Capacitors and Your HVAC System

CAPACITOR REPLACEMENT

As we approach the long hot summer, I wanted to start a series of blogs on common parts of your HVAC system that break down. I also want to share some other common parts that when installed or added on to your system will keep your family and house safer, your system running longer and more efficiently, and improve the indoor air quality so everyone in your home can breathe easier.

If your air conditioner or heater is making a buzzing or humming noise, it’s a sign that your capacitor levels are low.  They can’t provide the necessary electricity to make the HVAC system work properly.

Many times each year, I am called out to a house where the system is making a buzzing or humming noise. This makes me immediately think a motor is stuck or the capacitor for that motor has gone bad. A capacitor is a storage bucket of electrons that helps regulate the electricity going to the motor it supports; a compressor, a condenser fan motor, a furnace or air handler’s blower motor, and sometimes and inducer motor. When the capacitor gets low on charge, three things can happen. The motor can run at higher amps, causing the motor to prematurely burn out. The motor can begin to run backward.  This can cause a lot to go wrong on your AC or heating system. Lastly, the motor can just stop running altogether.

Fox Family Heating and Air can help keep an eye on your capacitor levels during our bi-annual precision tune-ups.

People ask me all the time, “How long is a capacitor supposed to last? A capacitor usually lasts five to ten years.  If you saw some of the 20 and 25-year-old capacitors found in old GE systems, you’d find them still working. There is a specifically sized capacitor for your system. It comes from the factory at that specific charge of electrons in it. The label on the capacitor will specify when that capacitor is considered below factory specs. Sometimes it’s 5%, 6% or 10%. Well, this capacitor is constantly giving itself up for the motor it supports. As your capacitor loses power little by little every year, it will finally reach its factory low point. At that point, it’s time to change your capacitor.

Changing the capacitor when it is needed will help extend the life of your heating and air conditioning system. Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning can help keep an eye on your capacitor levels by checking them out during our bi-annual precision tune-ups. Regular maintenance on your air conditioning system will not only reduce emergency service calls at the most crucial times of the year but will give you peace of mind knowing your system has been checked by a professional twice a year.

Please call Greg Fox at Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning to schedule your Precision Tune-up and see how your capacitors are performing at 916-877-1577.

One more thing:  don’t forget to change your filter every two months!

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 To Protect an Air Conditioner Low Voltage Wire

How to Repair An Air Conditioner

Protecting the Low Voltage Wires to the AC

That brown-sheathed, low voltage wire from the air handler to the AC unit outside tells the contractor when to engage. This allows the high voltage to pass from one side of the contractor to the other, flowing on to the compressor and condenser fan motor.  Without this low 24 volt communication, the AC won’t start.  So, shouldn’t we protect those low voltages wires to the AC from potential damage and UV rays?  Doesn’t the electrical code    require some sort of conduit with wiring outside the house?  That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Fox Family Heating, Air Conditioning and Solar.

Ratings for Low Voltage Wire

I’ve never heard of any low voltage wire that’s rated for outdoors, including wet or damp conditions being used in residential heating and air conditioning.  When I service equipment and go on HVAC inspections around the Sacramento area, why do I find dried up, brittle sections of thermostat wire?  They’re simply taped to the suction line from the wall to the AC.

I spent hours researching this online. I’m having the hardest time finding the appropriate citation in the National or California Electrical Code.  The citation in question describes when to protect the low voltage wire in outdoor conditions, such as with an air conditioner installation.  If you ARE aware of the part of the book that talks about this topic, please let me know in the comments section down below.  As always, I admit, I don’t know all the answers, but I’d really like to know if you wouldn’t mind sharing.

What the Code Says

Article 725 of the National Electrical Code talks about this type of control wiring.  But I can’t find anything stating that Class 2 wire (as in the 24 volt thermostat wire used in residential HVAC) must be protected by or enclosed in conduit.

