How I Add Refrigerant to a Central Air Conditioner

How I add refrigerant

How I add refrigerant

Hey HVAC techs! I’m Greg Fox, and today we’re going to talk about adding more refrigerant to an air conditioner.  I wanted to expand on our recent AC troubleshooting series by going into each part of its sequence of operations.  This week, it’s the refrigerant.

Now, I’m not going to get into the legalities and moral issues here of refilling refrigerant on a system that is leaking, but you should know a few things:

  • Refrigerant is expensive for the customer – If you have to keep refilling their refrigerant, which we do not know how often that will be, it can add up quickly.
  • They know their air conditioner better than us.  If we’ve never been to their home to refill their refrigerant before, there’s no reference for knowing how BIG their refrigerant leak is or WHERE the leak is.
  • The customer could lose all of their refrigerant tomorrow if they have a significant leak… or if it is a small leak, the refrigerant could last them all year or longer.   

Let’s go over some basics to charging an air conditioner on your average 90-degree day in the middle of summer.  Upon arrival at the house, your customer tells you the air conditioner worked just fine last year, but this year the system seems to run non-stop, especially as the summer days get hotter and hotter.  You ask the customer, “Have any other technicians been out to make repairs on your system since last year?” It’s very likely the customer will say no.  

There’s a lot of things that can affect the refrigerant charge.  Just remember, for the sake of time, we’re keeping this dialogue short, so we can get to the point of charging the system up.  

I like what Bryan Orr mentioned in an article I read.  He said,

“We need to set up equipment so that it won’t freeze during normal operating conditions.   At the very least, the typical residential A/C system should be set up so that the return air temp can get all the way down to 68° and still be just above freezing at the evaporator coil.

Let’s say it’s 78° in a house on an R410a system, and your suction pressure is 108 PSI.  That means your suction saturation (coil temperature) is 35°… so the coil won’t freeze.

However, the coil temperature will drop approximately 1° for every degree the return temperature drops. 

Remember, at 78° inside, the evap coil was at 35°, So if the customer sets it down to 74°, the saturation would get down to 31°, and the will start to freeze.

Knowing this, let’s grab your temperature probe and check the return air and the supply air.  Here you notice the difference between the two is about 8 degrees.  As a tech, you know the split should be around 18 to 22 degrees.  

Next, you head outside and feel the suction line to see if it’s cold. Now, there is some validity to the old term, “beer can cold” but it should not be the measure you go by to check the refrigerant charge. It can, however, give you a clue as to the condition of the system.  In this case, the suction line at the AC is barely cold.  Now, I’m not always a huge proponent of hooking my gauges up to a system every time I go out to diagnose a system, but in this case, we can tell something’s not right with the cooling system, so in this case, I want to see what is going on inside of it.

Hook your hoses up to the liquid and suction lines.  Be careful of blowback so you don’t freeze your hands.  Follow all safety precautions. 

Now, what do you see on your suction side?  I like my techs to talk to me about the evaporator coil’s TEMPERATURE and the TEMPERATURE of the condenser coil.  When I’m on the phone trying to help a tech out in the field, it’s hard for me to remember all the pressure-temperature ratios between the different refrigerants we use. 

So if someone tells me the evaporator coil is 40 degrees, I can immediately tell the coil is not freezing.  If someone tells me the temperature of the condenser coil is 140 degrees, I can immediately translate that to an outdoor coil that is under some seriously high pressure.

On the refrigerant gauge, the outer circle and those numbers are the pressures.  The inner rings of numbers reflect the temperature.  This is how I want my techs to communicate pressures to each other. It’s more efficient this way.  Most gauges these days have a green ring for R22 and a pink ring for R410.  The pink ring’s numbers are what we are using for evap and condenser coil temperatures on a 410 system.

Here we see that the evaporator coil is at about 20° F.  For proper refrigerant levels, the image I want you to project in your mind is this.  Our end-goal here is to have liquid refrigerant reach all the way to the TXV at the evaporator coil to meter the refrigerant appropriately.  Right now, there’s not enough liquid in the system to do that.  This means vapor is making its way to the metering device, and we’re not giving the coil enough refrigerant to interact with the speed of the blower air moving across it.

We need the perfect balance of airflow and refrigerant pressures to create that 18 to 22-degree temperature split we are looking for.

Let’s suppose this system holds 10lbs or R-410a.  In my mind, I’m thinking the system is about halfway charged. It’s an approximation, but we have to let the customer know about how many pounds we want to add, so they give you the okay to move forward.  Of course, you don’t know for sure, but they should be aware it could be around 5 lbs, and that will cost (whatever, $100 a pound). We need to let them know it could be a couple of pounds more or a couple of pounds less, but either way, we need permission to move forward.

Using a scale is the only way we can know for sure how many pounds of refrigerant we are adding. And it’s cool to let the customer know you’ll be using this too. It’s reassuring to them. This is great for preventing you from overcharging the system too.

My service hoses are already hooked up.  I’m going to start by putting my charging hose on the tank of refrigerant.  Next, I open the refrigerant tank valve and place it upside down on the scale. With the gauges closed on the manifold, I crack open the connection where the charging hose meets the manifold.  Not too much, though.  We just want the refrigerant to prime itself up to that point so we get rid of excess moisture and air in the hoses.

Reset the scale back to zero, so we know how much we are adding as the refrigerant enters the system.

I recommend you put an amp clamp on one of the wires leading to the compressor.  If you’ve seen my video on diagnosing a bad compressor, you know that the compressor’s amp draw correlates with the refrigerant pressures inside the system.  The healthiest compressors will run at around 60 percent of their RLA.  When you’re charging up the system, you’ll see the amp draws fluctuate as the refrigerant goes in and settles down.  Use your knowledge about the compressor amp draws to monitor your charging process.

Okay! We’re ready to charge!  With the charging hose valve open, we’ll start opening the suction side valve.  A quarter to half of a turn is enough.  There is no approximate amount of time it’ll take to insert 1 lb. of refrigerant.  Each situation is different.  To know for sure, use your scale.  

In this situation where we think the system is about 4 or 5 lbs low, let about 2 lbs flow into the system and wait for 5 to 10 minutes for the system to equalize.  Question.  How long does it take for the refrigerant to cycle through a typical residential split system? I’d say about 3 or 4 minutes.  If you have a different answer, let me know in the comments.

