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Robert Lamoureux: Replacing a swamp cooler with A/C

Your Home Improvements

Posted: May 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.


After 25 years with a swamp cooler, I'm ready for an air conditioner.

From what I know, I can go with a package unit on the roof or a split system.

Which is best?

Maurice N.


Hi Maurice,

If you willing to go in and do some duct work, go with a split system. They are very easy to work on. If you have one component go out, you change that component.

With a split system, the air handler is inside the home while the condensing unit sits outside.

The more you spend up front on a high SEER - Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating - the more you will save down the line. This ratio is calculated on how many BTUs per hour are used for each watt of power.

The higher the rating, the more efficient and expensive the unit, but it typically pays off in three or four years.

Once a year, have the condenser serviced by a reputable technician. The refrigerant is like oil in your car, and if levels are low, the unit will run hot.

A package unit is a horse of a different color. When it needs servicing, you have people on your roof, which I try to avoid. Anytime you have something on your roof, you have a potential leak.


Hi Robert,

We are having our condo buildings painted. Can the the gas meters be painted so they match the buildings?

Sophia G.


Hi Sophia,

Yes, you can paint the meters. The gas company is not thrilled about it, but as long as you don't paint the sight glass, they're okay with it.

If the meter ever sours, it is sandblasted and powder coated.

Have your painter scuff up the meters and apply the paint. Just keep the glass clear so that the meter reader can read it.

You can also paint the pipes to match. If you put primer and paint on them, especially if it's black pipe, it helps to protect them.


Hi Robert,

What's the best way to replace rusted bolts on a fire hydrant? Thanks,

Dor V.


Hi Dor,

I have seen where people have tried to replace one bolt at a time without shutting down the hydrant. This compromises the seal between the housing of the ductile - and the hydrant will leak. I recommend you call a plumber. The plumber will shut the hydrant down, and depending on how badly rusted the bolts are, they may have to be cut - or torched off. You don't want to get into that with the water on.

There's a lot of pressure, and you don't want any complications. For something like this, if it's not something you are familiar with, stay out of it and hire a knowledgeable company.


Hi Robert,

We have a sinkhole in our driveway. If you look down under the sidewalk, there is 5-foot-deep hole that extends out to the street underground.

We think that it was caused by a broken irrigation line.

The question is, since it is within our HOA, should we fill in the hole and repair the concrete, or do we need to get building and safety involved?

We want to get it taken care of as soon as possible. Thank you,

Clayton G.


Hi Clayton,

If the hole encroaches under a city sidewalk, then it becomes a Public Works problem, not the Department of Building and Safety.

You may be required to bring in a soils engineer to ascertain exactly what happened. You will also need to hire an "A" license engineering contractor on this job.

An "A" contractor is authorized to repair both the HOA and the city side, as well. The work will proceed either with a 90 percent compaction or a fill with slurry.

This is something that the contractor will work out with the city. Generally, they'll go with slurry which is a cement-and-sand mix.

In the interim, I would put in some trenching plates to help prevent any vehicles from breaking through the unsupported concrete and falling into the hole. It may sound far-fetched, but this is exactly how accidents happen and end up on the news.


Hey Robert,

We hired a plumbing company to repair a 4-inch copper line in the closet of one of our homeowner's units. They put in a victaulic coupling and a copper 90-degree coupling and the pipe.

The bill was $3,558. Does this sound like an outrageous price to you? Thank you,

Addie L.


Hi Addie,

It's hard to determine cost without knowing how long the repair took and how many plumbers were needed.

Also, how many floors in the building? Did they bleed the building down to the first floor? This can take hours.

Material costs for this job would be high. Copper is expensive. That 90 degree coupling is about $125 and a 20-foot length of 4-inch copper pipe currently sells for $830.

The plumber used a vic coupling, which means there was water in the line. It is easier to do all of the sweating and hook up outside of the closet area - especially if it's a horizontal piece.

There are a lot of variables to price this one sight unseen. But with vic groovers and couplings, difficult access, time, labor and materials this doesn't sound that unreasonable. That's a big pipe with a big price tag, but not outrageous.


Hi Robert,

Do I need a permit to move a gas line about five feet in my kitchen?

Ed H.


Hi Ed,

Yes sir you do. The inspector will have you conduct a standing test on that line to make sure it's not leaking.

Natural gas is something you don't want to take chances on.

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send questions to



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