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!

Yes, It’s Air Conditioning Tune-Up Season in Sacramento

It's Air Conditioning Tune-Up Season in Sacramento

Fox Family Heating and Air Begins Air Conditioning Tune-up Season in Sacramento

The weather in Sacramento is usually pretty predictable, but this year in February no one needed assistance with their heating systems.  Afternoons are beginning to reach the mid-60’s, so February is actually a great time to start thinking about your AC  tune-up.

Fox Family Heating and Air offers an air conditioning tune-up unlike the others in town. We have a piece of paper that lists everything we will be checking on your AC tune-up visit.

We start out at the thermostat and make sure it displays properly, is mounted correctly, and that you understand how to use your thermostat and are comfortable using it. We’ll check the batteries while we are there too. Some thermostats don’t have batteries and are connected through the “C” terminal. Now we’ll turn your AC on and listen. Listening to the AC system run is like music to the ears of an HVAC technician.

Next, we move on to the filter and make sure it’s clean. If you have a washable type, we’ll wash it for you and let it dry as we continue on with the air conditioning tune-up.

On we go to the air handler or furnace wherever it is in your house. It’s usually either in the garage, a closet or in the attic. Some houses have packaged units that are on the rooftop of the home, or sometimes on the ground. Either way, I’m sure you’ve seen that thing so let’s go find it. While we are here in the attic we’ll check the surroundings and ensure all the ductwork looks connected, is strapped properly, is sealed at the plenums, and delivering air to each room as designed.

We also check insulation levels out in the attic because it’s your air conditioner’s best friend when it comes to saving energy. We are looking for R-38 levels of insulation since that is the code standard set by cities and counties in the area. If you are not even close to those levels, we’ll notify you when we come back down.

Here is a list of components we check on the air handler during the AC tune-up. We clean and check all of these items (except the blower assembly and the evaporator coil.  Additional charges apply on these two items just because a good amount of labor is involved in cleaning them).  This ensures your system can run as efficiently as possible. Clean = Good!

  • Door safety switch
  • Temperature difference between return and supply air
  • Blower capacitor rating
  • Blower wheel is balanced
  • Overall blower assembly cleanliness
  • Lubricating the bearings on some blower motors that still have oil ports
  • Condensate drain lines direct water away from the HVAC unit to protect the house
  • Condensate drain slope is proper
  • Is a condensate safety switch present
  • Secondary drain pan condition (Rusted?)
  • Condensate pump if applicable
  • Evaporator coil condition
  • UV air purification system bulb
  • Refrigerant leaks at the evaporator coil
  • TXV is mounted properly

Then we head to the outdoor unit where we wash the unit from any debris that might have plugged the condenser coils over the winter. At the condenser we check and clean all of the following components:

  • Outdoor temperature
  • Your refrigerant type
  • High voltage service disconnect for proper electrical code safety
  • Tighten the lugs in the electrical disconnect
  • Ensure proper wire size to the AC
  • Max fuse rating of the outdoor condenser
  • Min circuit ampacity
  • Fuses in the service disconnect mounted properly
  • Refrigerant leaks visible around the AC
  • Proper amount of suction line insulation on refrigerant lines
  • Condenser fan FLA
  • High voltage readings at the contactor
  • Low voltage readings at the contactor
  • Compressor start assist present?
  • Electrical connections tightened
  • Compressor run amps
  • Condenser coil condition
  • Compressor capacitor condition
  • Lubricate the fan motor if applicable
  • Is the outdoor unit level?
  • Wash / wiped down the outdoor unit
  • Leaves out of the bottom of the unit

We really enjoy the opportunity to come out and take care of your HVAC system! It has always been a passion for Greg Fox to keep his clients’ systems clean and operational for the upcoming season. We actually have a club membership where we come out and give you:

  • 2 pre-paid precision HVAC tune-ups per year
  • No dispatch fee EVER!
  • 15% off all parts and labor
  • Front of the line priority service

What’s the cost for an AC tune-up membership?

