily pulled the stick out, and then decided to wait for the unit to cool down.  After waiting a while, I turned it back on, and the compressor started working properly.  Fan and all.

And cool air started coming through the system.

We were home for a few more hours before we left for our trip, and the system cycled on and off several times, and each time had no problems.

Before I found the stick, I had visions of having to replace the entire system.  The entire heating and cooling system is original to the house, which was finished in 1999, so it’s just about 15 years old.  I don’t know if it’s bunk or truth, but they say that most ‘original’ systems generally last 10-15 years.  I’m guessing that the builders don’t put in the top of the line stuff.  I also know from having talked to enough people who have had systems replaced that if you replace one part (either the furnace or the compressor), you are better off replacing both.  So, I was adding up in my head how much this was going to cost, how we were going to pay for it, and the rest.

Then, I found the stick.

Now, I’m hoping that the thing did not in fact overheat, in which case it might have done some damage that will likely shorten it’s life, chances best of failure on the first 95 degree day we get next summer.  I did find it weird that it allowed itself to get as hot as it did without having some sort of shut off.

Would it have burned itself out?  I don’t know.  I’m glad I was home and alert enough to avoid having to find out.

Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that it was a one time thing and that it didn’t cause any long term damage.

Bonus Story

As mentioned, the weather changed during the trip, and by the time we left, it was freezing cold.  We have a couple of plug in heaters that we use when necessary, and we had one going as we were packing up.  I was taking the bedding off, and elbowed one and it toppled from the table to the floor…and stopped working.

We paid $25 for a set of two at Target.  I suppose karma was with me to have some sort of broken heating/cooling system, so I guess I’ll take the space heater getting busted over the air conditioner compressor burning out.

Readers, have you ever had a one in a million type event almost cost you big bucks?  What are some of your near misses (or maybe you weren’t so lucky)?

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