AC saga (Part 1)

This is part 1 of the AC saga. 

Weather in South Florida during the summer (and most of fall)  tends to get a little toasty.  Hot, humid, and general miserableness.  Air conditioning is kind of a necessity.  When we were buying the house, the exterior AC condenser was stolen, and before closing, we had to pay to replace the unit.  At the time, we decided it would be best to pay as little money as possible in case the sale didn’t go through.  Therefore, we bought a used AC condenser and had it installed (which I talked about here) which allowed us to pass inspection and close on the house.  Of course, there were no guarantees as to how long this would last, but we figured we could  get at least a year out of it and figure out what to do next.

Ha. Not so. 

When you come home from work at 5pm and the thermostat reads 94 degrees in the house, something isn’t working right.  After researching and getting some estimates for new AC systems, as well as talking to a consultant from our electric company who does free home energy surveys, we determined there were 3 problems:

1. The outside compressor had a leak in the coolant line.  That caused the screen behind the filter to acquire a nice sheet of ice if it ran for longer than an hour without a break, rendering the AC ineffective.

2. The inside air handler coils had probably never been cleaned in 14 years, and had so much dust and dirt that it was running at under 25% efficiency.

3. We have lovely open beam ceilings that I love so much, but this also comes with the problem of having no roof insulation.  Literally all that is separating my bed from the hot Florida sun is a layer of 1×6 tongue and groove boards, tar, and asphalt rolled on roofing.  Like, when we replaced the broken smoke detector and unscrewed the bracket from the ceiling, we could see the sky through the screw holes.  Then we had to patch the roof with tar so water wouldn’t end up in a puddle in the living room.  Super fun, as you might imagine.

Getting a new AC unit would cure both problems 1 and 2, and would be 1/3 the cost of curing problem 3.  We can only deal with one problem at a time, so new AC unit it is. 

We thought this would be a relatively easy problem: out with the old, in with the new, hook it up, and presto, cold air.  That is, until all 3 companies we got estimates from told us that the closet that held our air handler was too shallow to hold a modern high-efficiency unit.  We would have to expand the back wall of the closet one foot, taking a foot out of the guest room closet.  Fortunately, of all of the places to have to knock down a wall, this was the most ideal location. 

Nothing like some good old fashioned demolition to relieve some stress. 

This is the old air handler in the closet.  It is the age of a ninth grader, which means it needs to retire. 

Since we obviously couldn’t demo through the existing air handler, we had to start from the guest closet behind it. 

We started by pounding some holes in the drywall and removed the first layer which was relatively easy and painless.  To our surprise, we found another finished wall underneath.  From what I could determine, when they installed the unit 14 years ago, they furred out the walls of the closet to hide the drain line, which runs through the wall to the outside of the house.  The wall underneath was the original closet wall (pink crayon marks and all). 

(more after the break)

So we pounded out these layers of plaster, which was much messier than the drywall.

Below you can sort of see the section through the wall was drywall, 2×4 (used as furring strip), plaster wall, stud, plaster wall. 

Once we got all of the debris out, we had to clean up around the edges.  Of course the edges were lined with chicken wire that they used before the days of drywall tape which cased skin scratches and gauges.  Not fun. 

(See?  action shot!)

The cleanup around the edges took the most time because we had to snip all of the chicken wire, and extract some stubborn studs that were attached to studs that held up other walls that we did not want to demo.  We didn’t want to be able to see the air handler from our bed, for example.  Also, there may have been some ghetto jigsaw action because we didn’t want to fork it over for a reciprocating saw

Here is the fully demoed closed wall!  It only took 1 full and two half days. 

The only problem is that taking out this wall created large holes where the studs once were. 

Because the mechanical inspectors don’t like to see big holes in the AC closets, we thought it would be easiest to re-drywall the side walls. 

Magic!  No more gaping hole!  (also, check out that just-waiting-to-be-restored terrazzo.  *sigh*)

Once we put the drywall on both sides of the closet, it was time to seal up the wall.  We had to wait until they took the air handler out before we could drywall the inside of the AC closet (stay tuned for part 2).

We built a skinny 2″ wall to squeeze out a few more inches in the closet (the wall we demoed was a skinny wall, too, so that was more assurance that this was OK). 

One perfectly cut sheet of drywall and a few screws later, voila!  New wall. 

Plans to tape and paint that later.  Stay tuned for part 2 to see the day-of-install craziness. 

One Response to “AC saga (Part 1)”

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