It’s kind of a no-brainer to let us come out and maintain your system for just $14.95 a month or $179.40 per year. We offer it at such a low price just because we want to develop relationships with our clients so when it does come time to change your system out, you’ll choose us to do the work. Talk to your technician and see how he can help you.

Check out our video related to this topic:

5 Factors Affecting the Cost of Buying and Installing a Sacramento HVAC Unit

professionalism in the workplace

Many people who face replacing an HVAC unit in Sacramento want to know just how much that project will cost them before they commit to that system’s replacement. Often times air conditioner replacement is not planned, it’s more of a sudden purchase in the heat of summer. So, even if you don’t plan on replacing anytime soon, this blog is still a great read. This article discusses some of the factors of the cost of buying and installing a Sacramento HVAC unit.

The Size of Your Home

An AC unit should be selected based on its suitability. Bigger homes will require bigger AC units because those bigger homes will have more air that needs to be conditioned. The bigger air conditioning units usually cost more to buy and install. You should, therefore, expect to spend more on purchasing an AC unit if you have moved to a bigger home. If your home’s Air conditioner is more than a decade old, the current AC may be undersized for your home. Often times with replacement you need to have your contractor look at the overall design of the ductwork (as detailed below) and the size and location of the unit for maximum efficiency.

The HVAC Equipment Brand Preferred

The purchase price of your new air conditioning unit will also be affected by the brand you opt for. Think about this price in relation to what would happen if you were to buy a car. A Porsche is likely to be more expensive than a Toyota even though they’re both cars.

Some brands of air conditioning units are reputed to be more reliable than others are. Such dependable brands may be more expensive than the little-known brands. It may be wiser for you to talk to a (Sacramento) heating and air technician for advice about the best brands to consider so that you widen your options and find something within your budget.

Your Home’s Complexity

The complexity of your home will also impact the cost of installing that new air conditioning system. For example, a home in which spray-on insulation was used makes it tougher on the installers since they will have to cut through the insulations. Similarly, historical homes take more time since the home is fragile.

The Sacramento HVAC installer will visit your home and survey it before estimating how much the installation project is likely to cost.

The Extra Features Selected

The specific features that you want your new HVAC system to have can affect the total cost of the system. For instance, individuals who wish to have multiple zones will have to pay for more hardware (zone dampers and thermostats, for example) than another homeowner who doesn’t want to have air conditioning zones in the home.

However, you should not shy away from getting some of the extra features. If those features will increase the comfort level and result in lower long-term maintenance costs it is worth it. The higher upfront cost will be justified by the lower ongoing costs that you incur if you have the latest additional features on the market.

The Condition of the Ductwork

It would be wasteful to acquire an efficient AC unit and then link it to defective ductwork. In fact, many jurisdictions have mandatory inspections in case a new AC unit is being installed.

Any leaks and worn ductwork components will increase the installation cost. Since those issues will have to be attended to before the new air conditioning unit is commissioned for use in your home.

An air conditioning unit should be selected based on the location and home where that unit will be installed. Never undertake such a task on your own. Hire an air conditioning replacement professional like Fox Family Heating and Air and let us recommend the best unit for your needs.

How to Handle a Refrigerant Leak in My Home

how to handle a refrigerant leak at my home

If your HVAC technician tells you your A/C has a refrigerant leak, I want to tell you how we handle that here at Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning.

The Environmental Protection Agency has updated the requirements related to ozone-depleting and global warming substances like R-22 and R-410, a refrigerant that’s very likely in the HVAC system at your house.

So, how do we handle a refrigerant leak at your home?  After some recent schooling online and some back and forth, I found that we can’t REQUIRE you to fix the leak in residential applications that have less than 50 lbs. of refrigerant or less.  This likely describes your system.  We’re not and you’re not required to find or fix your leaking HVAC system.  This means that if you wanted to gas it up and repeatedly let that refrigerant leak out, you’re apparently not forbidden to do that.

