What’s the Required Service Area for HVAC Installations?

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.

What Kind of Warranty Should I get with my HVAC Repair?

What seemed like a simple AC repair call turned complicated…

Has it ever happened to you? You paid an HVAC repairman to replace a capacitor for your blower motor. Then he told you the problem was fixed. You only paid $125 bucks for it! Now, two years later the capacitor has already failed, and your furnace is not blowing warm air again. No air is coming out! You call the repairman only to find out he won’t answer his phone or reply with any sense of urgency to your call for service.

HVAC Warranty

In the field of HVAC, the brand of parts used for the repair means so much these days. GE used to make a capacitor in the 70’s that still meets manufacturer specs to this day. Goodman has been a system that had been known to have capacitors that fail early. I mean, I’m okay with parts lasting ten to fifteen years, but come on, these capacitors that are failing within the first five years are just a lousy brand of parts and equipment to get. Trying to find the contractor to uphold some warranty on these replacement parts would help your pocketbook, right?

Company Warranties

Some companies will offer no warranty or one or two-year warranties on the parts they replace. That’s great, but even the worst capacitors are not failing within the first two years. The companies that are making these inferior parts are savings pennies. Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning technicians use a trusted brand of capacitors from MARS. There are some other capacitor brands we will use, but if at all possible we are using the MARS brand of capacitors. Why? Because we offer a lifetime warranty on all of our replacement parts. For as long as you own the house, our part might fail on you, because things do happen, but we are going to replace it because we think we are giving you the best part on the market. I think if we are going to sell you a part, we should back it up.

This is the same for all parts we replace your system except for a few. Refrigerant, compressors, heat exchangers, and evaporator and condenser coils are not covered by the lifetime warranty. These are significant components of your system.

Fox Family Heating and Air Warranties 

The next time your system fails and you pay an HVAC company to come out and fix your system, ask them if they will stand behind their product like Fox Family Heating and Air does. Why they are skimping on the money to buy cheap capacitors for your house is hard to understand for me. It’s no way to earn an excellent reputation in Sacramento. When someone tells me they are going to repair my HVAC system, the part they use is just automatically going to be a durable, time-tested part that is going to last 5 to ten years at least! Fox Family is interested in creating long-lasting relationships with our clients. That is why we are offering a lifetime warranty on our parts. We think these are the best parts on the market, so we stand behind the products we install in your system because it means a lot to us when you call us for your HVAC needs.

Should I Get a Home Warranty Plan?  Pros and Cons

home warranty pros and cons

Home Warranty vs. Home Insurance: The Difference

When you buy a home, it does not come with an owner’s manual.  What if your AC or furnace breaks down and needs repairs?  How do you know the difference between what a home warranty policy covers and what homeowners insurance covers?

What’s a Home Warranty Policy?

When you buy a home, your realtor will typically include a 1-year home warranty policy with the sale of the house.  They pay for it (well, you pay for it), and it covers any appliances that might break down in the home that first year.  Appliances often come with the home that can break down.  They include air conditioners and furnaces that the previous homeowner can’t take with them to their new location.

Homeowners insurance and home warranties are two different things, though. You can look at it this way.  The difference is “natural causes” vs. “mechanical problems,” and they’re two separate entities.

What Does Home Insurance Cover?

The role of home insurance is to protect you financially for damage to your home during a natural occurrence such as a tornado or fire.  Items in your home can be covered by your policy if they’re lost or stolen during a robbery or home invasion.

Take your air conditioning system as an example.  I once went out to a home where the AC unit in the back yard was ripped away from the spot where it sat for years.  A chain was looped around it and hooked onto the thief’s vehicle.  Then they drove off with the AC.  The AC’s copper lines were ripped halfway up the stucco wall on its way up to the attic.  Homeowners insurance would cover this!

Let’s say a fire breaks out in the attic of a home, and all the ductwork and the furnace are rendered charred and useless.  Home insurance would take care of recouping your HVAC system.  It’s these types of incidents that homeowner’s insurance will cover.  Now let’s look at what a home warranty policy will cover.

The Breakdown

So, it’s the hottest day of the year, of course, when your AC system breaks down.  It has a mechanical failure.  The condenser fan motor has stopped working.  Because the fan stopped working, the compressor that pumps the refrigerant overheated and has become inoperable, too.  These are the types of mechanical issues that regularly occur as an HVAC system ages.  The AC can be repaired if the parts are available.

Home Warranty: the Service

An HVAC company that contracts for the home warranty company will come out for a service call fee of anywhere around $50 to $150. They’ll figure out what part you need, get it if it’s not already on their service truck, come back and replace those parts.  Whether the part is five years old or 35 years old, if the system is fixable, that’s what your home warranty company will arrange.

You may want a new system, though.  This one is 35 years old!  Won’t the home warranty company pay for a new one for me?  The truth is, it’s not in the best interest of the warranty company to be buying new systems for everyone, so if a repair can be made, it will be.

