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
Thanks a lot for any information anyone can give me!
Have a great day,
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.
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.
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
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.
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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