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

Should You Hook Up Your Manifold Gauges Every Time?

Maintaining the Integrity of Your Sacramento Valley AC System

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

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Manifold Gauges: How They Work

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

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

Getting an Accurate Manifold Gauge Assessment

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

Steps for Technicians

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

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

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

Contamination

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

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

Avoiding Burns

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

Unintended Loosening

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

Case in Point

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

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

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

Increasing Equipment Life

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

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

Your Turn

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

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

SMUD’s Heating and Cooling Rebates for Your Sacramento County Home

SMUD Suspends Rebates

SMUD Rebates for Sacramento County in 2020

Back in September of 2019, SMUD, the electric company here in Sacramento County, announced the start of its new rebate structure for homeowners getting certain types of new HVAC systems.  They’re doing this as part of their effort to make improvements to their current HVAC program and consolidating it into a larger program called Advanced Home Solutions.  Stay tuned, because you’re about to get some great information about how much you can get back from SMUD on your upcoming HVAC project!

Intro

Hi, I’m Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating and Air.  We’re located right here in Sacramento County.  I’m super excited to tell you about SMUD’s new rebate they’re giving to those of you who decide to go one of a couple of different ways with your upcoming HVAC project.

But first, let me fill you in on why SMUD is changing things up.

If you remember the summer of 2019, SMUD began their Time-of-Use rates which really elevated the cost to use our appliances in the 12 to 5 pm and 5 to 8 pm time frame.  Through research, they noticed everyone’s air conditioning systems were the main culprit of electricity usage during that time.

To SMUD, it costs them 2 to 3 times more to provide electricity during those summer peak hours versus non-peak hours.  As the demand and cost to produce power has increased, it’s become way more difficult to provide electricity to the end-user during peak hours.  So, they began their Time-of-Use campaign to deter folks from using electricity during those peak times.

In a discussion we had with SMUD representatives recently, it makes sense.  If people didn’t start using less electricity, SMUD would need to build more infrastructure to meet the demand.  And you and I both know those costs would be passed on to us.  We’re already blessed with some of the lowest rates in California, and I can see SMUD is just trying to keep it as low as possible for us.  They’re a not-for-profit company which helps in that aspect.

So why the new structure?

SMUD’s self-made mandate is to be net carbon neutral by 2040.  That means the way they deliver power to us won’t involve adding to the stock of greenhouse gases that affect our atmosphere, by 2040.  Their current mix is about 50% non-carbon emitting as of 2019.  This goes in line with the bill Governor Brown signed in 2018 which set the goal of phasing out all fossil fuels from California’s electricity sector by 2045.

The old rebate structure was all about efficiency ratings which used terminology like SEER and EER ratings.  14 SEER, being the lowest system available we could install in California had no rebate available.  For most HVAC companies, if you spent a little more you could get a 16 SEER system which gets you a $500 rebate.

If you upgraded even higher to the 18 SEER air conditioner, you could get a $650 rebate.  The reason they offered a little more for these was because of efficiency.  Most AC systems 17 SEER and higher offered 2-stage technology.  So, it would have like, a medium-high stage around 60 to 70% of its capacity and a 100% stage.  Anyone knows that if we use a speed that is 30% lower than a unit’s full capacity, it will save you money on your electric bill.

An even more efficient system, the 19 and 20 SEER, and even up to 25 SEER variable speed units have capacities that swing from 20 to 100% capacity depending on the demand during that time of day.  Those units also got a $650 dollar rebate under the old rebate structure.

Looking Forward

This is all in the past!  The new rebates are much better!

14 and 15 SEER systems (basically any system that is only a single-stage system) no longer have rebates for them.

Now, any 2-stage system, whether you have an all-electric heat pump or a gas/electric system is going to qualify you for a $1500 rebate.  So, what does this mean?  Let’s say your old system is a single-stage, or for that matter an old 2-stage system.  If you upgrade your new system to ANY 2-stage or variable speed system, you’ll receive the $1500 rebate in the mail 4 to 6 weeks after the job is installed.

One stipulation on the furnace for these 2-stage systems is they have to be installed with a 90% AFUE furnace.  So, in our homes we have two types of furnaces, either 80% or 90% AFUE furnaces.  An 80% furnace results in 20 cents of every dollar you spend floating out of the flue pipe that goes through your roof.  That means more gases escape to the atmosphere and contribute to global warming than, say, a 90% furnace.  Remember the goal of these rebates for our Sacramento utility company is to help reduce our carbon footprint.  More efficient furnaces will help get us there.