On one hand, the stat wire is not rated for outdoor use, let alone in wet or damp conditions which leaves it exposed to damaging elements.  Possible hazards are endless.  Landscapers who use weed eaters, a dog’s incessant need to chew up things in the yard, the ultraviolet rays coming from the sun, the list is long.

On the other hand, installing stat wire inside the liquid-tight conduit really doesn’t make it a dry environment either.  A dry environment isn’t even needed for class 2 wiring anyway, according to what I’ve found (and not found) in my research.

Protecting the Low Voltage AC Wire

Ever since my first HVAC installation, protecting the stat wire with ½” seal-tight conduit was a must.  My foreman insisted, so I’ve always taught my techs to do the same.  It undeniably protects the wire better than just strapping it to the suction line without seal-tight, exposed to the elements.  Ensuring stat wire lasts as long as the AC is also in the best interest of the customer.

If the stat wire dries up and becomes dry and brittle, it takes almost nothing to expose the bare wire within the sheathing.  This can result in the wrong wires touching each other. This shorts out the low voltage system, rendering it inoperable.  This requires the homeowner to call a service technician to come out to troubleshoot and fix the issue.

But it’s not in the code books.  So when I see newly built residential neighborhoods with exposed stat wire at the AC, I cringe.  But I have to remind myself it’s not actually required.

The Tightest Provision Gets Enforced

If it’s not required, why do so many inspectors write up correction letters to us for not protecting the stat wire with some sort of conduit?  The answer may be, “that’s the way they want it.”  Remember, local jurisdictions can tighten the rules as they deem necessary.  And the tightest provision of any code is the one that gets enforced.

If you really wanted to push the issue, you could ask the code inspector (nicely) where you could find the source of their local rules; one that lists their requirements which are more restrictive than the National Electric Code.

I get that there ARE several sections in the code book that say wiring must be protected from potential damage.  But it never mentions it specifically when it comes to Class 2 control wiring.

A Wiring Upgrade

Consider what it would take to better protect your customer’s low voltage wiring to the AC.  It doesn’t require too much work.  The cost of the parts is minimal compared to the future protection you’re providing to the stat wire.

Remove the old dried up stat wire from the suction line insulation.  Cutting it back to about six inches from the wall will allow you to splice on new wiring.  Once it’s run through the conduit, wire nutted and taped for protection, leave a bit of the colored wires there.  A future technician will thank you.  A quick search back to your splice will easily reveal the connected wires.  This will give them the option of using that third wire as an alternate.

Shove the wire nuts into the penetration of the wall where it comes out.  Then slip the new wire through the conduit.  Fasten the conduit to the unit.  Then strap it to the rest of the lineset and high voltage conduit going to the AC.  This neat and clean workmanship of your repair IS required by the electrical code.

Looking Ahead

The next time you see exposed thermostat wire coming from the wall to the AC, think about what’s right for your customer.  If you’re a homeowner, it shouldn’t be too expensive to have your local HVAC company do this work on your system.

As always, whether dealing with high or low voltage electricity, there are inherent dangers and mechanical failures that can happen.  So, let’s leave it to the professionals.

Once again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so leave a comment down below.

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

Why Is my Air Conditioner So Loud?

Making Sense of the Noises Made by Your Air Conditioner

If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because your AC is making some crazy noises lately that you’re not used to.  Or you just moved into a house and the AC has never been used until now, and of course now it’s making strange noises.

Of course, it is a machine, and machines make noise.  But why is this thing getting noisier and noisier every summer?  Today I want to share some things I’ve seen out in the field working on other people’s AC systems that might help you isolate where the noise is coming from and some possible reasons why your AC is so loud.

Intro

Your air conditioner is very likely on the side of your house.  For some people it’s on the roof.  And for obvious reasons, a roof mounted AC will definitely make some low consistent vibration because its mounted to the roof joists, which are connected to the wall studs, and the rest of the house.  So, for those of you with rooftop air conditioners or complete package units that are so common here in California, that is something you may be stuck with as long as it’s up there.

Also, as I’m sure you already know, these are machines and machines make noise.  Typically, the older they get, the louder they get.  Understanding that, let’s dive into some real issues you might be experiencing on systems that aren’t 20 years or older.

