Fox Family Installs Ameristar Heating and Cooling Products

Ameristar

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.

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best entry level hvac system

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!

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How Long Should My Central Air Conditioner Last?

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

How long is your central air conditioner designed to last?  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 Air Conditioner 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 filter. 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 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 that 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 hight 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 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 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.

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

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

310.1 Condensate Drains:  Understanding the Codes

Correct Installation of Condensate Drain Lines

Residential HVAC installers have to understand so many facets of the construction industry.   In this blog, we’ll be talking about the importance of installing condensate drain lines correctly so the system doesn’t cause damage to your customer’s home.

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

What the Mechanical Codes Say

Let’s take a look at what the codes say about condensate control and adherence to the code when doing an HVAC change-out.

IMC 307.1 and CMC 310.1 talk about condensate from the cooling coils we’re installing in people’s homes.  They both say pretty much the same thing.  Condensate from air cooling coils and the overflow from evaporative coolers and similar water supplied equipment shall be collected and discharged to an approved plumbing fixture or approved disposal area.

Examples of “approved areas” include a trapped and ventilated receptor to a sanitary sewer, and a downspout that terminates to an approved area.  The most popular areas we terminate condensate drain lines to is the side of the house and usually about six inches from the ground.  And this can be in a planted area that is large enough to accept the amount of drainage, and soak down into the earth.

Public Walkways

Another important topic is covered by the code books and installation manuals for the equipment being installed.  We cannot have condensate runoff drain to public walkways and driveways.  This creates a nuisance area of slippery water that, over time, can even start creating algae which are even more slippery.  That’s pretty much common sense, right?

What about the sidewalk on the side of the customer’s house?

It may not be defined as a “public walkway,” but it would still be a nuisance for the homeowner and family members who must walk through that wet spot every day during normal activities.  We like to create a “French Drain” thereby using a roto-hammer.  We make a three-inch hole in the sidewalk and bore all the way through the 4 to 6 inches of concrete and fill it with pea gravel.  This allows the water to drain to the side of the house, down through the gravel and into the earth down below it and keep the sidewalk dry.

The inspectors say we if we discharge the condensate into the house’s actual drainage system, it must be by means of an indirect waste pipe.   And to clarify that, an indirect waste pipe is something upstream of a trap rather than downstream, and this includes the main venting stack as well.

So, if we are supposed to drain the primary into the drainage system of the house, can we terminate the drain line over a gutter and let the water fall into the gutter, where it will continue to the ground to an approved area?  CMC 310.3 says condensate waste pipes must be made from materials designed to work with that type of condensate drainage.

Why would we be worried about draining our condensate liquid into the rain gutter?  If the drain line includes waste from a condensing furnace, it will create a more acidic waste type that needs to make it to the ground. Thin aluminum rain gutters were not designed to carry this type of corrosive waste to the ground.  They will eventually rust out and create a new problem.

 

The Termination Point

The means by which the condensate waste is delivered to the termination point is as important as where we discharge it.

We have to use certain materials for our piping.  We have to use an approved corrosion resistant pipe like Schedule 40 PVC.  That’s the most popular type of piping HVAC installers use today, but we can also use ABS, cast iron, or hard drawn copper.

And that piping needs to have a certain slope to it.  That’s why we call it a gravity drain because as long as we have the necessary 1/8 inch of downward slope for every 12 inches of carry, gravity will do all the work and pull the condensate waste to the ground all by itself.

Maintaining the Drain Line Slope

A point I want to make to installers:  we can get caught up in this little 6 by 4 area we’re installing in and not be mindful of the complete drain line. One thing you should prove to yourself if you’re the one installing or modifying the current drain line, is to make sure you get a level on it.  If the condensate lines travel off the service platform and disappear in the insulation, that’s fine.  But you still need to confirm to yourself that the ENTIRE drain line has at least, an eighth-inch slope to it.

I’ve seen some pretty big dips in PVC piping which clogs the drain line, creates a backup, and causes water damage in the house.

Maintaining Alignment

You’ve installed the new system and now that you’ve adapted into the existing drain line, you own the whole drain line.  You won’t be able to say, “well, I just joined into it right there and thought the rest would be okay!”

