11 Ways to Avoid Hot and Cold Spots in Your Home

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

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

1. Is your system sized correctly?

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

2. Return air and supply air unity

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

3. Adding returns will mix hot and cold air

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

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

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

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

5. Change those filters to eliminate hot and cold spots

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

6. Keep Heat at Bay with Window Coverings

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

7. Electronics in Rooms will Increase Warmth

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

8. Ceiling Fans will Mix Hot and Cold Air

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

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

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

10. Prevent Hot and Cold Spots by Checking Insulation Levels

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

11. Properly Sized Ductwork Improves HVAC Efficiency

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

Summary

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

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

Don’t miss our videos on related topics:

How To Protect an Air Conditioner Low Voltage Wire

How to Repair An Air Conditioner

Protecting the Low Voltage Wires to the AC

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

Ratings for Low Voltage Wire

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

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

What the Code Says

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

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

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

Protecting the Low Voltage AC Wire

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

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

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

The Tightest Provision Gets Enforced

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

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

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

A Wiring Upgrade

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

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

Fox Family Installs Ameristar Heating and Cooling Products

4 air conditioner add-ons

What’s the Best Brand for a New Air Conditioner?  An In-Depth Look at Ameristar

Sacramento Valley residents looking for a quality system to replace theirs with can turn to Ingersoll Rand who owns Trane and American Standard HVAC products.  Little known to most people is the other product they manufacture, Ameristar.

Trane’s Unparalleled Reputation

Ameristar is one of the most affordable and reliable companies to buy from because of the products they are producing.  When I go out to people’s homes to provide a quote a new HVAC system, I always mention our main product line, Trane.  The reputation Trane has in this HVAC industry is unparalleled.  From their products being made in America to the testing of their equipment in laboratories, Ingersoll Rand and Trane offer the Ameristar line as their budget option for residential HVAC systems.

Ameristar furnaces are manufactured in New Jersey while their air conditioners and heat pumps are made in China.  Consider Trane’s XB80 furnace that was the staple of their furnace installation service for the last 15 years or so.  A simple design allowed technicians to access the control board and dismantle and reinstall the burner assembly for easy cleaning.  The design also allowed for easy access to the hot surface ignitor for testing and replacement as needed.  The blower assembly had a straightforward design to allow for easy removal, cleaning and replacement.

Trane XB80 Vulnerabilities

As a technician who has serviced probably every brand and variation of furnace that a technician can navigate through, I can honestly say that the Trane XB80 furnace has had very few issues with it.  I’d say I’ve worked on them the least of all the others simply because they don’t break down very often.

One of my main repairs on this system has been their control board in the blower compartment.  They had a Molex connection of around nine pins that would interact with the back of the board to tell which components to do what in a certain sequence. For instance, to tell the inducer motor to come on, then to tell the hot surface ignitor to engage, and so on.  The Molex connections would separate from the solder connections on the board and would begin to operate intermittently.  Now it’s just one of those things that most experienced techs can just walk up on and easily diagnose because they’ve seen it enough.

A Great Choice

Every brand out there has its vulnerabilities and this control board issue typically arose at about the 15 to 20-year mark in the life of the system.  I didn’t notice much else going wrong with this system.  Sure, the occasional pressure switch or capacitor would go bad.  But once again this Trane, and now the Ameristar model are both much more reliable and easier to service than the other models out there.  Ameristar really makes for a great choice when deciding on an entry-level design HVAC system for your home or rental.

Now that Trane has moved away from that design and ventured towards an even better product line offering, Ingersoll Rand has allowed Ameristar to basically take that same Trane XB80 design and apply it to their product.  This means you’re basically getting a Trane furnace when you buy an Ameristar furnace.  It literally just has a different name tag on the front of the furnace!

Ameristar’s Star Feature

Let’s talk about the China-made Ameristar air conditioner.  One thing I really like is their use of a scroll compressor.  These are just like the ones being used in high-efficiency condensers.  Its outstanding benefit is the reduced noise level compared to other systems that use cheaper products.  I’ve also noticed the swept fan blade of the Ameristar air conditioner which also contributes to lower noise levels.  Ameristar prides itself on its 74-decibel level operation.  Both of these items really contribute to that low noise level. The fan and the compressor are really the only things that make noise on the outdoor condenser.