Fox Family’s Position

We at Fox Family have strong feelings about continuing to allow the release of harsh chemicals that contribute to the degradation of our planet, namely the ozone layer, as well as other contributors to global warming.  We also want future generations of plants, animals, and humans to have a chance to enjoy their lives, breathe clean air, and thrive!

Here’s what happens when your system leaks.  Large amounts of CFC’s, HFC’s and HCFC’s (which is what refrigerant is) are spewing into the atmosphere every day.  Industrial and commercial buildings are the main culprit, but far more homes than commercial buildings exist.  Regardless, leaking refrigerants mix with wind currents, air pressure and updrafts, bringing those chemicals into the lower atmosphere.  No matter what people say about chlorine being heavier than air, it’s been proven several times over that these chemicals are amply mixed with our lower and upper atmosphere where they linger.

Unfortunately, rain doesn’t bring them down.  As those chemicals rise even further through updrafts and pressure differences in the air, high energy solar radiation breaks down those chemicals, releasing the damaging chlorine.  Those chlorine particles stay in the stratosphere for several years, where it eats away at the ozone layer.

Having a Conversation

But back to your refrigerant leak.  Some HVAC companies can and do continue to come out and refill your refrigerant for as long as you need it, because face it, you need to be comfortable.  I get it!  But at some point, a Fox Family technician is going to have a conversation with you about finding that leak and coming up with a plan to repair the leak or change out your system.  It’s the right thing to do.

So, do we “gas and go” year after year?  Two to three times at your house is perhaps our limit.  If you don’t want to fix it, your love for the planet may not be in line with ours.  HVAC companies make pretty good money by selling you refrigerant.  It’s easy labor for us, and not very time consuming either.  That’s why it’s called “gas and go.”

Refrigerant Leak Searching

But refrigerant is expensive.  If you’ve got to keep refilling your refrigerant, who knows how often, it can really add up quickly.  If we’ve been to your home before, then we have a baseline from which to draw our information.  But if it’s our first time out, it would be unfair to you for us to recommend you start a leak search immediately.

What if it’s just a loose Schrader core at the service valve where the technicians hook their gauges up?  I’ve seen this before.  The system was way low on charge, and when I took the cap off the service valve, it was slowly shooting liquid refrigerant into the air.  I tightened the core and the system hasn’t leaked out since, or at least they haven’t called me back yet.  But it’s a start.

Striking a Balance

As an HVAC company, we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.  If we say you need a leak search the first time out, people may think we’re being pushy sales-techs.  If we don’t and they leak out again, we might be criticized for not recommending a leak search at our earlier call.  These people will later want us to come back out and replace the leaked-out refrigerant for free.

Other times, we come upon an R-410 system made between 2008 and 2015 that’s leaking. It has copper coils which we know did NOT mix well during that time of production.  If it’s an Aspen or ADP coil, I know exactly where to go every time to find that leak: in the evaporator coil near the furnace.  If I pop the cover off and look low on the two slabs of the A-coil, I’ll always find oil staining the coils, or an oily feel to the bottom of the primary drain pan, under the evaporator coil.  Sometimes, with a quick look into the p-trap, I’ll see the oily water right there in the PVC.  An easy fix!

The Customer’s Role

But you know your system’s history better than us.  Our customers must help us out by letting us know if they’ve had another company come out and charge their system up.  If you have a big leak, we could refill your refrigerant today, and it will be gone by tomorrow.  Because they’re not liable for your system’s performance, most companies aren’t going to provide a complimentary refill just to get you up and going.  They know it’s just going to leak out again.

Some companies will put some sort of leak stopper fluid into the lines.  It’s a lot like that green slime they put in bicycle tires to find the leak and plug the hole from the inside.  Once again, about half of the HVAC guys out there will tell me I’m wrong, but I won’t put that stuff in your system, because it can clog up the metering device at your evaporator coil, and now I’m on the hook for your TXV not working right.

A lot of manufacturers will agree with me when I say nothing should be in your refrigerant lines besides virgin refrigerant.  At the most, we’ll insert some dye so we can come back later and identify where the leak is.  But that’s only after we come out and use an electronic sniffer and visually check the system for leaks.

