Over the last week, as a dome of heat swallowed much of the country, I couldn't help but think that Nelly got it right with his song "Hot in Herre." In Alexandria, with the temperature topping out at 105°, and a heat index approaching 120°, you can imagine my joy when I realized that outdoor condenser for our air conditioner had stopped running.

This may sound like a pretty cut and dry situation where the air conditioner goes out on the hottest day of the year, but that's only a small part of the story.


Back when Wendy and I bought our house in 2003, we purchased "peace of mind" with a home warranty service that covered all major appliances and utilities. To us, this concept soon soured as we realized, after the first few calls for issues with our HVAC (both furnace in the winter and AC in the summer), the goal of the home warranty was to fix small issues that just happened to cost exactly the same as the $100 deductible, and to make large issues go away so they didn't need to cover the big stuff until absolutely necessary.

Never was this more evident than when our AC stopped running in the Summer of 2003. Each time we called the home warranty company, and they sent out an HVAC specialist. Each time, coincidentally we were charged $100. On the second visit, after spending a mere two minutes to get our AC running, Wendy said, "If this happens again, what should we do? How can we fix it?" The serviceman replied, "You just call me."

We were appalled by that response, and I vowed to learn enough about HVAC to make sure I never had to call that guy again. I started by figuring out that he had simply replaced the fuse on the outdoor shutoff for the AC unit.

From that point and throughout the next two summers, every time the AC stopped I popped out the blown 20 amp fuse and replace it with a new one. I did this until it seemed to be happening every other week. I decided to do some research and relize that the fuses had been undersized for the unit, an the unit actually called for and was wired for a 30 amp fuse. It seems the home warranty serviceman had replaced the blown 30 amp fuse with a 20 amp so that each time it would blow, we would call. Putting the 30 amp fuse in the unit, we've not had an issue since summer 2005.

This whole process gave us a greater understanding of HVAC, doing things ourselves, and that you always need to watch your service people to be sure to learn as much as possible and understand what you are paying them to do. 

Present and Extremely Hot Day...

Fast forward back to last Friday when I got home from work. it was hot outside and when I got inside of the house I noticed it really wasn't that cool in the AC. The thermostat was set at 75°, but the temperature had climbed to 84°. 

I checked the outdoor compressor unit and realized it wasn't running. Ah-ha. We'd found our culprit.

I had a hunch that the problem was a simple repeat of our previous issues years ago. The AC had been running all day, and probably had a power surge or brief loss in city power that just popped the fuse. I grabbed my continuity tester and headed out to the unit. Unlike many of our neighbors, the unit is next to the house rather than on the roof. So I opened the fuse box and pulled out the cartridge.

Once the cartridge was out I could test each fuse with the continuity detector to see which one had blown.

One very important thing to do when using the continuity tester, TEST THE TESTER FIRST! If you don't, you will end up wasting a lot of your time and getting endlessly frustrated. Just touch the conductor to the tip and make sure it lights. If it doesn't, check the battery and make sure the light isn't burned out.

The first fuse I tested was the top, but the light on the tester lit up so that fuse was still good.

When I tested the bottom fuse there was no light, indicating that this fuse was bad and was the root of our problems.

We had bought a large box of fuses years ago for this very situation. I was able to find it in the basement (that was a minor miracle) and pulled a new one out as the replacement. Before putting it in, I tested it to be sure it was good.

Once I knew the fuse was good, it was as easy as popping it into the cartridge, testing one more time, and plugging the cartridge back into the fuse panel.

Then I went inside and turned on the air conditioning. I could hear the sweet sound of the loudest and oldest air conditioner on the block running at a roaring "whisper." My quick fix was a success and we were back to having air conditioning.

I called Wendy to let hew know the good news, and there was much rejoicing. I also let hew know that it was totally her fault and she had jinxed us after posting a tweet a few days before about being thankful that our air conditioning had recently been fixed. The home improvement gods don't like to be taunted in such as egregious manner, that's for sure!

We're not out of the woods on our ancient AC, and will probably need to replace it towards the end of the summer when demand is a little lower. But we'll keep this old lady kicking as long as we can and dream of the days of high efficiency cost savings and a unit that doesn't sound like a helicopter taking off from beside our house. We'll also try to keep cool by wading around in our new Party Pool. :-)

Do you have any home warranty or simple fix contractor ripoff experiences? We ended up paying $100 for a guy to spend less than five minutes replacing a $2-$3 fuse (on more than one occasion no less). Please, someone beat that one so I can sleep better at night. Okay, I'm going back to watch the Nelly video again and dance around in my cool and comfortable house.

Comments 1


7/29/2011 at 1:50 PM
Informative post! This whole article helps us to greater understanding of HVAC. Thanks for your nice creation :)
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