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Company disagrees about damage

In 1995, on the advice of our homeowner's insurance company, my husband and I signed a maintenance contract with Blair's Air Conditioning. On Dec. 13, Blair's performed a maintenance check that included flushing the system and found it to be working "just fine." However, on Feb. 12, I discovered the bed in my daughter's room, which is directly beneath the air handler in the attic, soaked from an obvious leak in the ceiling.

I called Blair's sometime between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and asked the company to send someone to my house as soon as possible so no further damage would occur. I was told that no one could come until the next day. My husband contacted another company, which agreed to come after 3 p.m., which was when I would be home from work. Blair's then indicated that it would come to our house between 1:30 and 5 p.m.; however, I could not get home until 3 p.m.

To make a long story short, the other company found a 90 percent clogged drain line, which it flushed. It returned on Feb. 20 to do a check and found everything in order. In between this company's visits, Blair's visited and told me that the reason for the leak was a cracked O-ring on the secondary drain and the drain line needed to be replaced since it was too blocked to be cleaned.

I am now very certain that (1) the leak did not take place at the O-ring. It was tested and found to be okay by the other company. (2) The drain line could be cleaned and was by another company. (3) The leak was due to clogging even before water could reach the line. (4) The system was in filthy condition given that a 90 percent blockage had developed.

I feel Blair's is responsible for the damage, which includes a cracked and unstable ceiling, a ruined mattress and box springs and, if necessary, replacement of the wallpaper and border should the ceiling repairs cause damage to the walls.

Blair's maintains that it is not responsible for the leak or the repairs. In good faith, I maintained a maintenance contract since 1995. I do not believe that I should have to make a claim on my homeowner's insurance policy and pay a high deductible. Janet Skotko

Response: Malcolm Horton, general manager of Blair's Air Conditioning and Heating in Clearwater, said your contention that the clogged drain line on your air conditioning system was responsible for the flooding in your daughter's bedroom is incorrect.

Split air conditioning systems are designed so that the humidity drawn from within the residence by the air handler during the cooling operation is drained away through a condensate drain line to the outside of the house. If the drain line clogs, which he said is not uncommon and can be caused by many factors, a drain pan is installed directly under the air handler to catch water that cannot drain away. Since the pan could obviously overflow if the system continued to run, a float switch is attached to the drain pan and shuts the system down before the pan overflows.

Horton said your leak was not due to the pan overflowing, indicating that the float switch worked, so Blair's technician looked for another source. Drain pans are equipped with a PVC female connector, which can be either connected to a secondary drain line or simply blocked with a stop end. Some municipalities require a secondary drain line to be fitted to the drain pan in case the primary drain line fails.

In your case, he said, the O-ring on this PVC connector had failed, which caused the water in the drain pan to leak away onto the ceiling below. Horton said the technician showed you the water coming from around the offending O-ring, and you signified your acceptance of this fact by signing the service ticket.

The system had worked as it was supposed to and shut down to prevent this sort of thing from happening. The failure of the O-ring was an unfortunate, unavoidable occurrence that was not connected to the maintenance Blair's performed on your system, Horton said.

He said he does not know why your drain line was blocked. There are many possible reasons, from bugs crawling into the line to insufficient slope to dirty conditions. Horton said he acquired Blair's Air Conditioning and Heating in February 2000 and, according to its service records, your last checkup was in 1999, and your system had been through another summer without further maintenance. You were sent requests to schedule maintenance checks, but you only responded to the November posting. A winter heating check was consequently performed in December.

Horton said the company's records also show that you were informed on one of the maintenance checks that your system was dirty and badly needed a cleaning beyond the maintenance check, but you declined to do anything about it. A dirty system can indicate that the filters are not being changed often enough. It is possible that dirt accumulated in the line, and when the cooling cycle started, the dirt got wet and expanded. He said all of the above was explained to you by phone.

With regard to the first call you made about the leak, Horton said an appointment was made with your husband for that afternoon between 1 and 5 p.m. Your husband called later that morning to cancel, saying he had found another company to come out immediately. Although the damage to your home is unfortunate, Horton said, it is due to the failure of the O-ring, and Blair's is not responsible.

If you have a question for Action, or your attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request for Action. Names will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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