Refrigerant Leak Searching: How It’s Done

Let’s say you’ve decided to find the leak so we can figure out what to do next.  Fox Family’s leak searches come in 3 stages:

Stage 1: Inspection

A stage 1 leak search includes an inspection of the condenser and evaporator coils as well as the line set that runs in between for leaks.  We will use vision, soap bubbles, and/or an electronic leak detection device.  This searching process can last for up to an hour.  What will this process cost?  If the necessary repair is easily accessible, the price of the repair and leak search will be covered for the price of the stage 1 leak search.  You’ll be liable for your refrigerant refill one last time.  But we always put the cost of the leak search towards the cost of your repair.

Stage 2: Using Refrigerant Dye

If we can’t find it that way, we go on to a stage 2 leak search.  This means adding refrigerant dye to the system and returning in about a month.  This allows the refrigerant to circulate through the system.  The dye will spray out of the leak along with the refrigerant and oil.  The small spot left behind provides a visual of the leak location.  The cost of this stage 2 leak search will also go towards the total cost of the leak repair.  We almost always find it in this case.

Let me respond to the people out there who say, “I thought only virgin refrigerant was supposed to be in the lines.”  It’s always good practice to recover any remaining refrigerant in the lineset, put on a new filter drier, and evacuate the system properly.  No matter how small or where the leak was, the system surely lost some of its vacuum during this leak.   In my opinion, just pumping the system down and releasing the charge isn’t really good practice.

Stage 3: Pressure Testing

If we still can’t find the leak, a stage 3 leak search is available.  It requires us to isolate the 3 portions of the refrigeration tubing from each other.  We separate the outdoor coil, the indoor coil, and the line set that runs in between.  Fox Family brazes on a valve stem to these pieces of equipment.  The technician then pressure tests each one individually in order to find which one is leaking.  This stage of leak search is very costly and is very rarely ever used.  It also takes a lot of time on the owner’s part as well as the technician. Because it requires that we leave the system isolated for days at a time, it can be uncomfortable for the homeowner in the middle of summer.

Summary

This summarizes how Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning handles a leak search.  Other companies will handle it in their own unique way.  I hope this sheds some light on the process used by Fox Family for our customers who’ve asked.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to leave them down below in the comments section.  This always sparks conversation, as methods for dealing with leaking systems vary quite a bit from contractor to contractor.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time!

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

how to handle a refrigerant leak

Can I Still Use My A/C With a Bad Capacitor?

Can I still use my AC with a broken capacitor?

A Common Air Conditioner Problem in the Sacramento Valley

Every spring and summer, we get a lot of phone calls from customers saying their AC isn’t working.  A good portion of those calls is for a common repair.  Their capacitor has failed.  If your technician has told you that your AC capacitor is bad, it’s definitely one of those items you’re going to want to replace. And I’m going to tell you why in this post.

Fair Warning

I want to give a fair warning to everyone reading this.  If you’re reading this with the intention of changing your own capacitor, they carry a lot more voltage than the typical 240 volts that runs the air conditioner.  Capacitors can and will shock you even when the power is turned off.

Serious injury and death can occur, as high voltage doesn’t mix well with the human body.  So this blog post is not meant to teach anyone how to install or replace a capacitor.  There are other YouTube creators that will explain it to you.  I recommend having a real HVAC technician handle this repair as that person will know how to discharge the capacitor properly so no one gets injured.

What is a Capacitor?

A capacitor is a storage bucket of electrons that is constantly giving itself up for the motor it supports.  And, they don’t make them like they used to!  Capacitors made in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s were designed to last a long time.  As a technician, I still come across these late model air conditioners and I’m amazed their capacitors are still running just fine.

That’s unheard of these days.  Capacitors made today are typically designed to last five to ten years.  There are definitely some brands of capacitors that are made better than others, and it’s up to your HVAC technician to find those good brands and use them in the best interest of you, the customer.