So we see now the low side has come up to about 27 degrees or 92 psi.  Our evaporator coil is still freezing.  Let’s add two more pounds and wait.  I know there’s a lot of pressure on techs to get their calls done quickly so they can get to the next one, but it’s essential to let the system stabilize before adding more refrigerant.  If you add too much, too soon, you could see the pressures skyrocket insanely fast.  And now you have to recover some refrigerant into a separate tank which takes even more time!

Now we are getting close to 32 degrees or about 100 psi on the suction side.  From here, we want to start dialing our subcool to whatever it is the manufacturer recommends.  This system says 10 degrees subcooling on a 95-degree day.  Let’s get a temperature probe on the liquid line and start getting our reading from it. We’re going to be subtracting the high side’s temperature and the liquid line’s temperature to come up with our subcooling.  

Add refrigerant a little at a time until the difference between those two numbers is 10 degrees. There’s nothing tricky about this.  Just don’t add too much too fast.  Add refrigerant and wait for the numbers to stabilize. 

You’re going to be looking for the low side pressure to be around 40 to 42 degrees or 125 psi.  The high side pressure/temperature will likely settle around 15 degrees above the outdoor temperature.  So on a 90-degree day, you may end up with a high side temperature around 105 degrees.  If you can get your numbers around this area, you’re close!  But let’s really get it dialed in.  Get that subcool to 10, plus or minus 2 degrees.

I will tell you; it takes longer to move the needle on your gauges when there’s less refrigerant in the system.  As the system starts getting close to the proper subcool, you’ll want to finesse the time you keep the manifold open, allowing refrigerant into the system.  Overcharging can happen quickly, especially on a hot day.  

Getting close to your 10 degrees subcool?  Cool!

Once you get it to this point, check your temperature split inside.  Is it around 18 to 22 degrees?  Great! You’ll notice the liquid line is a little bit warmer than the outdoor temperature.  Also, the suction line will be damn near “beer can cold!”

Test the system while it’s running.  Get your amp draws on the condenser fan motor and compressor.  Cycle the system on and off at the thermostat to make sure the system is operating correctly.  If it is, you’re good to go.

Well, I hope this has helped you when it comes to the charging process.  I make my videos for my technicians to reference when they are in a bind out in the field.  But if this can help anyone else, that’s great.

Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you on the next blog.

https://youtu.be/plTCLJF_zQk
 
 

How Moisture in the Refrigerant Lines Damages Compressors

How Moisture in the Refrigerant Lines Damages Compressors

Anytime technicians cut open the refrigerant lines to the air conditioning or heat pump system, we have to ensure the interior of those lines doesn’t get debris and other contaminants in them.  We can’t prevent air and moisture from getting in them, which is why we need to evacuate systems thoroughly.  If we don’t, a form of acid will develop inside the compressor and eat away at the protective lining that surrounds the copper stator windings.

Not only will the acid wear out the windings, but it can tear away the copper lining of the tubing itself.  That copper will land on the bearings or other components in the refrigeration circuit.  Other examples would be the TXV or other metering devices.  Once this starts, friction starts building up, causing the compressor to work harder to do the same work.  Over time, the friction builds up so much the compressor seizes or burns out. 
 

 

Moisture and POE Oil

 

R-410A systems use Polyol ester oil (POE Oil) which is a hygroscopic oil. POE oil retains water in the air a lot more than the mineral oil (R22) systems.  That’s why we have to evacuate the system of as much moisture as possible.  Technically, we’re not supposed to leave the lines open for more than 15 minutes.  That’s hard to do when replacing a major component like a compressor or evaporator coil.  If exposed long enough, it’s best to replace the compressor oil to the levels printed on the data label on the side of the compressor.   This is because no matter how long we have the unit on a vacuum, that moisture will never be removed from the compressor oil.

 

When a system is flat on charge, meaning there is no refrigerant left in the system because it all leaked out,   it can be assumed that air is now in the system.  There’s no vacuum left in the lines, so the leak needs to be repaired and then evacuated to 500 microns or less again to get it back to normal.  Does this mean if the system is flat, the lines have been open longer than 15 minutes?  I would assume so.  Should we change the oil in the compressor?  I guess so.  Do any techs do it?  Probably not.

 

 

Filter driers catch remaining moisture

 

Because it’s so hard to get all the moisture in the lines evacuated, we always install a filter drier.  A good filter drier has desiccants inside it that will absorb residual moisture in the lines as it flows through the system.  Even then, only so much moisture can be absorbed by a filter drier.  A clogged filter drier will start restricting the normal refrigerant flow and even cause flash gas causing abnormal operation.  You can tell if a filter drier is clogged by measuring the temperature of the liquid line before and after the filter drier.  If the difference is 3 degrees or more, changed the filter with a new and properly sized one.

 

It’s so important for technicians to ensure there is no moisture from the atmosphere left in the lines when we turn the system on.  There are tools, components, and procedures to help with this. If we don’t do it right, we are only doing a disservice to the customer because the electrical and mechanical parts of the AC system will eat away from acid that forms inside of it.  

 

Professional, knowledgeable service is essential when it comes to the air conditioner.  Don’t just call anyone out to service your system.  Call Fox Family or even book online  at the top of the page.

That’s it for this week.  Check us out on the next blog!

Should I Hook Up My AC Manifold Gauges at Every Service Call?

Should You Hook Up Your Manifold Gauges Every Time?

Maintaining the Integrity of Your Sacramento Valley AC System

As a technician starting out in this field, I was told by the company trainer to hook up the hoses to my manifold gauges every time I’m out on an AC service call.  Much like a doctor who wears a stethoscope around his neck, hooking my gauges up meant we were the professionals; and when I bring the customer out to the AC to discuss recommendations or repairs, they would see I was the one with all the knowledge.  Was my trainer onto something, or was this just another effort to blow smoke up the customers rear and make him fall for that company’s high-pressure antics?

If this is your first time reading our blog, be sure to check out our library of blog topics on a wide variety of topics useful for both customers and technicians.

Manifold Gauges: How They Work

Every residential air conditioner has a service valve used by technicians to connect to and read the pressures of the system’s refrigerant. Those service valves have a Schrader core (That’s Schrader Core) that gets depressed when the technician’s manifold hoses attach to the service valve.  It’s just like a valve stem on your bicycle tire.

