Had the central air conditioning unit go out on us a while back, luckily just before the weather became insanely hot and humid. I’m fortunate in that I have a good friend who knows all about AC units because he used to install and maintain them. So, I figure I’ll call Mike and see what he can make of things. But, before I call, maybe I’ll just take a quick look around and see if I can determine where the exact problem is. I don’t want to bother Mike if it’s something I can fix by myself.
I can hear the compressor running (This is one part I definitely know, because it’s the one that causes my electric bill to look like the National Debt.). I view this as a good thing since I know that replacement cost for a compressor is higher than the price of a new Bentley.
Right away, I see that the fan, which is part of the condenser, or maybe it’s part of the flobingable or some such thing, is not turning. To me, this means that either there is no power to the fan or that the fan motor is kaput. One of the few things I know about AC units is that if the fan doesn’t spin, you ain’t gonna have any cool air. Luckily, the fan is at the top of the framistat or whatever it’s called so I simply (Remember that word.) undid a few bolts, removed the safety mesh and then undid the bolts holding the fan in place.
I can already hear someone saying “Did you kill the power first?.” Don’t be an idiot. I simply (There’s that word again.) turned the thermostat to “Off.” Piece of cake. I then made sure that the fan motor hadn’t seized (No.) and then turned my attention to figuring out how to get the fan and motor out of the unit. I know a place that fixes electric motors and if that’s our trouble, I’m home free. Or at least cheaply. And I won’t have to bother Mike.
Could not, for the life of me, figure out how the wires went into the motor. Kinda looked as if they had just grown right into the motor when they were born. By this time I had convinced myself that the fan motor was indeed the problem and that in order to have it repaired, I’d have to take the fan out.
Since I couldn’t figure out how to get the wires to detach from the fan, I decided to cut them, label them by color and position and then, after the motor was rebuilt, splice everything back together with wire nuts and electrical tape. SIMPLE.
Four wires. Green, the ground wire. One gray, one black and one red. I cut the green, then the gray, then the black. Then, I waited for sensation to return to my body, picked my simple ass up off the ground and set off to look for my wire cutters which turned up about fifteen feet away. While everybody is busy snickering, I’ll pause here to give the technical details.
It seems that turning the thermostat off does not, in point of fact, cut off the power to the AC unit. In fact, if I’d shown the sense that God gave asparagus, I’d have realized that there were TWO separate breakers for the AC unit and that I was dealing not with 110 power but 220. If I had cut the black and red wires simultaneously, I’d have gone up in a puff of smoke not unlike the way Barbara Eden vanishes in reruns of “I Dream of Jeannie” but not as stylishly.
Never let it be said that I am a man who cannot take a hint. After about ten minutes of fairly inventive swearing, I called Mike. I told him what had happened. He didn’t sound too surprised, except for the fact that I was still alive and then he asked if I had fooled with the capacitor. I told him that although I knew what a capacitor was, I had never seen one and wouldn’t be able to differentiate one from a bull moose. He said “Do NOT touch anything else until I get there except for the breakers. Kill the breakers.” An hour later and Mike is on scene. He expresses some minor disbelief in my continuing existence and vast disbelief that anyone could be that stupid and, of course, comments that he thought I’d given up smoking years ago. I tell him that I’m just glad I’m not actively on fire. He double-checks to be certain the breakers are off and also locates another breaker box, previously unknown to me, located outside the house near the AC unit. He kills that also.
Then, ignoring my theory that the fan motor is faulty, he begins disassembly of the control panel, behind which is, to my everlasting surprise, a capacitor. For those of you who, like me, are imperfectly savvy about electricity, a capacitor is (generally) a small device, usually smaller than the palm of one’s hand. What it does is it stores electricity, in a way not too dissimilar to a battery but when it releases the stored electricity, it does so all at once, unlike a battery which discharges slowly. I know that capacitors are dangerous because they can maintain a charge even after whatever they’re part of is unplugged. They were not uncommonly found in TV sets and more than one person has gotten permanent backstage passes to The Hereafter by fooling around with the guts of an old, unplugged TV set and angering a capacitor.
Mike looks at the capacitor and says “THIS is what a bad capacitor looks like.” It was a cylinder about three inches across and about six inches high. There was a noticeable bulge at the top which is what made Mike believe it was shot. Just to be safe, however, he VERY carefully, using a heavily insulated screwdriver, touched the varying posts on top of the cap in order to discharge any remaining power. Then he removed it from the unit and said “Call around and find somebody who’ll sell you one then call me back and we’ll fix this thing.”
Three days later and it’s sweltering hot BUT I have a new cap in hand. Mike comes over, puts in the new cap, puts the fan in without testing it (Odd. He doesn’t think I know what I’m doing!), turns all the breakers on, hits the ”ON” button on the thermostat and, as if by Wizardry, we have cold air. I am of course grateful beyond words that Mike has gone to all this trouble. I ask “How can I repay you?”
He says “Let me know next time you decide to do electrical work.” I inquire why. He says “I’ll enjoy watching the flames.”