What’s the Required Service Area for HVAC Installations?

service-area-fox-family-hvac

Installing Equipment Safely and to Code for our Sacramento Customers

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Making Space

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

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

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

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

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

IMC 306.1 says the same thing

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

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

Referring to the Mechanical Code

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

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

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

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

Avoiding Obstructions and Providing Space

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

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

Consider the Next Installer

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

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

Correct Equipment Installation

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

11 Ways to Avoid Hot and Cold Spots in Your Home

Avoid Hot & Cold Spots

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:

Turning on the Furnace for the First Time Each Year

Turning on the Furnace for the First Time Each Year

What is that burning smell when turning on the furnace for the first time each year?

As the winter season approaches, a lot of you will turn on the furnace for the first time this year.  That can be a very intimidating situation for some people.  You may have just moved into your first apartment.  Or perhaps you’ve just moved into your new home this past summer.  The AC worked fine, but now it’s time to see how the furnace is going to work this winter.

Whether you walk over to the thermostat or turn it on manually, what’s that burning smell the first time you’re turning on the furnace for the year?  In this week’s blog, let’s break down the gas furnace, and some of the sounds and smells you get when it comes on for the first time each year.

About Turning on the Furnace

You should understand the nature of the furnace is to provide warm air for your home.  And it does that with a gas flame.  But that gas flame isn’t just flying around uncontrolled the way it does in a fireplace for example.  A very structured flame is sent into the furnace.  If the flame were to roll out or overheat the furnace, a series of safety switches will engage, turning off the furnace.

Whether you walk over to the thermostat or turn it on with your smartphone, the sounds and smells that you experience can be confusing.  That’s not how the air conditioner sounded when it came on, and that’s definitely not how the air conditioner smelled when it was working.

When the furnace gets turned on, the thermostat on the wall tells the furnace which is in your attic, your garage, or your closet in the hallway to initiate a sequence of events that will ultimately shoot a gas flame into the firebox, or heat exchanger.

Turning on the Furnace:  the Basic Parts

There are a few parts that come on before that flame starts to heat the home.  The thermostat tells the control board inside the furnace to come on.  The control board is the brains of the system that will control the following events.

The first motor to come on will be the inducer motor.

Not a large motor by any means, but it’s the one that gets rid of the fumes spent by the flame that warms your home.  The control board and a pressure switch acknowledge that the inducer has come on and is working properly.

The ignitor will come on next.

Usually, it’s a hot surface ignitor made of silicon carbide that glows red hot.  About 2500 degrees.  The timer on the control board then allows the gas valve to open up and pour a controlled amount of gas over the red-hot surface ignitor.

Creating the Flame

This creates the flame we were talking about earlier, that shoots into the metal firebox, which is better known as a heat exchanger to us technicians. A small flame sensor then verifies the flame is on and sends a signal to the board that everything is burning properly, and the system is safe to continue heating the home.

Blower Fan Comes On

If the flame sensor says everything is okay, the control board then tells the blower fan to come on.  The sequence is complete.  Warm air will then start flowing into the rooms until it gets to the desired temperature.

That whole sequence of events that happens takes about 1 minute from the time thermostat tells the furnace to start, to the time the blower turns on and gives you heat through your registers.

When the thermostat senses the room’s warm enough, it tells the control board to end the call for heating, which then cuts the flame.  Meanwhile, the blower stays on just long enough to cool the furnace down quite a bit, about 60 to 90 seconds.  This helps extend the life of the system.

So how does the heat exchanger work?  Well, it “exchanges heat” by keeping the flame and its fumes inside the metal box while a fan blows air over the outside of the metal.  The heat that comes off that metal and the air from the blower is then carried into your rooms where you feel the warm air.

What’s That Burning Smell?

Folks call in every fall when they’re turning on their furnace for the first time and say the system IS working but there’s a strange smell coming through their vents. Almost like a burning smell.  When we get out to their home and verify all the motors are working properly, we let them know something most people don’t know until it’s happened to them.