Breaking It Down

I want to break this into two parts:  Things you can fix yourself, and things you might want to have a real HVAC technician look at.  Notice I said real technician, and not a person dressed like a technician who is just there to sell you a new system.  These deceiving salesmen and saleswomen are only in it for the money and have no interest in saving your system.

Remember, if the parts are available, and yours very likely are, or can at least be retrofitted with correctly matched universal parts, it can be repaired.  You’re in charge.  Like I always say, your system is designed to last about 20 years before you start to consider getting a newer system.  But, it’s really about where YOU want to put YOUR money and not about the technician’s ideas.

Here are some loud noises you’ll probably need a professional to address:

A Loud Compressor

An AC that sits on the side of your house only has a few parts in it that will make some crazy noises.  Inside the shell of that outdoor unit is a compressor, a fan motor, and an on/off switch called a contactor.

The biggest part, the compressor, pumps the refrigerant through your system much like your heart does the blood in your body.  This pumping requires two spiral plates to rotate in an elliptical motion.  Sometimes those plates (more commonly called scrolls) can chip or come out of alignment creating the loudest, most awful noise you’ve ever heard, especially if it happens at night when you’re sleeping.  It’s a grinding noise or loud clacking noise that cannot be missed.

We can’t just take off the cover and look inside to fix it  It’s a hermetically sealed part that can’t be opened by anyone.  If this noise can’t be fixed from outside the compressor, you will likely agree with your technician when you’re told it needs to be replaced.

An Unforgettable Noise

I personally remember a house in Coloma, CA that was doing this.  The loud noise never stopped for the customer as they ran their AC.  It wasn’t even cooling the house!  It was just running and running and running.  As we approached the unit, on the complete other side of the house, it got louder and louder.  After some testing, I noticed the compressor wasn’t pumping like it should, yet it was still making this loud noise.  This was THE loudest air conditioner I have ever heard.  It was a 10-year-old Bryant AC, so we changed that compressor out, and the system ran fine from there on out.

I’ve also come upon an AC where the compressor — one just like we were talking about — wasn’t out of alignment or broken, but had an internal part called a bypass stuck open.  This created a loud squealing or screaming noise indicative of high pressures and high heat inside that compressor.  Before replacing this part though, a technician should determine if the refrigerant pressures within the system are adequate, as well as some other tests.  Whatever the solution, be aware of some noises that this compressor makes.

Noise from the Fan Motor

Another time we might have to replace the part making the noise is on the condenser fan motor.  That’s the fan blade you’ve probably seen that spins on the top of your AC when its running.  I’ve come out on a house before where the motor that spins the fan blade is making a high-pitched whistling noise.  As I looked around the AC, my ears and eyes finally isolated the noise coming from this motor.

Every AC fan motor has ball-bearings that help the motor shaft spin.  But these bearings are sealed and can’t be accessed to lubricate them, which would likely solve the problem.  So, in this case, the motor must be replaced if you want the loud noise to cease.  Finding the right motor can be tricky, so it’s probably best to let a qualified technician do it.  Just putting a motor with the wrong speed setting will cause cooling issues you won’t be happy with.

A Buzzing  Contactor

Your AC has an on/off switch called a contactor.  The thermostat inside your home tells it when to switch on and off by sending a low voltage signal.  To plates come together at that very moment to allow the high voltage though to the parts we were just talking about before:  The compressor and the fan motor.  As the years go by, pitting caused by the high voltage arcs happening between those two plates as they come together can get to a point where the two plates won’t come together all the way creating a loud buzzing noise.  Not as loud as that compressor I was telling you about earlier, but loud enough to get your attention.  Getting into the electrical panel of an air conditioner can be intimidating and the potential for an electrical shock.  Again, making a mistake here can lead to more expensive problems.

What You Can Do

Let’s review some loud noises you can likely isolate and fix yourself.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, just call Fox Family Heating Air and Solar and our techs will be happy to fix this stuff for you.

