The idea of your air conditioner failing on a hot day in the middle of summer is a nightmare, especially when you live in the South. It’s one of those things you suddenly realize how important it is when it stops working. Ours decided to stop cooling late one afternoon in the middle of the week after business hours. I didn’t know much about the unit itself or how it functions. So instead I shut off the thermostat and looked up a diagnostic series to troubleshoot what it could be. Little did I know how it would test my limits.
After checking to see that the furnace wasn’t iced up and changing the air filters, I tried it again. Everything sounded normal and it ran but it was blowing hot air. So I went outside to listen and I could only hear a low hum. I flipped the breaker off and pulled the disconnect before inspecting the condenser unit for loose or damaged wires, rodent’s nests, or anything else that might interfere with its function. Using a stick through the grate I was able to spin the fan blades.
After re-reading the troubleshooting guide and exchanging a few texts with an electrician buddy of mine, we guessed it could be the capacitor. He told me once I got the part it was an easy fix. That is as long as I was careful to ensure ALL the electricity to the unit was disconnected. I assured him I knew how and even used my multimeter to check for current.
I didn’t have the part and couldn’t go buy the part at a store (boy I didn’t know how true that was). We opted to open all the windows and turn on the ceiling fans. I have never been more grateful for the vaulted ceiling in the living room. We also have the passive cooling techniques I’ve implemented and the fact that we regularly keep the a/c set close to 80 F for rough acclimation. Thankfully, after nightfall, it was around 75 outside with a light breeze. Just before sunrise, we shut all the windows, blinds, and curtains to trap the cooler air in the house. I set out with a supply store in mind with the goal of returning and fixing the air by noon. Ha.
What I didn’t know until I drove 30 minutes out was that the store I was suggested to get the part at was a wholesaler who did not sell to the public. One of the workers sent me to another store. However, they specifically didn’t sell the part I needed to the public. So I looked online for suppliers and then dropped by yet another store. They didn’t have it in-house and had never carried it. I called all the other suppliers on the list. They were either closed because of the pandemic, which limits my options, or they didn’t sell to anyone who wasn’t a contractor. I’d have to order online.
I found a capacitor with next day delivery and ordered it. When the part came in I again ensured there was no power, discharged the capacitor, and wire by wire installed the new one. Simple. Only when I turned the power back on nothing happened. I looked back over the guide and noted sometimes it takes time for the system to “reboot”. I let that time elapse and still, it hadn’t kicked on.
Recognizing when you are out of your skillset
I didn’t have the parts, tools, or know how to attempt any of the other repairs. So I made the decision to call a local HVAC repair service. I was a little upset that my simple repair didn’t work, but once the tech came out and figured out the issue I was relieved. He reassured me that I successfully fixed one issue. However, the main problem was much larger and not one I would have been able to handle within my repair limits, a bad compressor. He would be able to make the repairs that day!
The most important thing to know is also the most difficult thing to learn: Your Limits.
I know that it doesn’t seem like a big deal to call for a service and that I didn’t have to attempt to repair it on my own. We, like many homesteaders, pride ourselves on being able to handle things that break around the house. Knowing how things function, how to make simple repairs, and knowledge of basic maintenance can extend the useful life of many things. Sometimes a $20 fix can save you $1,000, but sometimes it can’t. It’s okay to admit you don’t know what you’re doing and there is no shame in calling someone who does. Take it as an opportunity to broaden your skill set and learn something from the experience. The learning curve is always the steepest in the beginning.