So what’s that smell the first time you turn on your furnace each season?  It’s just a fine layer of dust that’s settled onto the heat exchanger.  The dust from your house has made its way past the air filter and blower assembly to the metallic heat exchanger.  As the metal heats up, the dust burns off and creates that burnt smell.  It can happen the first few times you turn the system on, but after that, you shouldn’t get that burning smell any more.

If the smell bothers you, you can just open the doors or windows to your house and let it vent out that way for about fifteen minutes.  But rest assured it’s not carbon monoxide.  That odorless gas can only be picked up by a carbon monoxide detector.

Safety First

If you do turn your furnace on for the first time or ANY time this year and your home’s carbon monoxide detector does go off, don’t just remove the batteries.  Don’t treat it like it’s some nuisance alarm, either.  Go ahead and step outside of the home and call the Fire Department.  Let them come out to make sure everything is okay before going back inside.  It might cause a big show for everyone in the neighborhood, but who cares?  It’s your family’s life on the line.

If you don’t currently have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor and the main hallways of your house, now would be a good time to pick those up from your local hardware store.

About Detectors

Speaking of detectors in your homes – if you haven’t done so already this year, it’s time to change out the batteries in those detectors around your home.  Your local fire department usually will come out for free and help you replace those batteries if you have trouble reaching those detectors on your own.  If they won’t and you’re in our area, just provide the batteries and we’d be happy to come out and change them for you.  Otherwise, any handyman in your area would be up to the task.

As a reminder, the single-most-important-thing you can do to keep your furnace clean is to change those air filters.  If the system can’t breathe in because of a dirty air filter, then it won’t be able to breathe out for you at the supply registers in your rooms either.  Again, if you can’t do it because you’re elderly or physically unable to reach the filter, give us a call!

Remove Flammables Before Turning on the Furnace

Another bit of advice we’d like you to consider is to make sure there are no flammables around the furnace.  Remember, we said that the furnace is either in the attic, the closet, or the garage. These are common places to store items that tend to be forgotten over time.

A metal flue pipe that gets very hot when the furnace is turned on can be dangerous if left unattended.  Broomsticks, cardboard, newspapers, clothing, and other materials can scorch over time if they’re resting on the flue pipe.  Setting away from the furnace any flammable varnishes, lacquers, oils, and gasoline will help keep your home safe.

Don’t Wait to Turn on the Furnace

Although you might be nervous to turn your furnace on that first time every year, do it.  Turn it on when it’s still mild outside.  Maybe don’t wait for the first winter snap to hit before finding out your furnace doesn’t work.  If you do wait, you might find yourself at the end of a long line.  Other homeowners and property management companies may be requesting service at the same time you are.

Taking Care the Easy Way

If you don’t already have someone coming out to your house each year just to make sure everything is running safely for you and your family, we’d love to be the company that gets to do it for you.  Fox Family offers an easy way to automate this. You won’t even have to remember to call us. We take care of it all.

Your furnace runs better when it’s been cleaned and maintained, much like your car. Every Fall or Winter is a good time to get the required maintenance done on your heating system. Don’t have a desire to be on an automatic program? Call for a furnace tune-up. A typical cleaning lasts 45 minutes to an hour and a half. It’s usually about a 30 point checklist, but I’ll go into that on another post.

Turning on the Furnace: a Recap

The nature of a gas furnace is to use a controlled flame to warm your house.  It’s done in a VERY controlled way by a series of safety switches.  Any unexpected events within the furnace components tell the control board to shut down the unit.

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

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Low NOx Furnace Requirements

Low NOx Furnaces

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!

 

Heat Pump Water Heater Rebate Reduction from SMUD Puts Pressure on Customers

SMUD’s rebate structure is one of the most generous ones around, especially compared to those available from PG&E.  But those rewards for going green won’t be around forever. 

SMUD’s Rebate Program Manager, Michael Corbett, in coordination with Efficiency First California, has developed a fantastic way to take care of emergency appliance replacements individually while still qualifying for the rebates.  The replacements include water heaters, HVAC systems, ductwork, insulation, and making your home “electric ready.”  In the past, the $13,000 total in rebates required replacement of all these items at once.  You’re now able to take care of these one at a time.

