310.1 Condensate Drains:  Understanding the Codes

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 Does New Air Conditioning Cost in 2020?

new air conditioning cost in 2020

This spring, a lot of people began 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 2020.  The cost of new air conditioning systems has been increasing 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.  Let’s review some of the factors affecting new air conditioning costs in 2020.

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.

AC Upgrades

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 2020 will run anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 depending on which contractor you use.  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 2020, 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 2020 you should see options from 14 SEER up to 25 SEER. This SEER rating is like miles per gallon in your car.  That’s a great way to think about it.  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 will cost you anywhere between $7,000 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 want 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 throw in the upgrades in the 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 HVAC Installation

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) 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.  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 to do the rest.  One word of warning:  manufacturers do not like to warranty their products when an unlicensed technician installs them.

Air Conditioning Cost for 2020: 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 Johns List 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 less.  Have you ever heard that another company with more employees and a bigger shop will sell a similar system for $16,000?  In 2020 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 Air Conditioners

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 2020 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 HVAC 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 always have 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 fall 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 ten and 20-thousand-dollar mark.

Good luck with your upcoming purchase decision.  There are some great products you can add to your system to enhance its value for many years.  When it comes to new air conditioning cost in 2020, choose your contractor wisely. Choose 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 essential.

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

Don’t miss our videos on these related topics: 

COVID-19 Brings Changes to the Way Building Permits are Carried Out

COVID-19 building permits

The COVID-19 situation we've been dealt in 2020 has altered the way life is carried out. One impact is on the way the building permits are handled here in the Sacramento region.

The Process

When you go about changing out your home HVAC system, you have to get a building permit.  This is done in order to get a second set of eyes on the finished project. It serves to verify it was installed according to the California building code.  An inspector typically comes out to your house and walks through the job. He or she checks out the outdoor air conditioner, the electrical panel, the indoor furnace or air handler, and the ductwork in the attic.  I can’t say every inspector does this every time, but it is their prerogative to inspect the job the way they see fit.

But recently, with the onset of COVID-19, the building department shut down entirely during the first few months of the pandemic. They wouldn’t issue our building permits or come out to inspect them.  I can understand the change during the first few months of it all.  But now that society approaches this whole thing in a more informed way, you would think that wearing a mask, gloves, and any other form of personal protective equipment would suffice in making one feel safe in people’s homes so the inspectors can do their job.

We’re Essential Workers

I get it though. Some people aren’t the cleanest, and maintaining a safe environment for other people to come into isn’t a priority.  But, we as essential workers are coming out to homes across the Sacramento area to repair or replace heating and cooling systems.  Doesn’t it seem necessary and almost mandatory that the building inspectors come out to complete their simple 15-minute inspection, as part of completing the building permit process?

In most jurisdictions in our area, the answer is apparently, no.  Now when jobs are done, the inspector won’t come out to verify the safety of the installation for the homeowner.  The company that does the installation must send the installer back out to the house. They must carry around their cell phone to the points of inspection so the inspector can virtually carry out the inspection.  The installer puts the inspector on video phone and points the camera at the areas the inspector tells them to.

The Building Code

California Building Code addresses this in Section 110.5. It is the responsibility of the homeowner or their duly authorized agent to provide the “means and access for the inspection of the work required in the building code.” Previously, that meant as much as providing the ladder to access the attic. Some inspectors don’t even carry ladders with them these days.  So we have to provide them with one.  But that’s a whole other conversation.  This now translates to the contractor being required to return to the house to walk around the home at the direction of the inspector via video “means and access.”

Responsibility for Building Permits

Well, you gotta love it!  Being a contractor and running a business is one of the hardest things I’ve done.  Don’t get me wrong, Melissa, and I love doing it because it’s challenging and rewarding.  This is just another way we have had to adapt to the ever-changing environment that surrounds us.  Some building jurisdictions have completely shut down the permitting and inspections process altogether.  Some have rearranged the way they carry out the process.

Thanks for letting me share another aspect of what we do here at Fox Family Heating and Air.  It is a pleasure to serve you and carry out the process of improving your home comfort.  We’ll see you on the next blog

building codes

 

Don’t miss our video related to this topic:

Using (or Abusing) the R-22 Phaseout as a Sales Tool

Some contractors selling equipment on fears that refrigerant will be illegal

I was pleased to contribute to this 11/18/2019 article in achrnews.com – Greg Fox

As of January 1, 2020, it will no longer be legal to produce or import virgin R-22 in the U.S., but that does not mean the refrigerant will be unavailable, unaffordable, or illegal to use. It just means that after that date, contractors who service R-22 systems will have to rely on existing stocks of virgin refrigerant or else use reclaimed refrigerant, both of which should be readily available (and affordable) for a long time, according to industry experts.  Go to article»