Home Repair Blues

I have a great example of how I would have been able to actually SAVE money if I was already retired.  I turned on our air conditioner on Memorial Day for a few minutes to cool the house in the evening.  It made a funny sound when I shut it off and my wife said something about it.  I told her it was probably nothing (famous last words).

When I arrived home from work last night, my wife and kids were out running errands.  I turned on the AC to cool the house and nothing happened.  I tried it a second time and then got worried.  The first thing I checked was the breaker, which was not tripped.  When I turned it on the third time, I realized I could hear the compressor and fan fire up outside, but that the air was not blowing.  Since I am not an air conditioner expert, I decided to call the HVAC company that has serviced the unit in the past.  I know from Angie’s List that the HVAC company has a good reputation and they don’t try to upsell.

the money pit

your house is probably a money pit, too

 Some background information on the weather: The temperatures here in Central California get up over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis, but the spring has been mild and we have not had many days over the mid 80’s so far this spring.  This week is forecasted to be in the 90’s.  This means my time frame for getting it fixed is fairly short. While we installed solar to offset our electric bill, if we kept the house at 70 degrees, the solar panels would not keep up and we would owe money to the power company!  However, if we keep it at 76 or higher we should end up with no bill for the year (or even a little excess since the spring was mild).

Back to the story, I would have liked to research the problem like I did when I fixed my washing machine a few months ago.  Since the AC is more complicated and has things both outside and in our attic, I panicked a little bit.  I chose to save my time and stress level in exchange for paying a lot more for the repair that I would have it I DIY’d it myself.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, I can’t decide which), he diagnosed the problem in less than 10 minutes and it cost $289 to replace a capacitor in the attic.  He also mentioned I could improve the efficiency of the unit by sealing up a run that was not insulated at all.  In addition, he spent a good 20 minutes fixing another issue he noticed for free.  That involved fixing what was making the noise we heard earlier in the week.  I have no idea what that would have cost, but let’s say $75 of labor as a shot in the dark.

I am feeling a bit like a sucker, but also happy that it was an easy fix and I might be more inclined to test out my AC earlier in the spring and try to resolve any issues myself.  If it was mid-summer and this happened, it would have probably required me taking a day off to get it figured out on my own.  I would rather pay $289 than burn all or part of a vacation day to do a repair.


·         It would have taken me a lot of reading and experimenting to figure it out

·         The HVAC guy also fixed the fan blade for free (which probably saved me more time or money or both)

·         The problem was resolved quickly and I don’t have to worry about the kids at home

·         The repair has a 5 year warranty for that part.


·         Cost about 5 times more than doing it myself

·         I had to take a late lunch and mess up my typical work day to be there

I was thinking about the trade-off that I just made between time and money.  I spent $289 to get it fixed.  I could have spent more like $50 and a few (or several) hours of my time.  Even if I paid the $89 fee to the HVAC company and said I will take it from there, it would have only cost me about $149 plus my time.  I should have thought about that, but when he said a capacitor I didn’t expect it to cost very much.  It wasn’t until he came back in and presented the price (before he did the work obviously) that I agreed to the repair.

I probably could have went and picked up the new one after work and fixed it tonight.  It is 88 degrees out right now (at 3pm) and it was still 77 degrees on our ground floor.  It was about 81 degrees upstairs, but my wife and kids probably could have managed the rest of the afternoon (or gone out).  They could have went shopping and got ice cream and we still would have been better off!

The early retired version of me would have had all day to research the problem, call around with questions, and then attempt the repair on his own.

Anyone else have some home repair (or even car repair) regrets?

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15 Responses

  1. Retired or not I still would have had someone fix it for me. My plan is to have enough in retirement that I don’t have to do any DIY projects.

    But if you enjoy it then more power to you.

    • vawt says:

      I am on the fence and would repair some things but not others. I see it as a challenge more than a chore.

  2. We DIY some things and hire some things out and, like you, we hope to DIY more when we have actual time to devote to research and work on those projects. However, DIYing something is no guarantee that it will cost less. In fact, often non-experts don’t find the actual problem in one go, and end up doing multiple repairs (which means multiple trips to the store and buying several parts you don’t end up needing — not to mention the time). When we renovated our first place, and were determined to do most of the work ourselves, we definitely overspent on several items, because we didn’t have the expertise to correctly diagnose the problem on the first try. That experience hasn’t deterred us, though — just made us more clear-eyed about the pros and cons.

    • vawt says:

      I think that is exactly why I was afraid. The HVAC system is more complex than my fridge or washing machine. I could have spent an entire day and not found the problem!

  3. Dude, I just went through all of this. Our units were 20 years old so we had to get 2 new ACs AND two new furnaces. Plus new doors, a new pool filter, new washer/dryer, and a new water heater. This is why I drink!

    • vawt says:

      Yikes! I don’t feel so bad now. My house is about 7-8 years old so I hopefully have a few years left on both.

  4. It’s always tricky with these things upfront to know whether to spend the time and effort to get stuck into it, or get someone who knows what they’re doing to get it right first time! I’d normally go for the latter, as I’m not terribly handy, only the simple things that I know how to fix I’d do it myself. Guess it also depends on if you’d like to spend a day on a problem like that versus whatever else you could be doing!

    • vawt says:

      Thanks Jason, I agree. I guess there is not hard line on what I will and won’t try to fix, but the time it takes is definitely a big factor.

  5. 300 is not too bad, and at least now you know going forward how to fix it yourself if it happens again in the future. Don’t have to deal with home repairs yet as I rent. But its good to be handy, and feel accomplished for doing things here and there.

  6. SavvyJames says:

    You gotta love all that comes with being a homeowner. I’m not afraid to handle the lightweight DIY. However, I do know my limits and it is often well worth it to bring in a pro after a little research and price comparison.

    • vawt says:

      I am trying to expand my limits a little bit, but don’t want to do subpar work either. Thanks for the comment James!

  7. Retire29 says:

    On the plus side, you’ll forever have the knowledge to make the future repair on your own. In my experience, whenever anything goes wrong with the HVAC, it always is the capacitor.

    This month we had to pull permits for our basement finishing–that was a cool $600 just for the county to give me permission to work in my own basement.

  1. July 19, 2015

    […] to me recently.  I realized that I was never hitting the budget numbers I expected.  Things like AC repairs, car repairs, etc kept coming up, but there was something else.  I noticed that every time I […]

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