Ameristar Quality and Design

You’ll also notice the compact design of the Ameristar AC compared to other modern high-efficiency units.  Some customers want a low-profile unit so it can stay out of sight.  This AC really does that well.  Also, the components inside the electrical panel of the Ameristar AC are quality.  They aren’t flimsy brand names that go out within a few years.  These are the same items I would choose when we come out to replace parts in your current AC system.  I’m really picky about what parts I use on your system for repairs.  If a part were to go out for as long as you own the system, and Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning is in business, we’ll replace that part, no questions asked.

The only negatives I hear from prospective buyers are the words “Made in China” on the side of the box.  With that, I don’t have a lot to say other than I really wish it was made in America, but it is what it is, and I still stand behind this product and the quality parts they are using that make this system run so well and so quietly.

The Ameristar Warranty

As far as warranties go, Ameristar has a 5-year base limited warranty and 10-year registered parts warranty assuming you register it within 60 days of installation.  In California, that means 10 years even without registering it.  Fortunately for us, that’s a great perk of living in Cali!  We don’t have to register our HVAC products to receive the extended warranties like this 10-year parts warranty.  The furnace also offers a 20-year warranty on its heat exchanger.  That means as long as you are the original owner of the AC or furnace, you won’t have to pay for parts for the first ten years of the system or 20 years on that heat exchanger.

What About Labor Costs?

You may still have to pay for labor on those warrantied items to your HVAC company.  You’ll have to work that out with your contractor.  I personally feel home warranty companies are not the way to go.  They rarely stand up for what they say they will.  Even if they do, the type of technician really varies when they send out the companies they use.  It’s usually not the company you would have chosen.  And it can take a long time to get some of those contracted HVAC companies to your home.  Buyer beware.

I hope this has helped you with your research on Ameristar products.  Ingersoll Rand is an established company that takes a lot of pride in their products.  Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning is also a company who takes a lot of pride in the products they install in your home.  If I didn’t believe this was a good product that is going to last a long time in your home without giving you problems, I wouldn’t install it for you.

Find the Right Contractor

No matter who installs your Ameristar HVAC system, please make sure they know how to measure and install the correct size system for your particular home.  That doesn’t mean changing it out with the same size your house currently has on it.  Pick the licensed contractor for your California home that will pull a city or county permit and has a good reputation online.  When you do, you’ll have better peace of mind.  Cheap prices don’t usually translate to quality installs.

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

HVAC Zoning: Bypass Dampers & Dump Zones

HVAC Zoning Basics - Bypass Dampers Dump Zones

HVAC Zoning: What to Do with That Extra Air

Last week we did a zoning basics blog post on zoning for residential homes.  This week on the Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning blog I want to touch on a little more technical side of the HVAC zoning setup: bypass dampers and dump zones.

Some HVAC installers say you can’t truly set up a unitary ducted HVAC system like the ones most of us in the United States have set up in our homes.  Remember, zoning is for homes that have two thermostats, one upstairs and one downstairs.  They typically allow one HVAC system to heat or cool one zone or the other, but not the whole house at one time.

If you’re an HVAC technician, let me know in the comments down below how you like to set up bypasses and dump zones to get rid of the extra air zoning creates.  I’m sure it’s a little different all around the world, and we’d love to hear about it!

Bypass Dampers on High-End Equipment

Trane and Carrier have some nice setups when it comes to their variable speed systems and modulating dampers that open and close strategically, allowing you to really dial in the rooms you want to condition and when.  But buying one of those systems is no joke.  Currently, I’d say only about 7% of the market is buying this high-end equipment.  They really are advanced technology compared to the traditional zoning equipment Americans are used to in their homes today.  But I’m sure this technology will be mainstream soon enough!

Traditional zoning uses two thermostats.  These thermostats can be smart Wi-Fi stats or standard digital programmable stats.  And those two stats talk to a main zone board at the furnace or air handler.  That main zone board then tells the air handler when to come on.  It will trigger air conditioning or heating mode as well as which floor to have come on.

Zoned systems are purposely designed to be about half a ton larger than the largest zone in the house.  Last week’s example of a home with two floors, one at 1150 sq. ft. and one at 800 sq. ft., would be sized at 2.5 to 3 tons depending on insulation levels and other load characteristics.  A system that large can produce 1000 to 1200 cfms.

HVAC Zoning: Directing Extra Air

That smaller 800 sq. ft. zone cools the bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs as well as the laundry room.  But 1000 to 1200 cfms is way too big for 800 sq. ft.  So, what do we do with the extra air?  It should be bled off to another area of the house.

