Repair heat pump, or replace it?

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Hi, I don't know much about this subject, so please bear with me...I am visiting from college, and just found out my mom had a problem with her heat pump.
The heat pump will no longer shut off. The fan control at the thermostat works, but no matter what, the outside unit continues to run.
She switched the circuit breaker off upon realizing the problem.
The unit is 20 years old. If it matters at all, the unit is branded "Payne high efficience heat pump", and is white/off-white with a green grill. Again, if it matters, her house is a 20-yr. old double-wide mobile home.
It was last serviced in June of '05. The service was to top off the coolant, and "check it over", at least in theory.
She lives about 30 minutes from town, so I assume a service call would be somewhat expensive for her. Should she call for a repair or would it make more sense to just go for a replacement at this point? Thanks,
Note: Sorry for the double-post, I initially put this in the alt.hvac forum, until it was suggested I move it here.
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mark snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

At 20 years old, it's at the end of it's expected life. Plus new ones are more efficient, which will help to reduce energy costs and pay for itself. So, I wouldn't put more than a couple hundred bucks into repairing this one. But, until you get someone out to look at it, you won't know what's wrong or if it's worth fixing.
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If it's 20 years old (and a Payne!) she probably should just change the system out. When the fan continues to run, is it putting out heat? The reason I ask, if it's just the fan that continues to run, it SHOULDN'T but it won't hurt anything. If the fan is running AND putting out heat (when it should be off) then it sound like a sequensor is stuck or maybe a wire crossed (or several other possibilities) and that is not good. It will never shut off and it may get kind of hot in the house.
She needs to get at least 3 REPUTABLE companies to come out and give her a quote (not an estimate) on replacing the system. If it's just the fan running (and not the heat) she doesn't need to rush into it. A lot of people run the fan 24 hours a day for filtration purposes. Sure it uses a little bit more electricity, but not that much. I only say this because you don't want to jump into this without "shopping" around. Don't worry so much about the brand as much as the guy installing it.
Now to really confuse things: You may want to just have someone come out and repair it. It might be something as simple as a stuck sequencer or fan relay. But if they came out and June and "topped it off", there may be a leak and future problems.
Good luck....
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Thanks....Hm...I don't know if it was putting out heat while the fan was on...I asked earlier actually, but she didn't know. However, my mom said she smelled a "burning smell"...given the odor, is it advisable to turn the circut breaker back on & see if it produces heat?
& sorry, I was misleading about "topped it off", I don't know that there was a leak per-se, or just getting it general AC "maintenance" before the true heat of summer.
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You could try that. If you can at least get her through the weekend. Service charge would be a little easier to swallow.

You might not want to call THAT company.
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The fan running all the time suggests a stuck relay contact to me. If it turns on and heats properly, it is probably a simple fix. Sometimes just tapping on the offending part with a screwdriver handle will knock it loose for awhile.
Bob
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The outdoor unit running all the time indicates a stuck contactor as the most likely problem. A new contactor should cost $20 to $30 plus diagnosis and installation. I can change a contactor in 15 minutes, and diagnose in in 15 minutes, so you will probably fall under the minimum labor charge plus parts. It could also be a bad thermostat or short in the thermostat cable, but those would need fixed anyway if you replace the unit, so they are not going to make a difference in the repair or replace discussion.
Whether to replace or not would depend some on her electric bills. If her electric bills are low, I would fix it. If they are high, a new high efficiency system (Both indoor & outdoor) may be a good idea even if it weren't broken. By the way, there is a $300 Federal tax credit for Energy Star rated high efficiency systems, starting in January 2006.
Stretch
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Now where in the hell are you going to find a service company that is going to change a contactor and charge you $20 or $30 for that part + a minimum labor charge? Nowhere! because if they do they wont be in business but about a week or two. These trucks dont roll, salaries dont get paid, health insurance doesnt get paid, gasoline doesnt fill the truck, liability insurance dont get paid and the tax man wont get his share by someone collecting $20 for a part and a minimum labor charge. Nice try though. Bubba
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Now where in the hell are you going to find a service company that is going to change a contactor and charge you $20 or $30 for that part + a minimum labor charge? Nowhere! because if they do they wont be in business but about a week or two. These trucks dont roll, salaries dont get paid, health insurance doesnt get paid, gasoline doesnt fill the truck, liability insurance dont get paid and the tax man wont get his share by someone collecting $20 for a part and a minimum labor charge. Nice try though. Bubba
Sorry Bubba, but I do that. So do some others. We charge $68/ hour. The contactor I sell for about $20.00. We have a half hour minimum charge for residential work. We have no trip charge. We are shooting for 10% net pretax profit, which we have exceeded the last three years. If I went on that call and it was a bad contactor, the charge would be $34.00 labor + $20,00 Part = $54.00 total. Tax is included in the part. By the way, I just bought a new 2500 Chevy van, paid 1/3 down. We have more diagnostic tools than many larger companies that I know of. We carry more parts than most any other company in our service area. We are profitable.
The OP said the outdoor unit ran constantly while the indoor blower cycled. That sounds like a stuck contactor. You may free it up for a while, but it will likely re-occur.
Stretch
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Stretch, Sorry bud but No freakin way. You have another company or something subsidizing your ridiculously low prices. $54 to replace a contactor?? I used to charge that about 12 years ago and Im NOT kidding. No way would your business survive with that kind of pricing. Bubba

