ONETIME- Unlucky duct: Why that cooling bill may be high

Pete Sweeney, CFD Battalion Chief

One time, I had seen a commercial installation where they were putting air handlers above drop ceilings and the mechanics had installed duct works without the proper handlers and fasteners. And that's all code-related. They make pre-drilled brackets, and they have very vinyl slings for the ductwork, and they have various metal systems. And this crew had crudely taken a two-by-four and wedged it up under a very large, metal return plane, and it stayed on for a couple of months.

We went to investigate the system to see why the cooling bills were so large, and it turned out that the plane had actually fallen off the unit. It was drawing return air directly from the hot space above the ceiling, out of the attic, instead of pulling it out of the conditioned space. They had taped the two-by-four, and the tape had split and come loose and, when it did, all the parts had fallen off the unit. 

My advice is to hire a legit home inspector. They check the operation of the faucets, they check things like condensation drip pans, all of the units above lived-in or finished space, if the drain pan would happen to clog up, it would go to a secondary pan, and if that happens there's a flow switch in there, and they would say, ‘Hey, the main's not working, the primary is there, so you have a blockage in the main system.' If you don't know that, and if there's no flow switch then the other pan overflows and you come home one day you have a big stain on your ceiling, or worse, maybe part of the ceiling has collapsed. 

Inspectors also make sure that pipes are insulated in conditioned space. A lot of people don't know where the proper utility shut-offs are, don't know that they have to leave space to get to their utility box. So if they have a receptacle that's making an odor or if they have a pipe burst, they don't know how to shut their water or electricity off. So they should have access covers to the main controls and know that if they have leak, they can go to the main shut-off, gas shut-off if you have to turn an appliance off. 

There's a lot of good inspectors, so when you purchase and buy a home it's worth your money to go and have those sort of systems checked out. A good home inspector can really look at all of those things that a lot of people wouldn't think to look at. I'm not sure if they charge a couple of hundred dollars or a percentage of the sale price, but I've done work behind home inspectors and it's all been legit.