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Air-conditioning makes life possible in Vegas, except when it’s making life nearly impossible



Lesson No. 1: You cannot live in Las Vegas, in the summer, without air-conditioning. This is an expensive and unalterable reality when the temperature soars above 105.

I have a large, midcentury house near the diverse and desirable Huntridge neighborhood downtown. I got it cheap after the foreclosure crisis, at the heart of the Great Recession. I also got the house cheap because it was apparently owned by a succession of people who believed that consulting professionals on anything — interior design, electricity, roofing, and especially air-conditioning — was a grievous sin against man and God.

I purchased, in 2009, what one would charitably call “a fixer-upper.” In other words, a money pit.

And I have poured thousands into my pit, most especially into the AC. The positive side of my air-conditioning system is that it worked, in a fashion. Not only did it (barely) cool my house, but I personally subsidized NV Energy’s generous executive bonuses.

This bothered me a bit because I like to pretend that I believe in conservation. Preserving the planet for future generations and all that nonsense. It does not fill me with joy to have a Wyoming coal mine dedicated to my summer AC use and named in my honor.

Lesson 2: “Fixer-upper” is synonymous with “ruinous home economic policy.”

Two years ago I contacted an energy-efficiency outfit that performs audits of home energy use. A gang of experts came out. It wasn’t cheap, but it was good. About the time these experts started calling my house, in hushed tones, “a case study in worst practices,” I realized that I had a problem.

But they came back with a list of practical steps to address my energy-use problem. The first — bulldoze the house, throw salt on the ground, contact a Catholic priest with a successful history of exorcism — didn’t seem entirely workable, but the second — fix the AC — at first glance seemed doable. At second glance, all I would have to do is marry Bill Gates and get access to his checking account.

Lesson No. 3: The more doable something is, the more it’s going to cost.

The gang of auditors quietly sat me down. They quietly informed me of my options. I could either continue to spend the equivalent of the gross national product of Paraguay, or spend slightly more to fix the system. But I was going through some employment changes at the time, so naturally I chose to ignore the problem and just send NV Energy enormous amounts of money.

Lesson No. 4: Spending enormous amounts of money every month is not good fiscal strategy.

Fast forward two years. It is 2013 and I have a grown-up job, and I decide it is time to fix the AC. Fortunately, there are low-interest loans available for people without access to the Pentagon’s cash reserves, so I contact my friends in the conservation and energy-efficiency community.

They have bad news. Sure, I can fix the air-conditioning, but a new audit is required if I’m going to access the low-interest loan.

They give me a special price on the new audit and, in a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, more e-mails and more phone calls, and even more … you get the idea … an auditor, a qualified and certified professional who for the purposes of this narrative I will call Greg, arrives at my hovel to again inspect my energy efficiency, or stunning lack thereof. He arrives, covers every visible hole with hundreds of feet of sticky cellophane plastic, and finds that the house leaks like a sieve.

But Greg is able to identify the worst offender in this energy sink — who woulda thunk it? — the air-conditioner. The clanky, cranky, 10-year-old bucket of bolts and Freon.

Apparently there is something that most homes have called “ducts” that somehow “channel” cool or warm air through “vents” into rooms of the house. I never learned these technical terms because apparently my house did not really have these “ducts.” At some point, one of the previous owners felt it would be acceptable to simply blow the cold air into the attic — said attic, of course, baking under the Southern Nevada sun — and allow the semi-cool air to gently waft down through various openings, such as electrical conduits and the holes in the walls where I’ve bashed my head whilst writing checks to NV Energy.

Greg brings in a professional AC and heating man, whom we will call Don, for a consultation. Greg and Don give me some much-needed good news: I won’t need a multi-thousand-dollar reworking of my system after all! They tell me that the job can get done for about $350, literally a tenth of the cost estimated by the first auditors. So I won’t need a bank loan. “Let’s do it!” I say with enthusiasm.

Lesson No. 5: There is no room for enthusiasm in home-improvement, and especially in air-conditioning.

We schedule a day in April for the work. Don and an assistant, whom we will call Ed, arrive and get right to work. On the job that I think (ha! ha!) will cost $350.

About a half-hour into the process, Don informs me that they have run into some problems. The $350 job will cost about $500.

An hour later, Don informs me that they have run into some more issues. Did I know the AC was just blowing cool air into the attic? I did. The cost grows to $1,000.

Another hour, another $500. This happens about six times. Finally, the price settles at about $3,500, a total far in excess of that in my bank account. Time for that low-interest loan!

In a panic, I call the bank and the nonprofit that approves the loan. I ascertain that I can still get the loan. But it will not be easy.

As Don and Ed continue to work — work that was originally supposed to take one day, and has grown into a four-day AC-palooza — I make multiple trips to the bank location where the loans happen. Unfortunately, the bank branch I need is at Durango Drive and I-215, about as far from my house as you can get and still be in Southern Nevada.

This could get a little boring, but there is nothing in this world more frustrating than getting a home loan approved via a third party. Except maybe actually getting the check to the contractor, which involvs more trips to the bank branch at Durango Drive and I-215 and multiple trips to my own bank to verify my existence. (This is the same bank that I’ve used for 15 years.)

But finally, the work is done. The AC works — and works well, for the first time in my experience. I have high hopes that I will save energy costs this hot summer. I clean up the blood spilled by Ed in the guest bathroom, and snake the pipes to get out the clotted insulation they washed down the sink.

All is well!

Now to start with fixing the irrigation system.