Package units on the roof or the side of the house are included in this as well.  If you replace your current system with a 2-stage package unit (with air conditioning,) you’d receive the $1,500 rebate as well.

A Higher Rebate

Now here’s an even higher rebate.  If you currently have a natural or propane gas-fed furnace, whether it’s an 80% or 90% furnace, with pretty much any air conditioner (and this includes package units, too) and you were to switch over to an all-electric 2-stage or variable speed heat pump, you’d be eligible to receive a $4000 rebate.

This rebate also applies to ductless or mini-split technology.  You may have seen these units that mount on a wall or the ceiling of your house or hotel rooms you’ve stayed in.  They even have these types of mini-splits that are ducted so you don’t have to see the units from your room.  They’re mounted in the attic very similar to unitary systems you’re used to already in your homes.  As long as the ductless system serves the “whole house,” you get the rebate as well.

Whole House?

What does the “whole house” mean?   It means the main living areas.  So, the living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, dens, lofts, and other rooms like your man caves or ma’am caves (not in the garage.)  So, this list isn’t comprehensive, but you get the idea.  Areas of the home that are commonly lived or slept in.

Rooms that aren’t required are the bathrooms, laundry room, utility room, and other small rooms that people wouldn’t consider to be “their room.”

Any combination of wall mounts, floor mounts, ceiling cassettes, or ducted heads fits this category.  Even if you’re not serving the whole home, but maybe just adding one to supplement the central air system you have now, there’s a $200 rebate for each head you have installed, up to $800.

So, does this count if you currently have no central heating and air?  Maybe you have a couple of window units and a wall furnace that serves the house.  YES!  This is considered a “full cut-in” where we convert your home, so it has central heating or ductless technology like we just talked about.  In that case, it would be a $4000 rebate if you installed any 2-stage or variable speed HEAT PUMP system.

Dual Fuel Systems

The utility company is getting ready to implement another option to the rebate structure which will include dual-fuel systems.  It’s looking like the rebates for those systems with 2-stage or variable speed technology will be around $2500.  Dual fuel systems could be another discussion altogether, but I’ll just say this:  they use gas heat to provide the “emergency” heat your normal heat pump system would use, which uses up a considerable amount of power.  And it’s very common for that feature on your heat pump system to come on during the coldest days of the year.

In most cases, you pay your contractor the price of the job, and then receive your rebate from SMUD in 4 to 6 weeks after the job is installed.  Of course, your contractor IS going to have to pull a permit for this to qualify, so make sure you work with a legitimate HVAC company like Fox Family Heating and Air, right here in Sacramento County.  We pull permits on all of our installs.  Remember, any time you alter the electrical, plumbing, roofing, or structure of the house, a permit should be pulled.

All Electric Heat Pumps

SMUD says HVAC systems are the most expensive items to run in your home.  They’ve seen a 30% to 70% reduction in energy usage in homes with 2-stage or variable speed HVAC systems.

So, why should you consider going to an all-electric heat pump now?  It reduces our community’s carbon footprint, there’s the 30% to 70% reduction in electricity usage, and the near future is heading this direction anyway. By becoming an early adopter of this net carbon neutral campaign, customers can take advantage of these fantastic rebates that are available NOW, that most likely won’t be there when it becomes mandatory in new homes 20 years from now.

There are some costs associated with upgrading your HVAC system from a gas-electric system to an all-electric heat pump.  Most notably, the wiring to your outdoor unit will stay the same, but your wire to the indoor unit will likely need to be upgraded to a little bit bigger wire since it will be providing 240 volts instead of the 120 volts that’s already there.  The amp draw on heat pumps increases significantly in the wintertime, which is specifically related to the heat strips that are used during the coldest months of the year.

Summary

I really hope this explains everything you needed to know about SMUD’s new rebate structure.  I like the way they’re thinking.  Reducing our carbon footprint is crucial for not only ours but generations to come.  If you have any questions about this or any topic regarding your heating or air conditioning system and you’re here in the Sacramento area feel free to contact us.