Make it Level

If your system starts making loud noises, a good first step is to make sure the unit is level.  If the AC isn’t flat, oil inside the compressor might not be lubricating the way it should be.  Just be careful not to bend the copper lines coming from the wall to the AC.  This may strangle the refrigerant and cause more expensive problems.

Check for Debris

Next, sometimes sticks and leaves can block the fan blade on top of the AC from spinning, which causes some strange noises with the AC.  Go outside and remove any sticks or toys that are preventing the fan blade from spinning.  The damage may already be done to it, but you can at least try.

Tighten a Rattling Fan Shroud

Also, the fan blade is protected by a round metal shroud that is there to allow warm air to flow out of it, but also protect people from getting their fingers inside of the AC.  Sometimes this shroud starts rattling as the screws that hold it down start vibrating loose, possibly creating a larger hole than the screws were initially sized for.  As the AC runs, the rattling can be annoying.  This tends to happen on older systems.

The solution is to install slightly wider screws that will hold the shroud down securely.  This would fill the hole better and crate less noise.  Another trick we like to do is get these little rubber isolation pads and use them as shims to help dampen the vibration between the shroud and the frame of the AC.  This can really help in reducing the vibration or rattling noise on your aging system.

How to Prevent These Problems

Preventive maintenance is key.  If Fox Family can get out to your system twice a year and do the necessary checks and clean your system, we know we can make your system last longer.  A clean system is a healthy system.  But if you don’t want to hire us to do these checks for you, no problem.  Here are some things you can do on your own to help your system out.

About Filters

Changing your filters as needed.  I always say if your filter isn’t perfectly clean, it’s time to change it out.  The filters we buy at my house come with a cardboard trim around it with some white mesh or fiberglass as the filter media.  At about $7 a 3-pack, they’re the cheapest filter sold at the store.  If that filter isn’t perfectly white, then I change it out.  I’m not tied to it because I didn’t buy an expensive filter.

Some people buy these $20-dollar filters.  Its almost like they want to hang on to these filters as long as they can, even though they are brown or gray in color now.  Eww!  That’s the air we are breathing!  That’s the air the children in the house are breathing.  This dirty, dead skin, pollen laden filter is now a contaminated breathing mask essentially for your AC.  If that dirty filter were up against your mouth as you breathed in, you would definitely change it.  So that’s what I compare it to.  You get the picture.  And I’m sorry for getting too graphic there.

Another reason to change that filter is because super dirty filters can suffocate the compressor.  This can cause burnouts, clogged evaporator coils, and other cooling problems.  If the air filter is too dirty, the evaporator coil can even form into a block of ice.  This causes serious cooling issues, including loud screaming compressors that can’t circulate refrigerant anymore.

Keep It Clean

Periodically washing the AC outside unit every now and then is a good idea.  It doesn’t take much energy to do, and it doesn’t cause  any soapy solutions to do this either.  Another cause for loud squeaking noises is a clogged coil.  But if the coil on the outside AC gets clogged like a dirty air filter does, high pressures can occur in the refrigerant system, creating noise.

Please don’t use a pressure washer.  You’ll destroy the parts of the system that are crucial for air flow and heat transfer.  But you do want to use just enough pressure from the hose to start knocking off loose dirt and small debris down to the ground.   Also try to  focus on not bending any of the fins that surround the AC.  Called the condenser coils, if you flatten them, you can create some crazy noises with your AC.

Summary

I hope this has helped you understand where some of those strange, loud noises coming from your outdoor air conditioner.  If you have any questions or doubts that you can isolate the noise, let us know at Fox Family Heating, Air and Solar.  We’d love to help keep your system running for a long time!

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

Why Your Sacramento HVAC System May Be Having Airflow Problems

AC Repair

Have you noticed that some sections of a room in your home are cold while others are warm? Your HVAC system may be having airflow issues. Read on and learn some of the common reasons why such airflow problems develop. Use this information to adjust the factors which you can handle and call a Sacramento HVAC professional for help on those issues which are beyond your capacity to address.