Rebates Won’t Be Around Forever

As the timeline shortens for mandatory building code changes in new homes, utility companies won’t have to provide these great rebates.  The heat pump water heater rebate reduction is an example of that.  SMUD encourages participating contractors like Fox Family Heating and Air to let folks know these rebates won’t be around forever.  They should take advantage of them before funds run out.

Everyone involved in SMUD’s new rebate structure has seen success.  In fact, in just two years, the volume of heat pump water heater installations through SMUD’s program has increased by 1,000%.  It’s been so successful, the funds to support these incentives are running out! 

SMUD Rebate Reductions

Starting April 1, 2020, the rebate for changing your gas water heater to a heat pump all-electric water heater drops by $500.  The $3,000 rebate will now be $2,500.  The $1,000 rebate for upgrading your electric water heater to a heat pump style water heater will now be $500.

Applications must be submitted and approved by March 31st, 2020 to receive the previous $3,000 or $1,000 SMUD rebate.  The utility company processes rebates on a first-come, first-served basis. Your project must meet the efficiency standards of the program as well as other terms and conditions. These include using a participating SMUD contractor and pulling a permit with the city or county.

For questions regarding the program, please email [email protected] or call 916-209-5117. For questions about your project or to schedule an installation, contact Fox Family — we’re ready to help!

There are Still Air Conditioner Rebates for 2020? It’s True!

HVAC Rebates

SMUD HVAC Rebates for Sacramento

Did you know that our local utility company still offers some HVAC rebates for air conditioners installed in 2020? It’s true!  If you live in Sacramento County in California, you are connected to SMUD’s electrical grid.  SMUD is offering some valuable rebates, and you can get yours when you upgrade your old HVAC system to a new one in 2020.

Because of COVID-19, SMUD’s well known dual fuel HVAC upgrade and their air conditioner with gas furnace upgrade have both been discontinued for 2020.  But you can still get a $2,500 rebate when you upgrade your current gas/electric.  And an electric to electric upgrade will get you a rebate of $750.

Update!!  Update!!

Starting August 11, 2020, the $2,500 rebate will rise slightly to $3,000. I’m truly shocked to hear this.  If anything, I would have thought the rebate would go lower as the year went along.  The heat pump to heat pump upgrade remains at $750.

Proof Variable Speed Electric is Better

Mitsubishi Air HandlerThe Mitsubishi variable speed systems save real money!  We recently replaced a Folsom customer’s gas furnace and evaporator coil with an SVZ-KP36 electric air handler.

He received a $4000 HVAC rebate from SMUD for the upgrade. That rebate is now “only” $2,500 since COVID has drained money from the pool of funds SMUD had for these rebates.  But still, $2500 is amazing!

We installed the system in February 2020.  I called him at the end of July to give a reference for us to a customer who was wanting to talk to someone who has made the switch from gas/electric to an all-electric variable speed system.  It didn’t surprise me when he said he had already saved about $150 in electric bills this summer.  And as I write this, we’re not even to August or September yet.  Truly amazing!

Because these systems run at such low speed and amperage, this translates to better comfort levels at lower prices! What’s even better is these Mitsubishi systems are about the same prices as a mid-tier “typical” HVAC system, so you’re not paying an arm and a leg for this uber-premium system. 

Can I Just Change the AC Condenser?

The HVAC rebates are available on 15 through 20 SEER AC systems and above in 2020.  A question I get a lot is, “can I just change the AC condenser outside?” The answer to that question is, unfortunately, not.  We have to install the complete matching system, which includes a furnace, evaporator coil, and condenser.

The furnace will come with a blower motor with enough technology to reach 16 SEER efficiency.  A constant torque motor is needed to achieve this rating for you successfully.  Fortunately, almost every new system manufactured in 2020 will come with this motor already in it.