It’s not too much to ask for, and the inspector can cite you on the fact that you may have slope in certain sections of your drainage but if the workmanship of the installed drain line is all cattywampus, the inspector can ask you to re-run it more uniformly.  The idea here is to maintain straight alignment, a uniform slope, and strap or support the drain lines at proper intervals as guided by the installation manual and code books.

The Proper Interval to Support PVC drain lines

We’re required to get a strap on it every four feet.  Whether its to support the drain line with hangars, or to strap it down to the deck, we don’t want the PVC to bow downwards, creating a dip and not allowing gravity to do its thing.  When we are mounting to the deck, I use cut-off PVC piping to create stanchions, and reinforce the downward grade, off the service platform.  This gives your drain pipe a uniform look and makes it easy for the inspector to pass your job.

A little further up the drain, toward the evaporator coil, the question is, do we have to install a p-trap or not?  When it’s required by the manufacturer’s installation instructions, Sacramento area county inspectors look for a trap.  Trane, our manufacturer recommends one, saying “a field fabricated trap is not REQUIRED for proper drainage due to the positive pressure of the furnace; however, it is recommended to prevent efficiency loss of conditioned air.”

Setting up a System for Success

At the very least, a cleanout is required by code.  310.3.1 basically says it’s not reasonable to ask a future technician who has to come out to clear a blockage, to cut the PVC lines in order to do so.  And I see far too many systems without a cleanout on them.  This mandatory cleanout allows technicians to blow-out the lines with compressed air at a later date when mold and gunk build up inside it.  And trust me, it will!  This is just another prime example of how installers can set a system up for success down the road when another technician comes to service it.

Sizing

As far as sizing goes, we use 3/4 inch Schedule 40 PVC drains for all residential HVAC.  Anything over 20 tons uses larger diameter piping.  We only get up to 5 tons in people’s homes.  The code book says the size of the pipe is for one or a combination of units, or as recommended by the manufacturer.  Make sure to check the installation manual if you have two systems.  If you’re planning to tie two evaporator drains into one single drain line, they may want you to increase the size of the final pipe going to the outside.

A Final Word of Wisdom

There’s one final little touch I’d like to pass on to you.  Be mindful of the lettering on the PVC piping.  An old foreman of mine always liked to glue in his PVC with the lettering facing away from the perspective of the person sitting on the platform.  I never stopped doing it that way again because it looks clean.  There’s less busyness going on in the scene.  Little touches like this can make the difference between a clean install and an average install.

Looking Forward

Wow, this blog got a little long!  We’re going to have to tackle secondary condensate drainage on another video.  But I hope this answers some questions you have about the building code, HVAC installations, and condensate drain lines.

Don’t forget to check out our YouTube page.  We have all kinds of great videos about your home’s hvac system.  And check out many related blog posts here.

Don’t forget to get your official Fox Family merch available on Teespring.com.  If you’ve ever wanted Fox Family swag, here’s your chance to grab the same stuff we wear on the job out in the field!

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

310.4 Electrical Connections and AC Disconnects

Installing According to Code is the Sign of a Real Professional

So many times when you’re out in the field you’ll encounter a technician, a supervisor or inspector who will cite building codes as their authority for proper installation of an HVAC system.  Installing a subpanel, wiring up a disconnect, or running PVC pipe in the attic correctly is just one of the many responsibilities of an HVAC technician.

Whether you pull permits or not on your job, a company’s worth is based on the quality of its workmanship.  And if that work fails in a few years, it most likely wasn’t installed according to code.

So often you will notice the code referring us back to the manufacturer and how they want it installed.  Referring to the installation guide and following along with the steps in the book will take any and all guesswork out of what you’re supposed to do next.  This is the sign of a real professional in their trade.
I’m not here to claim I know, or could even possibly interpret all the codes correctly, but what I would like to do is open up some conversation about the building codes and your opinion about what we are talking about this particular day.

Electrical Connections at the Condenser

Today I want to talk about installing a service disconnect at the condenser.  I will look at one of the first points made in the California Mechanical Code and it stands out from the International Mechanical Code which just advises following the NEC when it comes to this.  But as an installer, I’ve wondered whether or not to put a disconnect here.  Let’s take a look at what 310.4 says about Electrical Connections.

First, “equipment regulated by this code requiring electrical connections of more than 50 volts shall have a positive means of disconnect adjacent to and in sight from the equipment served.”  This just means a furnace would need a 120-volt pigtail as its positive means of disconnecting voltage from the furnace.  When you unplug the furnace, no voltage can reach the furnace.  A 30-amp or 60-amp service disconnect is installed on the 240-volt circuit to the AC outside as its positive means of disconnect.