When the core gets pressed in, the refrigerant is allowed into the technician’s manifold so the pressure can be read on the gauges.  It takes an experienced technician to interpret those readings to accurately determine what’s going on with the refrigerant pressures in the system.  Simply put, we can see the temperature of the evaporator coil, the condenser coil, and can determine the superheat and subcooling levels for that system.

Getting an Accurate Manifold Gauge Assessment

But do technicians need to hook up every time they go out on preventative maintenance or a service call?  Does it mean we didn’t give a full and comprehensive diagnostic if we don’t?  No!  Most technicians will walk up to a system and assess how the system is running by doing a couple of things.  First, have you asked the customer how their system is running?  If not, that’s valuable information to get.  If the system has been running great according to the customer, there may not be any reason to hook up the gauges.

Steps for Technicians

Let’s say you’ve asked the customer how the system has been performing.  They report that the system’s been running fine.  They just wanted to call you out for a pre-season tune-up, like the ones we offer at Fox Family for just $75.  Have you checked the temperature split to see if the system is blowing nice cold air?  That would be more input that should sway a technician from hooking up their gauges.

I know it’s a little cliché but checking the temperature of the suction line can further indicate that you wouldn’t need to hook up your gauges to the AC system.  The liquid line should be a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature, too.  So, making some initial checks like this can make someone comfortable about not hooking up their gauges to the system.

Why don’t I think you should hook up your gauges so much?  Hooking up your gauges can do several things to actually harm the performance of the system over the long run.  Maybe not today, but the overall lifespan of the system can be affected.

Contamination

I feel that hooking up gauges from one system to the next contaminates the next system you hook up to.  Taking a little bit of refrigerant from one system, going to the other side of town and putting your gauges on that system has now introduced a trace of contaminants that system has never seen before.  Moisture and air from one system can easily be transferred to another system.

This is definitely true if your no loss fittings or ball valve fittings on your hoses retain the R22 freon in one system and then get hooked up to that one on the other side of town that is an R410a system.   A technician doing this will literally create a new mixture, a new refrigerant even.  Done enough times, it will throw off the system readings enough that not even the most experienced techs can get the true pressures inside that system.  Eventually, a future technician will recommend removing all the refrigerant and starting over with a new manufacturer’s charge of refrigerant.

Avoiding Burns

Another reason is to reduce the chances of exposing yourself to refrigerant burns.  In the unlikely event that you find a burr in the threading of the service valve and get it stuck it could create a situation where the refrigerant starts shooting out of the hoses.  Some techs will persist in trying to get the hose off and burn themselves.  The risk is small, but but tell that to the techs who have ended up with huge blisters on their hands trying to play hero and losing time off work.  Further impacting their paychecks and livelihood is a serious consideration.

Unintended Loosening

My last reason to think twice about hooking up gauges to every AC system is about the Schrader core.  It can be loosened, creating a tiny leak.  The Schrader core is threaded into the service valve.  And while you’re screwing the new core into the valve which way are you tightening it?  Righty tighty.  Lefty loosey.  Taking off your hoses in the normal counterclockwise direction mimics the same direction it takes to unscrew the Schrader core.

Case in Point

Several times this year I’ve gone out on a service call for no cooling.  The client reports that the system only blows room temperature air.  They’ve have been having maintenance done by a local company every spring and fall. Upon inspection, I saw there was no temp split from the registers.  And the suction line at the AC was warm to the touch.  I unscrewed the service valve cap to attach my hoses.  There, I saw some liquid refrigerant spewing out of where the valve core sits.  I think I’ve found the problem.

Put another way, I’ll quote a recent story in ACHR News:

“There is no reason to ever put gauges on an air conditioning or refrigeration system after the initial installation unless a problem with the mechanical refrigeration circuit is suspected.  Using a psychrometric chart, digital thermometer, digital humidity stick, and an accurate method to calculate airflow can replace having to apply your manifold gauges anytime.”

Increasing Equipment Life

Remember, these systems should contain only virgin refrigerant.  Spending less time putting on and taking off our refrigerant hoses saves more than time.  It increases equipment life, maintains performance, and reduces refrigerant emissions into the atmosphere.

Remember, I was told by the company trainer to hook up my manifold gauges on every AC service call.  He said it would make me look like the doctor who wears a stethoscope around his neck.  Customers supposedly expect to see those hoses hooked up, and if they weren’t, they might think something wasn’t right.  The trainer wasn’t worried about the integrity of the customer’s AC system.  And certainly not the integrity of his company’s high-pressure sales antics.

Your Turn

As always, I appreciate you all for reading our blog posts here at Fox Family in Sacramento.  I would love to hear your comments as technicians out in the field.  How does your company practice service and maintenance calls and hooking up your gauges every time you get called out?

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog topic!

The HVAC Industry Continues to Experience the Effects of COVID-19

HVAC and covid 19 Featured image

HVAC Supply Pricing Continuing To Rise

Folks who purchased their new AC system at the beginning of the year should be singing their praises.  The industry continues to see rising costs of materials combined with a shortage of workers.  

A colleague of mine said, “When something like COVID interrupts any part of the supply chain system, including how those parts get shipped from there to here. We’re experiencing a weird dynamic right now with worldwide stress, but also with a high demand for our products and services. Also, considering the low numbers of employees working in these factories, the only thing to expect is chaos. The scenario is creating an almost panic for our industry to perform.”

Halfway through the summer of 2021, things haven’t gotten any better.  We continue to be frustrated.  Selling equipment is tough enough, but to get the okay from a customer and potentially not have their equipment is challenging.  It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with since becoming a contractor in 2015.

What happens is, when we order our equipment online in the past, we could see the inventory levels of our distributor.  We would look up a particular furnace that matches up with a condenser and evaporator coil and see that they had 20 of those furnaces.  Now when we win a job, we have to submit the order and wait for the distributor to get back to us and let us know if they have the equipment to fill that order.  If they don’t, we have to call the customer back and let them know.

On a few occasions this year, we have had to offer the customer an entirely different brand than Trane, which has always been our equipment of choice.  This has worked out for those customers, and we appreciate them being flexible enough to understand.  