Shoot for High-Efficiency

Earlier systems could be manufactured with the classic PSC motor with a capacitor, and those are in a lot of homes around the greater Sacramento area.  But they don’t achieve the ratings AHRI expects for high-efficiency, so they’re being phased out as more efficient systems are developed.

The evaporator coil near the furnace also needs to be replaced, as the new systems have more coils and more surface area to remove heat and humidity from your home.  An older evaporator coil is typically too small to achieve those higher efficiency ratings.

Fox Family Will Process Your Instant SMUD Rebate

This year when you’re buying your new HVAC system, I want you to think about using this rebate offered by the local utility company.  Take advantage of the instant rebate you’ll receive from SMUD.  Fox Family takes care of getting that for you when we change out your system.  We simply get your account number from you and submit your application.  A few weeks later, you’ll get your check in the mail for immediate use.

16 SEER systems will cost more than 14 SEER systems, but you’ll get better cooling for less money spent to get that nice cool air on those 100-degree days.  Taking cash off the price of your new HVAC system puts money back into your pocket!

Call Fox Family with Your Questions

If you have any questions about the HVAC rebates this year offered by SMUD, our local utility provider for electricity, let me know in the comments down below, or you can call or text us anytime at Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning.  We service the entire Greater Sacramento area.  Book online and we’ll come out and give you an honest opinion of how your system is running, and let’s see if you could really save some money by purchasing your new high-SEER air conditioner.

These HVAC rebates are real, and they belong in your pocket in 2020.  I hope this answers your questions about the rebates offered by SMUD when you buy a new air conditioning system in Sacramento County.  Please let me know your thoughts on this down below in the comments.  Thank you so much, and we’ll see you back here on the blog next week!

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HVAC Equipment Shortages Due To COVID-19 Pandemic Create Chaos

HVAC equipment shortage

There’s a significant shortage of HVAC equipment needed to replace our customers’ current systems.  In some areas, if you were to sell a new system to a family, there’s a chance that order with your distributor can’t be completely fulfilled.  And I’m going to talk about why.

Nobody thought in March or April of 2020 when we were all sitting at home following Stay At Home orders that our industry, primarily residential HVAC, would see a 30% to 60% uptick in business through the summer months of 2020.

May, June and July were months that our company, as well as almost every other contractor I’ve talked to, saw record sales, especially in the equipment replacement area.  I’ve talked to some contractors in other parts of the country that haven’t seen this increase in sales, but it’s been few and far between.

To get some answers as to why this shortage has occurred, I asked a couple of industry professionals in my area to give me their thoughts.  I wanted to know what other contractors are doing about it, and when we can expect our warehouses to get back to normal levels of equipment inventory.

Why has the HVAC Equipment Shortage Occurred?

COVID-19 affected all manufacturers in one way or another.  Some manufacturers were hit earlier than others due to outbreaks in their facilities, forcing them to abide by CDC regulations and shut down for two weeks at a time.  It slowed down production to a near halt.

One industry professional told me, “Everyone felt the effects when the raw materials used to build our equipment became unavailable.  Theses included things like control boards from India, motors, and controls from China, raw steel, raw aluminum, and copper from various parts of the world.”

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

What Are Contractors Doing Since Their Equipment Isn’t Available?

HVAC contractors, large and small, whose usual brand of equipment ran out, were forced to go to other stores and find anything they could get their hands on.  That created an even higher demand for equipment from our local suppliers.  So, while the sales were good for them, almost every supplier felt the squeeze, eventually getting to the point where they were out of product, which usually lasts a lot longer.

Another industry professional told me, “At first it seemed like a lot of contractors became extremely frustrated with the lack of inventory, especially since a lot of the jobs were already sold and they needed the equipment quickly.  But as time went on and EVERY supply house was having the same issue, it became apparent to us contractors that it wasn’t because these supply houses weren’t watching their inventory close enough, and restocking accordingly.  It was a bigger problem all around.”

When Will Things Get Back to Normal?

Equipment manufacturers are not and can not give us ETAs as to when equipment will be back to normal levels.  The demand for products and services in this area has outpaced the manufacturer’s ability to build, produce, and ship out inventory.