Obstructed Outdoor Unit

Heating and air conditioning professionals usually select the most appropriate locations in which to install the indoor and outdoor units of air conditioners. However, some Sacramento homeowners may unknowingly impede the performance of the AC by placing obstructions close to the outdoor units.

For example, a homeowner may place a disused appliance close to the outdoor unit. This can prevent that unit from performing its role of cooling the air which is coming from inside the home. Airflow problems will then result.

This problem is easy to solve. Simply check the outdoor unit and remove anything which is within the recommended clearance in the vicinity of that unit.

Blocked Registers and Vents

Many airflow problems result from a blockage in a register or a vent. For example, you may place a piece of furniture in front of an AC register. That furniture will impede the flow of air within the air conditioner components in that room of your home.

Fix such problems by checking the rooms where airflow problems exist. Remove everything that may be in the way of a vent or a register.

Clogged Air Filters

Another common cause of airflow issues is a clogged filter. Air will be unable to flow freely through the filter and into the room if that filter is dirty. Regular replacement of filters (in accordance with the recommended change intervals provided by the manufacturer) can ensure that a clogged filter will not affect the flow of air within the HVAC system.

Leaky or Blocked Air Ducts

The ductwork may also have a defect which is compromising the airflow within your air conditioning system. For instance, dirt may have bypassed a clogged filter and accumulated within the ducts. Such dirt can constrict the ducts and affect the flow of air. Damaged ducts can also leak conditioned air and limit the flow of air to the places where it is needed.

It is advisable for you to ask an experienced Sacramento air conditioning technician to inspect the ductwork and conduct the necessary repairs or cleaning to fix the airflow problem.

Defective Fan Blower

Blower fans push air through the ducts and channel it to the different rooms in your home. Those fans can become sluggish once the motor powering them grows old or weakens. Such a defect can only be remedied by a technical person who will decide whether the fan simply needs to be cleaned or the motor needs to be changed.

Improperly Sized HVAC Units

Some airflow issues in homes can be traced to an improperly sized air conditioning unit. An oversized AC will cycle on and off too frequently. Those short run times deny the system an opportunity to extract all the moisture from the air circulating inside the home. Consequently, the air will feel clammy and you will no longer be comfortable in the home.

Contact an HVAC expert in Sacramento and let that person advise you on the appropriateness of the AC for the size of your home. This analysis is particularly important in case the system is older and may have been installed at a time when the preference for bigger units was prevalent.

Low Refrigerant Charge

A refrigerant leak can also cause airflow problems. The loss of refrigerant causes the HVAC system to be unable to work properly. Don’t try to fix refrigerant leaks on your own. Ask a professional to use the appropriate tools to identify the leaks and fix them before recharging the system with the right refrigerant.

Many of the airflow problems in the discussion above can be detected and corrected early before they cause bigger repair challenges if you have a habit of inviting a Sacramento heating and air conditioning professional to inspect and service your HVAC system. Address all issues quickly so that your comfort isn’t compromised.

Contact Fox Family Heating and Air if you feel like you are experiencing air flow issues in your home. If you HVAC system is showing signs that it is not performing properly, now is the best time to have it checked out to avoid an unnecessary breakdown as Sacramento summer heat approaches.

What’s the Required Service Area for HVAC Installations?

Installing Equipment Safely and to Code for our Sacramento Customers

When we install HVAC equipment in people’s homes, there is a code that covers how much service area there needs to be in front of the equipment.  That’s what we are talking about today on Code Corner.  Let’s take a look at what the codes say and adhering to to the code when doing an HVAC change-out.

Introduction

I’m not here to pretend I know or could even interpret all the codes correctly.  I’m simply trying to open a conversation about codes we cite on the job every day out there without even knowing it.

But where is that code in the book?  That’s what this project is all about.  Ultimately, this project is good information for technicians but if they help you, then that’s great!  And good for you for even caring about the building codes enough to read this blog post.  It means you care about your work too!

