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‘Beat the heat’

The summer rush will be here soon as the salmon migration of HVAC vans hit the streets. They are rushing out to fix someone’s air conditioner (AC), perhaps yours. The technician tinkers and mumbles something, makes a call then runs to the truck and returns with what looks like a stubby can of Red Bull, without the label of course.

This is your capacitor and while quite strong it is the weakest link in the food chain of that noisy fan thingy that sits outside your house. Its job is to ‘push the child on the swing’. See, when you start out it takes a lot of effort to get the swing moving, but once in motion not so much. You just need someone to give you a shove.

Most often the technician has the right capacitor on the truck. Sometimes not in which case they might have to connect a couple together because ‘you can do that?’. Yes you can do that and it will work fine if you do it right. Otherwise, it won’t work fine.

Imagine the technician’s surprise when you have a spare can of ‘Red Bull’ (replacement capacitor) and a couple extra fuses waiting nice and dry in a quart size freezer bag on top of the outside AC unit. Some people change it themselves after they Google it and watch the video. If you can change a ‘plug-in’ (electrical receptacle), then you have the skills required to change your capacitor.

Can anything go wrong? Oh Lord yes, lots of things.

You can have the wrong replacement capacitor. You can forget to write down and take a picture of where the wires go before you take them off. You can pull on the wire not the wire connector and have just the wire come off. You can do it with the electricity on and die on the spot. The new can of Red Bull might not fit in the old can’s holder. There might still be a charge in the capacitor that can shock you. Perhaps you can add to the list.

But if you are brave and extremely careful about all of these things you can do it.

What if it’s not the capacitor? Two things… if you smell something like a spatula left on a hot stove and there’s soot all over that little brown thingy, then that’s the ‘little brown thingy soot problem’ and the capacitor may or not be also bad. Otherwise, it doesn’t hurt to try it and it may save a lot of time and money. There’s a little more to changing out little brown soot thingies. You may want help.

A final word of caution. If you turned off the power at the outside fan unit and pulled the fuse block out, there is still electricity coming from the inside fan unit. You can hurt it or more importantly it can hurt you, so be extra careful and turn off power to both. And it wouldn’t hurt to turn off the power to the entire neighborhood while you are at it. You can’t be too careful.