Some manufacturers are saying October, but that would be if no new setbacks occur from closures caused by another increase in COVID cases.  And in a time where new issues seem to arise from this pandemic every week, and with no dependable vaccine ready to go by the end of 2020, it’s tough to tell when the HVAC equipment shortage will end.

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

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.

Don’t Miss Our Video on This Topic:

How Do the PG&E Shutdowns Affect My HVAC System?

power shutdowns

PG&E Shutdowns and Rolling Blackouts in Northern California

Once again, PG&E shutdowns are happening for over 150,000 customers in locations caught in the middle of local wildfires.  Rolling blackouts will also occur this week for customers in other parts of northern California who aren’t necessarily impacted by local fires, but have to succumb to the needs of their electric company who needs to relieve the stress on the delivery of electricity on the hottest days of the year.

So many people are using their AC’s on hot days.  This can create a high demand for the power company to deliver.  The heat can be life-threatening for people who depend on electricity to cool their homes.  Some people are sensitive to temperature swings.  Infants and older adults are groups most impacted by power grid shutdowns.

PG&E Shutdowns and Your Air Conditioner

Beyond shutting down your electricity, these PG&E shutdowns can actually damage your AC.  Your compressor that sits at the bottom of your outdoor unit is one of the hardest motors in your house to start up.  Once that motor is started, it’s imperative to have regulated voltage applied to it to run effectively.

Power shutdowns and sudden re-energizing of your home’s power supply can send jolts through the power delivery system.  When jolts hit your air conditioner’s power supply, it feeds into the parts themselves, especially if they’re running at the time.  The same thing happens when the system calls for cooling when the power is turned back on by the power company in your area.  The inrush of power hitting your house, albeit ever so slight, is enough to take out the most expensive parts of your AC system.  Here is one of my most popular videos on diagnosing a bad compressor.

Rolling Blackouts Can Damage Your Control Board

Another expensive part that can really get fried is control boards.  These are the brains of the system.  Control boards tell which parts of the indoor and outdoor units to run and at what time.  High voltage and low voltage parts of these control boards can receive massive pulses of power, ruining the smallest parts of control boards.  Here is a video where I explain some more about how control boards get damaged.

It’s really unfortunate when PG&E power shutdowns randomly impact your home.  Damage is often done when systems are running at the time of the shutdown and upon re-energizing the grid.  There are times when power companies are forced into some tough situations.  Randomly selecting which area of the state gets shut down is one of them.

Lawsuits for causing wildfires and power grid relief are the main reasons PG&E has to monitor usage during certain times of the year.  And right now is one of those times of year.  Power shutdowns can damage your AC equipment at your home unintentionally.  It’s very similar to situations when someone takes out a power line in your neighborhood, sending a jolt to the heart and brain of the system.

Equipment Protection During PG&E Shutdowns 

Homes can be equipped with surge protectors.  This would be one way of suppressing voltage spikes entering your home’s power supply, related to shutdowns and start-ups.  We hope this never happens to you but if it does, visit our website to schedule an appointment for us to come out and diagnose the damage to your system.

To learn more about how long your HVAC system should last, check out our blog post on this topic.

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

Don’t miss our videos related to this topic:

 

 

https://youtu.be/utE1XLDxCHk
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The Easy Guide to Diagnosing a Bad Furnace Inducer Motor

Inducer Motor Troubleshooting tips

Today I want to expand on our recent gas furnace troubleshooting series. “The Easy Guide to Diagnosing a Bad Furnace Inducer Motor” will fill you in on what the inducer motor does, why it’s important, the most common of ways I’ve found inducer motors fail, and how to let the customer know what you’ve found. That’s coming up here on Fox Family Heating & Air.

First, I want to give fair warning to anyone watching this that is not already an experienced technician in the HVAC industry.  This video is for educational purposes only.  Fox Family Heating and Air does not recommend anyone other than a professional to start opening the furnace up and trying to diagnose the failure going on with your system. 

