There is an intermittent thump in my basement — but since I do not believe in ghosts, let me tell you another scary story. It all begins with the purchase of an old church converted into a home. The paint, the floors, everything seemed new. Lurking underneath the beauty of this transformed place of worship, however, was a sinister smell and a level of inferior flipping prowess that I have never before experienced.

Hanging on the strong bones of this well-built structure were unsealed tile, floating floors installed over old carpet, and an HVAC system that — although somewhat oversized and a little older — was seemingly in decent condition. I could have lived with all these issues, upgrading and fixing the shoddy workmanship, but that sinister smell created an IAQ issue in my home that I could not fix, and it was getting worse. I know my limitations and declared DIY defeat, calling in a professional HVAC contractor.

The technician arrived. He was kind, courteous, and basically everything that The ACHR NEWS challenges contractors to be. The diagnosis? Poor air return. The technician proceeded to cut new register holes above the doorways of each bedroom, among other things, and created a central return. Problem solved to the tune of $2,200 — or so we thought. But the smell continued to worsen, and to make matters worse, members of my family were beginning to have consistent headaches and upper respiratory issues that improved only after leaving the house.

At first I thought it must be carbon monoxide, but our detector hadn’t gone off and a separate monitor showed the air was clear of this component. Time to call for more help. This time, I turned to the contractors who make their living on performance-based contracting. If anyone would be able to fix this IAQ emergency, they could. The new technician from a different company arrived with the same courteous manner. He seemed more thorough and listened to every solution we had already tried. After taking several measurements and notes, he left to work out some information and said he would provide a solution via email and then follow up with a phone call. I was relieved — until the email came, and a $30,000 quote for new equipment hit my inbox.

I was beside myself, and I redoubled my DIY efforts to find and fix the smell. While in that basement staring at the old HVAC system, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Grabbing some flexible ductwork, mastic, and aluminum tape, I went to work to create a direct-ducted return air. In the midst of this well sealed Frankenstein-like ductwork that I had promised myself I would leave to the professionals, I found the cause of the smell. Not only was the top of the return air plenum completely open, sucking air from the basement and anywhere else it could find it, but there was also a 1-inch gap on each side of the return air, covered in blue painters’ tape. I sealed it. I sealed it all.

The air is better now, but that intermittent thump is my Frankenstein begging me to call a technician to have it fixed correctly. The flexible duct I installed is not enough return air supply. But now I’m spooked — and you would be too if two companies and thousands of dollars later, their suggestions would have never even come close to fixing the IAQ problem.


Frightening Thought

As a member of the industry, I support and champion the HVAC trade and each of its participants. Imagine if my story — which is true — were being told by your customer. This is where words like “crooks” can be thrown around when it comes to the trades. Perhaps I misunderstood the technicians trying to help, or maybe I was scared off by the large price tags. I do not claim to be the professional in this matter, and maybe they had the right ideas while in my home. But if that is true, then I completely missed it and our communication broke down somewhere. It’s concerning to me that although these were competent, knowledgeable, and trained technicians, I am still living with a Frankenstein system under too much pressure that goes bump every time the a/c turns on or off. How many of your customers are living this same nightmare? That question should frighten you.