Every HVAC contractor in the United States is dealing with this equipment situation.  Manufacturers say they can’t get equipment out fast enough for the rising demand for new equipment.  This has created the highest rate of price increase we’ve seen in a very long time.  Each year, we typically see a 4% to 6% increase in the cost of equipment.  

attic furnace unit

This year we’ve already seen a 21% increase in that same equipment. This has resulted in your basic $10,000 HVAC system increasing by $2,000 in just one year.  Higher-end equipment has grown exponentially.

With a few to several more months of rapid inflation in the world’s economy, we continue to brace for whatever price increases we may see. These price increases ultimately get passed along to our customers. 

So, like we said this time last year, as we’re getting close to the end of the hottest time of the year, local suppliers should have an easier time restocking their shelves as demand goes down.  Winter months are relatively mild around the Sacramento Valley, so that we won’t get that high intensity of equipment change-outs experienced in other areas of the world with longer, colder winters.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed America get’s back to normal soon.  People need heating and air conditioning. It’s not a luxury for some people.  With continued demand and lower inventory of equipment and the parts that make that equipment up, inflation continues, stressing this contractor out.  

Stay safe and follow CDC guidelines so we can get through this sooner than later. Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time.

How I Troubleshoot a PSC Condenser Fan Motor on an Air Conditioner

Condenser fan motor

Condenser fan motors come in a couple of forms.  PSC style and ECM style.  PSC motors are easily identified by the run capacitor that comes inside the service panel with them.  ECM motors are electronically commutated motors run on their own power.  Today we’re talking about the PSC condenser fan motor which you’ll find on a lot of the basic 10 to 14 SEER single-stage systems out there. 

There are only a few things that can go wrong with your typical PSC motor.  Voltage from the panel isn’t sufficient, the contactor is bad, the capacitor is bad, or damaged parts inside the condenser fan motor.

Why Is The AC Making A High Pitched Noise?

I’ve gotten this call before.  The customer says the outdoor unit is making a very pitched noise.  Louder than they’ve ever heard!  When you get to the house and turn on the AC, you walk up on the outdoor AC unit and find that the compressor is pumping the refrigerant, but the fan on top is not spinning.

What’s happening here is the condenser fan blade isn’t spinning which normally removes the heat from the outdoor unit.  If it doesn’t, the compressor will overheat and shut down, but not before putting up a screaming hissy-fit.  After that, the internal overload switch on the compressor opens.  It takes about 45 minutes or so to cool back down, and then retry running again.  Heats up, shuts down, cools off, restarts, and over and over.

In this case, you likely have good voltage to the system but just to be sure make sure you have about 240 volts to the load side of the contactor while it’s running.  This lets you know the line voltage is good and the contactor is good in one quick test with your multimeter.

You only have so much time to do this before the compressor shuts down, but next, I usually take a stick or something and try spinning the fan blade with it.  If the fan starts spinning after giving it a little nudge, I’d check the capacitor next.  That capacitor is what helps it start and run efficiently.

If the capacitor checks out good, then you know you have proper voltage getting to the motor, so the condenser fan motor is bad.

If the fan blade doesn’t keep spinning after you nudge it, the capacitor could be good, but still, check it.  If it’s good, the condenser fan motor is bad.

Checking The Condenser Fan

I’ve seen this happen when a big windstorm hit an area recently and knocked some branches down into the top of the AC.  The shroud on top usually does a great job of protecting the fan blade, but in this instance, a stick wedged itself in there and caused the motor to burn out.

Another reason this can happen, especially on universal replacements is the inside of the motor got wet.  These motors come with rubber plugs sometimes.  These plugs have to be placed on the top side of a downward mounted fan, and in the bottom of an upward facing motor.  The ports on the opposite sides should remain open, so that any moisture that does get into it, can drain out.  Happens all the time!

I would say check the fan motor for a short to ground, but the main breaker or service disconnect fuses would have usually tripped by now.  So let’s check the motor windings first to see if we have an open or damaged winding.

Take the wires off the contactor and the capacitor that leads to the fan motor.  Refer to your wiring diagram that comes with the AC and check your ohms (resistance) between Common (Purple or C on the capacitor) and Start (Usually Brown but was attached to Fan on the capacitor.)  You should read a fairly low amount of resistance here.  If you read OL on your meter, then you have an open Start winding

Common and Run (Black, or the only wire that’s coming from the contactor to the fan motor.)  You’ll likely measure a lower amount of resistance here.  If it’s OL, then you have an open Run winding.

If you have an OL on both of the motor’s windings, the motor’s internal overload switch could be open.  If you allow time for it to cool down, and it still wont run, replace the condenser fan motor.

Just in case you do have good windings, let’s double check to make sure the motor isn’t shorted to ground.  You can check with your ohm meter, but I usually just use the continuity setting on my meter.  Check between the frame of the motor and each winding.  Common, Start, and Run.  Make sure you’re not using a painted surface for the frame.  You want to use a metallic base for this test.

Condenser motor

If you have continuity between any of these and the frame of the motor, replace the condenser fan motor.

Well, I hope this helps you troubleshoot your next condenser fan motor.  This is one of the easier components to check.

If this is your first time watching our channel, please click subscribe down here on the bottom right.  And if you click that little bell next to it, you’ll be notified of all our videos as they come out.

Thanks so much for reading and we’ll see you on the next blog.

How cold can my air conditioning get my house in the summer?

How cold can my house get?

 

HVAC companies like ours startup because we are passionate about helping people when it gets hot (or cold) outside.  We honestly want to get you comfortable as soon as your AC breaks down.  Some people want their home to feel like a meat locker, but the reality is your system can only get your home so cool.

Your system is designed to cool your house 18 to 22 degrees less than the temperature of the house at any given time.  Meaning, if your house is currently 80 degrees, the temperature of the air coming out of your registers should be 62 to 58 degrees.  As the temperature of the house comes down to your desired 72 degrees, the temps coming from the supply registers will be 54 to 50 degrees.  

Your house can get cooler than that. Most of the time, I sleep with the temperature in my bedroom at 68 degrees.  I can only do that if I strategically set my thermostat not to let my house get too warm during the day.  If you let your house get to warm, say 85 to 90 degrees, before turning your system on, your AC will struggle to bring the temps in your home to 72 degrees or less.  

A system is designed to cool your house one or two degrees every 15 minutes.  But if it’s super-hot in your home, the walls are going to be warm, the furniture is warm, and the ceiling is warm.  All the items in your house will need to cool down before you’re going to start feeling comfortable again.  So if it’s 90 degrees in your home before you decide to turn your AC on, it may have to run all through the night, even into the following day to get you there, depending on the age of your HVAC system.