There are a few choices as to where to disperse that extra air:

  • We can create a barometric bypass back to the return plenum or return grille.
  • A bypass dump zone can be created in another portion of the house.
  • Or my favorite, bypass the air to the other zone through dampers set up properly for this.

Option #1 – A barometric bypass straight back to the return plenum

In my opinion, this is the worst way to get rid of the extra air because it sends it immediately back to the return through an 8 to 10” duct with a barometric damper that cracks open with the “extra” air pushing against it.  The more “extra air” there is, the more the damper opens allowing air back to the return plenum.

This superheats the return air in heating mode, and supercools the return air in cooling mode.  How does that affect the system?  In the heating mode, if we have 65-degree air initially entering the return side of the furnace or air handler, it goes through the furnace and gets heated up about 40 degrees to a supply air temperature of about 105 degrees, where that air exits the registers in each room.

If one zone is open and the other closed, the extra air gets sent through an 8 to 12” inch duct immediately back to the return plenum and mixes with that 65-degree air, essentially raising the return air temperature to 70 to 75-degrees.  This air then gets heated up to 115 degrees which now heats up the air in the return plenum to 80 to 90 degrees.

High Temps

On and on this goes, until the system has superheated the return air so high the high limit switch turns off the burners because the supply air is too hot.  And that’s hot because those high limits usually shut the burners off at 165 to 200 degrees.  What does that mean the return air rose to?  125 to 160 degrees!  I see it all the time.

The same thing happens to the evaporator coil.  When the cool supply air gets sent back to the return plenum and recycles over and over, that air gets so cool the evaporator coil eventually freezes.  This blocks the airflow, causing even more problems.

Option #2 – A dump zone

In this scenario we send the extra air through a duct about 8 to 12” to a dump zone, or another section of the house.  I’ve worked on crews that chose to dump the air into a living room, and others that dumped it into the foyer with a 25-foot ceiling!  I’ll admit, that was pretty scary installing that one.  Trusting those ceiling joists to hold as was I was cutting into that 20×20 can was a little intimidating.

I wasn’t the lead installer on those jobs.  In fact, I was just a helper at that time.  Those jobs taught us that the air being dumped in that living area was making those rooms uncomfortably warm or cold depending on the season.

Having learned our lesson, we started dumping that air to the end of the return duct to either a “Y” where the duct meets the can, or a collar cut into the return air can itself, at the ceiling.  I like cutting it into the can because the cold or hot air gets to mix a little more with the return air before being drawn through the furnace or evaporator coil again.  This way the superheating or supercooling doesn’t happen as fast or as easily.

Option #3 – Bleed off to the other zone through dampers

The option that we take at Fox Family is to bleed off the air to the other zone through a small gap left as the damper closes.  We don’t let zone 1 or zone 2’s damper close all the way.  And there are settings on the Honewell AR Dampers that meter the correct amount the installer decides.

Let’s returning to the house that has 1150 and 800 sq. ft. zones.  If the smaller zone is calling for cooling, the other 400 cfms is redirected to the bigger zone.  This way it won’t be dumped into one single room.  Instead it will get distributed evenly throughout the larger zone through several registers.

The great thing is, this air won’t over-cool or overheat that unused zone.  This allows the system’s static pressure to be regulated at a level that’s closer to manufacturer specs.  This extends the life of the system.

HVAC Zoning Basics can be Complex

Ductless systems are becoming more and more popular in America.  They’re great for zoning individual rooms one at a time.  For those of us who already have supply registers and ducts leading to every room in the house, zoning is still a complicated issue.  Taking care of the HVAC system is the main priority for an HVAC installer.  There are some folks who will just hack it in, and others who try to do it right.

Weigh In

As always, I would love to hear your strategies and comments about how you incorporate HVAC zoning into a house.  All of us are a little different because we work in different parts of the world.  So let me hear from you below in the comments section.

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

Is a Bigger Air Conditioner Better?

Is Your Sacramento Valley Air Conditioner underperforming?

There are many reasons why your air conditioner may be underperforming.  Your system could be low on refrigerant, your evaporator coil could be clogged, the filter could be dirty, or the air ducts that lead to each room in your house could be damaged or crushed.  These problems can lead you to think your AC is undersized, and you should get a bigger air conditioner.  Today I want to tell you why getting a bigger AC may not be the best idea.