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

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

HVAC and covid 19 Featured image

HVAC Supply Pricing Continuing To Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

attic furnace unit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Condenser fan motor

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

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

Why Is The AC Making A High Pitched Noise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking The Condenser Fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Condenser motor

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

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

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

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

How cold can my house get?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Defrost Mode On A Heat Pump

Defrost Mode On A Heat Pump

What Happens in Defrost Mode on a Heat Pump?

 

There’s something mystical when it comes to the heat pump system.  We know it runs like a normal air conditioner in the cooling season, but when we get into heating season, some extra components come into play and we get confused or lose track of the sequence of operation for a heat pump.

So let’s go over some basics, that even I have to review from time to time because heat pumps are not my strongest suit.  I have a video called Basic Heat Pump Operation that you might want to refer to if you need an even more stripped-down version of heat pump operation.  This one’s going to focus on the defrost function and what we should be checking to diagnose a heat pump that’s not working or might be frozen over in heating mode on a cold day.

So let’s quickly review some things we learned in the last video.  In cooling mode, the heat pump works just like an air conditioner.  The refrigerant cycles through the system and basically makes the indoor evaporator coil, a cold coil, and the outdoor unit’s coil the hot coil.  We remove the heat from inside the house at the outdoor unit and pull it out to the outdoor coil to be released into the atmosphere.

In heating mode, a reversing valve reverses the flow of refrigerant to make the indoor coil the hot coil and the outdoor coil the cold coil.  So, we’re trying to extract heat from the outside and bring it inside, which can be done down to a certain outdoor temperature.  After that, there is very little heat in the air to extract, so heat strips will kick in to supplement that effort.  

A regular occurrence with a heat pump in the heating season is for the outdoor unit to go through a defrost cycle.  You can imagine that cold outdoor coil interacting with the cold outdoor temperatures can cause some freezing.  Anytime that outdoor coil gets below 40° or so, the outdoor coil being the cold coil develops frost on it.  It can’t keep operating this way, or that frost will develop into a straight-up ice block!

So, we want to melt this frost by essentially switching back into cooling mode.  Because remember, in cooling mode, the outdoor coil becomes the hot coil.

You’ll notice when you wire in the low voltage on a heat pump, you’re not just wiring in two wires like on a normal AC condenser.  Single stage heat pumps need five wires running outside to them.  Red for “24 volts”, Blue for “Common” which can be labeled B or C on defrost boards, Orange for the “Reversing Valve” or the O terminal,  Yellow for “1st stage compressor” or the Y terminal, and something like a black or brown for the X2 terminal or “Emergency Heat.”  

Notice I didn’t say “Y for cooling” because the same Y terminal is energized whether we’re in cooling or heating mode.  We’re essentially energizing the compressor and fan on the outdoor unit.  Whether we want to be in cooling or heating is up to the “O” terminal being energized or not.

Heat Pump Wiring

Remember, these wires can be any color coming from the indoor air handler to the outdoor heat pump.  All wires are copper inside.  So, for the Y terminal at the heat pump defrost board, if a wire with purple sheathing leaves the Y terminal at the indoor air handler, then the other end of that purple wire should be tied into the Y terminal at the heat pump.  It doesn’t matter what color that wire is.

The reason we have so many wires coming to the outdoor unit is to relay signals given from the heat pump to the air handler when it goes into defrost.

The defrost board is the quarterback for this whole play too.  For the defrost cycle to begin, two things have to happen.  A sensor attached to the outdoor refrigerant coil (the copper coil)(or aluminum) has to get down to 26° F, and a second requirement is that the defrost board has to agree that the compressor has run the required amount of time.  On the equipment I usually work on, it’s either 45 or 90 minutes.  

When those two requirements have been met, a contact on the defrost board closes, completing a circuit to read 24 volts at X2 so the heat strips at the air handler will come on.   Inside at the air handler, the fan still blows, which means there is cold air coming out of the ducts.  But the air handler’s heat strips come on to neutralize the cold air.  

That same circuit closing causes the O terminal to have 24 volts which reverses the flow of refrigerant to cooling mode.  You’ll hear when that happens too because the reversing valve makes a pretty noticeable whooshing sound when the change in directions happens.  We explain more about the reversing valve in another video.

The third thing that happens when that circuit completes is a set of contacts open to stop the outdoor fan motor.   This is to help warm the coils up faster.  Because if we were drawing cold air across the outdoor coils when we were trying to warm them up, it would be counterproductive.