So, the answer to the question is about 72 degrees.  75 is reasonable for every home, but some systems are old and inefficient.  Some systems aren’t sized large enough for that particular home.  Every house is different. Some systems might be low on refrigerant.  It could be a variety of things.  

One thing is for sure though, if you live in the Sacramento area, Fox Family Heating & Air will be able to get your home nice and cool no matter what’s going on with your AC.  Feel free to schedule an appointment with us at (916) 877-1577 or online at www.foxfamilyhvac.com

11 Ways to Avoid Hot and Cold Spots in Your Home

Delivering the right amount of air to each room at the same time is key to being comfortable.  And not just in one or two rooms.  A properly set up HVAC system will comfort your whole home or business simultaneously.

Of course, the goal is to have the same even temperatures throughout each room so when you walk through your house, you don’t feel warmer in one room than another.  Today at Fox Family Heating and Air, we’re taking a look at 11 ways to avoid hot and cold spots in your Sacramento Valley home or business.

1. Is your system sized correctly?

First and foremost, is your system sized correctly?  This means the original installer of the system did a proper load calculation of your home.  If they didn’t, then it’s not pushing enough air to your rooms regardless of whether the rest of our checklist is perfect.

2. Return air and supply air unity

Having the right amount of return air to supply air unity means you’ll be delivering the same amount of air out of your system as you are bringing to the system.  You have a return air grille or stand where your filter goes.  That’s where the system draws its air in.  On the other side of that air handler, the system supplies your conditioned air.  Systems are designed to supply about 400 to 500 cfms of air per ton.  But if your system is breathing in enough air from the return, how is it going to supply enough air to keep your home evenly comforted?

3. Adding returns will mix hot and cold air

This brings me to the option of adding more returns to strategic rooms around your house.  That return air grille in the main hallway doesn’t have to be the only return in the home or office.  For example, master bedrooms in newer homes have a return air grille installed in them.  This mixes the air in the room so warm air in the summer gets removed from the room, while colder supply air is being delivered into the room.  You’ll really notice a difference by adding a return to these pesky rooms that are warmer or cooler than others, depending on the season.

4. Closing air registers will force hot and cold air elsewhere

Not one of my favorites, but some folks will start closing down their adjustable supply registers in various room that get too much air.  They’re hoping to force the air somewhere else in the house that isn’t getting enough air.  The only thing I don’t like about this is that those registers that you start shutting down can do a couple things.  One is really annoying and the other can actually shorten the lifespan of the system.  Closing down “strategic” registers in the home or office can make those registers start whizzing.  This makes it louder in that room because we are creating a restriction that speeds up the airflow as it leaves the supply register.

The other reason has to do with the static pressure of the system.  Much like blood flow in the body, we wouldn’t want to pinch a blood vessel in hopes to deliver more blood elsewhere right, this could cause big problems with the body.  The same goes for aerodynamics in your ductwork.

5. Change those filters to eliminate hot and cold spots

Changing your filters quarterly will not only help keep your system clean, but it will allow airflow into the system.  If the filter gets too dirty, you’re creating a restriction if the system can’t breathe in properly, it won’t be able to breathe out the appropriate amount of air.  It’s like breathing in through a straw and exhaling out of your open mouth.  Eventually you’re going to hyperventilate.  So, let’s keep those passages open so the HVAC system can eliminate hot and cold spots in your home or office.

6. Keep Heat at Bay with Window Coverings

The sun’s radiant energy can warm up a room quickly.  A room with sun-drenched walls or windows allow this heat into those rooms and will warm up more quickly.  Installing window coverings will keep this radiant heat at bay.  These come in the form of screens or tinting that can be attached to the outside of windows, or curtains and blinds affixed to the inside of the windows.  Either way you choose, you’re going to enjoy having a more comfortable room if you can reduce the chance of that heat coming in this way.

7. Electronics in Rooms will Increase Warmth

It’s so popular now to have gaming systems or high-tech computer systems in a room or office.  The heat these devices put out is enough to warm up a room, making it less comfortable than other rooms in your house.  Adding more supply air by using a larger duct will help to deliver more air to that room.  Just like I mentioned above, a better solution may be adding a return to this room as it will remove the warm air while cold air is being supplied to the room.  This will make your room more comfortable, faster.

8. Ceiling Fans will Mix Hot and Cold Air

Another way to mix the air in your room is to turn on that ceiling fan.  When it’s hot outside, have the fan blowing straight down towards the floor.  The warmer it is, the higher the fan speed should be.  Conversely, in the wintertime, turn the fan so it blows upwards.  Both ways will mix the air more effectively and make those rooms more evenly comforted.

9. Keep Hot and Cold Air Moving by Preventing Airflow Restrictions

Remove hot and cold air spots by taking a look at your ductwork.  It might be under the house or in the attic.  If you can see your ductwork, you will be able to determine if it’s delivering the air efficiently.  If the ductwork is sagging or kinked, it won’t deliver the air properly.  Each duct has a finite amount of air it can deliver appropriately.  Making sure it is installed correctly is a great way to keep your house evenly conditioned.

10. Prevent Hot and Cold Spots by Checking Insulation Levels

You can also control hot and cold spots by paying attention to insulation.  Attic insulations levels can greatly impact how quickly that hot or cold air infiltrates through the ceiling into your room.  Sometimes various service professionals will need to work up there.  In the process, they may matte down some of your insulation, making it less effective.  If there is not enough insulation over one room or the other, this will create hot or cold spots.  These reduce your comfort level in those rooms.  By blowing in some more insulation, you can make your whole house more comfortable to be in.

11. Properly Sized Ductwork Improves HVAC Efficiency

The size of your HVAC system as well as the right size duct system to deliver that air evenly are both crucial to your comfort.  This isn’t the easiest thing to figure for most DIY’ers.  An hvac professional can help you determine what size duct is needed for each room.  A system of supply and return ducts running every which way can be confusing.  Making the right decisions with your ductwork will make your HVAC system more efficient and comfortable for your home.  This will eliminate hot and cold spots in your home

Summary

Let Fox Family come out and take a look at what can be done to make your home more comfortable if you’re experiencing hot or cold spots.  Making your system as efficient and effective as possible will certainly add to your quality of life.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post!