The Owner’s Hunch

Hi, I’m Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating, Air Conditioning, and Solar.  As the Sacramento area grows outward, new neighborhoods have sprouted up very quickly.  After the haste, many folks I’ve talked to have complained that their air conditioner seems to be undersized.  And sometimes they are right!  Sometimes the HVAC contractor that installed that system didn’t consider that the house has 10-foot ceilings instead of the usual 8-foot ceilings.

Doing the Math

That isn’t the only thing we look at either.  In both older and newer homes, the square footage of the house is important.  The type of windows and doors, the orientation of the house, as well as the impact of any trees that might be covering the house are all also important.  And the insulation levels in the house is also important.  All of these factors are used to figure out the proper size for a home’s AC unit.

Summer Heat

If your home’s air conditioner is undersized, you’ll know it because it will just run, and run, and run, even on 85- and 90-degree days.  That’s warm, but nothing compared to the average of 22 days per year of temperatures soaring to 100 degrees or more here in the Sacramento area.  Most air conditioners these days are designed to be efficient to 95 degrees or less.  Anything hotter than that, and EVERYONE’S air conditioner is going to run non-stop.

Going Bigger

This is typical for a lot of the homes around the Sacramento area.  But some people wonder if a bigger sized system is a good idea.  Here are some factors I would consider when considering the move to a bigger system:

Your air ducts are sized for the sized system you have now.  If you get a bigger system you can really affect the static pressure of the system.  Static pressure is like the blood pressure in your body.  If your heart was too big for your body, it could cause complications with your blood pressure, right?  Well it’s the same with the static pressure of your HVAC system.  The bigger air conditioner and its compressor won’t be able to operate under the same comfortable conditions as it would if it was properly sized.  This will lead to early system failures of your new HVAC system.

Comfort

A bigger system is also not going to feel as comfortable for your house.  Humidity isn’t as big a deal out here in California, but in other areas of the country it is.  Either way, the comfortability factor is compromised when you get a bigger system.

Imagine this.  When you turn on the AC in your car on a hot day, the air comes on full blast until you start to feel nice and cold in there.  Now, turn that AC back off, and its starts to feel muggy and strangely warm too quickly.  The car walls, seats, leather and other things in the car haven’t gotten cool yet.  That’s the same thing you’ll experience in a house with too big of a system.

The thermostat might satisfy at the temperature you’re asking for more quickly, but it kicks right back on quickly too.  This can really mess with the humidity levels in your home because the system hasn’t run long enough for it to do its job, which is to cool your house AND dehumidify the house at the same time.  Ideal humidity levels in our homes here are around 45-55%.  Anything more than that and it really starts to feel sticky in there.

Wear and Tear

Another reason to size it right is because now that your larger system is constantly turning on and off all day on these hotter days, the motors will wear out faster.  The most damaging time for a motor, especially your $2000 compressor, is when all that damaging heat and energy slam into that motor to get it running.  Yes, it levels off once its running but the starting and stopping is what really hurts those expensive motors.

The right sized system runs for longer times but cools your house more effectively by getting your walls, your furniture, the carpet and ceilings cool as well as the occupants in the house.  That’s why getting it right is so important.

Get it Right

If you’re an HVAC technician watching this video, don’t just go into the house and say, “Oh yeah you’ve got a 2.5-ton system in your house, so that’s what we’re going to go back with.”  You MIGHT BE going back with that same size system, but at least know for sure that’s what size your customer needs by doing a proper load calculation of the house and its surroundings.  An HVAC system is one of the most expensive things people buy for their homes.  It would be devastating to buy too small of a system or too large of a system.  You want to really get it just right!

Case in Point

I just went to a family’s house in the Natomas area.  Lots of newer homes have been built in this area.  This home had a 3.5-ton system on a house that I measured out at 2300 square feet.  This 3.5-ton system is too small for this house.  This was a house that had two thermostats, also known as a house with two zones, or a zoned house.  It uses one thermostat upstairs and one downstairs.

Zones

Zoned houses are designed to cool one floor at a time rather than the whole house.  Watch my video on “How to Cool a Two-Story House” for a better strategy on cooling this house, linked at the end of this blog post.  Basically though, I just set the schedule on their thermostat (which had never been set up before) to cool the downstairs living area during the day, and the upstairs sleeping areas starting around 7pm.

