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Old 08-17-2005, 08:42 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The air has been out in our house since Saturday. We've had 3 techs come out to look at it from 3 different companies. Finally, the third one diagnosed it with a collapsed duct. Otherwise, the system is working fine except that I had no air coming out of the air vents nor any air being sucked through the return.

Is this common or indicative that it could happen again and/or I have bigger problems to worry about with the system?

It was 89 deg INSIDE the house last evening. They said they're going to have to cut through the drywall and all to fix. The home is only 3 years old. Bad luck.

Jeff

[ August 18, 2005, 09:37 PM: Message edited by: Jeff M ]
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Old 08-17-2005, 08:56 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Are you sure? Never heard of it. A frozen A-Coil will slow or stop airflow. Low freon or low outside temp can cause that. So can a clogged filter or any other reason that would restrict the flow of air thru the A-Coil. I've never heard of a collapsed duct tho. It's gotta be on the return right? What happens if you open the filter access panel? If the return duct is really and truly collapsed, the system should go wooooosh and start flowing air like crazy.

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Old 08-17-2005, 09:01 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I'm don't do this stuff for a living but I can't see how the duct could collapse, unless it's on the return side of the system and the filter was plugged. The feed side is positive pressure so there would be no way for it to collapse.
Hope it's fixed real soon. I'd be at a hotel if it were 89 deg in my bedroom.
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Old 08-17-2005, 10:08 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I've learned a bunch about these a/c units this week. On one unit (the one that doesn't work), the large copper pipe on the outside unit coming into the house had ice all over it. The first couple of techs told me to turn the unit off for 12 hours so it would thaw and turn it back on and it would be fine. Did that and it does nothing when I turn it on. The unit outside comes on and the blower in the attic blows like mad but no air flow.

I had the impression that it is definitely the return vent. I just changed the filter about 5 weeks ago with one of those overpriced 3M filters that are supposed to last 3 months.

NOW, I did have like a currio cabinet in front of the return vent but it had about 6 inches of gap between it and the vent. Plus, it's been working all summer so I don't think the cabinet impeded the flow at this point. Would it?
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Old 08-17-2005, 10:28 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Pull the filters completely and check for flow after that... I have "high quality filters" block completely pretty quickly.

The freezing up is also an indication of poor air flow
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Old 08-17-2005, 11:06 PM   #6 (permalink)
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air flow, air flow, AIR FLOW! (think of your air conditioning unit like a set of stock 5.0 heads....the more air that you can get through the "return system", the better.) make sure all return AND supply vents are clear/unobstructed.....


..as was stated earlier: ice on lineset (copper line) is a sign of poor airflow, or low freon charge.

duct work made from galvanized does not "collapse" unless it gets crushed by force. I dont buy that one. take zulu's advice, and pull the filter, let the unit "thaw out" (as the inside coil is probably a block of solid ice), and then check air flow again (run the fan in the "on" position. does it flow air now? if so, dial the temperature back down to "call for cooling", and wait a few minutes; some outdoor units have a "time delay", and will not immediately start up.

run it for 10 -15 minutes, and check the temp. coming out of the supply vents. -depending on the temp. inside & outside the home, you should be reading somewhere in the 45-55 degree range. check the out door unit: does it blow hot air from the fan area? re-check the copper lines, are they forming ice?

it sounds to me like a restrictive filter is the problem rather than a freon leak, since the filter change was the last operation done to the system.

pm me if you like.

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Old 08-18-2005, 01:03 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Just pulling the filters might not get you flow if the A-Coil is frozen over.
Is the condensation drain dripping? If it's not, then turn the A/C off and turn the fan "on" instead of "auto." That will run ambient air over the coil and unfreeze it. Check the drain again. If the A-Coil is frozen, that will thaw it and you'll get water dripping out.
If you have the filters out and the A-Coil unfrozen, you should get flow.
Don't run without filters very long. If you get your A-Coil dirty, it will freeze again easier.

You probably won't see the 45-55* out of the vents Dago talks about if you're running 89* air on the return side. About the best you can hope for is a 20* diff. If your house is 89, the air coming out of the vents may be around 69* or so until you get the surfaces, furniture etc., cooled down again.

d

[ August 17, 2005, 09:24 PM: Message edited by: NAGA ]
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Old 08-18-2005, 01:09 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Another thing, check the cleanliness of the coil.. evaporator coils tend to buildup a bacterial/algae sludge in humid climates... the condensate that stays on the coil area when it's off (warm) creates a haven for that type of growth, which will then make your coil freeze over very quickly. There are special chemicals to clean this with but BE VERY CAREFUL with them. They are usually very caustic, and must be used with care and washed away very throughly, or you're going to get you and your family sick by inhaling the fumes.