Let’s take a look at what the codes say about Required Service Area in front of the HVAC equipment and adherence to the code when doing an HVAC change-out.

Making Space

Have you ever been in front of a furnace in the attic, and noticed you don’t have enough space to work?  Imagine you need to pull the heat exchanger from the furnace and change it with a new one.  If there’s not enough room in front of that furnace, the technician won’t be able to remove and replace parts as needed.   And trust me, this accessibility issue is a major problem because if we can’t get that blower motor out, a more invasive procedure needs to be carried out to extract the part which will cost the homeowner more money at that time in the future.

This has already happened to people a long, long time ago, and they learned from it; And they wrote it in a book so that future techs won’t make the same mistakes they did.

Now, imagine you’re trying to perform a regular maintenance, but can’t get the access panel off the AC because a giant lattice structure has been solidly built around it.  The homeowner doesn’t want to LOOK at this horrid AC in the back yard, so they cover it up.

Well, the builder of the lattice structure at the AC, and the installer of the platform or non-existent platform at the air handler in the attic didn’t install this system properly.

CMC 304.4.3 says a level working platform not less than 30 inches by 30 inches has to be provided in front of the service side of the appliance.

IMC 306.1 says the same thing

The exception to this rule is that a working platform doesn’t need to be provided when the furnace is capable of being serviced from the required access opening. In this case, that furnace can’t be over 12” from the attic access either because some techs might not be able to reach components inside the furnace casing.

Now, you know I like to encourage you to read the installation manual while you’re installing the equipment, right?  I personally like to look through it the night before my next install.  That way I know what I’m saying if something comes up during the install with my co-workers.  Usually, the manual has more restrictive guidelines when installing HVAC equipment.  The city and county code inspectors everywhere defer to the installation manual so many times because the manufacturer has stricter requirements for the installation.

Referring to the Mechanical Code

In the IMC, in 102.1 Conflicts in Code, it says if the codebook and the installation manual conflict with each other, to follow the more stringent requirement.

The installation manual for our equipment in the attic says the clearance in front of the furnace and coil in the attic is required to be at least 24 inches.  If the county inspector adheres to the IMC or CMC, and it says 30 inches in front of the appliance, but the installation manual says we can go 24 inches in front of the unit.  Which is the correct answer?

In this instance, the mechanical code is still more stringent on its requirements, so when I hear people say we only need 24” in front of the furnace, I know it will probably fly, but the inspector could call us on it and ask for a 30” service area in front of the unit.  And you need to know that.

The service platform is supposed to be constructed from “solid flooring.”  Many techs around here use 5/8” plywood. I wouldn’t use 3/8” or 1/2” plywood, because it’s pretty flimsy for bigger guys, and over time can splinter and break.  Nobody likes to sit on a flimsy service platform that was supposed to be built “solidly.”  Instead, get the 5/8” thick plywood.  Its only a few more dollars and will be secure for any technician who has to crawl across it.

Avoiding Obstructions and Providing Space

Is it okay if the service platform is uneven?  Like a step up or down?  I don’t think anybody will give you a hard time if the decking for the service area is 4 inches higher at one point than the other.  The point is to be able to pull parts from the unit without any obstructions, like a wall or truss, and have a spot to put your tools and anything else you might need for the job.  So if that step is going to interfere with the changing of any part of that system, it’s not built to code.

Outside at the AC, just make sure you have a 30 x 30-inch area in front of your access panel.  This ensures future techs can get in there and make the necessary repairs to get the customer up and going again.

Consider the Next Installer

If your homeowner is going to build that lattice structure around the AC, ask them to build it so it can be slid out and then back when the AC tech moves on.  Don’t let them pour concrete piles so it’s secure but never going to move again.  That inhibits technicians from doing their job safely.  There’s nothing more frustrating than having to take down the lattice panels around an AC one screw at a time, just so you can get in there and clean the AC so it will work properly again.

As installers, I believe we have a responsibility a to consider the next tech who comes to service this equipment.  He or she might not be 5 foot 8, and 165 lbs.  There are short techs and tall techs, narrow techs and wide techs.

