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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Disaster Narrowly Averted...


...as Bob Weir would say.  😀

Have you ever wondered what's inside this "hump" in West St. Amour?

"What hump?" 

-- Igor (Charlie Callas), Young Frankenstein

...Uhh, that big bulge that is only somewhat disguised by a 90-degree flat for Kees-Austin Publishing Co., and a curved backdrop section? 

Don't be fooled by those pipes coming from the boiler, darting out under the rest of the house - they're merely passing through.  

What's actually inside the hump, is the air handler for the A/C system that cools and dehumidifies about ⅔ of the basement.


And what's inside the air-handler, is R-22 - a refrigerant from a prior century, so reviled for its ozone-depleting effectiveness that the manufacture of equipment using it was outlawed in... 2009.  Along with replacement parts - which is unlucky for grandfathered-in systems maintained far beyond their depreciable lifespans by cheapskate accountants, such as myself.  

SO.  As the eternally slow leak accelerated, along with the price of R-22 (now over $300/lb.), the day of reckoning I'd always feared had arrived.  Nothing to do but replace the condenser.  And new high-pressure condensers can't use the same air handlers as old lower-pressure systems.


See, back in the benchwork and backdrop phases of construction, I carefully built removable sections in front of this hump, as any responsible adult would.

Of course by the roadbed, trackwork, wiring, and scenery phases, I'd tended to let my discipline lapse a trifle, as any weary layout builder ready to just get the ____ ON with it would.  

So while replacing this beast might not require chainsaws..., there would still be a horrific amount of destruction to West St. Amour - and likely, adjacent sections - which would surely knock the SNR offline for who knows how many months.  And yeah, probably chainsaws anyway.  

It's funny how we just let existential threats seep slowly in through the walls, casually draping Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak over them and moving on, undeterred.

Well, don't fear the reaper, friend - just whack that cowbell to celebrate the arrival of the modern A/C miracle:  the mini-split!  

This game-winning solution was proposed by our regular A/C tech, having grown weary of my endless campaigning to avoid condemning the system.  "We" (they) simply hung the head unit from a 1½-ton mini-split on the laundry room wall, swapped out the condenser, and abandoned the old air handler in place behind St. Amour.  Et voila - cool, dry air - no destruction.

Well... not counting the 4" hole they had to bore through 14" of plaster, wood, concrete, and granite.

Not sure why it took us so many years to get here.  There's another mini-split cooling the family room, just next door.  Been there for years.  I was just stuck inside the box, thinking we had to replace one system with another of the same configuration.  And so, I steadfastly refused any talk of a replacement, until finally the A/C did nothing but make noise.  

So it was a good day.  Even with having made some significant preparations to avoid the complete devastation of the layout, the disruption this was going to cause was a ticking time bomb I had been dreading for years, now to the point of nausea.  What a relief.

👉  St. Amour is saved!  👈

How about you?  What infrastructural peril does your layout face?  Or what diligent preparations have you made to avoid catastrophe?   Let me know what you think!  Thanks for reading.


  1. I put in a split system several years ago when I realized that our house HVAC system was not big enough to also supply the basement train room. Best thing ever!
    My infrastructural peril involves a dryer vent line located above the drop ceiling right over the widest part of the layout. Twice, I've popped up the drop ceiling only to discover that the line was disconnected and there was lint all over the top of the tiles and lighting fixtures. I had to hold the vacuum cleaner steady at the top of a step ladder while vacuuming above the ceiling!
    The culprit? Cleaning the dryer vent line. The vacuuming process strains the bends in the vent and separates them. I will be checking the vent line immediately after the next cleaning prior to running the dryer!

  2. Oh *that's* a pain! Not devastating luckily, but what a recurring mess! Thanks Greg