HTH,

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Old 08-18-2005, 01:57 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Dirty coils or low freon will cause a freeze/ice.

Like the others said. The feed side could colapse from too small of lines, clogged filter.

Unlikely the positive side to your vents could colapse, maybe explode, but not colapse.
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Old 08-18-2005, 02:21 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Dago,

I PM'd you. Please call me or PM me your phone number. I want to get more advice before this guy comes over tomorrow and starts cutting into my walls to find this "collapsed" duct.

Guys, I don't know if I mentioned this part but what may have started all of this is about 7 days ago, I received my second electric bill over $450. I called an AC guy the next day to come out and service the 3 units, thinking that maybe it wasn't as efficient as it could be. He came over, never entered the attic and just cleaned the coils on the outside units. Said they were very dirty but that the freon was fine. Took his $97.50 and left.

4 days later, one of the three units stays on but never gets cooler than 80 deg. The outside unit is blowing hot air, the line is icy, and the blower in the attic is blowing like hell. Still, no air flow coming out of the vents or being sucked through the return.

I called contractor #1 on Saturday and he denied it was his problem and offered to come back out at his overtime rate. I declined. He did say though to turn off the unit for 2 hrs but leave the fan running. I left the fan off for 4 hrs and turned it on, still nothing *except* I could feel a trickle of air coming out of 2 vents but still nothing sucking in the return.

I called contractor #2 that a neighbor recommended and he came out and said that I had major problems with my ducting. He told me that he didn't know what was wrong and left. Told me to call the builder of the house and sue them.

I called the contractor that originally installed the ac units in the house when it was built. He couldn't come out that day but told me to turn the unit off for at least 12hours but leave the fan OFF and that should thaw out the inside unit that was likely frozen solid. I left it off and the fan off for 14 hours and turned it on in the morning and nothing. Not even the trickle of air from the 2 vents I had felt a little air from at the first attempt above.

This contractor #3 finally came out today and said that my ducting was collapsed. I'm not enthusiastic to have him cut into the drywall to replace the ducting but not sure what else to do.

If I don't hear back from Dago, should I:

remove all the filters in the house and turn the fan on only to check for flow? If nothing happens, what do I do next? If it really isn't collapsed and has truly thawed, will it start flowing immediately or does it take a few minutes for it to equalize? That unit hasn't been on for at least 8 hours and at that time probably for less than 15 minutes.

Other option: wait and don't do anything tonight...run the fan all night and then remove the filters in the morning, turn the fan on again and see if there is flowing in the morning?

This is frustrating........help!
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Old 08-18-2005, 02:28 AM   #11 (permalink)
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How did he figure out the ducting was collapsed?
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Old 08-18-2005, 02:37 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Jeff,
Do you have an access panel at your filter box or do the filters just slide in and out of a mail slot? Is there any way for you to bypass the return duct?
If you can, open up the filter access panel, thereby bypassing the "collapsed" duct. If you then get flow thru the system and out the registers, #3 just might be right.

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Old 08-18-2005, 02:44 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I'm wondering what kind of ducting was originally used for the return duct. Some kind of flexible duct?
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Old 08-18-2005, 03:15 AM   #14 (permalink)
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It's possible for duct lining to come loose and block the return air flow, and like others have indicated, removing the unit panel where the blower is located should make a new return path. Sometimes there's a switch that stops the fan when the panel is removed ... we just jump it or tape it closed to do the work when necessary. Mind your fingers.
I always seal the edges and seams of duct liner to prevent it from coming loose, but only a few still do this extra work.

It's difficult to troubleshoot a problem remotely, but if you open the blower panel and force the fan on, if the coil is clear, there will be airflow. If not, then the blockage is downstream, or the fan isn't working. There should be a lot of whistling noises from wherever the pressure is very high or low.
When in doubt, I drill test holes in the duct to measure the static pressure along the run. A piece of clear tubing shaped in a U bend and some water is all that's required.
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Old 08-18-2005, 03:36 AM   #15 (permalink)
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You have three independent units in your house, two work, and this third one is in the attic and serving the top floor? Why would the return duct go through drywall at all, assuming that attic is an unfinished space?

I have heard that fine-particle filters often clog and cause problems, but not that fast. I wonder if the filter didn't cause a failure in the duct due to greater pressure differential, and then junk got sucked in and is now blocking the duct or just covering the evaporator. ?

I have had a unit freeze up before in a rent house, and just left the fan on but A/C off for a few hours. At 90degrees, it should melt pretty fast I'd think.

What all do you have easy access to? Can you get to the evaporator coils readily? How long is the return duct? In my house it's only a few feet (less than 10 feet) in a straight run, and I could easily look down it with a ladder and a flashlight.