Frustrations

I’ve seen caps that only lasted two years!  I know of certain brands of air conditioners that are installed brand new, and two or three years later, we are replacing the capacitor.  Then an HVAC company comes out and replaces theirs with a cheap or less proven brand, and it gives out in a short amount of time, with no warranty on the item.  So the customer has to buy another one.  That’s frustrating for the customer, but not for the HVAC company. They get to keep charging $200+ to keep your AC running every other year.

We use MARS brand capacitors because they are made in America and I personally believe they last longer than the others.  There are several other brands to use out there, but we don’t switch it up and use those other brands just because we happen to be near an HVAC supply store that sells cheaper capacitors.

A Dead Giveaway

Most of the motors in your air conditioner can’t run without a good capacitor.  Like I said, they support these motors.  They help the motor start and run efficiently.  Some people have gone out to their air conditioner and noticed the fan wasn’t spinning on their AC as it should be.  So they get a stick or something to reach into the fan shroud and try to manually get the fan blade to start spinning.  And it works now!  This is a classic sign that the capacitor for that fan motor is bad, and a good example for you that demonstrates why these motors can’t start and run efficiently without a good capacitor.

And we can’t just put any old capacitor in there, because it needs to be the exact size recommended by the manufacturer.  If it isn’t, the motor might start but will operate out of balance. It causes an uneven magnetic field around the motor, which can make the motor noisy, make it work harder (raising the cost to run it,) or just cause the motor to burn out altogether.

Other Complicating  Factors

There are differences in a typical dual run capacitor that normally comes in your AC and a start capacitor that can be added onto your system either by the manufacturer or at your house by a technician.  I’ll explain those in a different blog post and video when I make them at a later date.

But for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to answer a question recently posed by my best friend Matt.  It’s actually an excellent question to answer for other people out there.

If your capacitor has failed, please don’t try to run that part of the system.  It’ll only cause more damage to the system, which might force you to replace a bigger, pricier part, or your entire system.  So just be patient.  Hopefully, your technician has one on their truck already.  They usually will.

Use Caution

Some of you folks out there changing these out on your own better be careful.  Capacitors carry a lot of power and will strike before you know it.  So, that’s just my last bit of warning for you DIY’ers if you try to navigate this repair on your own.

If you are buying these parts online because of price, they might be cheaper, but that’s nothing compared to getting injured or possibly ruining a more expensive part because you didn’t hook it up correctly.  If you’re paying the average price of $100 to $300 dollars for a capacitor from your technician, (depending on which part of the country you’re in,) it’s because you’re paying for that company to have the right one on their truck and install it right now for you.

Thanks for coming by and we’ll see you on the next post.

5 Reasons My Air Conditioner Needs Locking Safety Caps

Air Conditioning Safety Tips for the Sacramento Region

Today I’m going to give you the top 5 reasons your air conditioner should have locking safety caps on the access ports.  Welcome to Fox Family Heating Air and Solar!

Starting Out

When I started my career in HVAC in 2010, locking safety caps were already required by the International Mechanical Code. The International Mechanical Code is something all 50 states have adopted as their rule for the installation of air conditioning systems.  However, HVAC companies were slow to adopt this rule, most likely because it was just another expense to complete their services for you the homeowner.  So today, I wanted to give you 5 reasons you need locking safety caps on your air conditioner.

In 2009, the International Mechanical Code adopted the code 1011.10 which says “…refrigerant circuit access ports (which carries the refrigerant to and from your outdoor AC, and indoor cold coil) shall be fitted with locking type tamper-resistant caps or shall be otherwise secured to prevent unauthorized access.”

Later in the chapter it says in 1012.3 those same, “…refrigerant circuit access ports shall be protected in accordance with 1011.10 whenever refrigerant is added to or removed from an air conditioning system.”

Taking Care of Those You Love

Here are 5 more reasons why we as homeowners should follow this rule.  No single reason given here is more important than the other, so pay close attention to all of them.  They could affect someone you love.

