Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Worst HVAC Service Call I Ever Went On.

Summer 2009

Of course I do not remember the address, but I know that this call was in North Dallas, North of the Park Cities, but in an exceedingly affluent, but older neighborhood. The street was probably off of Hillcrest, and in the direction of Central Expressway, which is U.S. 75, the most important, and traveled highway in the Dallas / Ft. Worth metroplex.
The house was fairly large, single story, and brick. There was a large front yard, probably a half acre, that's very large for a front yard in that area. I pulled my one ton Chevy work van into the driveway, and prayed for an easy fix.
I hope it's just a run capacitor that needs replacing!
I was very tired, you see, and I think it was the month of June, and during that month an HVAC service mechanic will often work 70 or more hours a week, and that is what I had been doing. I wanted to go home badly, and just bathe and sleep; and do it all again the next day.
I was greeted outside, as they were waiting for me, by a young man who might have been older than me; and he just didn't seem to be in very good health. I instantly liked him, and felt sorry for him. It turned out that he was taking care of his elderly parents, and I doubt that this was easy for him to do. They were both still living, and it was obvious to me that neither could live there without their son's help. They might have actually been his grandparents. I didn't ask.
First off, and because we were outside, I asked to see the condenser, and quickly noticed that the suction line was frozen; so I turned the condenser off at the disconnect on the wall, the young man then showed me where a hired person with a lawnmower had damaged the lines, they weren't leaking refrigerant there, but they looked like they needed some soldering done to strengthen the lines where some copper had been chipped away. Because of the frozen suction line though, I asked to see the indoor furnace or air handler, and was led into the garage; and the very old furnace was in a closet in the garage. The blower was running, and of course, that answered the question; the system wasn't frozen because the fan motor had stopped running. I took the door off of the furnace to see if the indoor coil was frozen, and then went to turn the system off at the thermostat and saw made a mental note that the thermostat was a very old Honeywell T 87 mercury bulb thermostat. I then went outside to turn power to the condenser back on, and then stuck the door to the furnace back into place, and was shocked to see that the door switch on the gas furnace, when energized, somehow brought the condenser back on.
A furnace's door switch is a one hundred ten volt safety switch that prevents the furnace from coming on when the door is not properly in place. My mind was thoroughly befuddled by how a one hundred ten volt door safety switch, a very simple thing, when made, or turned "on" by having the door in place, could make the twenty four volt circuit complete that brought the condenser outside on. Not only did that make absolutely no sense, I was so shocked by it that I didn't know what else to do but immediately call my company's lead mechanic.
My lead mechanic, the "go to guy" for any technical questions for the company that I then worked for is and was one of the most talented, friendly, and knowledgeable hvac mechanics that I've ever known. He'd told me that though the situation was weird, that the sub base on the old Honeywell T 87 thermostat had to be bad, and that a door safety switch to a furnace could sometimes turn on a condenser, strange though that may be, in such situations. So he told me to change out the thermostat, and call him back to let him know what happened, and so I did.
Before I could change out the thermostat though, I had to convince the young man taking care of his elderly parents or grandparents(I was never sure which that it was) that an exact replacement thermostat was not really an option for them, that I didn't have one, and that industry wide, mercury bulb thermostats were considered a thing of the past. I had to hunt down and find the one single most simple digital thermostat that I had, and then explain to the guy how the thing worked; and how it would be just as simple for his elderly parents or grandparents to understand as was the old thermostat. I replaced the thermostat, and that solved the whole "door switch to the furnace turning on the condenser" issue, but nothing under the sun could explain to me why I could not get the indoor fan to operate. I'd checked the thing out, and the motor was not bad, and neither was the motor's run capacitor. All of the wiring looked good, it was just on a really old furnace that ought to be replaced, but my whole issue was trying to get these old folks some air conditioning on this very warm night in which I was already extremely tired, and overworked, and do it quickly, as they were already paying overtime rates.
What I didn't understand was the schematic, because there wasn't one, the original had probably disintegrated years prior to my visit. How or what exactly on this system functioned as the fan relay, was something of a mystery. Oh, I saw a relay, and devised that that had to be the fan relay; but I'd never before seen anything like it. Truly, this was an oddball, and a very old piece of equipment that needed to be replaced. So I called my lead mechanic again, and while on the phone to him, and with a likable but sickly young man standing behind me, watching everything I did and listening to every word I said. . . .I tried to figure out what was going on.