Don’t miss our videos on related topics:

How Long Should My AC Last?

how long should my AC last?

Getting the Most Out of Your AC System in the Sacramento Valley

You may be wondering, “How long should my AC last?”  To answer that question, have you ever heard of “programmed obsolescence” or “designed obsolescence?”  If you haven’t, it really plays a big factor in the way this question is answered.

How Long Should my AC Last?

This is one of my favorite questions to answer. And it usually gets all the HVAC technicians and owners out there all stirred up.  The reason is that companies that are highly motivated by sales are going to tell you that your central air conditioner will not last as long as I’m going to tell you it will.

Air Conditioners Then and Now

I will tell you, they don’t make ‘em like they used to!  The original home air conditioning systems were built with quality parts and were extremely durable for up to 30 years.  But the industry quickly realized, just like car companies did back in the 1920s, that sales were stagnating.  It was like they were building them too well for those companies to sustain growth, and more importantly to them, become rich. Companies began making their products just a little bit less durable and instilling in the buyer the desire to own something “a little newer, a little better, a little more efficient,” and just a little sooner than necessary.

So, how long should your air conditioner last?  As with anything, the answer to that question depends heavily on how well your system has been maintained.  Rental properties are notorious for having tenants that just plain old refuse to change their air filters. So, of course, that system is a crapshoot.  Who knows, right?  It might last 10 years, it might last 20 years.

Periodic Repair and Maintenance

But if you have the system cleaned and maintained every now and then, there is no reason your system can’t last you 20 years.  True, parts will fail now and then, and everyone expects they’ll have to make certain repairs to their aging system, but if the parts are available, there’s no reason to have someone convince you to buy a new air conditioning system.

That’s just another example of planned obsolescence!  Someone putting in your head that you need a new system at 12 years is almost like being a bully.  They know more than you do about that air conditioning system, and it would be pretty easy for any “technician” in a white button-up shirt with an American flag on it to deceive you about your air conditioner.  The big companies around town are banking on it.

I live in a 21-year-old neighborhood built by, let’s call them a fictitious name like BK Homes.  The HVAC contractor who won the job to install all those units did so because it was the lowest bidder who could install them the fastest.  Those contractors aren’t putting in top-of-the-line systems either.  They call them contractor-grade HVAC systems.

It’s Your Decision

My system is 21 years old this year, and I’m going to try and make it last one more year.  A lot of us say that!  But when that system was 11 years old my compressor failed.  Well, for most people, that’s about a $2,000-$3,000 job to make that repair and refill the refrigerant.  So yes, major failures like this do happen.  Is it planned obsolescence?  Maybe. But it’s also a machine, and machines break sometimes.  I happened to know a guy (me) who could get a good deal on a compressor.  So I fixed it.  And the system has run great ever since.

The point I’m trying to get across is, it’s your decision how long you want to keep your system around.  If the parts are available, your system can be repaired.  Old systems blow cold air out of your registers at the same temperature as the newer systems, but here’s where those words “planned obsolescence” come back around when the pushy sales guys start telling you you need a new air conditioner.  They’re just trying to persuade you that you need something a little newer, a little better, a little more “efficient,” and just a little sooner than necessary.

Why I would be interested in changing my air conditioner

I changed my compressor when it was 11 years old.  That was almost 10 years ago!  That air conditioner is a lot noisier now than it ever has been.  I’m kind of over it… every time it comes on and I’m out on my patio, it comes on loud and turns off loud.

If I had to complete additional major repairs like the compressor was, I would have gotten to the point that I was tired of putting money into the old system and would instead want to invest my money in a new system.

If I was leaking refrigerant every year and we could find the leak, I would want to change my system.  Not only because of the high cost of the refrigerant, but it’s just very bad for the ozone layer to be exposed to all that chlorine, and future generations will suffer because of it.

If the system was installed wrong in the first place, it’s tough to fix that without taking everything out and putting it back together in the proper way.  This could be another reason to start all over with a new system.  As an installer myself, I know how people can suffer from a system that never worked right or was too small in the first place.  The most important day of a system’s life is the day it was installed.

Reasons companies that are motivated purely by sales will advise you to get a new system

Extremely salesy companies will tell you (and you see it written in blogs all over the internet too), that if your system is over 12 years old, you need a new system.  They’ll tell you it’s not worth repairing, or the parts aren’t available, literally lying straight to your face.

They say if you’ve had the system for over a decade, it’s time to replace your system. This also doesn’t compute for me.  Why?

Some of my customers have told me another company told them R-22 freon wasn’t available anymore.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, it’s on its way out, and super salesy technicians will say big words like “Montreal Protocol” which states we have to phase out of producing R-22 by 2020, but there are also alternative refrigerants we can use for a long time, at half the price!

R407c can be used to replace the R-22 in your system.  Your experienced technician will remove the existing R-22, and without getting all technical, replace it with the new R407c refrigerant.  There are plenty of other alternative and safe refrigerants to use out there.  Just don’t let them add the alternative stuff on top of your existing R-22.  That would not be acceptable as the refrigerant needs to be either-or.

Even after they stop making R-22 freon, there will still be recycled R-22 available for years.  It might be more expensive then than it is now, but it’s still an option that you get to decide on, and not a misleading technician.

So How Long Should My AC Last?  The Bottom Line

You should know the real truth about how long your central air conditioning system should last.  You can get about 20 good years out of your system as long as it was installed correctly.  And that assumes your installer followed several detailed instructions from the manufacturer.

Anyone can put a few boxes together up in your attic for a really cheap price and call it good.  And you’ll believe them too.  It’s sad because these types of companies continue to give HVAC a bad name, while companies like Fox Family are trying to lift the HVAC industry by following instructions closely so your system will last a good 20 years.  Of course, that’s with proper maintenance.

Thank you so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you at my next blog.

That’s Not How Zoning Works!

how zoning works

How Heating and Air Zoning is Supposed to be Used

I find that some technicians don’t know how to explain to their customers how to properly use their zoned heating and air conditioning system. They tell their customers to just set the temperature to 75 on both floors and leave it. That’s not how zoning works! If you wanted to have both floors or both zones at 75 degrees, why not just cool the whole house at once? Why do we even need zoning at that point? On today’s blog we’re talking about the do’s and don’ts of zoning.