Make sure to read the fine print of both your home warranty policy and homeowners insurance policy, though. You’ll want to know what they cover and what they don’t.  The home warranty company might pay for the repair part itself, but they might not pay for the incidentals that come with it.

Making Money on Incidentals

For example, if your evaporator coil has a detrimental leak and it’s determined it can’t be fixed, the warranty company will pay for a new one.  They may not, however, pay for the new equipment risers, the sheet metal transition back to the existing ductwork, the refrigerant that was lost, or the valve caps that are missing from the outdoor AC.  The HVAC company must make its money somehow, and these “incidentals” are where some of them will take the opportunity to rack up the price on unsuspecting homeowners.

For instance, a contractor representing the warranty company was going to charge a customer over $3,200.00 for a new evaporator coil with these risers, transitions, fasteners, couplings, and every other thing they could think of.  Mind you, the coil was paid for by the warranty company!  The customer called us with a request for a second opinion.  We let them know we didn’t represent any home warranty companies, so they would have to pay us full price for the parts and labor on the job and work it out with the warranty company.  They agreed.  Our price, including the coil, came out to about $2,200.00 — $1000 less!  This experience is one example of how a contractor may try to exploit a warranty.

Read the Fine Print

Do your due diligence before committing to anything.  If something doesn’t sound right, check it out.   The fine print on homeowners insurance and home warranty policies can be vague.  There are pros and cons to each.

If you have any questions about this topic, we’d love to chat with you.  Leave a comment below to continue the discussion!

Is an AC tune-up worth it? Yes!

AC tune-up

People who have just bought their first home or have recently installed a new AC may be asking themselves “is an AC tune-up worth it?”  Is it really necessary to have the air conditioning system tuned-up annually?  This article discusses some of the key benefits that Sacramento homeowners will enjoy when they hire a Sacramento heating and air conditioning company like Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning to tune-up the AC.

Improved Energy Efficiency

Dirt, dust, and other debris gradually accumulates on the different components of the AC, such as the evaporator coils. Those accumulations affect the efficiency of the system in different ways. For example, the dust can prevent the exchange of heat from the evaporator coils. This impediment causes the system to use more energy as it struggles to maintain the desired temperature in your home. Regular tune-ups will prevent this inefficiency.

Warranty Protection

Manufacturers of air conditioning systems offer buyers warranties that have conditions. One of the common requires that the air conditioner be maintained regularly (at least annually) by certified professionals. Any warranty claim made without proof that an AC tune-up was performed at the required intervals can result in a rejection of that claim.  Air conditioning repair technicians in Sacramento can perform the required maintenance so the AC manufacturer honors any warranty claim.

System Longevity

It is also worthwhile to have your AC tune-up completed because that maintenance helps to enable the system to last for as long as the manufacturer intended it to. For example, Fox Family Heating and Air technicians check the lubrication of the moving parts of the HVAC equipment. Proper lubrication protects the components from premature wear due to excessive friction. Tune-ups are therefore a good investment since they save you from having to buy a new AC sooner than expected.

Eco-Friendliness

Air conditioning tune-ups have the added benefit of making your HVAC systems environmentally friendly. How does this happen? An AC tune-up can detect problems, such as refrigerant leaks before they worsen and discharge greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Secondly, barriers to efficiency are removed so that the system uses the least amount of energy needed to keep the home within the desired temperature range. You will be contributing towards protecting the environment when you take care of your AC tune-up.

Reduced Repair Costs

Sacramento air conditioning repair professionals perform tune-ups as a way of averting frequent system failures. The tune-ups forestall bigger problems by catching them early. For instance, the technician may check how much energy the motor is consuming as it works. This tune-up activity helps to fix any defects before those defects cause a malfunction that may be costly to repair.

Improved Air Quality

The air that you and your family members breathe while inside your home depends on how well the air conditioner is doing its work. For example, a defective filter can allow contaminants to keep recirculating within the home. Similarly, a clogged condensate line can result in higher humidity levels in the home. This can allow mold and other biological matter to thrive and compromise the health of the home’s occupants. Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning can provide AC system tune-ups to improve the quality of the air in your home.

Peace of Mind

Having an air conditioning system tune-up performed will ease any fears or concerns about your AC.  Get a clean bill of health with a professional tune-up, with any anomalies found and fixed. Rest assured that the AC will not suddenly fail, unless an unforeseen calamity, such as a flood, damages the equipment.

The cost of having the annual ac tune-up done pales in comparison to the higher costs and inconveniences that you may expose yourself to when you neglect to have the tune-ups done. Hire an experienced heating and air conditioning repair or maintenance company in Sacramento. Contact Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning to keep your home’s AC at its best throughout the year. Our maintenance club is an affordable solution many clients find to be a great value while enjoying comfort and peace of mind.