These folks were told by another company before mine to just set it to their desired temperature, which was 74 degrees, on both floors and press the HOLD button on the thermostat.  That’s why when I went into their home to give them an estimate for a new system, they were really focused on getting a bigger system; because that 3.5-ton system just could not keep up with that big house all day.  The temperature in the home was climbing throughout the hot days.

Each zone was only about 1300 square feet.  But they had 12-foot ceilings, 20-year-old vinyl, south facing windows, a south facing wall that is getting hammered by the sun all day, AND those walls are a part of the main living room downstairs and the master bedroom upstairs.  They can literally feel the heat radiating through their walls into those rooms. And they typically have some activity during the day upstairs, especially around the afternoon hours.

All this was taken into consideration as I advised them that the size of their system could be reduced by a half a ton, but considering everything about the house, the 3.5 ton would be just fine.

In Summary

Getting a larger AC than you need might sound appealing, but it’s torture on your new system.  It probably won’t last as long as it’s supposed to, and you’ll be buying a new system sooner than you should.

I hope this blog post has helped you understand the importance of not getting an oversized air conditioner for your home.  If you have any opinions on this topic, please feel free to comment below.  We really appreciate your input!

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

Starting My Own HVAC Business – Get Your Contractor’s License First

Doing Side Work Without a License

This series is set up to compliment my video series from 2016, “Starting My Own HVAC Company.”  I  thought I’d review some of the things I talked about before and give you my thoughts on them now that I’ve been doing it for a while.

Intro

When I was starting my HVAC business, I didn’t realize how much I would need to know.  I was just another technician who was tired of working for someone who didn’t have the same values and ideas I did.  Some people don’t think the journey should be too hard.  Get a truck, get your tools, get some customers, and go to work.

It was a liberating feeling for me, at first.  I quickly found out if I wanted to grow my business, I would have to learn more about the business side of HVAC.  I knew I was a good technician. But I started developing a great desire for more input, more knowledge of the business side.

Getting off the ground seems like the toughest part of the process, but I can honestly say now, that it’s not.

Reviewing the Series

This series is set up to compliment the 2016 video series, “Starting My Own HVAC Company.”  I  thought I’d review some of the things I talked about before and give you my thoughts on them now that I’ve been doing it for a while.  If you want to see that series before reading this post, you can find it here.

Get a Contractors License

The first thing we should talk about is, if you want to this right, you’re going to have to get your contractors license.

In California, if you want to do any HVAC, plumbing, electrical, handyman, and other types of work for someone and you plan on collecting more than $500, you need to get your contractors license first.  Why?  Let me give you a few reasons.

First, and most obvious, it’s the law, and you can get arrested and fined thousands of dollars for contracting without a license.  If you get caught contracting without a license, it’ll make it that much harder for you to go to the State and apply for one with that strike against you.

Lending Credibility

Second, having a license lends credibility to your name and builds trust.  When your future customers see you’re legitimate on the government website, it shows people you’ve gone through the process like everyone else, and you don’t cut corners. You can control your own business and its reputation when you’re doing things the right way.

Setting a Standard

Third, contracting legitimately keeps the quality of work you do at a certain standard.  For any work that alters the electrical, plumbing, gas lines, or structure of the building, a permit is needed.  To get that permit, a contractor’s license is needed.  And when you’re done with that work, a local city or county building inspector comes in and verifies your work to close out the permit.

You’ve heard me talk (and complain) about the system of inspectors and administrative personnel in the building departments.  Even though I feel the way I do about them, I realize the need for inspectors to confirm the work we’ve done.  It’s a system of checks and balances which provides a separate set of eyes to see the job we did and give the homeowner their seal of approval based on the local building codes.

Protecting Customers

Finally, being a part of a group of people in your field who has gone through the steps of becoming contractors creates a force that inhibits non-licensed people from scamming and taking advantage of homeowners and endangering their property with shoddy workmanship (which still happens anyway.)

Summary

I wanted to review these steps again, not to discourage anyone, but to enlighten those of you who are interested in starting up your own company.  Start by being legit.  I don’t condone the people out there doing side work while still working for someone else.  But that’s another topic.  If your state allows for high dollar HVAC work and there’s no insurance requirement or state bond obligation to protect the homeowner, should you burn their house down with sloppy, unvalidated workmanship, then more power to you.

Take the time to do it right from the start, no matter what state you’re in.