Here’s a question for you.  Let’s say we’re installing the AC unit.  Usually, the disconnect is right next to the condenser so the service tech can access the unit safely.  Must we always have a disconnect next to the AC to remove power from the unit?  The answer is no.  If the main electrical panel is within sight of the condenser, that can serve as the means of positive disconnect for the unit.  The double pole breaker inside the main electrical panel is that means of disconnect.  This has come up a few times for us when teaching new technicians.

Dedicated Outlets

Next, “a 120 Volt receptacle should be located within 25 feet of the equipment for service and maintenance purposes.  The receptacle need not be located on the same level as the equipment.” 

So, because we service our equipment with pumps and motors that require electricity, an outlet needs to be within reach of a 25 ft. extension cord.
As specified later in the codebook, in the case of a package unit installed on a roof, a dedicated outlet at the unit must be installed in certain jurisdictions.  Here in Yolo County, right next to Sacramento County, we must install 120 weatherproof outlets at the package unit on the roof we’re servicing in order to meet that city’s more stringent adaption of the code.  This allows us to use our vacuum pumps and recovery machines up on the roof.

Exposed Thermostat Wiring

The third part of this code requires that “low voltage wiring of 50 volts or less… shall be installed in a manner to prevent physical damage.”   This is kind of a pet peeve of mine.  It bothers me to see thermostat wire running to the AC with its brown sheathing exposed to the sun’s UV rays.  Even the slightest bump of a dried out thermostat wire against the AC is enough to strip the wire and expose it to an electrical short.  One-half-inch conduit should be run with the thermostat wire to protect it from damage.  It really doesn’t take any extra time to install this flexible non-metal conduit right into the condenser.  Some techs just don’t think about it, because they weren’t taught that way.  It’s all good.  Once again, just starting a conversation about this.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts about this section of the code that talks about electrical connections?  Do you always put a disconnect next to the AC even though it’s in sight of the main electrical panel?  Please leave your thoughts below.

Thanks for weighing in, and stay tuned for next week’s blog topic!

Don’t miss our YouTube video on this topic:

How Much Will a New Central Air Conditioning System Cost in 2019?

In the spring of 2019, a lot of people will begin wondering, “how much does a new central air conditioning system cost?”

Every January a nice letter crosses my desk from the manufacturers of all the HVAC systems we use.  They let me know the cost of their equipment will be rising again in 2019.  The cost of systems has been rising by a few hundred dollars every year.  This is a reliable fact and there is no chance of those prices going down for obvious reasons.

When it comes to replacing your air conditioning system, people seem to be driven by one of three things:  low prices, good value, or top-of-the-line gear.  When it comes to the overall price range for a new air conditioning system you should factor in a few things.

It’s a lot like buying a new car.  Some people will get the most basic thing that will get them to work, or they’ll seek out the nicer but middle-of-the-road car they’re proud to own, and it’s very reliable.  Others will look for the latest and newest smart car on the market.  In much the same way, the price for a new central air conditioning system in 2019 will run anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000.  When you bought your new car, you probably got some upgrades.  The seat warmers and self-park feature were a must!  You can get a similar variety of upgrades when choosing your new air conditioning system too, and it doesn’t have to be anything overly lavish, either.

Efficiency Ratings

In 2019, your first consideration when purchasing a new HVAC system should be the efficiency rating.   Finding a company that will give you three or four options, not just one, for your new air conditioner, is important.  You’re limiting yourself if you don’t.

In 2019 you should be seeing options from 14 SEER all the way up to 25 SEER. This SEER rating is like miles per gallon on your car.  That’s a great way to think about it, actually.  The higher the SEER rating, the better and more efficient the equipment will be.  If you chose the 14 SEER or the 25 SEER, you can expect either system to last about 15-25 years.  “Anything after 20 years,” I tell people, “and you’re on borrowed time.”  And that’s fine too because 20 years from now, you’ll probably want that next generation of central air conditioning systems for your home.

