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The Expensive Price of Being Cool and Eco-Friendly

Here in South Central Kentucky, the heat of summer often extends well into fall despite the calendar saying otherwise. Last October, it was so hot on Halloween, I was unable to wear my full costume and was sweating like I'd been running a marathon. My children were surprised to discover their candy was melting and became so uncomfortable that they were more eager to return to the car than to endure the heat for additional sugary confections. We ended the night early and returned to my Chevrolet HHR, completely thrilled to utilize the air conditioning on full blast. The feeling of icy cold air blowing our faces and hair was quite divine.

What do you do when the same heat occurs, but you are home instead of outdoors? What if the technology we are so lucky to have (and take for granted) suddenly fails us? Back in August, the fan on our outdoor unit suddenly stopped turning. There were power surges across the house when it attempted to turn on. I promptly turned off the system and reached out on Facebook for HVAC recommendations. Just in time for my birthday, like a freaking hero, Chris Sanders of Sanders A/C & Heating Inc (based in Cub Run, Kentucky in Hart County) was able to surprise me with a visit days faster than promised. Ten minutes and an affordable fee later, we had a new capacitor and working air.

 

The old capacitor. Quite rusty and old. 

 

I was of course thrilled and very grateful. I have lived on my own without even a window unit when I had my first apartment while driving a Chevrolet S-10 without working air conditioning, so I've suffered before. I just wanted my kids and pets to be safe. Our huskie was panting heavily. Plus, I am unable to work due to my laptop overheating and shutting off. So for many obvious reasons, I was very appreciative to again have air conditioning, never expecting it to fail again so soon.

Around a month later, while watching TV before bed, I noticed the familiar hum of the evaporator coil in the hallway seemed louder. I proceeded to remove the vent panel and discovered the lower half of the evaporator coil had frozen. Not cool...well actually it is cool cause it's ice, but this wasn't a good thing. I turned the system off overnight. The next day, all was well. By that night, same issue. I tried cleaning the filters and the rest of the 'a frame' as I've always done. Despite being thorough, it still froze up every night for a week. So, I tried one last thing. I left the 'fan' on all night without running the coolant. I had hoped perhaps there was just too much moisture build up. After 24 hours of running the fan, the entire evaporator coil was dry, including the drip pan. I turned the air back on and within 20 seconds, there was again the white coating of ice forming. My heart sank deeply into the pit of my stomach, nausea rising fast. 

 
 

Fearing the worst, not only for the system, but for our finances, I reached out to Chris. He had a service job not too far away, so was able to come the same day to take a look. I left the air off and used only the fan overnight. Chris took a look first outside for issues and to check coolant pressure/level. He proceeded to inspect the indoor evaporator coils and found that there was a leak. He utilized a device that would blink upon detection of coolant in the air. With each flash of light, I was torn between how cool the device was to how worried I was at the diagnosis. With my anxiety rising as high as the house temperature (which was a stuffy 82), I awaited his recommendation. 

 
Outdoor unit. 

Outdoor unit. 

 

Chris had the patience of a saint as he answered my zillions of concerns and took the time to explain how different aspects of the system worked and why he recommended what he did. This helped me to better trust his expertise and recommendation. He contacted FRECC for me to help get me set up for the free audit and rebates. He also assisted with obtaining financing so we'd not have to come up with the full amount upfront and with 0% APR promotion thanks to American Standard. After explaining our options (see below) he kindly recharged the coolant to ensure we'd have air a few days (or longer) depending on the leak. This would also help us to determine how dire the issue was and which option was the best solution. 

About Current System

Considering the rust, it's probably the original 10-20yr old system installed with the home. It's running on ozone depleting R22 which has been phased out by the government. You know I strive to be an Eco-friendly human and business owner, so that makes option #2 or #3 (more about that below) the most likely choice. 

  • Outdoor unit: functioning normally, other than the capacitor failure in August (see old capacity in photo).
  • Indoor evaporator coils (a frame): leaking coolant (reason for recent icing) and will need to be replaced.
  • Electric furnace: functioning normally, but equates higher electric bills.


I Need Your Help

Here is where I need advice. Being as this is my first major home repair investment, I want to ensure I'm doing the right thing for our finances, resale value and most of all for nature. Farmers Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation provides a free home energy audit for which I have an appointment the 13th. They will check for air leaks (such as ducts and doors) and provide a free contractor to fix any issues found. This will help ensure less strain on whatever option we choose and may lower current electric bill substantially. They also have a rebate program. Upon conclusion of the audit, we will need to decide which course of action to take.  Provided the weather remains mild the next few weeks, we'll be able to do without using our air conditioning a few days without any major discomfort. 


Our Current Options

These options are from Chris and so may change after FRECC visits on Friday the 13th. Please check back, I will update this post if any changes. Disclaimer: Pricing is approximate and will vary depending upon your service needs, unit type/size and other factors.

  1. $800: Replace the evaporator coil with 5yr warranty. If outdoor unit dies, both have to be replaced due to new 410-A coolant. (Cheapest option if outdoor unit remains working, but risky considering unit's age).
  2. $3400: Replace both evaporator coil and outdoor unit now. Both will have the upgraded 410-A coolant. Keep existing electric furnace. (Least wasteful option considering heat is fine other than higher bills. Slight risk considering age of heat unit).
  3. $5400: Upgrade entire system. Replace both evaporator coil and outdoor unit. Both will have upgraded 410-A coolant. Replace existing electric furnace with heat pump. New thermostat. (Least risk, but highest initial cost. Lower long term electric bills. With a $__?__ rebate via FRECC).
  4. Want to help? Donate: https://www.paypal.me/soulgazephotography
     

All of this has me quite nervous. Chris has great reviews and is licensed and insured, but this is a new experience which is also a pricey one. Anything could go wrong, despite his experience and the unknown has always been a source of anxiety to me. Hopefully, all goes well and I worry for nothing. I'll keep everyone updated on the project as I plan to document the entire process for other homeowners enduring first time replacements. 


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Have you had to do this? Was it the best or worst decision ever? Share your comments, advice or stories below. Thanks for reading!