My house is 3600 sq feet with dual units that run 24 hours a day when it's 100 degrees (there are always people home here), and I've never come close to a $450 bill. Maybe $250 sometimes, generally more like $200 in the summer. There is almost certainly something wrong with your meter, your meter reading, or your house.

Good luck.
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Old 08-18-2005, 06:42 AM   #16 (permalink)
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Jeff, it is very easy to check if the duct is colapsed. Your return air is more than likely flex duct. Simply disconnect it from the upstairs unit, turn the blower on and see if you get air flow out the vents. The flex duct is connected with a big tie wrap that you can buy at Home Depot. Also a good A/C guy will seal this connection with the silver tape after the tie wrap is installed.
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Old 08-18-2005, 03:14 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Jeff,
Good speaking with you this a.m.,

keep us posted. inquiring minds want to know.
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Old 08-19-2005, 01:49 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Dago,

Thanks a million. You've been a big help.

These A/C repairmen came by yesterday to look at the problem and diagnose - this is when they told me the duct was collapsed. They said that they would be over the next day (today) with 2 men and the rep from the home builder as this would be covered under warranty. They assess the problem and tell me they will be back. One more night of heat.

Well, I took off today and boy am I ever glad. Lesson #1, don't leave your wife at home alone when such repairs are taking place. The A/c guys came over this morning and were rummaging around in the attic looking at the collapsed duct and where to start cutting into the walls. About 10 minutes later, a person from the original builder came over and went into the attic. They were up there for quite some time so I decided to step away from the house for about 10 minutes.

I come back and my wife says, "they've left and said they will be back in a few days." I hit the roof! Long story short, I call the homebuilder's customer service manager and absolutely chew him out. Remember, I've been very patient with this and have not had a/c since Saturday. Within an hour, the a/c guys are back, the builder's rep, and another guy from the builder. They figured out a way to fish the duct out of the walls without cutting the drywall. I was happy.

By 4:30p, they were finished. Turns out, it was due to sloppy work by the builder. The duct turned out to be that flexible stuff and it had been punctured badly when the home was built. I'm surprised that it lasted for 3 years.

Before the a/c guys left, I checked all of the vents and there was still one in the front room that was still not blowing. He investigated and found that there was ducting leaving the vent but the other end was buried in insulation - had never been plumbed into the system.

Those kinds of mistakes/cut corners make me wonder what else could be wrong with the place. It's a shame that these builders build these beautiful homes for a bunch of money and then do squirely stuff like this.

Thanks again to ALL of you for your tips and ideas. I love this forum.

Jeff
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Old 08-19-2005, 02:16 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Wow Jeff.
Glad you got it fixed but man, how'd you keep from choking the builder?
Rilla and I enjoy going to open houses on Sunday afternoons just to get decorating ideas etc. I'm amazed at the degradation in materials and workmanship on new homes. Where have all the craftsmen gone?

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Old 08-19-2005, 02:22 AM   #20 (permalink)
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lowest bidder. illegal alien workers. At least in Jeff's and my neck of the woods.
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Old 08-19-2005, 02:32 AM   #21 (permalink)
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I worked for a company doing work in East TX. We provided structural steel for the coal-handling portion of a Texas Utilities power plant south of Longview.
Every few weeks the INS would raid the site and haul off the illegals.

But it's materials too Paul. Cabinets are pressed board, plastic flex water lines, flex ducts. Everything's being made so any idiot can install it. I think a $200K house should be really well built. Man, am I out of date.

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Old 08-19-2005, 09:33 AM   #22 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by Jeff M:
It's a shame that these builders build these beautiful homes for a bunch of money and then do squirely stuff like this.
Jeff
...so, in other words, you think it was intentional? You really think the builder would rather take your phone calls and send guys over there repeatedly instead of getting the job done right in the first place? It took you 3 years to notice that one of your supply vents was dead? How is that possible? If the ducts were damaged as badly as you say, how could the system have operated for 3 years with no sign of trouble? I've been a home builder (in the northeast, home of the world's silliest building codes) for 20 years, and I was an HVAC contractor for 25 years, and what you describe makes no sense at all.
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Old 08-19-2005, 10:56 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Joe,
Your assertion reads, because I'm a skilled and concientious builder, all builders must be.

Logically it looks like this:
If A = B
Then C = B

That don't doesn't make sense.

Can you supply another explanation for how the collapsed return got damaged inside the wall and for how the supply vent ends in the insulation instead of attached to the register? The only scenerio that works for me is the mechanical contractor did it (I believe UNintentionally) and the general didn't catch it.

Let's not blame the victim here.