A 14 SEER system is going to cost you anywhere between $5,000 and $16,000 in California, depending on where you live and which contractor you choose.  But a lot of that has to do with the type of installation you choose for your new central air conditioning system.  Some people are DIY’ers who thrive on the challenge of replacing their home appliances themselves.  Changing an HVAC system is hard work, but it can be done.

Upgrades

The most popular upgrades after choosing your efficiency are:

  • Dividing your home into two or more “zones”
  • Smart thermostats
  • Wireless thermostats
  • Contactor containment (SureSwitch contactors)
  • Compressor start assist kits
  • Condensate flood switches
  • Air quality products
  • Virtual assistants / smart speakers (Amazon’s Alexa)
  • Insulation blown into attics
  • Whole house fans
  • Surge protectors for furnaces or air conditioners
  • Thicker air filters
  • Ductless mini-splits
  • Compressor sound blankets
  • New higher insulated ductwork

If you ask most people why they get upgrades on their newly purchased vehicle, they’ll say it’s about getting what they want the first time, so they don’t have any regrets down the road.  There’s a lot to be said for that when the time comes to buy a new central air conditioning system.

I suggest finding a contractor that not only offers you the new air conditioning system but many of these upgrades as well.  It’s not uncommon for a company to actually throw in the upgrades in their price.

An upgrade like a compressor start kit will add years of life to your system without you even knowing it.  This device cuts down the start-up time of a compressor, which increases the lifespan of your AC system by years! Wouldn’t you rather just have that on your system from the start rather than having a technician sell you that part later on down the road?  Of course, some upgrades are too costly to be “thrown in for free,” but little things like that add a lot of value to the cost of a new air conditioning system.

DIY

Some people thrive on the chance to replace their own appliances.  There’s nothing wrong with that!  Installing HVAC is not rocket science, but there are some licenses and certifications required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to safely handle the refrigerant that goes into a new HVAC system.  Some people will buy their system online for as low as $2,000 – $12,000.  Apparently, you can now buy systems and have them delivered to your door.  The purchaser installs the system according to the installation manual, and when it comes to the refrigerant lines, they’ll have a technician come in do the rest.   One word of warning:  manufacturers do not like to warranty their products when an unlicensed technician installs them.

Price-Only Shoppers – The Most Basic Systems

Some people who can’t or don’t want to install their own system will reach out to a contractor, or some guy on JohnsList where they’ll pay someone to install the system.  I know of HVAC contractors and other handymen in California who can get a basic 14 SEER system into your house for as low as $7,000, maybe even lower.  Have you ever heard that another company with more employees and a bigger shop will sell a similar system for $16,000?  In 2019 that can happen.

Value-Driven Customers Usually Pick in the Middle

When you have three or four options, the middle options will be where most buyers make their purchase.  They’re looking for something good for their home, but maybe not the absolute best on the market technology-wise.  These “middle options” were the top options years ago.  The technology has been perfected and mainstreamed into quality homes everywhere.  You will find these air conditioning systems in the price range of $10,000 to $20,000, depending on which contractor you choose.

Best of the Best

Elite customers are looking for the latest in technology and will tolerate the bumps in the road that can come with such technology.  They prefer systems that are whisper quiet and run at ultra-low amps, making their electric bills much lower!  The technology in 2019 that continues to make a splash is the inverter technology of compressors offered in new air conditioners.  Someday these will be mainstream, but for now, they come at the premium price of $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the contractor.

Depending on Your Contractor

Will they be there when it counts, down the road?  That’s a big question when it comes to the warranties on your new air conditioning system.  Those warranties won’t matter if they aren’t around to make it right for you.  These companies charge too little to keep a legitimate company going for long.

It’s a game we as contractors are always having to play to earn your business.  If we price too high you won’t take us seriously; if we price too low it only entices the price shoppers.  When you hear me say a 16 SEER system could be between $10,000 and $20,000, it’s best to find a contractor whose price lands in the middle of those two.  Your best value will land in this range.  That’s why it’s important to get different quotes when you get your new air conditioning system.  You’ll learn that the price for the same 16 SEER system will be somewhere between that 10 and 20-thousand-dollar mark.

Good luck with your upcoming purchase decision.  There are some really great products you can add to your system to enhance its value for many years.  Choose your contractor wisely; someone who is going to be there down the road; someone who has good reviews online.  It really is all about customer service.  HVAC companies should be trying to take care of you not only for the day of the install but after the install.  Maintenance and preventive cleanings are very important.

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