1.  Prevent someone from deliberately inhaling the refrigerant to get high

It’s called huffing, and it seems to be some sort of game or addiction to obtain a certain feeling in the user’s body and mind.  Pay close attention here.  Did you know the refrigerant in your simple air conditioning system outside your house actually displaces oxygen?  It will literally take your breath away.  According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) and the Alliance for Consumer Education’s (ACE) Inhalant Abuse Prevention, “huffing can cause someone to suffer cardiac arrest and die whenever they 1. inhale, the 1st or the 100th time.”  There are several videos online about this and it’s been happening for a while.

2.  Prevent drug users from stealing your refrigerant

With the cost of R-22 skyrocketing over the last few years because of supply and demand, the second reason we should be putting these locking caps on your air conditioners is to prevent drug users from stealing your refrigerant. Drug users can make a quick buck by stealing it and selling it to someone locally.  This enables them to continue their habits on your dime because now you’re going to have to pay top dollar to have the AC recharged.  At the current price of $100-$200 dollars a pound, that could get expensive real quick!

3. Refrigerant is Poisonous

Number three is simple. AC refrigerant is poisonous, and poison must be kept away from children.  Nobody thinks something bad can happen until it does.  Just doing your part to protect the lives of children can do a world of good.   These locking caps are tamper-resistant, so instead of being able to unscrew the normal caps off the access ports, these locking caps will just keep spinning and spinning until they lose interest in whatever they were trying to do.

4. Protecting the Environment

R-22 is an ozone-depleting substance which the EPA has deemed a controlled substance. The chlorine in R-22 that gets into the air is burning a hole right through the ozone layer.  We should all be trying to do our part in preventing anyone other than a licensed HVAC technician access to your refrigerant.  HVAC techs must add and recover refrigerant in a manner that minimizes refrigerant loss to the atmosphere.  The EPA even requires we carry a card proving we’re allowed to this.  Next time your “HVAC technician” or handyman comes to service your AC, perhaps you’ll want to ask to see their EPA 608 card.

5. Protecting You

The fifth reason to have these locking caps on your AC is to protect you! Protecting yourself from liability in this day and age is crucial.  Everyday business owners, HVAC company owners, and yes even regular homeowners could face negligence charges by not protecting society from the dangers of air conditioning refrigerant.

Okay, Let’s Do It!

I think this is one of those topics we should be proactive about.  As a homeowner, don’t wait until something happens on your property before you agree, “OK, let’s put those locking caps on the AC.”

HVAC company owners, you should know every time your technicians add or remove refrigerant, it’s your responsibility to replace those old twist-off caps with locking caps.  This doesn’t have to be another great selling opportunity.  They’re just locking caps.  Yes, they cost about $350 dollars for a pack of 50 of these caps, but this is just another opportunity for us to protect ourselves from liability.  Charging a reasonable price to cover your costs is really all we as HVAC owners should be doing here.

Doing Due Diligence

At Fox Family, we use NoVent locking caps.  They’re color-coded green for R-22 and red for R-410 refrigerant.  Each color has its own specific key, so I always carry the red and green keys with me in my tool bag.  There are also silver locking caps that are universal.  Either way, a special key is required to place them on, or remove them from the access ports on an air conditioner.

We usually buy these NoVent locking caps and keys at the HVAC supply stores around town.  And these stores try their best to restrict purchases of HVAC tools like these to not just anyone, but, in a pinch, I’ve found the caps are pretty easy for anyone to buy online.  So, even if someone was to be successful getting past your locking caps on your AC, you’ve done your due diligence by adhering to the International Mechanical Code.  In my judgment, you’d be protected because you were trying to do your part to protect others from gaining access to your AC’s refrigerant.

Cover All the Bases

You might say, “well my AC is a package unit up on the roof.”  These units are still required to have locking caps on them unless you have some sort of locked area enclosing the system to prevent anyone from tampering with the equipment.  People can still get on your roof and steal your AC unit if they really want to.