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

Don’t Miss our Video and the Series on This Topic:

  Starting My Own Business - Revisited 5 Years Later - Part 1: Contracting

Why Is my Air Conditioner So Loud?

Making Sense of the Noises Made by Your Air Conditioner

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

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

Intro

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

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

Breaking It Down

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

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

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

A Loud Compressor

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

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

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

An Unforgettable Noise

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

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

Noise from the Fan Motor

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

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

A Buzzing  Contactor

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

What You Can Do

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

Make it Level

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

Check for Debris

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

Tighten a Rattling Fan Shroud

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

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

How to Prevent These Problems

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

About Filters

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

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

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

Keep It Clean

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

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

Summary

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

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

How Long Should My AC Last?

how long should my AC last?

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

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

How Long Should my AC Last?

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

Air Conditioners Then and Now

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

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

Periodic Repair and Maintenance

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

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

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

It’s Your Decision

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

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

Why I would be interested in changing my air conditioner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So How Long Should My AC Last?  The Bottom Line

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

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

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

Low NOx Furnace Requirements

Have you heard about Low NOx furnaces?  Do you even know what NOx is?  Keep reading for some great information about this topic on today’s blog post.

Introduction

As a Trane dealer here in Sacramento, I was anxiously awaiting the release of the new S8X1 furnace line.  The main reason I was looking forward to it was the 34” cabinet was going to be a lot easier to deal with when replacing a furnace in a home’s closet or attic.  But when the rest of the country was getting the new S8 furnaces months before us, Californians had to wait for the release of the Low-NOx models mandated here in California.

We all know what greenhouse gases are and how they negatively affect the world we live in.  It’s bad for our health and limits the quality of life for our generation as well as future generations.  NOx is just another gas that needs to be reduced to help our planet remain stable and healthy for us humans to exist.

About NOx

NOx is an abbreviation for nitrogen oxides.  They’re poisonous and highly reactive gases that are created naturally during lightning strikes and wildfires.  Both events include the combustion of oxygen and nitrogen at very high temps.  So it makes sense that the combustion that takes place in the gas and oil-fired furnaces we work on would also produce these nitrogen oxides.

The two most dangerous nitrogen oxides are nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide.  Nitric oxide (NO) is formed naturally in the body to help relax and dilate blood vessels in the body.  But it’s also a product of high-temperature situations like combustion in a furnace. 

Nitrogen dioxides (NO2) are produced by vehicles and cigarette smoke in their own combustion processes, but also when gas and oil furnaces fire up, too.  NO2 causes inflammation in the airways, coughing, increased asthma attacks, and just a greater risk of negative breathing problems associated with pollution. 

NOx and Greenhouse Gas Production

Although the end-user of the heat being delivered through the ductwork isn’t going to be exposed to the gases that way, the accumulation of it in the immediate area of the combustion chamber and on to the flue pipe adds to the overall production of greenhouse gases generated by humans.

According to the EPA, NOx contributes to respiratory problems, acid rain, smog, elevated algae levels, and global warming.  They also say greenhouse gas emissions that come from homes in California represent about 25% of the state’s total emissions.

NOx emissions from a furnace are primarily influenced by the temperature of the flame right at the burner assembly.  So, what are manufacturers doing to produce low NOx furnaces?  Most efforts to reduce NOx ultimately want to lower the temperature of the flame.  Air/fuel mixtures are dialed in, flue gas circulation is enhanced through advanced inducer motors, and ultra-lean premixed burner technologies are all ways to achieve more control over the flame temperature inside the furnace.

Low NOx Furnace Analysis

Performing a combustion analysis will ensure the correct operation of the low NOx furnace once it’s installed.  Installers just need to make sure the airflow to the system is properly sized so the static pressures going through the system are right.  The installer also needs to make sure the gas valve inlet and outlet pressures are adjusted to the proper settings.  These two items alone will help create the recommended temperature rise across the heat exchanger as well as flue gas temperatures exiting the unit.

As I was researching this technology, I was reminded that carbon monoxide, which is another regulated pollutant, and nitrogen oxides are both majorly influenced by the air/fuel ratio directly at the burners.  As that ratio increases, the temperature of the flame increases, and NOx levels increase, while CO decreases and vice versa.  Having the proper mixture is what Low-NOx is all about.

In most Low-NOx furnaces, the air mixture is sort of delayed to stretch out the chemical reactions happening at the burners.  Low NOx furnaces also compensate for seasonal changes in the ambient air, humidity levels, and minor differences in the gas coming from the utility at any given time.

