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Diary of A Fixer-Upper: An Unwelcome Surprise

I knew when I bought my condo that the air conditioner was on its last legs. Even if my home inspection report hadn’t said the A/C was “near the end of its lifespan,” I probably would have noticed that my apartment sounded like a junior high gymnasium. It also might not have escaped my powers of observation that my apartment generally got a little too warm before the air conditioner would kick on, and a little too cool before it would turn off. And, if all else failed, I surely couldn’t have missed my historical relic of a thermostat, which only the steadiest of hands could operate.

I reserved some money for the day that my air conditioner would quit on me. What I didn’t know, though, was that when my malicious air conditioner gave up the ghost, it would try to take my beautiful new kitchen with it.

Daphne’s outdated air conditioner was leaking behind her kitchen wall into the back of her new cabinet.

A work trip took me out of town for almost a week. It was painful to know that major work was taking place at home while I was 1,000 miles away. I was scared that my contractor would suddenly get creative, and I would come back to a surprise. I was afraid that something would go wrong, and I would have to make a crucial decision without even seeing the problem. Mostly, I was dying to see the progress.

When I finally got back, I dropped my bags at the door and raced around the corner to check out the kitchen. The backsplash was tiled, the under-cabinet lights were in, the appliances were humming, and half of the countertops were installed. It was beautiful.

It’s a wonderful thing to see your plans come to life like that. It makes me want to be a carpenter or  builder. (Also, I’ve gotten the sense that those are lucrative gigs.)

I started mapping out where my dishes would go in the new cabinets. The mounds of boxes that have crowded my living room for weeks started to make their way to the kitchen. It’s amazing how much more storage space I have now, even though I took out a whole wall.

Everything was going swimmingly until I saw a neat little puddle on the back corner of my countertop. I touched the wall, and it was dry. Maybe I made that mess when I was taking dishes out of the dishwasher, I thought. I opened the cabinet above the puddle, and bingo: The back of the cabinet was downright soggy. There is a leak behind my kitchen wall.

Remember when I said we found a leak behind the wall, and we thought a strip of insulation was all we needed to fix it? Well, we were wrong.

The leak, my building manager has explained, comes from a pipe that carries condensation from the air conditioner out of the building. The good news is that when I turn off the air conditioner, the pipe stops leaking. The bad news is that it’s still summer in Washington, and I am very partial to air conditioning.

And, although the back of my cabinet is now dry, the wood is puckered and damaged and, most importantly, not new-looking. I am not pleased.

Now, with the end of my kitchen renovation in sight, I have a major decision to make. A technician could probably fix what ails my air conditioner for a few hundred dollars. But, in a few months, some other part may well go kaput, forcing me to pay thousands to replace it. Or, it could last for another year or two.

Other residents in my building tell me that replacing the A/C involves tearing up walls (more dust!) and using a crane to put the unit on the roof (expensive!). A year from now, after I have my apartment exactly how I want it, I might be more willing to take on this project. But here it is, demanding to be dealt with now.  

This Friday, I have two air-conditioning repair companies coming over to give me estimates for fixing or replacing the air conditioner. I have a feeling the weather will have a big impact on my decision.