View my video on this very thing: https://youtu.be/9iqJ3QRHEYM.  Just a few months after we installed a brand-new system on a rooftop in Sacramento, the copper coils were stolen right out of the system.  Reports from neighbors said they saw a guy messing with something up there, and all the sudden they saw something white spraying from the unit.  That’s was the copper refrigerant lines that he simply cut and removed from the system.

If someone really wants your system, they can take it, but adding locking safety caps to your AC system WILL help to prevent access to the system.  And that’s really all you can do.

Summary

I hope this has helped explain what locking safety caps are and why you need them on your system.  Once again, let’s be proactive about this and not reactive.  Protect your friends and family and get these locking caps on your system as soon as possible.

Thanks so much for watching and we’ll see you on the next blog!

Don’t miss my video and related videos on this topic:

Courtesy KJRH-TV, Tulsa, Channel 2

Why is My AC Overheating?

my A/C has a refrigerant leak

The compressor is one of the most important (and expensive) components of your air conditioner. This crucial component can sustain irreparable damage in case it overheats, and the cause isn’t identified and fixed quickly. This article discusses some of the reasons given by a leading Sacramento heating and air conditioning company, Fox Family Heating and Air, to explain why your AC compressor is overheating.

Electrical Issues

Any defect in the electrical supply can cause the compressor to overheat. For example, a spike in the power supply to your Sacramento home will trigger overheating in the sensitive electrical components of the compressor. Loose connections and compromised insulation can also cause overheating in the compressor. Air conditioner repair professionals in Sacramento can fix this problem before it causes your AC to stall.

Blocked Suction Lines

The compressor of the AC may overheat in case something has constricted the refrigerant line from the indoor unit. This constriction will prevent the refrigerant from flowing at the right pressure and volume as it gets into the compressor. The compressor is therefore likely to overheat as it tries to compensate for that low pressure by sucking harder on the refrigerant.

Dirty Condenser Fins.

The fins on the condenser help to dissipate the heat carried by the refrigerant when it leaves the compressor. This heat may not be lost fully in case those fins are caked by dirt. Consequently, the refrigerant will go back to the evaporator when it isn’t as cool as it should be. The net result is that the refrigerant will be further heated by the warm air in your home and that excessively hot refrigerant will cause the compressor to overheat. Technicians at Fox Family Heating and Air warn that such a problem can cause the compressor to fail and require replacement.

Poorly Sized Refrigerant Lines

The compressor can also overheat in case the refrigerant lines are either too small or too wide. This improper sizing may cause the compressor to overheat as it works overtime to compensate and keep the refrigerant at the required pressure. Get an experienced air conditioner replacement (Sacramento) technician to inspect the AC in case it recently underwent repairs, and you suspect that the wrong refrigerant line was used.

Incorrect Cycling

Oversized or undersized AC units can also cause the compressor to overheat. For example, an undersized AC will stay on for very long to keep the temperature in your Sacramento home at the desired level. This strains all the components, especially the compressor. Overheating becomes inevitable in such situations.

Conversely, an oversized unit will start and stop more times than is usual for a correctly sized unit. These short cycle times also cause overheating because the compressor strains a lot as it is starting up. Contact a Sacramento air conditioning company for help in replacing that oversized or undersized AC.

Insufficient Refrigerant

A refrigerant leak can leave your AC with less refrigerant than is required. Inadequate recharging after air conditioner repairs can also leave the system low on refrigerant. Low refrigerant levels cause the compressor to overheat because the AC will work harder to cool your home. This situation needs to be corrected urgently before it causes a total breakdown of the compressor.

Contaminants

The compressor of your air conditioner is also likely to overheat in case contaminants, such as particulates and other gases, find their way into the refrigerant. Those contaminants are harmful because they prevent the compressor from compressing the refrigerant as it usually does. Insufficient compression strains the compressor and causes it to overheat.

Old Age

The AC may overheat due to age-related wear and tear. The increasing inefficiency of the aging air conditioner makes the compressor to overheat as it tries to keep up with the demands placed upon it during the cooling season of the year. This is particularly common in ACs which have been in use for more than ten years. Such units should be replaced instead of trying to pay attention to the compressor alone.