Heating and air zoned houses, or houses with two or more thermostats, are usually found in homes that have two floors, or in sprawling ranch style homes. In this blog we’re going to talk about older homes that have had zoning added to their now oversized system. We’ll also talk about what kind of lifestyle fits best with a zoned system. And finally, we’ll be discussing how to use zoning to save you money, which is really why zoning in a home is even a thing.

Many homes in the Sacramento area are big enough to support families of 2 to 6 people. Such a home will have a designated living area that includes the kitchen, dining, family rooms, common area restrooms, entryway and other common areas. The other part of the house consists of the master bedroom, master bathroom, larger closets, the kids’ bedrooms, their bathrooms and sink areas, and the laundry room. You could easily break this home down into two “zones” with a thermostat to control each one.

The System is Oversized

To illustrate my point, let’s just say you have a typical 1950 sq. ft. home of conditioned space. This doesn’t include areas of the house like the closets, pantry, and other rooms that don’t have registers supplying air to them. This hypothetical house is two stories and originally came with a big 4-ton air conditioner that would satisfy the whole house at one time.

Ten years later, the owner adds a thermostat to the upstairs area, so they’ll have two zones; one for upstairs, one for downstairs. Another 10 years goes by and the system is now 20 years old.  Because it no longer cools as it should, the new owner is ready for a new system.  He doesn’t understand why he’s being told the new system should be smaller — much smaller! Because that’s not how to use zoning.

Heating and air zoning is an excellent idea!  But keeping that big, old 4-ton system there is a big mistake. If a 1950 sq. ft. home is divided into fairly similar sizes — 1150 sq. ft. downstairs and 800 sq. ft. upstairs, for example — then only one zone is calling for cooling.  That big 4-ton system (which remember, was designed to cool the whole house at one time) is overwhelming the temperature change in that one zone.  That’s half of the house!  It’s over pressurizing the ducts for that zone.  It’s sending a high velocity of air through the registers of that one zone. This is generally putting a big strain on the entire system, with the exception of the unused zone.

High Blood-Pressure Isn’t Good, Right?

This strain is similar to high blood pressure for the human body. You can run on high blood pressure for a while, but if it’s not regulated, the body can suffer and fail earlier than usual. The same goes for the compressor which is a lot like the heart of the human body. It pumps refrigerant to and from the indoor coil and outdoor coil. Too much short cycling, turning on and off quickly, makes the motor see an enormous amount of damaging heat and energy on every start-up, time after time after time.

When your system is twice the capacity that it needs to be, because only one zone is needing air, it’s going to satisfy that one zone way too fast. On/Off, On/Off, all day long. See, your AC wants to run for longer periods of time at less amperage to cool your house effectively. One to two degrees change for every 15 minutes is not unusual according to Honeywell. But 2 to 3 degrees in five minutes is too fast. I won’t get into this too much as I have several YouTube videos for customers on this topic, but we want to condition the whole room, not just the human. This is how we keep proper humidity levels and prevent wide temperature swings in the room.

What Is the Right Size Unit, Then?

If we were just conditioning that first floor at 1150 sq. ft., what size would we need? Without getting too technical, we would need about a 2.5-ton system. There are factors that would make it smaller or larger, but again I’m trying to keep this short and simple. And what if we were trying to cool just the upstairs bedroom areas at 800 sq. ft? We would need about a 2-ton system. Now, what if both zones happen to be calling for air at the same time? This is where it can get tricky, but for God’s sake, we are NOT doubling the size of the system.

When it comes to heating and air zoning , my rule for our technicians is to size the system a half-ton larger than the largest zone in the house.  In this case it’s 2.5 tons, so we will size the whole system at 3 tons. This is a full ton smaller than the original one installed, which surprises some prospective buyers.  But it’s correct. Because of sizing issues already mentioned in this blog, I can stomach a 3-ton system blowing through the smaller 800 sq. ft. zone without doing major damage to the new system over time, especially if some bleed off dampers like the new Honeywell ARD dampers are installed. This allows the correct amount of air to get to the small zone and any extra bleed-off to the other zone in very small amounts.

Proper Heating and Air Zoning

What happens when both zones reach a point in the day when they are both calling at the same time? That extra half-ton will satisfy one zone or the other first. When that happens, that’s zone closes its damper and allows the other zone to continue until it’s satisfied.

We’re not talking about the laws of thermodynamics to the letter, here. And nothing I say is absolute. Of course, there are variables that your technician will have to take into consideration when it comes to your home, but an experienced installer will know what is right and what’s not when it comes to zoning your house.

For a deeper dive, you may want to view our videos:  What Temperature Should I Set the Thermostat in My House? and What’s the Best Way to Cool My Two-Story House?  Both have a lot of good information you may not have known about your AC system, so I hope you enjoy them.

When Two Zones Don’t Make Sense

Let’s talk about certain lifestyles where it doesn’t make sense to have a two-zone air duct system. I just had a customer who has a nursery and kids’ playroom upstairs while the caregiver and other relatives occupy the downstairs portion of the house throughout most of the day. What’s more is their demand for cooling is considerable given that they like it to be 72 degrees upstairs during the day for the kids and would like it to be 70 to 72 degrees downstairs at the same time of the day for those downstairs. And they expect those temps even on the hottest days of the year. That’s not the way zoning works.

Here’s How Heating and Air Zoning Works

As I mentioned in the video about How to Cool Your Two-Story Home, the typical home we work on is one where a parent stays home with a child, or retirees that don’t have to go to work anymore, so there is usually someone home most of the day. I tell people in these homes to focus on running the AC downstairs where they typically are throughout the day. So, if you like it 75 degrees in your normal living areas, make it 82 upstairs, in the area you’re not using. Run the AC primarily throughout the day downstairs at whatever temperature you’d like, until about 6 or 7 pm. Then, shut the thermostat off for downstairs and have the upstairs start cooling off so that by the time you get to bed, it’s cool enough upstairs to sleep for the whole family.

It’s already 75 degrees downstairs when it shuts off, so it won’t quickly warm up and make it uncomfortable for you.  Set the downstairs to be 82 degrees, where no one needs the AC running. It won’t get there overnight, but at least the system doesn’t come on downstairs, so the AC can focus its efforts on cooling down your second story as quickly as possible.

