June 24, 2010 Today They Put In the Air Conditioner

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

As is usual lately, I was surprised by the workmen. I have seen so much bad work and so much dishonesty since I started coming to Russia that I am immediately suspicious of every workman. I am still having a hard time believing the Dimitri is an honest as he appears to be.

We looked at getting air conditioning about 2 years ago, but at $1000+, it was just too expensive. Around here, you can rarely use a window air conditioner because the windows all open in like doors and there double windows in each sash. The commies built simple but effective insulated windows by putting one inside and an identical one outside in the same sash, with a 4 or 5 inch gap between them.

So, you use split air conditioners. These are rare in America but common in Europe and here in Russia. The compressor is in a separate box that’s mounted outside. The evaporator and fan are mounted on an inside wall and connected to the compressor by drilling a hole through the concrete wall and running one power line and two Freon lines through the wall.

This year, air conditioners started at $320 and the temperatures started at 90 degrees – a really good match. The store even arranged, sort of, for installation. Like American stores, they contracted out the job to locals for a fixed price. They offered it for 2400 rubles – about $80 – cheap for mounting something on the outside wall of the second floor.

That night there was an insistent knocking on the door at about 10 pm. No sane person opens a Russian door at that time of night, especially for two muscular young men stripped to the waist and showing their tattoos. However, they were standing in front of a couple of large cardboard boxes and we eventually realized that the knockers and bangers were from the Techmart and not from the local Head Breakers and Robbers Association. They said that they had sold so many air conditioners that they couldn’t get them delivered during the day and so they were still working, in the dark.

The job was supposed to done in five days, but the days passed, we kept squeezing past the boxes in the hallway, and the installers didn’t show up. We stopped by the store and were told that it would be a couple of more days because of the work load. Then, about 3 hours later, the work crew showed up. Two young guys with big tools and looking about old enough to get into the local high school dance. Of course, everyone looks young nowadays.

A long discussion ensued. At first they said that they would need a cherry picker and that it would cost us an additional 700 rubles for the truck. I fumed about the extra expense and asked why the store said 2400 rubles if that wasn’t the real price. Then they decided that they couldn’t get a cherry picker into the driveway and would have to use ladders. Then they didn’t have any ladders that long with them and they weren’t enthusiastic about climbing that high anyway with a 40 pound compressor in their arms. I fumed some more, but I actually agreed wholeheartedly. I wouldn’t do it and I have Medicare.

Then they measured the wall and their ladders and hung out the window with a tape measure and announced “We can do it!” The ladders were long enough to get the outside unit to within about 5 feet of where the inside unit would be. Then they could run copper tubing down the outside wall to connect up. Of course, the copper tubing would be 500 rubles per meter and took two meters.

I did some more fuming about the cost of the tubing and said “No way. The copper tubing would leak heat like a sieve and make the air conditioner useless.“ One of the workmen gave the crazy American a sad look and picked up a piece of pipe insulation from the other side of the floor. Oops. Now I remember rule #17A – “Never assume the other guy is an idiot.”

I guessed that I had done enough fuming for the day, and for the week, and probably for the trip, and then I realized that 500 rubles was only 15 bucks – less that I would be charged anywhere else in the world, and that brings us to Rule #4, “A real man never passes up a good chance to shut up.”

I did shut up and they finished up a long, hard job. They struggled with the outside unit, but got it in place about a foot higher than they expected – and about a foot higher than it was safe to go on the ladders. The inside units usually go way up high on the inside wall and direct the air down. They drilled and punched and measured and eventually got the inside unit on the wall – after another hour of hard work.

They charged us 2900 rubles (less than 100 dollars) – 2400 for the store installation and 500 for the extra pipe – and they earned every ruble.

These kids and Dimitri may be the new thing in Russia. In the old days, the work was so bad it was hard to describe. Everyone worked for the government, and the standards were even worse then in most governments. Apartment walls were often roughly finished or patched with all the skill of a 10 year old in his first shop class.

In the old Russia, if the door was about the same size and shape as the door frame, you didn’t complain. Doors didn’t really have to close all the way, did they? And you shouldn’t complain about those pipes running across the middle of the wall. It would have taken some thought to hide them in the baseboard, and they delivered gas and water just fine the way they were.

More and more, people aren’t putting up with it. Now that they are making money and paying their own way, they want things done right, and no one wants to pay for “government work” with real money. The crap work and the crap workmen are not all gone, but they are on the way out.

The air conditioner is only 9000 BTU and this is a two room apartment, but it may cool the entire place, and I just found out that it has a heat pump function for when the central heat fails. When one of the workmen measured how far he had to drill to get through the outside wall, he found that he had drilled 50 centimeters – about 18 inches of solid concrete separates us from the outside world, and every cheap window is one of those two windows in the same frame. They did get something right when they built these places.

By the way, Boris Yeltsin initially became famous because as a director of the Sverdlovsk House-Building Combine, he refused to allow workmen to install floors that didn’t meet the walls or closet doors that would not close in new apartments. It was so unusual it made him famous, got him promoted to Moscow and eventually made him President of Russia.


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