There are high and low voltages that can shock a person.  There are also lots of moving parts that can damage body parts—namely, hands and fingers.  The furnace also produces hot surfaces within the furnace compartments and around the housing, which can cause severe burns.  An actual flame produced by the ignition and startup of a gas furnace can cause severe burns and damage to a person or property.

First, as a technician, you must know the sequence of events that occurs for a gas furnace to start up properly. It’s straightforward, and you should have this memorized before you can even consider being qualified to troubleshoot.

  1. Power to the furnace control board
  2. Thermostat signals the call for heat
  3. Inducer motor kicks on
  4. Pressure switch proves the inducer operates correctly
  5. Ignitor activates
  6. Gas valve energizes
  7. Flame pours across burners
  8. Flame sensor proves all burners are lit
  9. Blower forces air through the ducts

When a furnace begins a new cycle, the inducer motor is the first thing you should see kick on.  120 volts are applied through the wires coming from the control board.  This starts the furnace inducer motor for up to 60 seconds before anything else even happens. It’s a safety feature that creates a negative pressure or draft that purges the heat exchanger of any poisonous gasses, namely the combustion’s biproducts.  It makes the air inside the heat hollow tubes of the heat exchanger cleaner when the flame kicks on. With cleaner air inside the heat exchanger at the time of combustion, the furnace’s efficiency increases.

Without going into it too much, a safety device called a pressure switch activates when the diaphragm inside of it recognizes the suction or purging action of the furnace inducer motor. There’s another video called The Easy Guide to Diagnosing a Bad Pressure Switch, and I’ll make sure it’s attached to the end screen so you can check that out.  But first, you want to know more about the inducer more and how to troubleshoot it.

If the inducer motor doesn’t turn on when it’s supposed to, the furnace will recognize this and shut down.  It will wait a bit and try again.  If the motor doesn’t start after 3 to 5 tries, the control board will stop sending voltage to the inducer motor, and essentially locking it out from attempting it anymore.

Why Furnace Inducer Motors Fail

If the correct voltage is applied to the inducer motor and it’s not turning on, something’s not right. Let’s dig into why:

Unplug the furnace, which removes power to the system.

Is the base of the motor warm or hot to the touch?  This means it’s been trying to spin, but something is holding it up.  Is the flywheel on the motor or the actual squirrel cage unable to spin when you manually try to turn it? This can be a reliable indicator that the motor is bad and needs to be replaced.

Why is this happening?

One reason the motor’s shaft locks up is that the motor’s bearings may be seized, preventing it from turning.  Another reason has to do with the windings inside the motor.  One of them could be open—usually, the start winding in this case.  And finally, some motors have a capacitor that starts the motor and regulates the voltage while it’s running.  If it is a bad capacitor, a new one should get it going again.

One of the first indicators that a furnace inducer motor is on borrowed time is if it’s making odd noises.  Sometimes it’s a rattling noise, a clanking noise, chattering, pinging, shaking, a wobbling noise – you name it!  If it comes on and runs any other way than what you interpret as normal, based on your training and experience with properly operating furnaces, you can see if it’s something you can physically adjust.  If not, the inducer motor should be considered bad.  Why?  Because it’s not running to manufacturers specs.

Think Like the Furnace Builder

Think about it like this. Would the furnace’s builder, who takes a ton of pride in their system’s operation, send this out into the field to be installed, knowing the inducer motor is making a god-awful noise?  The answer is a resounding no!  And you should know that and be comfortable telling the customer this. 

Because many inducer motors are nearly impossible to rebuild, an entirely new unit must be purchased in most cases when one wears out. One of the exceptions to this is the occasional Carrier or Bryant units.

Ordering the Furnace Inducer Motor

So at this point, this is what I need my technicians to do. Inducer motors are ordered through the manufacturer. And since we have flat-rate pricing, which includes the cost of parts, labor, and warranty, if the motor is less than $100, it is a level 7.  Above $100 is a level 8. $200 and above, they need to call a supervisor for pricing.

