Need to replace central A/C

Hello! I just learned that I will have the replace the central A/C in my two-floor house. The unit is about 10-year old, and yesterday night I noticed a fairly large stain in the ceiling of a bedroom. I checked above it (where the internal "piece" of the A/C is) and there was water underneath it. This "piece" (I don't know what exactly it is) lies just next to the gas heating system.
I must say I don't know anything about A/C systems. I bought the house one year ago, and I am Italian, and nobody (more or less) has central A/C in Italian homes!
Today I called a contractor (which apparently has been in the business for about 30 years), and he confirms there is a serious leak. He also found one in the external unit, which is also a bit rusty. He checked with a "weird" tool that started beeping like hell when a leak was found. He thinks I should replace the whole thing (without being pushy about it), and gave me a quote of $3800 including taxes, installation, two years of free service, a 10-year labor and parts warrantee, and a programmable digital thermostat. I think it's a 12 SEER, but didn't ask the brand. I am asking around, and I sort of understand that the cost sounds reasonable, for this kind of job, but I would really appreciate any advice on the matter. Should I ask for other quotes? I live in Durham (North Carolina). Thanks a lot for any information anyone can give me! Have a great day, Alessandro Tarozzi
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Before doing anything, try to read a little about air conditioners, how they work, and what can go wrong in them.
An A/C recently broke in my house. I spent a little bit of time trying to figure things out. Then a contractor came in and proposed a repair that was unnecessary, but expensive. I knew it because I did a bit of investigation myself. I decided not to hire him. Then another one came in and he made a correct diagnosis and a much cheaper repair. So trying to learn a little bit helps.
Any air conditioner involves inside (house) air passing over a very cold heat exchanger. (called evaporator). When air is cooled rapidly, the moisture that is in it, condensates. It is the same as the water you see on grass every morning -- it is condensate. Any A/C generates condensate water and then it needs to be somehow removed. In most homes, it drains into the sewer if the A/C is central, and outside if it is a window unit.
So if you have water dripping from your A/C onto your ceiling, that means probably that the water removal/drain pipe somewhere is broke, leaking etc. Try to find from where the leak comes. You may be able to fix it yourself by just using silicone tape or regluing some PVC pipes or something simple. It is worth checking it out.
The leak in the outside unit that your contractor found is probably a leak of the cooling agent that circulates between the outside and inside unit. That may be a serious issue or perhaps can be repaired quickly. But at any rate it should be done by the professional.
Do not be in a hurry and do not feel rushed into any decision. You will be very sorry later if you run blindly right now.
Take care of the water leak quickly or you may develop toxic mold that likes to live on damp drywall.
i

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ignoramus28006@NOSPAM.28006.invalid (Ignoramus28006) writes:

The unit in his ceiling that is dripping is a heat exchanger. It may be icing up, or the drain line may be plugged. If it is icing up, that may be a sign of low coolant.

It's pretty obvious that this guy is clueless, but if the old system is over a dozen years old, installing a whole new system may be a real good idea. By the time they locate and patch a coolant leak, clean the coils in the attic and flush or repair the drain, he is going to have a several hundred dollar repair bill. He is going to pay his money for an old, inefficient system that is near the end of its operating life. If it is an old freon system, just recharging it can be pretty expensive.
"Yeah, $3200 for a new system, but for only $600 I can put you in old system that just sprung a leak for some reason. It might run for several years yet, or maybe not. No guarantees." Would you buy it?
The contractor that showed up sounds like he proposed a good long term solution to the problem. This is not the time of year that you want your AC to quit working entirely. It's time to get three bids and go for it.
--
http://home.teleport.com/~larryc

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wrote:

You are suggesting to him to do a big repair based on very little evidence.
So what if AC breaks. We had our A/C break in 96 degree weather. No big deal. Just use ceiling fans and common sense.
i
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you should get a good repair man out, water leaking does not mean you need a new unit, it is probably a cloged drain or something else
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Taroz wrote:

The water is condensation from the A/C evaporator coil which is located in the air handler (that "piece"). The evaporator coil condenses the moisture from the air. This coil is designed to allow the moisture to drip into a pan. There should be a drain coming from the air handler (probably made out of white PVC plastic) that drains the water outside. The PVC line can become clogged with algae and muck and needs to be blown or flushed out from time to time. In some installations there will be a second 'safety pan' under the air handler, and that second pan should have a float switch that turns off the A/C when the safety pan gets full. It sounds like you don't have the safety pan and switch. In any case, you might want to find the end of the line outside and take a water hose and flush out the line from the outside. You must be careful if you do this procedure. You can flood the pan and cause further water damage. If this procedure doesn't let the condensate water drain out then you need to call a professional back. Most likely that drain is plugged.

The beeping is probably from a refrigerant leak detector. This of course is a different 'leak' than the one that is staining your ceiling. If your evaporator coil is leaking that is a bad sign, and probably means that a replacement system is in order. If your current system is over 12 years old then you should think about replacing it.
It is very hard to give an opinion on pricing over the internet - there are too many variables. However, if I were you I'd first see if I can fix the plugged drain myself.
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Richard J Kinch wrote:

An excellent suggestion - and one that I should have made myself.
Thanks.
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Also, check out the post above by "FE" with the subject heading, "Upstairs AC Unit Drip Pan Problem". "FE" has a leak coming through the ceiling and it sure doesn't sound like he/she needs a whole new A/C system.

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