His future turns on one cool sound

August 22, 1998|By ROB KASPER

IT WAS ONE of those anxiety-ridden moments that seem to fill a homeowner's life. I was up on the roof of my house with a repairman waiting for our 20-year-old air conditioner to click on.

A few nights earlier I had awakened with sweat rolling off my body. The perspiration was a clue that something was wrong with our home's central air conditioning system. After suffering through several fitful days and nights, I had summoned the repairman.

Now I was waiting to see if his preliminary procedures -- cleaning the coil and replacing a switch -- would be sufficient. I was waiting, in other words, for the verdict.

If the air conditioner clicked on it would mean that I had gotten off lucky. It would mean that even though I had allowed dust to clog the unit, there was not going to be big-dollar damage. It would mean that the motor had not been fried.

If, on the other hand, we did not hear the click, it would be bad news. It would mean expensive parts had overheated, had stopped running, had gone down for the count.

"Let's keep our fingers crossed," said Doug, the repairman.

My stomach was churning. The experience of waiting for a piece of machinery to respond was uncomfortable, yet familiar. I remembered sitting in the laundry room waiting for a recently repaired washing machine to click into its spin cycle. I recalled sitting in the kitchen, waiting for ice cubes to land in a plastic bucket and prove that the refrigerator's icemaker was working again. I remembered waiting for the initial "roar" of the furnace, a sign that the heating system has started another year.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of an air conditioner compressor turning on. My spirits soared, then sank. The noise was coming from a nearby air conditioner which, like many air conditioners in our neighborhood, was also perched on a roof.

When you have a rowhouse and a small backyard you tend to take the "penthouse approach"of putting your central air conditioning unit on your roof. That way you don't give precious back-yard space over to a piece of machinery that is noisy, hot, and pretty close to ugly.

The advantage to the penthouse approach is that it puts your air conditioner out of sight and out of earshot.

The disadvantage comes when the air conditioner breaks down. Then you somehow have to get heavy parts or an entire air conditioning unit up several flights.

This can produce some entertaining sights. A few months back, for instance, I watched a no-nonsense crane lift new air conditioning and heating units onto the roof of a nearby condo. It was quite a show. It also was probably pretty expensive.

And, as I was on my roof, waiting for my old air conditioner to speak to me, I considered what I might have to do if I ended up needing a new air conditioner. I too might have to rent a crane, and that could change my life. For starters, I would have to come up with a pile of money for the crane rental. To accumulate the pile, I would have to start collecting empty soda cans and taking them to places that give cash for cans. On hot nights I would have to bunk with our teen-age boys, whose bedrooms are cooled by window air conditioning units.

This vision of my future -- saving soda cans by day, sleeping in rooms filled with dirty sweat socks by night -- filled me with horror.

Then I heard the sweet sound of an air conditioner -- mine -- clicking on. Doug attached a couple of gauges to the machine to verify that the old unit still had life in it. After a few minutes, he studied the gauges and seemed pleased with what they told him. The unit was fine. I had been spared.

I vowed that from now on I would be kind and caring to my old air conditioner. I promised I would pay close attention to the condition of the filter that cleans the air headed into the air conditioner.

In the past I had neglected to regularly change this filter. Moreover, our house had recently been filled with plaster dust during the renovation of our bathrooms. As a result, much muck had been sucked into the air conditioner, clogging it up, bringing it to its knees.

Doug told me that it is a good idea to change the filter in my !! central air conditioning system anytime I undertake any dust-raising activity.

I took his advice. Immediately I walked over to the hardware store and bought a new air filter. It cost less than $2, which I bet is much cheaper than what it would cost to rent a crane.

Pub Date: 8/22/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.