The following is a guest post by Bob Wells, a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website hvactraining101.com. Bob worked over 30 years in the field, 23 of which he ran his own contracting business. He’s dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in the field and helping others to learn the trade better and advance their own careers.
No matter what our specialty, once we’ve been on a construction-related job a few years, we’ve got a few stories to tell. A lot of them start with “How the he**” did that get there, or “YUCK!”
We’ve also all seen enough episodes of CSI to hear about murder victims stuffed into ductwork. We’ve heard urban legends about the father who tried to play Santa Claus and slide down the chimney and got stuck, and it took just a bit too long for the wife to realize what happened.
Is there some truth to these stories? Maybe - we still don’t know where Jimmy Hoffa is, right? But here’s some of the weirdest things I’ve found or heard about that were stuck inside ventilation work.
This one I remembered from when I was a kid. The old Victorian house my grandparents lived in had forced-air heat with registers in the floor. There was a large return in the hallway, right across from the door to the closet under the stairs - which was where the toys were.
I don’t know how often my grandfather bothered cleaning it out - everyone knew that the pacifiers could, and often would, fall through with just a little “help” from the babies. But I do remember being there one time when he pulled out 18 of them! (I guess that’s not that bad, considered there are 36 grandchildren).
My sister’s cat
This one happened not too long ago. My sister adopts rescue animals. She’d just gotten a new cat, a young one, but it was pretty skittish around both my sister and the other animals in the house.
One day my sister comes home and can’t find the new addition. She finally notices that the vent to the duct is a little out of place. Ten feet in, she can see eyes staring back at her. The cat had managed to pull the grate off the floor enough to get in.
Six days passed, and even the lure of food and water wouldn’t draw it out.
The SPCA came out and didn’t know what to do. The HVAC repairman couldn’t come up with anything better than tearing everything apart - which the landlord wasn’t happy about, but that’s what they did. Then my sister had to find a new apartment.
This one was on my watch, although I really wanted to tell them “wrong number” when they told me their 4-foot long ball python had crawled into the ductwork. For me, it might as well have been a 15-foot anaconda.
Apparently, the snake found two attractive reasons to crawl in - warmth and mice. So when the owner didn’t secure the cage properly, “Sally” (is that a good snake name?) decided to go exploring.
I took a glance around, thought I saw the thing once or twice, and decided to call animal control. They were able to flush it out and get it with some kind of noose. As far as I know, it’s back in its cage and hasn’t decided to dine on the owner yet.
Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll
Ok, I’m going to do these in reverse order because they get progressively weirder.
We all know how convenient vents can be for hiding stuff, and then forgetting it’s there. I lost more than a pack of cigarettes that way!
The Rock ‘n Roll
A buddy of mine got a call to do a general HVAC cleaning before new owners moved into a place. While working in the kids’ room, tucked behind the grate, he found a stack of heavy metal CD’s. Megadeth, AC/DC, Pantera, what have you. Never quite figured out why they’d need to be hidden there.
Another pal had an experience that must have left the residents feeling pretty relaxed, but hungry. On a routine early-winter service call, he noticed a familiar smell. It wasn’t too strong, but it was all over the house. Of course, he couldn’t very well say anything about it. As he was going through the cleaning, he found a brown bag of dried weed stuck behind the vent in the teen daughter’s room. It had dust on it, so it’d had obviously been forgotten there. When the heat came on, it was enough to spread that aroma. Amazing no one else figured it out.
This one goes back to before the internet was so common and provided such easy access to “adult content.” I was on a service call to figure out why one of the bedrooms in a house never seemed to cool down or heat up as much as it should.
First glance didn’t give any clues - it seemed just like all the other rooms, with no more or less exposure to the elements and nothing in front of the vents. Vents looked like they were dusted regularly.
So I popped off the grill - and there’s a stack of magazines. “Girlie magazines”, as we used to call them - stacked neatly about a foot inside. About 20 issues in all - enough to block almost all the air flow. Pretty basic stuff, but someone had been making the effort to keep his secret stash hidden!
Finding odd stuff while working in other people’s homes can be entertaining, or even embarrassing to you and them. But it sure makes for great stories later on - even better now that we can share them online!