Surprising humidity – too much of a challenge for our A/C

I really don’t know how folks down South can cope.

Later last week and all through last weekend, we’ve had very high humidity for our area. Temps of 90° and 80%+ humidity. Finally on Saturday we gave up and started the heat pump.

We just don’t run the system, because if we did use it all the time to heat and cool the house, we’d have power bills of $350/month. Or more.

Consequently, our 24-year-old system has lasted, even though the latest guy to service it wanted me to spend better than 4 grand on a new system. This one doesn’t even have six years’ worth of wear on it, and I maintain it meticulously.

So after about an hour or so of the system running, we began to feel some relief. We had been having trouble sleeping, so instead of shutting it down at night, we just let it run because of the humidity outside. You’d walk outdoors and it felt like you’d stepped into a sauna. And the system ran continuously for two straight days. The house was, for the first time in a week, comfortable.

But Monday night when I came home from work, I sort of noticed it didn’t seem to be as cool, but it didn’t set any red flags; so I went outside for my devotions. I came in and really noticed it then, because there was nearly no change from outside to in. I passed my hand over one of the registers, and… almost no airflow.

Oh SHIT!
(Yes, I know I used a bad word, and here I’d just come in from devotions, and everything.)

I went out to the garage where the air handler is, and the fan seemed to be laboring; plus there was far too much water noise from the condensate pan inside the air handler. The refrigerant line input from the outdoor unit to the air handler was iced up. Not, NOT a good sign! I quickly went round the side of the house where the condensate drain output was, and … NOTHING coming from the drain. A quick trip inside the house to shut down the system, but set the fan to ON, to keep it running.

I knew exactly what had happened: there had been SO MUCH humidity that the coils in the air handler had iced over completely. It was compounded by a likely blockage in the condensate drain.

I’ll mention at this point that we’d often had this same kind of problem in our old house, and it was on pretty much a yearly basis. There, we lived deep in the forest, at the bottom of a canyon; nothing EVER dried out, and the condensate drain from the heat pump would periodically fill with… I’ll call it ‘fuzz’. So I knew what I had to do.

Back outside, this time grabbing the hose with the watering wand on it. Unscrewing the sprayer as I went, I went around to the condensate drain and shoved the end of the wand against it, sealing it with my hand. Turn on the water FULL, wait ten seconds or so until I get back-pressure from the drain line, then let go. SWOOSH…. lots of water out of the drain, but no continuous trickle. Three times more, then finally a continuous trickle. So that cleared the condensate drain. I knew that I would probably have a pretty good pond in the garage because of this…

And I was right. Next step after making my way round the puddle was to get the bottle of bleach and a turkey baster to squirt bleach into the condensate drain vent. A couple good shots, and that should be enough for a while.

I can hear at this point that there’s much less standing water inside the air handler; so this is good. Probably a giant ice cube in there for now. One more trip round the outside of the house to check the output from the condensate drain, and we have a good trickle. GREAT!

Now all I had to do was let the fan run, blowing that 85° air over the coils, and they would defrost naturally. By 10 PM, we had good airflow through all the vents, and a tiny trickle still from the condensate drain.

Disaster averted. And even though my shirt was stuck to me, the system would be ready for the next time we need cooling.

And just in time, it started to really, really cool off that evening. Enough so that we could open the window and put the fan back in it.

Meanwhile I thank God that it’s cooler today. A lot cooler, finally. That long, hot spell really gets to you. Even the trees are breathing a sigh of relief.

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