Be Prepared with Information

You want to know the pricing and availability before you talk to the customer because you want to minimize the number of times you need to bring the customer information.  Coming to them and telling them the inducer motor is bad just to hear them say, “Okay, how much is it?” then means you must find out, come back, and tell them it’s the such-and-such price.  You get their approval on the price, but they want to know when the repair will occur. You’ll need to call back to your parts warehouse to ask when the part will be available.  You then must go back to tell them the part will be in around 5 to 7 business days from the factory. 

All of this back and forth can be avoided if you have all the necessary information upfront before even telling them about the diagnosis.  Even if they don’t go with your repair, you have the information and can log it in your file for the customer if they call back, approving the repair a month from now.

Communicating with the Customer

Once we determine pricing and availability, it’s time to talk to the customer about our diagnosis.  We explain what we found, let the customer know the price, and let them know when we can come back to repair the system.

Just a word to the wise:  good communication between you and the customer would mean telling them they need to change this part on the furnace before seeing if anything else is wrong with the system.  Sometimes you’ll get a customer that asks, “So this will fix my system and get it going again, right?” Well, you don’t really know because you haven’t seen what the rest of the startup sequence and the cycling off of the system is doing, have you?  

It’s very likely the rest of the system will work since multiple failures are pretty rare, but you’re going to feel like a jerk if you forget to tell them you have to see how the rest of the system operates after you replace the inducer motor.  Coming back to them after you’ve replaced the motor only to say, “Oh yeah, now your gas valve isn’t working, that’ll be another $600.” So just remember, without a properly functioning inducer motor, there’s no way to tell if the rest of the system is working to manufacturer specs. 

If it is a part that’s available for pickup, call the office to determine a date to pick it up and return and complete the replacement.  If it is a part that needs to be shipped, we want to let the customer know that the part should be arriving at said date and that we’ll call to schedule the appointment when the part arrives.  You’d also want to communicate to the customer and the office how long the repair will take. 

During the inducer motor installation, we need to either replace the gasket (usually comes with the new motor) or make a gasket with high temp silicone. Once installed, a good technician will test the system for proper operation to ensure there are no other issues with the furnace.

Diagnosing a Furnace Inducer Motor: A Recap

So, just to recap, inducer motors pull the flame through the heat exchanger and vent the exhaust through the roof. To determine an inducer motor’s failure, we need to verify the proper voltage is being sent to it. If the motor has proper voltage, the capacitor tests good and is not turning on, the motor is bad.  If it’s making a lot of noise, the homeowner should know the part is working but is on borrowed time.

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

Don’t miss our video series on this topic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3iREVnmSII&t=1s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVEEeO7hYvk&t=6s

 

Trane CleanEffects™ is By Far the Best Air Cleaner for Your Home

Trane CleanEffects™ is By Far the Best Air

If you’re looking for an indoor air quality product that’s super effective, efficient, and quiet, look no further than Trane CleanEffects™.

What’s the best air cleaner for my home?

Trane CleanEffects™ is by far the best air filter for your home. It’s an ingenious product that’s effective, efficient to operate all with a non-existent noise level.

The best air cleaner for your home provides not only air filtration but kills off dust, particulates, allergens, smoke, and viruses that are small enough to get through standard 1-inch and even 4-inch media filters that come with your heating and cooling system.  These items that contaminate the inside of your home can really affect your comfort levels.  New homes have even more potential to create these nuisances because they are sealed up much more than drafty homes of the past.

Trane CleanEffects™ and MERV Ratings

You may have heard about MERV ratings on filters you’ve bought in the past.  MERV is defined as how many particles of varying sizes can get onto your filter before failing to meet minimum air filtration standards.  So, what MERV rating does Trane CleanEffects™ have?  MERV evaluates only one aspect of air cleaning.  Particle capture.  Trane takes it to the next level with an Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) certification.  CleanEffects™ air cleaners are also recognized by Allergy Standards Limited (ASL) as the benchmark for air purification in your home.  These standards measure air purification based on medical and scientific research in health issues and indoor air quality.

