Round One is a draw in A/C vs. gang of four

July 20, 1996|By ROB KASPER

THE AIR conditioning "wrassling" season has two times of peak activity. The first is the spring, when the well-prepared guys haul their air conditioners out of storage, plunk them in windows, and make sure they work.

The other is now, in the middle of the summer, when guys who have been promising folks for weeks that they will put that air conditioner in can no longer put the dirty job off.

While I like to think of myself as a well-prepared kind of guy, recently I found myself hanging out a bedroom window, wrestling with an air conditioner, sweating like a procrastinator.

We had the air conditioner outnumbered. There were four of us on the job, myself, my two sons, 15 and 11, and a friend of theirs. That air conditioner almost gave us more than we could handle. It took us an hour, a rope, and a walk on the roof to get the air conditioner humming.

The problem was a broken "accordion." That, I learned, is air conditioner slang for the vinyl curtains that expand and contract, like an accordion, filling in the space between the sides of the air conditioner and the window frame.

During its winter storage, part of the curtain had deteriorated. When I opened it up, it looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. I had to get a new curtain, or something to keep the bugs and hot air out. The neighborhood hardware store didn't have any "accordions."

A few days later I learned that most stores selling appliance parts handle the "accordions." Michael Reid, a salesman at Trible's Inc. & Associates store in Woodlawn, said he has sold a lot of "universals," one-size-fits-all replacement curtains that cost about $10. Usually the curtains can be trimmed to fit the dimensions of an air conditioner, he said.

But Neville Stanfield, a salesman at All Appliances Parts & Supply in Glen Burnie and a man apparently well-versed in the contradictions of home repairs, offered a caveat. These replacement curtains, he said, "are universal, but then again they are not." He explained that while they fit around many air conditioners, they don't fit into the plastic frames holding some General Electric and Emerson air conditioners. The edge of these curtains can't slide into the frames, he said. In these cases, a customer has to order the curtains from the manufacturer, which raises the price to about $24, he said.

These shops weren't open when I was wrasslin' with my air conditioner. I replaced my failed accordion with a piece of plasterboard. I slipped it into the plastic frame that once held the vinyl curtain. A better material would have been Plexiglas, or painted plywood. But I had some plasterboard nearby and I wanted to get the job over with.

With the plasterboard "wall" replacing the accordion, the air conditioner fit snugly in the window frame. The fit was a little too tight. I couldn't get my hands around the plasterboard to maneuver the air conditioner into its proper position.

So I got some rope and went out on the roof.

I tied one end of the rope around my waist, and the other end to a post. I edged my way out onto the roof, just below the window holding the air conditioner. I was three stories up. I didn't look down. Next year, I promised myself, I am going to buy new accordions, and stay off this roof. With me on the roof and the three guys inside, we shoved the air conditioner into position, and declared victory.

No sooner had that battle ended when another erupted. The air conditioner in the front bedroom was dripping water all over the place.

I consulted Ed Sullivan Sr. who along with his son, Ed Jr. operates Emco Refrigerations & Hvac Inc. in Dundalk. Whatever you do, Ed Sr. told me, don't try to drill a drain hole in the bottom of the air conditioner. Guys try that all the time to move the drip from inside to outside the house, he said, and before they know it, they have drilled a hole in the compressor, and ruined the air conditioner.

There is a difference, he said, between an inside drip and an outside drip. When a modern air conditioner drips inside a window, it means either that the unit isn't level, or a small, interior hose is clogged, he said. The hose carries water to the back of the air conditioner. There the water is picked up by a "slinger ring" and tossed on parts of the air conditioner. By giving itself a bath, a modern air conditioner keeps its parts cool, and cuts down on drips, he said. When an air conditioner isn't level, or the hose is clogged, the air conditioner can't bathe, and excess water drips out.

Ed. Sr. also had a remedy for the outside drip, the trouble caused when the water dripping outside a well-functioning unit lands on a neighbor's awning or some other inconvenient spot. In these cases, he builds a $30 steel tray that fits under the air conditioner. The tray catches the drip and channels it to a drain and down a small hose, he said.

I had an inside and an outside drip. So I am going to check the innards of my dripping air conditioner to make sure it is bathing properly. If that doesn't get rid of my problem, I am going to get one of those drip-catching trays from Ed Sr. Maybe then my air conditioning wrasslin' season will be over.

Pub Date: 7/20/96

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