You would think the reversing valve would energize to go into heating mode, but on 90% of the systems out there, not having 24 volts to the reversing valve causes the system to default to heating mode.  In most parts of the country, having heat is more important than having cool air, so the reversing valve on a heat pump defaults to heating mode.  Here in California during the summer, we would strongly debate that.

So what have we done here?  What voltages should we be reading at their respective terminals as the board triggers the defrost cycle?

  • 24 volts can be read between C and R on the defrost board.
  • 24 volts can be read between C and O.
  • 24 volts can be read between C and Y.
  • 24 volts can be read between C and X2 or whatever the emergency heat terminals happen to be labeled on your equipment.
  • Also, the high voltage wires (usually labeled D1 and D2) on the defrost board leading to the outdoor fan motor, will only be sending 120 to the motor instead of 240.  So, one of those terminals will have 120 to ground and the other will have 0 volts to ground.

What needs to happen for the demand defrost cycle to complete?  When the liquid temperature leaving the outdoor coil reaches about 50 degrees, the defrost termination relay on the defrost board opens.  If the temperature doesn’t rise to that point after 10 minutes, an override switch will open, and de-energize the relay which will terminate the cycle.

One last time the reversing valve makes a big whooshing sound and switches the flow of refrigerant back to heating mode, the outdoor fan turns on, the heat strips inside turn off, and the indoor coil becomes the hot coil again.

When defrost has completed and the system has gone back into heating mode, here are the voltages you’ll read back at those same terminals from earlier.

  • 24 volts can be read between C and R on the defrost board.
  • 0 volts can be read between C and O.
  • 24 volts can be read between C and Y.
  • 0 volts can be read between C and X2 or whatever the emergency heat terminals happen to be labeled on your equipment.
  • Also, the high voltage wires on the defrost board leading to the outdoor fan motor, will be reading 120 to ground on each terminal. 

If you find that the outdoor heat pump is turning into a giant ice ball, there are a few things to check before condemning the defrost board.  After the system has been turned off a while and the ice has melted, let’s make sure the coils are clean.  Restricted airflow across the indoor coil or the outdoor coil can cause the ice build-up.

 

If the coils are clean, we need to check the refrigerant levels.  If those are good, then something’s going wrong with the defrost operation.  It could be the refrigerant line or ambient sensors, the actual board itself, or the reversing valve that is malfunctioning. 

Most of the time the temperature sensors are permanently attached to the defrost board, so if they’re not reading correctly, the whole board would have to be replaced.  Installation guides have tables that show the resistance the sensors should be reading at certain temperatures.  Using your meter and some super thin leads will help you determine the readings.

Remember, the defrost board sends 24 volts to the reversing valve at the O terminal.  Is that 24 volts reaching the solenoid on the reversing valve?  No? Then check the wire connections.  If they’re good. Then the defrost board itself is likely bad.  

Yes, you do have 24 volts?  Then something is going wrong with that solenoid and or the valve itself.  But the defrost board is doing its job.

Just like with control boards on a furnace, if the board is giving the proper voltage to the motor and the motor isn’t working, it’s not the board.  If the board isn’t giving the proper voltage, then it’s the board or something else upstream of it.

See!  Defrost boards aren’t that hard, huh?

Thanks for checking in on our blog.  See you next week!

Greg

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Starting My Own HVAC Business: Part 2 – Work-Life Balance

starting your own business - work-life balance

Remembering the importance of work-life balance and keeping your family close to you as you start up your new business

Many of us who have started our own business did it from scratch.  We had no customers and no leads.  We seemed to be so focused on getting that first customer it appeared to be the only thing on our minds.  But don’t forget who is cheering you on.  Your family is right there, filled with anticipation for you.  Then you get that first customer!  And the machine begins to roll.  Today we’re going to talk about the importance of work-life balance and keeping your family close to you instead of pushing them away as you start up your new business.

Getting Established

I started my company in 2015.  I did so many things on my own at first; it seemed a little overwhelming.  I was answering the phones, scheduling appointments, making the repairs, prepping all the installs, loading the trailer, doing all the installs, making deliveries, purchasing supplies, and purchasing office equipment.  It also required paying bills, finding insurance agents, buying a service truck, building out that service truck, stocking that service truck, getting decals on that service truck, buying tools, creating relationships with vendors, figuring out what service parts I was going to be using for my customers, and figuring out what brand of equipment I was going to start installing in people’s homes.  It also involved accumulating a maintenance club membership base one-by-one, marketing my company, going to business networking groups, and attending HVAC conventions. 