Furnace Start-Up Conditions

To go a little further with the whole CO and NOx discussion, the typical start-up conditions of a furnace on a cold morning means that the metallic chambers are cold, there’s an excess of air to mix at the burners, the air inside the chambers is colder, the gas temperature is initially lower, and, the flue gases themselves are moving more slowly from the heat exchanger and on to the flue pipe.  All these conditions create higher levels of carbon monoxide at startup, because the system is not burning as hot.  As a result, NOx emissions tend to be lower.

On the opposite side of that, the hotter that furnace gets after being on for several minutes and several times that day contribute to higher levels of NOx and lower levels of carbon monoxide.

When we’re talking about these gases and If I had my choice of which gas to focus on reducing, it would be NOx because of the contribution to acid rain and the breathing problems associated with it.  CO has it’s own detriments as well, and I can’t really tell which gas is more harmful at certain concentrations.

I’m not a scientist and my knowledge really only goes so far about this topic.  But there are plenty of discussions online about NOx and carbon monoxide. 

Low NOx is About the Atmosphere

Remember, Low NOx doesn’t have anything to do with the heat that enters the house through the ducts or the air the homeowner is breathing.  It has more to do with what is leaving the flue pipe and entering our atmosphere.

Nitric oxides and dioxides that are produced by flames are part of the poisonous NOx family.  The more we can reduce them while still heating our homes effectively is really what it’s all about.  And we do this by controlling the temperature of the flame at the burner assembly.

Reaching the 2030 Emissions Goal

Replacing older gas furnaces with Low NOx furnaces will help California reach its 2030 emissions goal.  If you want to go even further than staying with a gas furnace, you could switch over to a zero-emission heating solution by replacing that gas furnace with a heat-pump system.  It eliminates flue gas, flue pipes, NOx, and still heats your home just the way you like it.  

I hope this has helped you understand what the fuss is about what NOx is and why the industry is pushing Low NOx furnaces.  If you have any comments or additional information you can share with us down below, please do.  We’d love to hear what you have to say about Low NOx furnaces and the drive to reduce greenhouse emissions.

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

HVAC Training: 5 Reasons Making Mistakes Creates Better HVAC Technicians

5 ways mistakes make you a better hvac tech

Making mistakes means better technicians

In an industry that that has a recruitment field that is slowly diminishing in size year by year, HVAC technicians entering the field need to know their hopes of being a good technician won’t be demolished if they make a mistake.  Making mistakes creates better technicians in one way or another.  Sometimes it removes them from the position of BEING a “technician” altogether.  One thing’s for sure, everything has a way of working itself out and no one is immune to that fact.

Intro

It’s funny. Today on social media, most people will only post their positive achievements.  God forbid should we post any of our mistakes in front of a world that will likely bash us with replies that drive the point home even further than the mistake itself.  Making mistakes is going to happen.  Generations before us in the HVAC industry as well as others have made many mistakes that got us to where we are now.  Best practices and technology have improved greatly since the first waves of this trial and error began.

In actuality, some people do post their mistakes on social media.  And bless those brave souls who do.  One electrician posted a picture of himself in the hospital wrapped in bandages head to toe after he received second and third-degree burns when he touched the wrong piece of metal inside an electrical panel.  A great learning experience for everyone.

Another posted a picture of himself in the hospital with a disgruntled, almost painfilled face after he touched the wrong part of an electrical component he’s worked on hundreds of times in the past.  This time, touching it in the wrong place, caused his heart to stop, his body to seize, and blackout until his partner on the job site literally had to kick him off the live part.

This leads me to my first reason why making mistakes creates better technicians in one way or another.

#1 – Mistakes help us slow down and pace ourselves as we get the job done.

Those of us who have done an HVAC maintenance on a furnace or air conditioner can probably go through the routine of it with our eyes closed after just one season of doing them.  Although most systems throughout the day are made by different manufacturers, they operate pretty much the same.

I remember a mistake I made on furnace tune-up in my first year on my own.  I was working on a rooftop gas package unit when I was checking the outlet pressure at the gas valve.  When I was done with it, I sort of just moved on to the next item on my list without screwing the pressure port screw back in.  So, when I went to fire up the system and the flames ignited, about three seconds later the flame rolled out towards my face and actually singed my eyebrows a little.  Mmmm, nothing like the smell of burnt hair in the morning.