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Old 08-19-2005, 11:23 AM   #24 (permalink)
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Yes, Don, let's not blame the victim. But let's not paint all builders with the same brush. Again, how did a dead register escape notice for 3 years? Maybe it was connected and somebody wading around in the attic insulation (cable guy? homeowner?) knocked it off. Whatever the reason, that's not something that would be unnoticed for 3 years. As far as the duct being "collapsed", again that's not something that "happens". It was either crushed during installation (but it worked for 3 years!) or it was collapsed by a high negative pressure (I'm assuming it was the return) due to a dirty or too restrictive filter (maybe that spiffy new 3M high-efficiency thingy).

You started in the right direction by mentioning the frozen coil. The coil can freeze for many reasons, one of which is insufficient air flow, the another is incorrect refrigerant charge. Assuming the charge is correct, the coil froze because the return was crushed. If the return was crushed from day one, when the house was new, the system never would have worked, and the first attempt at use would have resulted in an iced coil and water dripping through the ceiling. I'd take a good look at the filter situation, as I mentioned above. In any case, after 3 years, I'd say the builder went beyond his responsibilities in dealing with the problem at all. He certainly did not deserve the comment that prompted my reply. The guy did what was expected of any good builder and fixed the problem. Just because the homeowner is pissed at the 2 or 3 HVAC guys that ran him around is not the builder's fault.
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Old 08-19-2005, 01:50 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Joe,

He's lucky the builder stepped up to the plate. There are some atrocious builders here in the DFW area where he and I are. I'm talking about the big housing builders not the individual Joe (no pun intended) that oversees the actual contruction. Sad to say but here once you sign the papers you almost have to pull a gun on someone to get them out to fix a problem.
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Old 08-19-2005, 01:50 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Joe,

He's lucky the builder stepped up to the plate. There are some atrocious builders here in the DFW area where he and I are. I'm talking about the big housing builders not the individual Joe (no pun intended) that oversees the actual contruction. Sad to say but here once you sign the papers you almost have to pull a gun on someone to get them out to fix a problem.
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Old 08-19-2005, 04:51 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Jeff, glad to hear that things got sorted out.

One last issue: FILTERS. Think of them much like your oil/air filter in your car: Some trap the big stuff, some can even get the finer particles, but you will reach a certain point in each filter, where they will become too restrictive, and thus cause poor air flow. Use your best judgement when it comes to changing/cleaning your filters. Houses where there is a lot of "traffic", more dust, furry pets, etc., will need more routine maintenance than the elderly couple living alone.

Good luck.
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Old 08-19-2005, 06:03 PM   #28 (permalink)
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Let's just be happy that the thing is fixed! We went about a week this summer with no AC when it was >95 degrees and about the same humidity so I know how much it sucks.
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Old 08-20-2005, 12:23 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Mr. Old Guy,

Chill out. I wasn't blaming the HVAC people, it was the builder that was dragging their feet. He's the one that kept sending them home.

I don't know how it worked for 3 years and if it makes you feel any better, I've only lived in the place for 7 months. The vent that wasn't blowing was unnoticed because it's in a room that I rarely sit in. It's very plausible that it would've been left unnoticed.

Me or the cable guy that tripped over the hose? Doesn't fly because there are no utilities in that part of the attic. It wasn't me because I had never been in the attic until last week and even then, I wasn't anywhere near where the hose was laying in insulation.

In fact, if you want me to tell you the whole story, the hose coming off the vent was only a few feet long. That's why the HVAC people have to come out because he needs about 10 feet more material to even reach the main air lines.

The HVAC repair guy told me that the duct was punctured and described it to me like an accordion. When the system turned on, it inflated......when it went back off, it deflated. Must've been that it deflated and never wanted to inflate again. He also advised me to not purchase the 3M filters because they are too efficient and have to be changed more often despite 3M's claim that they last for 90 days. This most recent change had only been done 30-40 days prior. The previous owner religiously changed the filters so I don't think that I can be blamed for this.

I see that you live in Mass. and don't know the situation there but they are building homes like mad in the Dallas area. I'm not accusing them of purposely puncturing the return duct. I am suspect though when the hose coming from the vent is 10 feet short of where it needs to be and is buried in insulation.

There are good and bad apples in all professions. I think mine was a good one, just a little spoiled with the housing boom. As you said, they did step up and take care of the problem....5 days after it went out.
Jeff M. is offline   Quick reply to this message
Old 08-20-2005, 11:01 AM   #30 (permalink)
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YOur right Jeff, ther are good and bad apples. Our builder was sued numurous times and building insp. fired for "overlooking" stuff. NIce house though, just cheap materials was what our engineer said when he insp. the place, glad things worked out
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