Doing the Frequent Repair Dance with my HVAC.
September 1, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I have to keep calling my apartment manager in to repair the HVAC (heating and air conditioning) unit every few months. This can't be right. I know YANMRP (you are not my repair-person) but I wonder what could be going on and what I can do about it.

I live in a rental. I am always - ALWAYS - having issues with the HVAC. It seems like every few months, either my air conditioning is breaking down in the summer, or my heating in the winter. I call management, they send someone out to repair the unit, it works for a while - then it starts blowing warm air (in the summer) or cold (in the winter), rinse, repeat.

I actually had a whole new unit installed back in June. It blew a fuse (inside the unit, not a house fuse) within days. They came out, replaced the fuse, it worked fine until yesterday when it started blowing warm air again. So - once more I wait for the repair person to come along and fix the unit.

As you might imagine, this is getting old fast. I don't live in a place with extreme temperatures, but it can get to freezing in the winter and triple digits in the summer here, so I do need my HVAC to work. Also, my unit is one of those rentals which is very poorly insulated, so it's a bit leaky. I've asked the office if they ever plan to do anything about it and basically - nope, tenants come and go and since I am paying the electric bill, what's it to them?

I'm wondering, though, if the reason my HVAC conks out so much is because it's working so hard to heat/cool my poorly insulated unit. (If this is true, maybe - MAYBE - I could get them to do SOMETHING.) Or if there is something wrong with my apartment wiring, or anything else that might be going on. I'm sick of this repair dance. What should I be looking for?
posted by Rosie M. Banks to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Can't help with the troubleshooting, but if it's just that the unit is blowing its fuses, they're eeeeasy to replace yourself, without having to wait for service. Take one to the hardware store, get a few extras. I'd ask for reimbursement, but even if you don't get it, you've put an end to the waiting. Also in the interest of expedience, get a second opinion from another HVAC company, even if you have to pay for it yourself, since the company that your management is sending seems to be best at applying band-aids. I know you're a renter and shouldn't have to pay for this, but sometimes solving the problem is more important than making someone solve the problem.
posted by sageleaf at 10:45 AM on September 1, 2010

What should I be looking for?

A new apartment.

I'm wondering, though, if the reason my HVAC conks out so much is because it's working so hard to heat/cool my poorly insulated unit.

Bingo. And you're paying for the juice?? Move OUT.

If that's not an option, hire a pro to come check it out, as sageleaf suggests. It's sure not going to be fixed by your apartment manager's repair people.
posted by Koko at 11:09 AM on September 1, 2010

Don't rule out the apartment taking the cheap.easy way out. I have a leak right below my shower head (I'm assuming that's what it is) that caused a crack in the wall. They came and caulked over it. Crack started up again within 2 days.
posted by theichibun at 11:12 AM on September 1, 2010

Sounds like the compressor is amping too high as a direct result of overwork. Chances are it'll die totally soon, but in the meantime, changing fuses is a much cheaper option for the landlord.
posted by Frasermoo at 11:25 AM on September 1, 2010

Thank you for the replies. I figured as much, that my poor HVAC is dropping like an overloaded mule with working to heat and cool my unit. I try to conserve using it, but sometimes I just need to.

I am definitely looking to move in the future - I'm just in limbo right now as far as work and location are concerned. I moved here originally because they allowed multiple pets (I had three cats at the time) and it was near where I was attending school. Now, of course, things have changed. My next MeFi question is probably going to be "how to find a decent landlord!"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:40 AM on September 1, 2010

I realize you don't have time to just sit around and wait for them, but have you talked to the person(s) who are coming out and doing the repair?
Are they devoted entirely to HVAC or just general repair/maintenance?

I can recall one general maint. that knew enough to quick-fix the AC problem - replace a capacitor, recharge the "freon", clean the coils - but not enough to prevent the issues in the first place. And from his perspective, why should he? If he keeps jury-rigging he's got a guaranteed repair call 2-3 months down the line.

If they know what they're doing, they might be able to give you an idea of what the issue(s) are. If they're incompetent... Well, that means your Apt. Mngr. is too cheap or foolish to maintain the premises and you should leave post-haste. HVAC? Unfomfortable but not the end of the world. What happens if one of your pipes starts leaking or breaks?
posted by handle_unknown at 11:58 AM on September 1, 2010

BTW, being without heat in winter temperatures (and if you live in Texas, AC in the summer) for 24 hours is a violation of the lease in most states. Read up on your state's rental laws in this area.
posted by fontophilic at 12:19 PM on September 1, 2010

Another thought: are you changing your filters every 30 days? If not, this could be an issue.

Also, if it's 100 degrees F outside and you have the A/C set to 60, this will cause the unit to overheat (unless it's new, super-robust - 23 SEER, for example) and freeze over. If that happens, all you have to do is turn the thing off and let the ice melt.

If it's happening in the winter, are you on just electric or gas, too? If it's gas, then your pilot light could be blowing out due to some kind of draft or exposure. If it's all electric, then your furnace could be in need of a new heat pump. I'm just throwing out ideas here.

Although I'd move, and I'd probably talk to a tenants' rights group in my state about breaking my lease if I had plenty of documentation showing my unit was uninhabitable X number of days per year.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:09 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

They are general maintenance people here, not dedicated A/C people. I've had other repairs work out OK so I don't think it's incompetence, just lack of expertise. Plus management company cheapness.

Here in CA, I know heating is required, but it's not clear about A/C. For years I never needed A/C at all, living in San Francisco where it's balmy at best. Where I live now gets HOT. My online sources say different things as to whether A/C is an "amenity" or a "habitability requirement."

The reason I'm not making tracks ASAP is that I don't know where I will be working long-term. I don't want to sign a lease in Hereville and all of a sudden find my dream job in Elsewhere City. So I'm in limbo. (And I hate moving.) Believe me, moving has crossed my mind.

Thanks, everyone! You're a great help!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:12 PM on September 1, 2010

Unicorn: I usually keep my A/C at 78 or so, for energy conservation and because I don't like it that cold (just cool). I've turned it off and let the ice melt in the past and it's worked, but this time it hasn't. And I do change the filters - having pets, I know how clogged they can get and how fast! (Learned THAT from experience, let me tell you!)

It's all electric, and I'm pretty sure the heat pump was replaced the LAST time I called them out in December.

Again, everyone's answer so far has been helpful. Thanks MeFi!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:15 PM on September 1, 2010

Also, if it's 100 degrees F outside and you have the A/C set to 60, this will cause the unit to overheat (unless it's new, super-robust - 23 SEER, for example) and freeze over. If that happens, all you have to do is turn the thing off and let the ice melt.

No, it won't. All but the most advanced hvac units are either on or off, no matter what temperature you dial into the thermostat. If the temperature in the room goes above the set point, the unit turns on and cools until you go below the set point. They are designed to run all day.

There should *never* be any ice. If there is ice, the unit is broken. Low charge, high charge, bad TXV, mismatched cooling capacity to the size of the fan. (If the fan is too low CFM for the cooling capacity of the unit, it will ice up.) Or mismatched compressor for the size of the unit.
posted by gjc at 7:40 PM on September 1, 2010

gjc, my eyeballs on two different a/c units and a ton of google images and web pages like this one say that yes, there can be ice.

Specifically, on the condenser coils or inside the ductwork.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:56 PM on September 1, 2010

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