unseen plenum spaces

Miss Fish is hiding only marginally more invisibly than this baby zebra-tail lizard. She’s a cat-shaped bump, under the covers of my neatly made bed.

Baby Lizard Hiding in a Curled Leaf

Fish has had a rough week, frankly. She’s never crazy about noise, disruption or strangers, and I’ve moved and cleaned everything in the house (you may recall that I am retreating to three rooms, from 2400 square feet to a mere 500) and there have been workmen at all points. There has been Monte, building gates and doing important shiz outside and inside, which was planned, and there is an entirely unplanned HVAC Nerd Swat Team here all week fixing a variety of fuckeries perped by various previous workmen. It’s like everything that ever got installed in my cramped little utilty closet was done badly, out of level, and was leaking. God!

I learned I had a problem when I had an energy assessment done (Thanks, Tucson Electric Power program!) and was told that up to 30% of my heated/cooled air was escaping from the system.  30%! They assumed (because the system was a good one and was newish) that my problem was leaky ductwork, but as it turned out it was much more exciting than that.

I am the luckiest person on Earth (generally, but also specifically) because in finding the various AC leaks, we found (and averted) a disaster that was scheduled for mere months away… the stupid tank hot water heater was about to fail and it had been surreptitiously leaking onto what was, in the first of many of my surprises, revealed to be a (rather wet) plywood floor.

Wonder of wonders, that damp, sagging, wet plywood floor (which also supported the entire HVAC unit in addition to the hot water heater) was not blocked up at all under either install (inexcusable) and was, OMG, SAGGING OVER AN OPEN UNDERGROUND SPACE. Whoa! All of my equipment was about to end up in an expensive pile in a concrete hole. I had zero idea of this rolling doom that was about to come upon me. But I will say that I have had my eye on that hot water heater, knowing somehow that it was going to fuck me up. Imagine how awesome I feel, slaying it before it unleashed its doom. I would go find it, and kick its corpse, or make a metal flower out of it, but it’s already been hauled off.

You know, I had assumed (wrongly) that the equipment was all sitting on the ground. On a concrete floor. Because this is Arizona, and I don’t have a basement, crawl space or cellar, and the house has concrete floors. It sounds like a reasonable assumption, but really, the information that the floor was plywood was available to me at any time, but my eyes did not see. I even knew that I had returns at the baseboard level. What I didn’t know (DUH, major DUH for me) was that those returns corresponded to a cool, subterranean set of concrete ducts, dug when the house was built. Those ducts all lead to a “plenum space” under the utility closet, over which was mounted the HVAC unit. That unit has a hole in the bottom, and it draws (through a filter, which I change monthly) air from that plenum space, from the rooms of the house.

It’s important that the hole in the floor, over the plenum space, has an opening that is the same size as the hole in the bottom of the unit. That way, the air draw, the Suck, is exact.

The guys who installed my unit (Perry Heating and Cooling, you have so much to answer for) not only didn’t block the install up under the floor, and didn’t level it, and didn’t properly secure and seal the old heater damper (resulting in huge air loss and higher utility bills) but they also didn’t cut out the full space in the floor for the Suck Hole of the new, larger unit. Apparently that was too much trouble and they just installed it over the old (smaller) hole. Maroons! They cut my Suck Power in half with that laziness. It would have taken ten minutes with a jigsaw to do it correctly.

The happy news is that I have the right team here now, and not only did they find all of that, but they fixed it. And everything, every space, is clean, and tight, and level, and sturdy, and the HVAC unit has full suck, and no leaks, and it and the new hot water heater are blocked up, and there are new screens, and a scoopy piece to shoot more air down East to the Mike Brady den, and… wow. Every bit of every part of the ductwork is vacuumed. How incredible it is to have smart, capable people who put in the time to do things correctly. I’ve gone to look at their new floor about 45 times in two days, and taken out my new knowledge about the plenum space and caressed it. How could I not know?

What else is right in front of me, that I am not seeing?

Anyway, Miss Fish isn’t liking ANY OF it. And paying for the unexpected work will clean my bank account out 100%. But I can’t think of a time I’ve ever been happier to hand over 100% of my cash to anyone. What a privilege it is to pay these guys. I’m so grateful to my neighbor Kate for recommending them.

Humourously, like any specialists, they can get their own kind of tunnel vision. One of the guys said to me this morning, “Ma’am, if you put sheet rock over these old beamed ceilings, your airflow would be more efficient.”

I just laughed, and showed him the picture of the baby lizard, because what on Earth is there to say to that. There are people who cover beamed ceilings, and people who don’t, and there isn’t any point in the two of them talking too much about how beautiful beamed ceilings are.

Beamed ceilings


It’s like trying to explain why a Heathkit speaker from 1972 is so kickass to someone who doesn’t understand music, or the ’70’s, or who never built a Heathkit anything. It’s not likely to be a fruitful use of one’s time.

Anyway. I’m exhausted, and happy, and I know more than I did last week, and I’ve made many new friends in every adventure, from canyons to utility closets, and I’ve crossed years worth of crap off of my lists, and honestly, I’m not sure that just anyone could have stood up to this week and come through still riding upright, feeling great. Horse and I are mentally high-fiving each other, and I’m sure Miss Fish will feel better soon.


12 thoughts on “unseen plenum spaces

  1. … and how poetic that your smart neighbor is named Kate!

    At least now you are good to go for several years at least. That’s a positive.


    • Yes! Good to go for probably ten years. This is handy, as we plan to rent the house for a few of those years. I don’t want any trouble for our charming tenants.

    • And that is EXACTLY what these guys are. It’s not a new system, it’s the four-year old one installed correctly. And a new HWH.
      I keep admiring their work, I have not been stinting with my praise. They are happy to be fucking appreciated for their genius.

  2. I admire your positive attitude facing your misfortune by seeing your fortune! I hope that the bad job has a guarantee…

    • I doubt it. Anyway, it would only be guaranteed to the extent that the company that did it badly would redo it. That isn’t going to fly no matter what. But I am going to send them a report.

  3. You make me chuckle out loud! That is such a nice thing. I am so glad that your HVAC adventure has gone well. It is so refreshing when someone explains it and you understand it and they have done it correctly and it might just work for your lifetime. Good stuff!

  4. Miss Fish was in moderate dudgeon all through my visit, and spent most time under the bed and semaphoring her displeasure at your absence with Qtips in and around her food bowl. I think the liz in the leaf may be a gecko, all tubercled and stripey-tailed, but of course, it may be Miss Fish hiding in there nearly invisible, your comparison is sound.

  5. We had a minor earthquake a few years ago when I was in the shower. It was a carnival ride. I didn’t know until last year when we remodeled the bathroom how close that bathtub was to falling into the crawl space. After several months of work that included jacking up the corner of the house and fixing dry rot, it is a beautiful room with the sturdiest of floors. I now have a deep appreciation for well-done plumbing in any room of the house. I read your post to my sweetie, aka Mr. Home Repair Perfectionist. He’s very proud of you for learning all you did about duct work, water heaters, etc. You will always look at work done at your home with a very critical eye. Congratulations on getting things back on the level!

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