Although the causes of overheating in an air conditioner compressor seem unrelated, only one measure can keep most of them at bay. Proper maintenance can prevent many of the reasons why compressors overheat. Negotiate an AC service contract with the experts at Fox Family Heating & Air so that your air conditioner is kept working at its best for its entire service life.

How Your Air Conditioner Works

HVAC system repair

Some Sacramento homeowners may think that their AC works by removing hot air from the home and replacing that hot air with cool air. However, this is far from the truth. Read on and learn how experts from Fox Family Heating & Air, a Sacramento heating and air conditioning company, explain how your air conditioner works in order to cool your home during the hot months of the year.

Two Synchronized Movements

Two kinds of movement work together to deliver comfort to you in your home. The first movement involves the sucking of warm air into the vents in your home. Remember, warm air rises, so the warmest air in your home is the one that gets sucked into the vents for circulation through the AC system. This same air returns through the return air registers when it has cooled down. How it cools down is connected to the second kind of movement in the AC system.

The second movement has to do with the refrigerant in the AC. This refrigerant is cold before it gains heat from the air moving around it. The refrigerant then heats up and goes through a system that cools it before returning it to absorb more heat. The same refrigerant keeps undergoing these transformations without needing to be recharged. You should, therefore, contact air conditioning repair experts in Sacramento in case you see any signs of a refrigerant leak. The process of heating then cooling the refrigerant will become clearer once you understand the workings of the two key parts of the air conditioning system as discussed below.

The Indoor Unit

The indoor unit of an air conditioner is normally installed in the basement or the attic in most homes. The main component of this indoor unit is the evaporator. The evaporator has coils within which a refrigerant circulates. The refrigerant is initially cold.

The hot air which has been sucked by the vents in the different rooms of your home passes over these coils containing the cold refrigerant. The refrigerant absorbs the heat from this warm air and that heat causes the refrigerant to turn into a gas (that is why the unit is called the evaporator). The air is now cool and is returned to the different rooms in order to make you feel more comfortable.

Meanwhile, the heated refrigerant (which is now a gas) travels towards the outdoor unit in order to be cooled so that it can absorb more heat from the next batch of heated air coming from the rooms in your home.

The Outdoor Unit

The main components of the outdoor unit of your air conditioner are the compressor and the condenser. The heated air from the indoor unit travels out and finds the compressor. This compressor pressurizes the heated air and pushes it towards the condenser.

The condenser has fins similar to those in the radiator of your vehicle. These fins provide a large area into which the compressed refrigerant is released. The large surface area allows the pressurized gas to spread out.

Meanwhile, fans blow air across the surface of the fins into which heated air has been released. That ambient air absorbs the heat from the refrigerant and the refrigerant cools. The refrigerant converts into a liquid as it loses heat to the air around the condenser fins. That is why this section of the outdoor unit is called the condenser (it facilitates the condensation of the hot refrigerant gas into a cold liquid). This cold liquid flows towards the indoor unit where it will absorb heat from the warm air coming from the vents in your home. You may need to consider air conditioner replacement (Sacramento) in case a major component, such as the compressor, fails and the outdoor unit can no longer do its work.

The process described above is repeated until the thermostat detects that the temperature inside the home has dropped to the desired level. A signal is then sent to the control unit of the AC to shut off the system. Another signal will be sent later to restart the system once the thermostat detects that the temperature has risen beyond the set level. Your AC keeps cycling on and off throughout the day in order to keep the home at the desired temperature.

The discussion above only covers the basics of how your air conditioner works. Other activities, such as the removal of contaminants (by the filter) and the removal of excess humidity (by the dehumidifier) take place while the heated air is moving from the rooms to be cooled and then returned once more.

Any defect at any point of this well-coordinated process will affect the degree of comfort that you experience in your home. That is why it is important to call AC maintenance and repair and repair professionals from trusted companies, such as Fox Family Heating and Air so that an inspection can be conducted to locate and fix the defect.