I then created a website and business accounts on Google, Yelp, and every single search engine so I could be found online.  I also created a Facebook page for my business and began uploading photos and messages to interact with my customers. 

On top of everything else, I created a YouTube channel to start showing off my company to service techs and potential customers.  This required that I shoot the videos, load the videos to my computer, edit and produce the videos, and upload the videos to YouTube.  I had to learn how to optimize those videos so people would even see them, create thumbnails for those videos to make them stand out, and respond to incoming messages from technicians and customers alike.

Whew!  Still want to be a contractor?  I know I left some stuff out, too.

Work-Life Balance for Your Family

Let’s suppose you still have the desire to start up your own business after hearing all that.  It takes a lot of time to do all that stuff.  Your family will be gung-ho about all the time and effort you’re putting into your new business, but after a while, they’re going to start feeling left out. 

New business owners (heck, any business owner) can be found guilty of dividing their daily obligations into separate categories to fulfill all of these obligations and just get through another day.

Recognizing Work-Life Balance Tensions

If you think your family has no business getting involved in what you do, because they don’t know the first thing about HVAC, think again. It’s going to be too hard to leave work at work and keep your family life completely separate, without it intervening somehow.  You’ll feel great if you win a job you’ve been working hard to get!  If you lose that same job, you’ll feel terrible.  All that time and energy you spent shucking and jiving just to be turned down for one reason or another.  One thing after another can leave you feeling happy or sad when you get home.  Either way, your wife is going to feel it, and your children are going to feel it if you don’t handle it right.   This will eventually add up to tensions at home that might become irreversible.

Eventually, husband and wife teams can start to look at each other differently.  The person you once thought was the most caring and understanding in the world has now become insensitive to your everyday problems.  Little does she understand why you have to work such long hours just to make ends meet.

Respecting Roles 

So how do you keep this work-life balance? I’m no magician, but communication is the key to everything.  Talk to your spouse about what’s going on.  Include them in the things that are important to you.  If your wife joins you on the team like mine did taking over the administrative side of things, you’re going to have to remember she doesn’t work for you. 

Regardless of whose company it is, if you screw up that relationship, then what were you doing this all for anyway?  Instead, respecting each other’s role in the company is key to making it work.  Indeed, someone has to be the president of the company, and the next person on that chain of command will have to be agreeable and do their part to make this work too.  If you, as the principle of the company, have a vision or idea of the way you want something done, then, sure, you’ll have to stand your ground.  But pick and choose your battles.  Give independence to those who are working with you. Don’t be a micromanager.  Oh my god, these are all the things you hated about working for someone else, and now you’re the one that’s a hard-ass employer. 

Working Independently

I’m clueless about the things Melissa does for the company.  I have a good idea, but if I had to take her job over today, I wouldn’t do a great job.  For the most part, it’s the same for Melissa.  If she had to step up and handle the operations, building codes, service, and installation, etc., she would struggle.  So we allow each other their freedom to work independently.  This keeps everyone happy at work and, most importantly, gives you a good head start at keeping things at home in order. 

No one gets in the way of my time with my family — and my sports.  I play ice hockey every week.  I ride indoors on my bike almost every day on Zwift.  Physical exercise helps me keep my sanity.  What keeps your mind clear?  Is it fishing? — playing a musical instrument? — reading books? — hanging out in the garage?  Great!  Whatever it is, though, don’t let it take time away from your one true love — that family of yours.

Remembering Who You Are

It’s essential to want to be great at running your new business.  But, keep in mind the right work-life balance will help you maintain your personal life and your professional life. You’re not just a business owner. That’s only part of who you are.  You had other things going on in your life before you started that business.  Just don’t forget they’re still there.

12 Reasons Why Being A Certified HVAC Technician Is A Good Career Choice

Hi, I’m Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating and Air in Sacramento, CA.  If you’re out there trying to find a career that is rewarding, challenging and pays well, I think HVAC is the right field for that.  Today I’m going to give you 12 good reasons why being a certified HVAC technician is a good career choice.  And I even have a bonus reason after that.

