"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Friday, July 19, 2013

Sometimes, You Get What You (Don't) Pay For

Mr. W’s younger brother, K, has a knack for acquiring free stuff.  He’s a world-class schmoozer so everyone loves him.  As a result, whenever people have free stuff they’re looking to give away (sports tickets, fancy clothes, TVs, you name it), he’s the first person they contact.  I’m pretty certain someone even gave him a free boat, though I could be wrong about that one.   

We’ve been lucky enough to benefit from some of K’s charisma and resourcefulness.  Each year, when K returns from college, he collects an assortment of unwanted things that his roommates would otherwise throw out.  Last year, he gave us a window-unit air conditioner.  Apparently, some roommate thought it would be too much of a “hassle” to take the air conditioner with him when he moved out.  We had been planning to buy an A/C for our living room, so K’s freeloading saved us $150-$200.  Thanks, K, for keeping our living room cool and comfy! 
This summer, we decided it was finally time to buy an air conditioner for our kitchen.  We’d tried to resist getting another air conditioner.  We already have three window units, which seems like a lot for a four-room apartment.  But we just couldn’t stand the temperature in the kitchen.  On a mild summer day, it averages 86 degrees.  On a brutally hot day, such as those we’ve been having recently, the kitchen temperature creeps closer to 95, even if we make an effort not to use any heat-generating appliances.  

We were having dinner with Mr. W’s parents and they mentioned that K had brought home yet another free air conditioner from school.  K wasn’t planning to use it since he already had one.  K wasn’t home at the time, but Mr. W’s parents offered it to us.  It would save us another $150-$200.  Awesome, right?  Everyone loves free stuff. 

At 8:30 PM on a Sunday evening, we trekked home with the air conditioner and started the long process of installing it in our kitchen window.  Having lived in 1920s houses his entire life, Mr. W is a pro at installing window-unit air conditioners.  He installs at least half a dozen every summer.  Let’s just say that installing this particular A/C was quite an ordeal. 

For starters, our kitchen window looks like this:


Yep, it’s a really small window.  And it’s about 8 feet above the ground.  It’s also usually blocked by a 4’ x 3’ kitchen island, which currently holds our wedding registry gifts (not pictured, above).  All 19,000 pounds of them.  Here is how our evening progressed:

8:30-9:00 PM: Move all items off of kitchen island.  Move kitchen table to make room for kitchen island.  Move kitchen island to allow access to window.  Start to feel anxious about all the miscellaneous appliances that are now scattered around our apartment.  (Okay, this was just me.  Mr. W does not have issues with clutter)

9:00-9:15 PM: Discover that window is too small to install A/C without removing the bottom window pane.  Remove bottom window pane.  Balance precariously on kitchen chair, while lifting air conditioner into window.  Discover that there is now a slight gap between top of window and top of air conditioner.  Thus, there is no way to secure the A/C in the window. Decide to try wedging some planks between the window and A/C to eliminate the gap. 

9:15-9:45 PM: Mr. W drives to his parents’ house to pick up planks. 

9:45-10:15 PM: Once again, balance precariously on kitchen chair while lifting A/C into window.  Successfully wedge planks between window and A/C.  Unit now fits securely in window.  Mr. W tries to use screwdriver to screw A/C in place. We’ve manually screwed in every other A/C in our apartment, but it’s just not working in this case. 

10:15-10:40 PM: Mr. W drives to parents’ house to pick up his power drill.  In the meantime, I’m standing on the chair, holding the A/C in place above my head (keep in mind, it’s over 90 degrees during this entire ordeal) 

10:40-11:00 PM: Mr. W returns with the drill and screws the A/C into the window pane.  We plug the A/C into the outlet.  With bated breath, we press the “ON” button.  The A/C turns on for one enticing second, then switches off again.  We tried resetting the outlet, and still the same thing happens.

11:00-11:30 PM: We wonder if there could be something wrong with the outlet.  Perhaps the A/C voltage is too high for that particular outlet?  Mr. W does some Googling but his research is inconclusive.  We decide to try plugging the A/C into another outlet.  The A/C cord isn’t long enough to reach another outlet, so we disconnect the extension cord from another appliance.  We plug the A/C into an outlet we use daily.  Still nothing. 

At this point, we were done troubleshooting.  We were both tired, cranky, and dripping sweat.  I was still feeling anxious about the fact that there was a KitchenAid stand mixer on our guest bed (We weren’t inviting anyone over.  What was the big deal?)  Our kitchen island was where the kitchen table usually went.  Our kitchen table was blocking the front door.  We moved those back into place so we could leave for work in the morning.   We left the A/C in the window, figuring we’d ask K if he knew why it wasn’t working. 

The next day, Mr. W called his brother K.  He explained our difficulty and asked K if he had ever used the free air conditioner.  After a long pause, K said, “Oh man…I don’t think that A/C will work.   It was sitting outside in the rain for three days.” 

Oh boy.  I’m not sure why that A/C was sitting in the rain for three days (???!).  And none of this is K’s fault.  We just appreciate his generosity.  He hadn’t been home when Mr. W’s parents offered us the A/C, or else he would have warned us accordingly.   But Mr. W and I both felt like schmucks for not testing the A/C before going through the trouble of installing it in our kitchen window. 

The very same day, we went to Home Depot and spent $170 on a new air conditioner.  After removing the free inoperable A/C, installing the new one was much easier.  As far as we’re concerned, it was the best $170 we’d ever spent. 

Moral of the story: if you accept something free, confirm that it works before you waste a lot of time or effort.   
Have you ever received something free that turned out to be too good to be true?


  1. Not free, but in college my roommates and I bought a TV off craigslist without testing it out first. BIG mistake. It didn't work. At all. We did not get our money back and definitely learned an important lesson.

  2. My Shiny PenniesJuly 20, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Boo, that stinks. When I'm offered free stuff I often just take it without further thought. That's how I've ended up with glasses, a waffle maker, and a tv stand that are just gathering dust in the garage.

  3. Awww, what a bummer. I wish I could sprinkle some magical "work now" dust on and get that AC up and running!

  4. JW_UmbrellaTreasuryJuly 23, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Oh, what a bust! I'm sorry you guys got stuck with a broken TV. That must have been so frustrating. Craigslist can be great, but there are definitely some scammers out there.

  5. JW_UmbrellaTreasuryJuly 23, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    It wasn't a fun lesson, but at least we know to test things first.
    A free waffle maker? That sounds like fun!!

  6. JW_UmbrellaTreasuryJuly 23, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Haha, thanks! The free A/C was such a tease. It would turn on for a brief second and then turn off again, just as quickly. It's like it was taunting us : )