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.

Why Attic Insulation is Important in Your Sacramento Home

Why Attic Insulation is Important in Your Sacramento Home

You may not need to look further than your attic in case you suspect that your home is no longer as energy-efficient as you want it to be. The insulation of your attic may have deteriorated. This article discusses some of the compelling reasons why you should have the attic of your Sacramento home insulated this summer.

Keeping Cool Air In

Warm air has a tendency to rise or flow to places that are cooler. In this case, the warm air outside your home will try to find its way inside through the attic and other gaps in the exterior envelop of your house.
Such heated air will end up displacing the cool air within the home if the attic isn’t properly insulated to prevent such air movements.

Proper insulation serves the role of blocking heated air from outside from getting in. Consequently, your Sacramento home will stay cool during the summer heat.

Keeping Interior Temperatures Stable

Another key reason why you should insulate the attic of your Sacramento home is the effect of such insulation upon the regulation of the temperature inside the home. Homes with poor attic insulation are likely to have hot and cold spots due to the leakage of conditioned air through the attic.

The cool air provided by your air conditioning system can keep escaping to the attic as warm air from outside gets in. This entry of warm air ends up causing the affected sections of the home to have fluctuating temperatures even if the AC is working as it should. Adequate insulation in the attic averts such temperature differences.

Reduced Energy Bills

As you may have already noticed, proper attic insulation has a beneficial impact upon the energy needed to keep your Sacramento home cool during the summer. This benefit comes about because less energy will be lost in trying to make up for the conditioned air which has escaped through the attic. The air conditioning system will, therefore, find it easier to maintain the temperature which you have set for the home.

HVAC System Longevity

The lifespan of your Sacramento HVAC system will also benefit from attic insulation. This is because the unit will not run for extended durations in a vain attempt to keep the home within the temperature range that you have selected.
The shorter run times (and longer intervals before the system cycles on again) will cause less wear and tear. Expensive repairs come when different components of your air conditioning system are overworked. Consequently, the system components will last longer than the AC components in another home whose attic isn’t properly insulated in the summer.

Better Indoor Air Quality

Many homeowners in Sacramento complain of unpleasant odors within the home. People who suffer from allergies may also experience frequent flare-ups in homes where the attic isn’t adequately insulated. Such problems may arise because condensation or moisture may accumulate within the attic due to the frequent temperature variations that take place at different times of the day or year. That moisture promotes the growth of mold, mildew, and rot.

The filters of your AC system may also end up getting clogged quickly due to the heavy load of pollutants which must be removed as the air is recirculated within the home. Attic insulation can go a long way towards preventing mold and other pollutants from compromising the air that you breathe inside the home.

Attic insulation is available in different forms, such as foam insulation and batt rolls. Talk to an HVAC repair professional in Sacramento so that he or she can help you to select the most appropriate attic insulation in order to make your HVAC system more energy-efficient.