Saving Money with a Smaller System

You can set it up however you’d like on your thermostat’s schedule. If you need help with that, call or text us and we’ll get out to you and set it up. The main reason for having two thermostats is simple.  The system is not sized big enough to cool the whole house at once.  Because it’s designed to cool one floor, or one zone at a time, your home’s two-thermostat AC system is designed a little smaller.  We save money with smaller systems.  Efficiency is a huge concern for lots of people around the Sacramento Valley.  The smaller the system, the less we pay for the electricity used to run the AC.  When we don’t try to cool the entire house at once, we also save money and energy.

Summary

I hope this helps explain a little more about heating and air zoning, and how to use it properly. The intent was to enlighten folks that running both zones at 73 degrees all day isn’t the way zoning works. Think of it as two separate zones that we are conditioning at two separate times of the day. If both zones happen to call for cooling at the same time, a properly sized air conditioner will manage its way through it.  It will satisfy one or the other zone first, and then give the full system to the lagging zone.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog post.

Do I Need an AC Tune-Up or a Diagnostic Service Call?

how to handle a refrigerant leak at my home

Our administrative staff has gotten very good at being intuitive about what a potential customer really needs from a Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning service technician.  With all that fancy HVAC jargon like AC tune-up, diagnostic service call, HVAC inspection, or safety inspection, how are you supposed to know what it is that you should be asking for when you call in?

In this blog post we’re going to narrow it down to our most needed services.  Let’s talk about how to tell if you need an AC tune-up or a diagnostic service call.

Intro

I’m really not trying to bag on anyone here, but it’s true that some people will call in to Fox Family and say they need us to come out and do a tune-up on their system.  So, we’ll ask them something like, “Is your system currently working okay?”  or, “Are you having any problems with your system right now?” and they’ll say, “Yeah, but I notice a burnt smell coming from the registers and not as much air seems to be coming out.” Or, “Yeah, but it’s not as cool in here as it used to be, so I just thought you could come out and add some freon.”

Tune-Up Service Calls

So, here’s a chance for me to clarify the difference between a diagnostic service call and an AC tune-up. What we’re trying to  identify when you call in to Fox Family is whether your AC is running just fine or if you think something just isn’t right.  Folks who call us for a tune-up think their system is running just fine.  But they just believe getting preventive maintenance will make their system run cleaner and last longer.

When we come out on a tune-up, we have a checklist of things we are looking at.  The main components of the system — your thermostat, your filters, and the ductwork.  We’re also checking things like the temperature of the air coming out of the registers in your rooms versus the temperature of the air going into where your filter is in the hallway.  Then we start really looking into the major motors and devices in the system that make your machine work.  With our meters and other testing equipment, we can see what’s going on inside the motor.  Is it working too hard, and is the right voltage being applied to it?  Is there enough refrigerant in the system?

On top of the mechanical components of the system we look at the drainage system, refrigerant metering devices, and high voltage wiring and tighten connections as needed.  We can also check for shrubs around the AC that might prevent proper heat transfer, make sure the unit is level, and of course clean the AC as well.  Your utility company and Fox Family thinks a clean air conditioner will last longer than a dirty one.

Diagnostic Service Call

You might also call us if your system isn’t running quite the way you think it should be.  Meaning the Friday before you went camping for the weekend, the AC was working just fine.  But now the air coming out doesn’t seem to be as cold.  This means you’re calling for a diagnostic service call.  Some people just call it a service call.

Here, your technician will ask you a few questions about your system and go straight for the problem so you can begin cooling as soon as possible.  They won’t really be interested in combing over the entire system with a fine brush.  But they will make sure the rest of your AC is functioning properly, so you won’t have any foreseeable problems.  Having said that, you technician is probably not going to replace your capacitor in the outdoor unit and discover that your drain line isn’t functioning properly since you didn’t give us any reason to check on it’s performance.

Another example would be something like discovering your compressor was bad but two weeks later your control board goes out because of a fractured solder connection.  That’s something we’d likely see and tell you about on a furnace tune-up in the winter but not really look for when we are just trying to get your system cooling again on a 100-degree day.

I know there are some weird nuances I’m talking about here, but hopefully I’m making sense.  On tune-ups, we are looking for anything that’s running well as well as what’s running poorly or could potentially break down soon. We’re also there to clear the condensate drainpipes and clean the system.

The Goal of a Diagnostic Service Call

Getting you back up and running as soon as possible is the main goal on a Fox Family diagnostic service call.  Technicians will typically look around the unit they are working on.  For example, if the AC outside has a capacitor fail and you thought the system was working just fine until yesterday when you called us, they’ll likely just change the capacitor and maybe even forego climbing in the attic to do a thorough analysis of anything that might be going wrong with it.

We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t sometimes.  Some folks want to pay as little as possible to get their system back up and running, and almost find it offensive if we recommend other repairs.  These repairs might not actually prevent the system from running today, but could go out soon.  Others say, “Well, why didn’t you bring that up last time you were here two months ago?”

Providing Sound Advice on a Service Call

All in all, I think technicians are just trying to do right by their customer.  But you do need to beware of some companies that pay their technicians primarily based off what they sell.  Some of these technicians don’t care about being practical with you or your money.  This is called “performance-based pay.”  They’re going to bring up every possible flaw with your system and perhaps try to sell you things you don’t need.  If they don’t, they can’t put food on the table for their family.

The company doesn’t pay them unless they sell something to you.  I personally don’t believe in this philosophy practiced by some of the HVAC companies around the Sacramento area.  They’re the companies giving the HVAC industry a bad name around here.  They have greedy company owners and highly sales-oriented technicians motivated only by money.

We pay our techs a good salary with some commissions here and there.  We count on them to treat our customers with practical, sound advice for their AC system.  This creates a good relationship with our customers for the long run, and an honest company to do business with.

Service Call Pricing

Whether you need a simple tune-up or a diagnostic service call, it’s going to be the same price at Fox Family.  So there’s no better call to have us come out on.  Knowing the difference means you’re better prepared.  You can make the phone call to your HVAC company and tell them exactly which service you need.

A tune-up won’t correct a broken system, much like a tune-up or oil change on a car isn’t going to fix your transmission problem.  Tune-ups may identify some issues with your system that you didn’t know existed.  But a diagnostic service call may identify the need for regular preventive maintenance in the form of a tune-up.

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you at the next blog post!