Btu Buddy 143: Heat Pump with a Noisy Outdoor Fan
Bob is a service technician who is well trained and nationally certified. However, he has sometimes suffered from the same confusion that all technicians occasionally do — the facts that he gathers may or may not point to the obvious cause of the problem or the best solution. But Bob has had something that no one else has. He recalled his long-time HVACR mentor and imagines him accompanying him as “Btu Buddy,” someone who reminded him to take time to stop and think before rushing to judgment, helping keep him on the right track, even with facts that are confusing.
Now, Bob’s company has promoted him to help train a new employee, right out of a school specializing in HVAC, just like Bob was. Bob is now Tim’s Btu Buddy. Tim is anxious to travel with Bob. Tim realizes that he is right out of school, with the theory and lab work that he accomplished in school, but still needs help. He knows that he worked with many of the components of the systems in the school, under ideal conditions with good light and air conditioning. Now it is into the field, sometimes under the house with poor lighting, or out on the rooftop in the sun, where the real action is. He is naturally and normally reluctant, but he has Bob to help guide him.
Bob and Tim were on their way to a service call on a heat pump. The homeowners are complaining about noise at the outdoor unit. It is really cold outside.
When Bob and Tim arrived, the homeowners explained that the heat pump for the upstairs is beside the house in a wooded area where they rarely go. It is under their upstairs bedroom window and it became loud last night. They turned if off.
Bob told Tim to turn the unit off at the disconnect and then he would turn the unit on at the thermostat. They could then control the unit from the outside.
Tim came back in and acted nervous and motioned Bob to come outside.
When they got outside, Tim broke into a laugh and said, “The outdoor unit was falling to pieces with rust. I have never seen anything like this. One of the corners of the unit is so rusty that it is leaning. That is probably the reason the fan is noisy. You need to come and look at this.”
They went to the outdoor unit and Bob broke into a laugh and said, “You are right. That is unusual. I have never seen it before either. We need to think about this.”
They went to the homeowners and explained the situation. Bob then said, “We have no other choice but to change the unit out. I need to tell you that this unit is about 10 years old and all of the equipment has changed. We can no longer get an outdoor unit to match the indoor unit so they will both have to be changed out.”
The owner said, “It is OK to replace the units, but I need to wait for 60 days. We are running low on money now; we will get a big payday in 60 days.”
Bob said, “Maybe we can do a patch job until that time comes.”
The owner then asked, “What caused the unit to rust out so bad?”
Bob said, “You have that big dog that is fenced in the yard with the outdoor unit. The dog has been using the unit as his go-to place. The salt in urine will rust any steel parts, which is what the frame is made of. The unit is leaning towards one side and the fan blade is touching while turning. That was the noise you heard. We are going to try to put a prop under that side that will last until we can change the units out.”
Bob and Tim went to the outside unit again and started to figure out what they could do.
Tim said, “We have a piece of angle iron in the truck that we can fasten on that corner. I think that should hold it for a while.”
Bob suggested that he bring the angle iron. When Tim placed the angle iron against the unit, Bob said, “Hold it right there until I can mark it for length and see if we can place it where we can fasten screws through it to hold it. There is not much solid metal on the bottom where there is so much rust.”
Tim took it to the truck and cut the piece off and drilled some holes in the top and the bottom and returned to the unit. When he held the piece up to the unit, they had to raise the top where they fastened the angle to the top. The bottom was a different story. There was not enough metal left on the unit to fasten to. Tim asked, “Now what?”
Bob said, “Get some of that 1-inch-wide strapping that we have to hold ductwork and let’s see if we can get creative.”
Tim brought the strapping and Bob wrapped the strapping around the base of the unit and fastened it to the unit where there was metal to fasten to, then he fastened it to the bottom of the angle iron. It was almost like a belt to hold it steady.
Bob then said, “The unit is held tight at the top and the bottom and the fan seems to be turning freely. Turn the unit on and let’s see if the unit will run without the fan touching. I don’t think there is anything else wrong.”
They started the unit and the fan was not touching, so they went back to the owner and Bob said, “We have done all that we can to get some more hours of service out of this unit. We need to talk about the future for this system. The unit must be isolated from your dog, or the new system will have the same problem in a few years. We can either move the unit or you can have a barrier built around it. The barrier will have to have enough room around if for proper airflow and room to service the unit.”
The owner said that he would have a barrier built around the area before the new unit would be installed.
Bob said, “We will have a salesman come out and give an estimate on changing the indoor unit and outdoor unit. There are new high-efficiency units on the market now that will save you a lot of money due to their reduced energy use. If you plan to live here for a while, it is a great idea. If you plan to sell, it is a great feature to pass on to the new buyer.”
As they were driving away, Tim said, “That was a strange service call. It almost turned into a sales call.”
Bob noted, “It is always best to set the stage for the salespeople. The customer usually has a lot of faith in what the technician says. After all, in the end, the technician is usually the last person to see and service the equipment.”
Tim said, “Good point.”
Publication date: 2/16/2015