Recommendations for a/c repair or replacement?

cafelibbyAugust 4, 2011

I am a newish (1 year) homeowner. My a/c is not working well--the evaporator coils ice up after an hour of use and the blower stops blowing cold air. A local contractor came out and said that the blower motor, wheel, and capacitor need to be replaced. He also looked at the condenser outside and said that the fins are very degraded, probably because of dog urine. I don't have a dog--the previous owners did--the home inspector did not mention this problem and I didn't know what to look for. Now I do.

In order to get my system operational, I need a new blower motor, wheel, and capacitor (quoted $664). To increase the efficiency, I need to replace the outside condenser (quoted $2300 for a SEER13 dry charge unit filled with freon).

Should I replace the whole a/c system, including the evaporator coils inside? If I want to upgrade to a unit that is eligible for the tax credit, do I need to replace the furnace as well, or can I just replace the blower parts that are broken along with the condenser + evaporator coils to a system with a SEER 16 rating?

My current system is a 1995 Bryant a/c 3.5 ton (model 561CJ042-A with freon) and gas furnace (model 395CAV048111). I live in St. Louis, MO.

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Have you checked the filters? My neighbor came over a few years ago and said he had no air flow. I went over and checked his ceiling filter and it must have had 1" of dust collected on it. No air flow at all! I took out the filter and told him to let the AC set overnight so the ice on the coils would melt. The next morning he installed a new filter and the AC worked fine. Cost about $2. This guy was over 40 years old and had never known that AC's have filters.

With no air flow the coils can ice up (literally becomes a block of ice). Other things can cause loss of air flow. Bad blower motor, fan blade severely coated with dust, bad starting capacitor for the blower motor, to name a few.

A starting capacitor costs $5-$10. Some AC guys have been known to sell an entire new AC when only the starting capacitor for either the inside blower motor or the outside blower or compressor motor was bad.

I would get a 2nd opinion before laying out a lot of bucks.

I would be very suspicious of the dog urine story.

Question, after it sets long enough to melt the ice in the coils does it have any air flow for the first hour or so? If the filters are clean and if the answer is No, then something must be wrong with the blower inside the furnace unit. Could just be a bad capacitor. I replace at least one every 2 or 3 years.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 12:56AM
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Yes, I have replaced the filter, thanks for checking. When this problem arose I tried a new filter and it didn't help.

The blower motor has started to make a clunking noise when it's starting and stopping. I have a home warranty and they've agreed to pay for the replacement of the blower motor, capacitor, and wheel (less $150 deductible/service call charge). But I could also apply the home warranty credit to a system replacement if I decide to go that route.

As for the outside condenser, I had never heard of the dog urine thing, but then I did a google search and came up with lots of results that said it was a plausible story.

I think it's a good idea to get a second opinion and another quote or two before doing a whole system replacement.

Can I replace the blower motor now or would it be replaced anyway with a different type of blower/air handler if I got a SEER16 system?

Thanks for your suggestions.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dog urine damage to a/c condenser

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 2:21AM
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I am not a professional, but I don't understand how changing the capacitor in the condenser will prevent the coil from freezing up. Is the condenser not starting up?

Since you have a home warranty, it would make sense to spend $150 to get the AC working again. This would give you time to do research on replacing the furnace and AC as a matched system. This is the only way you will achieve a SEER rating of 16.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:45AM
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A "clunking" blower is a good sign that it needs repair! They should get the exact replacement motor and fan.

My son got the Home Warranty thing when he bought an older home couple of years ago. That saved him some BIG money. Smart thinking!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 3:48PM
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Thanks for the tips. I think that the capacitor that is being replaced is part of the blower, not the condenser.

I think I'll get the blower fixed on the home warranty and then get some other quotes for later replacement of the system.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 11:30PM
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At 16 years old your system is nearing the end of its life cycle. When they pull the system apart see if the evaporator is rusted.

If you replace your evaporator chances are that you'll have to buy a new compressor too. This is because all the new models run on R410 and your current system runs on R22 freon. R22 is getting hard to find and will only be harder (and more $$$) in the future.

If the furnace is in great shape, I'd see if I could get the home warranty company to change the evaporator and compressor for you. And don't let them give you a Goodman, either.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 7:52PM
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