1. You Don’t Need a College Degree to Get Started

As a high schooler, I could tell I wasn’t going to college.  Unless I got a scholarship, my family didn’t really have enough money to send me to college.  I joined the Air Force right out of high school and when my term ended, I headed out for civilian life.  HVAC was a career I found easy to get into.  I started at the bottom while at my first job, but I quickly worked my way up amongst my peers.

2. Good Wages

When I started, I never realized that I could make enough money to support my family.  I started out very low in pay, but I didn’t have any experience either!  Within one year I had doubled my pay because my supervisors saw how hard of a worker I was and that I was pretty good at it.  With an HVAC career,you’ll find you can make a damn good living at something you’re proud of doing.

3. Independence

One of the greatest aspects of being an HVAC technician is the independence you have during your workday.  Whether you are an installation tech, a service tech, or a sales technician you’ll find yourself not having to be around a crowd at work. You get to go about your day and do or say pretty much what you want, how you want.  Sure, you have calls or installs that you have to go to, but you won’t have any supervisors looking down on you all the time like with some jobs.

4. It’s a career that will always be in demand — growing at about 15% as the baby boomers start retiring

As you’ve probably heard already, HVAC is a career that is never going to go away.  Robots and AI are far from being able to walk into a home, business or grocery store, walk around, troubleshoot the problem, get the repair part, braze copper lines together, enlarge returns, cut in supplies, install an HVAC system, and the list goes on.  The fact is, it takes real people with real skills to do our job.  And the field is only going to grow for the next several years, meaning there will be more and more jobs available for you to acquire.

5. The Job Isn’t Very Repetitive

As an HVAC technician, your job isn’t very repetitive.  Sure, you’re out there repairing systems every day, or installing equipment regularly, but the application of where you’re doing it not only changes daily but from call to call.  You never know what you’re going to get into on the next call.  That’s too challenging for some people, and HVAC isn’t for everyone. But for some of us, we thrive on it.

6. Helping Others/Health/A Place to Serve

Nothing feels better than getting customers back up and running again.  Whether it’s at the end of the day on an install, or after a challenging service call.  Heck, you’ll probably feel like a genius when you find something as simple as a dirty filter that wasn’t allowing air through a system.  The best feeling we get as HVAC technicians is when we can get an older couple, a family with children, or someone with medical conditions that really need a comfortable home cooling again.  When a grocery store with a lot of food at risk of spoiling is saved by your expertise, you’re probably going to feel like Superman as you walk out the door with your tool bag and your head up high.

7. Mechanical Aspect

Our goal as HVAC technicians is to provide thermal comfort and good indoor air quality.  We work with thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer.  A lot of people find this industry confusing because air isn’t something we can see.  We can feel it!  But trying to explain what we just did to get someone’s system back up and running can be a challenge.  Installing, servicing and maintaining equipment engineered for this is what HVAC technicians all around the world love to do.  It’s one of those trades that not everyone can just pick up in a day or two.  This makes our jobs more secure than some other blue-collar trades.

8. Multi-Talented/Jack-of-All-Trades

You can really become a jack-of-all-trades in the HVAC field.  This is especially true if you go into the installation side of the field.  As installers, we must be able to read blueprints from an engineer. Not only are we setting equipment, but we’re also involved in plumbing gas lines and condensate drainage, working with high and low voltage, constructing new platforms, cutting in supply registers in rooms, enlarging returns and even cutting holes through rooftops to place new units.  After replacing some of those units on the roof, we sometimes will also need to patch up the area around the curb to get it looking good again.  

We’ve already discussed the other areas you’ll be good at with thermodynamics, balancing airflow, heat transfer, refrigerant flow and how to make the air quality better in a home.  This is probably my favorite reason I became an HVAC technician because it really makes you a jack-of-all-trades.

9. The Challenges/Troubleshooting

If you’re really up for a challenging career, you’ll find HVAC a great career.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be good in this field.  But it does take a solid understanding of the fundamentals and a good deal of patience.  Just when you think you have the answer to a problem, something else comes up and then you must deal with that.  All the trades we just talked about — plumbing, electrical, carpentry, roofing, thermodynamics, and others — can all come into play when it comes to solving the myriad of troubleshooting issues we face in the HVAC field every day.