Obviously, this taught me to be more purposeful when I work on equipment and ultimately made me a better tech for it!

#2 – Mistakes point us to something we didn’t already know.

They teach us little nuances in different equipment.  I see so many technicians just blow through the installation of a new part or full HVAC system and not even read the directions.  Then when the system doesn’t fire up correctly, they don’t know why.

A prime example of this is on the White Rodgers 50 A 55843 control board.  It’s a universal replacement that we like to use for most single-stage gas furnaces in the residential field.  Most of the time, control board change out are like-for-like changeouts.  Plug and play.

Well, when you use this board to replace a Trane XB80 gas furnace control board, there is an adapter you have to use from the box to include a couple of roll-out switches into the Molex connector that plugs into the board.

Almost every time a technician has called to tell me their problem with the start-up after changing the board, I ask if it’s a Trane furnace.  A lot of times they say yes, and I tell them about the paragraph in the installation instructions that speak to this adapter.  And… that technician never calls again about that issue.  In fact, they likely become someone who can be called by junior techs in the field that incur the same problem.

#3 – It humbles us

Making mistakes can bring even the most experienced techs back down to reality very quickly.  It keeps us humble when we make mistakes.  Admitting these mistakes can add some humility back into our lives that will ultimately make us better technicians in the long run.

I’ve heard of some technicians and DIY homeowners who screwed up wiring something as simple as wiring a capacitor wrong.  When they finally realize what they’ve done, whether it’s burning up a compressor, causing the fan spin backward, or something else, they’ll say, “Well, that was a humbling experience.”

Some people just don’t know when to ask for help, or take the time to read the directions.  As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter who’s right, it matters what’s right.

#4 – Mistakes create change

Technicians who have made mistakes in the past and then went on to become great technicians have all asked themselves some internal questions.  “What went wrong?” “What did I learn from this?” and “What could I do better next time?”

Nothing is more humbling than putting your foot through the ceiling while working in the attic.  It’s easy to learn from that mistake.  Watch where you’re stepping, make sure it’s wood that you’re stepping on.  And even then, step squarely onto the wood.

People who have improved their skills by making mistakes reduce the chances they’ll mess up again.  They develop a plan that will help them avoid making similar mistakes.  Ultimately, that might not be the most perfect reaction to your mistake, so be flexible and forgiving to yourself and others who make mistakes on the job.

#5 – Mistakes reveal our true passions.  Is it time to move on?

Not every mistake is going to relate to making us better technicians, but rather better or happier people.  Since I’m in the mood to make myself the example here, I’ll tell you another quick story of a mistake I made, which led to another path.

Before I was an HVAC technician, I was a bartender for 15 years.  I started when I was 20, and by the time I was 35, I had a family, didn’t drink anymore, and didn’t even go out to bars anymore.  But it’s all I knew how to do.  And I was pretty good at it.

One night I asked the wrong person to leave the bar for the night after he called me a not so nice name that involved a couple of cuss words.  My boss had always let us stand up for ourselves and our co-workers who were abused in any way.  Drinkers can get a little feisty sometimes.  Apparently, this person I asked to leave the bar for the night (in a not so nice way) was the wrong person to kick out.

A few days later my boss and I agreed to go our separate ways.  It was likely a culmination of things, like I wasn’t the party guy I used to be, which might have led me to not be as understanding and forgiving toward intoxicated name-callers.  Either way, my final mistake there made me realize that this might not be the job for me anymore.

I started a new job in HVAC and became very passionate about it, which has led me to where I am now.  Funny how life steers you in the direction you didn’t even know you were going.

Closing

So why can’t we be more forgiving of those who make mistakes out in the field?  Maybe it’s because we don’t have the patience for new apprentices trying to learn the trade.  Maybe it’s because that mistake has been made by the same person more than once.  I get it.  I’m not saying extra training, disciplinary action or removal from a certain position doesn’t need to happen.  Because it does sometimes.

But, we should all recognize that mistakes will be made by today’s technicians, which is just another generation to make mistakes as we plow forward in this game called life.  Realizing that mistakes are going to be made, we can relax a bit more.  By doing so, we might make fewer of them.

Each one of us is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting.  As our pool of future technicians grows smaller every year, we as the journeymen need to recognize that we made mistakes as we came up in this field, which has led us to where we are now, as valued members of our teams.

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