How Trane CleanEffects™ Works

How does Trane CleanEffects™ work?  As air from your house enters your furnace or air handler, it is shot through your duct system and into each room through your vents on the ceiling or floor.  But before that air is distributed, it passes through the CleanEffects™. 

First, a pre-filter captures large particles, keeping the electrostatic field charger and collection cells cleaner, longer.  After the pre-filter, the electrostatic field charger creates positive and negative charges.  These help the particles adhere to the collection cells of the final filter.  This process is patented and effectively removes 99.98% of particles from your home. The final phase of the indoor air cleaner is the reusable collection cells. The incoming particles from the field charger are captured by precisely engineered cells.  This last filter can be cleaned with your vacuum cleaner once or twice a year to make them like new.

Clean Air Delivery Rate

The AAFA recognizes clean air delivery rate (CDR) as an accurate representation of an air cleaner’s performance because it measures how well the air is cleaned for the end-user.

Clean air delivery rate, which is the filter’s efficiency multiplied by the airflow rate, is recognized by the Federal Trade Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency as a fair and objective way to measure different types of air cleaners purchased by homeowners.  The number tells us the cubic feet per minute of clean air delivered for a typical 1500 square foot home.

Have you seen those little single room air cleaner stands? They have a clean air delivery rate of 10. The standard 1-inch filter for your HVAC system is 12.  Room HEPA filters have a delivery rate of 150.  A 4- or 5-inch pleated media filter delivers at a rate of 240 cubic feet per minute (cfm).  And while other whole-house electronic air cleaners have a rating of 660, Trane CleanEffects™ delivers an outstanding 1200 cfm.

How Effective is Trane CleanEffects™?

Trane’s CleanEffects™ removes up to 99.98% of allergens from your home by trapping particles as small as .1 micron in size. That’s 100 times more effective than a standard 1-inch filter.  This means Trane CleanEffects™ can reduce how often you’ll need to dust your home in half.  And it’s all been proven by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health.

A human hair is roughly 50—70 microns wide.  Pollen and ragweed that cause allergies and breathing problems are around 17 to 50 microns.  Most viruses like COVID-19 and flu are commonly around .3 microns.  Trane CleanEffects™ captures particles as small as .1 micron and does it without restricting the air to your HVAC system.  This makes it extremely effective at removing spores, pollen, dander, skin flakes, smoke, dirt, dust, bacteria, mold, spores, and even viruses from your home.  It prevents them from entering your lungs and bloodstream through your nose, which makes it harder to breathe or cause you to get sick.

The ifD Corona Field

There’s also a powerful, patented ifD electrostatic corona field these particles enter after the pre-filter. It ruptures the fine layer of protein that encapsulates single-cell RNA and DNA, sterilizing them.  That electronic field causes particles to adhere to the CleanEffects™ air cleaner’s collection cells without clogging the filter.

Trane CleanEffects™ filters are 100% quiet too.  Many electronic air cleaners make an unpleasant buzzing noise, like a bug zapper.  Your new CleanEffect’s patented technology makes it as quiet as it is effective.

Does CleanEffects™ Emit Ozone?

Ozone is a naturally occurring element in our atmosphere.  When you’re just walking around town, background ozone levels are about two parts per million (PPM).  CleanEffects™, when operating at full capacity, was shown to add only three PPM to the air. The emission standards set by the FDA for all appliances is 50 PPM.  Trane’s output of ozone is way below the standard appliance, like toasters and space heaters.

Some people are very sensitive to ozone.  Trane has designed their air cleaner to emit levels of ozone well below standards that are set even for medical devices.  The power level of Trane CleanEffects™ can also be adjusted to further decrease ozone levels if needed.

Conclusion

Trane CleanEffects™ is by far the best air filter for your home.  The best air cleaner for your home provides not only air filtration, but kills off dust, particulates, allergens, smoke, and viruses.  If you’re looking for an indoor air quality product that super effective, efficient, and quiet, look no further than Trane CleanEffects™.

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