10. You Learn Sales

Some of us get the opportunity to sell to our customers.  We’ll pinpoint the problem and need to persuade the customer to spend money on the repair to get their system running again.  Other times the cost to get the system running again isn’t worth it to the owner, so you end up selling them a new system.  You also are out there trying to sell indoor air quality to homeowners so they can more fully enjoy their homes.  Many people don’t know the air in their homes is sometimes worse than the air outside. 

Selling can be a sensitive subject because some people think HVAC technicians and salespeople take selling a little too far.  Our industry has gotten a bad reputation compared to others because some companies only pay their technicians by how many parts they sell.  It’s a fine line because technicians can get greedy and not care about taking people’s money just to line their pockets, but at the same time, they do have to be able to put food on their tables and support themselves during the off-season.

11. Seasonal

Which brings me to my next reason HVAC is such a good job choice.  Most people don’t use their AC or heating all year.  This creates what we call shoulder seasons.  During these times, some companies don’t have any work for their techs.  Other companies have maintenance contracts that need to be fulfilled.  But, if you’re in the residential and commercial field, I’m sure you’ll feel the seasonal changes in your hours at work, which is why you’ll need to discipline yourself to save money when you’re busy during those slower times of the year.  The refrigeration side of the industry is usually a year-round job, but some people can’t stand some of the stuff you have to work on every day, like slimy bacteria, for example.

12. Take Home Van/ Save on Gas Money

Last but not least, some companies will let you take your work van home with you.  This saves a lot of time and money since you don’t have to drive to work to get your van, just to be at your first call which could turn out to be right by your house! Having your own van means being able to stock the truck your way, have certain tools and other knick-knacks set up just the way you like it.

BONUS!

I noticed in the first year of doing this trade I built quite a bit of muscle from all the carrying, lifting, squatting, crawling and other activity on the job.  It’s a physical line or work that can add some weight to your body, hopefully the right kind.  Some guys get bigger in the belly because they’re working harder and they go home and eat a lot more than they normally would.  I feel like my first year in install I added around 10 to 15 lbs. of muscle on my body which really filled out my shoulders, arms, chest, and legs nicely.

Summary

I hope this helps in your quest to find the right career for 2020!  HVAC is a field that isn’t going away.  People will always need to be comfortable in their homes and offices.  I have truly enjoyed my time as an HVAC technician.  Sure, I’ve found myself in some interesting positions I’d rather not be in at times.  But I think that happens with every job.  The pay is good, the job is interesting and different every day.  The challenges we face keep us at the top of our game.

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

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Relocating Your Thermostat Might Make Your Home More Comfortable

Relocating Your Thermostat

3 Reasons Why Relocating Your Thermostat To A New Spot Might Be a Good Idea

I’ve been to people’s homes where relocating their thermostat would provide them better comfort.  A thermostat located in a second-floor hallway might cause such extreme temperature differences in the bedrooms upstairs that one room is hotter than another room.   In single-story homes, that thermostat could be located on the other side of the house or stashed away behind a door or bookcase somewhere in the house, creating uneven temperatures.

Other times, a thermostat is located on the inside of an exterior wall of the house.  This could allow the radiant summer heat from the outside to confuse the thermostat into thinking it’s met the temperature you want it to be, but you’re sure it hasn’t.  Other places you probably don’t want to have a thermostat is near the kitchen, the garage door, or near a window.  Temperatures near these areas of the home might be a little different from other parts of the home you’re trying to keep at a certain level.

If you live in a single-story home, the majority of the time, you’ll find the best place to mount your thermostat is in the main hallway located about halfway between the bedrooms and the living room. You’ll probably notice the return air intake is located in the hallway too.  The thermostat and the return air found there is done that way on purpose.  Conditioned air from the living areas and the house’s sleeping areas are brought together to that area in the hallway and mixes.  The temperature of the house’s air in that precise area is a great place to be measured.

In two-story homes, you’ll find most families in my area of the country have a thermostat in the master bedroom. It’s because the air temperature in the hallway upstairs can be different from the temperature of the air in the bedrooms, especially if the occupants close their bedroom doors at night to sleep.

Smart thermostats like the Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell can figure out how long it takes to get your home to the temperature you desire.  But if your thermostat is in the wrong place, even those more expensive thermostats won’t read the house’s correct temperature.

Relocating your thermostat to the right spot can save you money and make everyone experience the same temperatures no matter where they are in the home.

See Also: Check out our blog post on how to avoid hot and cold spots in your home.

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

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