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I'll have to second that.
Maybe 10 or 12 years ago we charged that. Our company is cheap and we sell our regular Honeywell 2-pole contactor for about $32 and we have a standard service call of $109 an hour. No more 1/2 hour rates. How in the world would you ever pay your bills with a $54 charge? You must be a "loner" (1 man company) that can afford to do that.
We don't charge trip charge either....
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How much of your overhead is a function of where you live, though?
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What exactly do you mean?
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On Mon, 20 Feb 2006 17:50:09 GMT, "Red Neckerson"

I't important to remember that one's personal experience, while relevent, doesn't describe the whole world. The fact that YOU can't make a living doing service calls at $50 a pop in your area doesn't necessarily mean that someone else can't, somewhere else.
You have to pay a living wage to you employees, and yourself, but what constitutes a living wage in most of, say, California is significantly more than what it takes in, say Colebrook, NH. Likewise, auto insurance, permits, business liscences, liability insurance, utility bills. . . about the only thing that's likely to be the same is the price of the physical part, and in most cases, that's a surprisingly small fraction of the total cost of doing business.
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On Mon, 20 Feb 2006 11:38:24 GMT, "Dr. Hardcrab"

And I'll third that. We charge 211.00 for the contactor and 59.00 for the service call. Gotta pay the bills. The person that said they charge 59.00 is a one man band or some such, otherwise there is no way a real company could stay in business at those prices.
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Bubba wrote:

Bubba,
You have not seen my books, so how can you say what my rate should be. In your area, the labor rate may be twice what it is in my area. You would have to charge more. The cost for rent/mortgage may be higher on your building. You may run a sloppy operation. Any number of thjings could run your costs up higher than my costs. You see how often people post to this group asking prices. The answer is always: "Depends on where you are." You assume too much. No one subsidizes me. I always pay my bills on time and take fast pay discounts where offerred.
I know one contractor in my area charging over 2 times what I charge, and he is not worth it. I also know contractors chargimg less. One inherited his home and shop from his father. That keeps his costs down. I can't charge what he does and stay in business, but he makes a profit because his overhead is low.
But at the same time, if it takes longer than 1/2 hour to diagnose and replace a stuck contactor, your techs are slow. What you charge for travel depends on what it costs you on the average and what profit you must have.
When we moved here to Myrtle Beach SC from near Pittsburgh PA, our rates dropped because our costs and overhead dropped. Labor rates were 1/2 what we were used to.
As the building boom here continues, our costs and rates are likely to go up. Don't assume it is the same here as it is where you are, because it is not.
That is all I have to say.
Stretch
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I dont care where you are. You are way to low at the rates you posted. You ARE oviously a one man band. Its a good thing your wife works. Wait till you get hurt or the tax man cometh. Thats all I have to say, Bubba
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Bubba,
There are 4 of us in the company, plus my wife does the bookkeeping part time. (She Gets Paid For It by our company) We have health insurance, paid vacation, paid holidays, profit sharing pension fund/401K. The guys all take a truck home at night. We have a 2400 square foot shop. We pay an accountant to calculate our taxes at the end of the year and do financials. We pay unemployment taxes. We have a $2,000,000.00 Liability policy and have workers compensation insurance. We carry $1,000,000.00 Vehicle insurance.
Most of our service calls are over 1/2 hour, but some fall under the minimum charge for labor. I don't care what you charge, i charge what I need to to make a profit, not what you need.
Our replacement systems have been 13 SEER and higher for years. We do air balancing, mold prevention through humidity control, crawlspace encapsulation, residential and commercial service work. We DO NOT do new construction, not enough money in it.
I make more money than I ever did working for someone else, and will make still more as the company grows.
Maybe you need to worry about yourself more instead of judging people who do things that you can't.
Stretch
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Lets say Im not convinced of your babbling. Maybe you charge $10,000 for a 13 SEER system? That's about the only way your numbers add up. You sure are wound up about this issue. You not telling me something? Bubba
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Bubba,
Your mind is closed, so there is no use responding further. 13 SEER heat pump replacement averages $4500.00 installed.
Stretch
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