Correct Equipment Installation

That’s what this series is about.  It’s not to say that I know all the codes, and can interpret them perfectly.  Code Corner is about Fox Family Heating and Air wanting to install equipment correctly, so we can pass the inspection that comes with pulling a permit for the job.  Read more about HVAC installations here.

Remember, any time we alter the electrical, mechanical, plumbing and gas lines, we need to pull a permit and follow the codes and the installation manual.  And then we need to have a third party, unattached inspector come by, and just make sure we installed it correctly.  It’s not a bad thing!  We just look at it as an extra set of eyes on our work to make sure the family who resides in that house, and uses that system we installed, is safe forevermore!

Looking Ahead

I have several other topics I want to open a conversation about when it comes to HVAC and the building codes.  I really hope nobody is taking offense on these topics.  My goal is to elevate the HVAC world and make us all better technicians so we can go out and take care of our customers safely.

Comment below if you’ve have had any weird platforms or service areas so tight you couldn’t service the AC!  I’m sure you all have some great stories.

Thanks so much for watching and we’ll see you at the next blog.

Don’t Stop…Believing (in your HVAC system)

HVAC repair Citrus Heights

On Sunday, we got a call from one of our customers last year who asked a different company to come out and service their AC system since it wasn’t working. So, the company comes out and tells them they have a clog in the coil and the refrigerant is low. There is nothing they can do about it. They have to get a new system. Here’s the weird thing about it: It’s a 9-year-old air conditioner.

When she called us, I answered the phone and was delighted to hear she was going to give us a chance to come out and diagnose what the issue was. It sounded like she wanted a second opinion. When we got out there, we discovered her system was running, and it was even cooling fairly well at the moment. But, to her, that was not new information. That is what the system would do. If it had been turned off for a little while, it would run fine. The longer she ran it, like on these 100-degree Sacramento Valley days, the less it cooled.

Our technician Keith went out to the house in the Citrus Heights/Orangevale area. When he put his gauges on the system, he noticed a fairly low pressure on the suction side of the system and a pretty high pressure on the high side. This was strange because the house was warm. There should have been higher suction line pressures than what was showing. Keith let it run for about thirty minutes before confirming something was indeed wrong with the pressures in the system.

A measurement in the field we take often is called superheat and subcool. It’s a measurement of how much liquid refrigerant is in the copper lineset that runs between the indoor system and the outdoor system. Ideally, you’d like to see a balanced measurement of subcooling and superheat in the system. Too high or too low and it’s a sign that something is up with the system.

In this case, the subcooling was around 30 degrees. The superheat was around 35 degrees. Both were too high for this particular day because of the temperatures outside. Keith called me to confirm his suspicions. He had checked the airflow through the system. The return duct wasn’t crushed. The evaporator coil was clean. The filter was clean. All the registers in the house were open. But still, the pressure did not indicate a healthy system.

There is a device in some systems called a thermal expansion valve. It meters the flow of refrigerant into the evaporator coil. The evaporator coil is the “cold coil” that the air blows past to give you the cold air that runs through the ducts and into your rooms.

In this case, the expansion valve is not metering correctly and does not meet factory specs anymore. Simply changing this part out with another factory provided expansion valve will get this system up and running again. The owner of this house was super happy that we can fix her 9-year-old system for a fraction of the cost of a new HVAC system.

If you ever run into a situation where you are not feeling very sure about a company’s decision to spend your money, call for a second opinion. We saved this lady thousands of dollars by carefully pouring over this system. Looking inside the copper tubing and diagnosing how the system is running is a more professional and ethical way of treating our customers.

So, don’t stop believing in your HVAC system just because some company tells you to buy a new system. Almost everything on the system can be repaired if that is what YOU want to do. Make the technician repair if that is indeed what you want to be done.

For a free second opinion, simply show us the invoice from the other company you paid a service fee to and we’ll come out and happily make a thorough investigation on your system to give you the right answers. Call us at 916-877-1577 anytime!

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
 
 

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 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