The Home Air Conditioner, And An Angry Man On a Cell Phone

Customer Relations

Lets face it, hvac mechanics sometimes have about the same level of respect as used car salesmen have. In my life, I've been both a used car salesman, and an hvac service mechanic. Customer relations has always been my strong suite in both sales, and service. People trust me, and that's typically because they can just tell that I'm not lying to them. For this reason, I like to, in most instances, have my customers right there watching me. I like to tell them what's going on, and what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it. Most of the time this works out really well.
But people have their limits, and my physical limits of endurance were being tested on that particular day. I was past exhausted, but I was still doing everything that I could to just try to get the family's fan to run, so that they could get some air conditioning on that hot night, so on the advice of my lead mechanic, I started taking the control wiring apart, and I was going to rig it just for the night to where the fan ran continuously. I was going to hook the fan directly to one hundred and ten volts, and then turn on the thermostat so that the condenser would run. Then I could go sleep, and come back in the morning to try and actually repair the system so that it would run correctly. The facts were simply that the thing needed to be completely replaced, but that was an issue for another day.
While I was in the process of jumping out the control circuit to put direct power to the indoor fan motor, the young man standing behind me's cell phone rang, and he began to talk to someone that was obviously family, and that person seemed to be concerned about the air conditioning. The young man interrupted me, and handed me the phone, and told me that "Uncle Joe" wanted to talk to me. But uncle Joe was not concerned about the air conditioning, or the elderly and sickly persons who lived in the house, uncle Joe was concerned about money. He asked, me,
"How Long have you been there already?"
I'd responded, startled by that off beat and unexpected question, "I'm not sure, Sir, let me look at my clock. . . . ."
But before I could get it precisely tallied up, I told him, "it's been a couple of hours. . . ."
And it had been a couple of hours, I had to steadily explain to my customer what was going on, he wanted to know; but uncle Joe then asked,
"So how much does this cost!! And you're not even done yet!"
I responded, "Sir, I'm not sure, I've not been worrying about the cost, I'm trying to get this thing running. . . "
"Just get out of there, I'll get someone else out there!"
"Uncle Joe" had just told me to leave. I guess he was in charge, or something.

The Outcome

I'd never before in my life considered that I'd be told to leave the home of a customer with said customer angry; but something has to be said here for someone that is feeling empowered on a cell phone, and is not present, or face to face. There's all kinds of safety that is intrinsic with being out of range, and I know for a fact that if this horrible man, "uncle Joe," had been standing before me, he wouldn't have had the balls to talk to me like that, or to imply that I was milking his elderly family for money. I didn't give a damn about the money, I wanted to do the right thing by getting their ten years out of date air handler running, and go home and get some sleep. But once that man told me on the phone to leave, I stopped right then and there, got all of my scattered tools together, and left. Of course the next day I had to talk to the owners of the company about that situation, and explain to them that an angry man had asked me to leave the home from over the phone. I'd never had any sort of similar situation happen to me like that in my life, and I know for a fact that in the state of Texas, when someone tells you to get out of their home, you'd better leave, and leave quickly.
Of course "uncle Joe" called the office the next day, and wanted to know about the company that I worked for paying the bill for all of the "damage" that I'd done to his people's air conditioner. There was no damage to the thing, of course, he'd just stupidly asked me to leave, and I left before I put the thing back together again, fuck him, right? That was his mistake, not mine. I was there to help, didn't want to be there, was too tired to be there, and was trying my best to help the people. I could tell that the owners weren't mad at me at all for the thing, and I think that they'd thought the whole deal sort of humorous. I only worked at that time for the most prestigious hvac company in the Dallas and Fort Worth Metroplex. I doubt that they compensated "uncle Joe" at all, and if they did, they didn't tell me about it. I damn sure got paid for my overtime that night, and I'd not even wanted to make that extra few dollars. Of course everyone made a new catch phrase from the thing, and now if someone gets asked to leave from anywhere, then they've been "uncle Joe'd."


  1. It's hard to find good servicemen like you. I wish you lived in my city. I have really bad luck finding people to do home maintenance.

    1. My experience is the home insurance providers that cover hvac work are there for one thing, and one thing only - to milk the homeowner out of as much money as humanly possible.

      The best advice I can give is to use word of mouth from a friend to a friend in finding the person to call.