Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Handy Mommy - Amateur Air Conditioner Repair

OK, so this isn't a product review in the strictest sense, but I felt it should still be shared.  I purchased a Haier 9000 BTU portable air conditioner (the kind that uses one vent hose through a window bracket) about three summers ago.  We happily used it the first year, running it whenever the heat got to be unbearable, using it in our home office during the day, moving it to our son's bedroom in the early evening, and into our bedroom after our son went to bed.  We were able to keep three rooms cool with a single air conditioner purchase, and since it was on wheels, it was not too big of a hassle to keep moving it from room to room.

Then, last summer, my husband had pneumonia, and spent a fair bit of time in our bedroom, sleeping & recovering.  It was in the middle of the August heat wave, and so we just put the air conditioner in there full time and ran it a lot more than usual.  I slept in the basement because I didn't want to get sick (I was pregnant at this point with our daughter), so I didn't actually go into our bedroom much.  However at one point I did have to go in to get laundry from the hamper, and I noticed that the floor was wet (!!).  Now we have carpeting, so this was pretty alarming.  It wasn't just wet, it was squishy and you could actually see the water puddled up wherever you stepped.  We quickly found out that the air conditioner was the culprit, and turned it off.

After a lengthy process to get the carpet dried out (we ended up having to pull up the carpet and replace a fair bit of the subfloor and underlay...don't even get me started on that), we again used the air conditioner, but this time we placed it inside an upside down lid from one of my large Rubbermaid bins, to contain any water that would drip.  This worked, but was clumsy, as now it was not so portable, and emptying the lid of water every couple of days was not a fun task.

Here you can see the back of the unit, with the drain hose at the
bottom and the "hot" coil running vertical in the middle.  Notice
the"drip tray" I had to resort to for catching the water, which was
coming out everywhere EXCEPT from the drip hose

This year, we only had to use the unit a couple of times, and the first time, we didn't have any problems with water, so I let it run without the water catching lid in place... well, I soon regretted that.  One humid day, my daughter's bedroom floor was wet, and it was again coming from the air conditioner.

This photo shows the side view of the "hot" coil after I
brushed the dust off.  The fins are slightly dented at the top
but otherwise in good shape. 
So today I took matters into my own hands and dismantled the air conditioner.  I took the back panel off first, then the two sides and the front.  Once I had the air conditioner coils exposed I could see a fair bit of dust on the "hot" side, the coil on the bottom half.  I used an old toothbrush to gently remove it (as I didn't want to bend the fins on the coils).  I still could not see why there was water leaking but I suspected that it was coming from the "cold" coil, where the moisture in the room air condenses.  I could see that the idea was for the moisture to drip from the small catch tray under the cold coil, and run through the hot coil where it would evaporate and be forced outside through the vent hose.  So I assumed that there must be dust buildup clogging the drain from the catch tray.  Boy, was I right.

I had to remove the 4 screws holding the upper coil in place, and then ever so gingerly pry it out of its snug little home, so I could see the drain.  Or more precisely, so I could see where the drain once was.  It was covered in so much dust and fuzz that there's no wonder it didn't work!  I used a wooden skewer from the kitchen to pick up as much of the fuzz and lint as I could.

This photo is taken of the drain area under the "cold"
coil at the top of the unit after I cleaned it.  Before
cleaning, the visible fins were covered in about 2mm of
dust and lint, and were effectively completely plugged
Then I flushed it out with a sports top drink bottle filled with hot water.  I was finally able to get the drain cleaned out and water was running smoothly through it down to the reservoir on the bottom half of the unit.

I have yet to get the back panel re-attached but the unit is otherwise back together now and awaiting a test run... we've got a few hot humid days in the forecast this weekend so I'm looking forward to testing it out.  I'll be sure to post my results back here.

So in conclusion, if you're thinking of getting an air conditioner, one of the units that mounts out of your window is not likely to give you this kind of problem (at least ours doesn't).  However if you need the convenience of a portable unit, you might want to check and see how the condensation moisture is handled to see if you may end up with this kind of problem down the road.  Perhaps this post will be of some assistance to others having the same model and trying to fix the moisture issue.

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