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Old 07-23-2011, 09:09 AM  
Bugeater Bugeater is offline
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Simple AC tips to help keep your cool this summer

Hey CP peeps, I'm willing to bet some of you have noticed it's freaking hot outside. And since I've spent the last year going to school for HVAC, I thought I'd share some things I've learned about air conditioning systems. If you don't think yours is operating properly, here are some simple things you can check out on your own.

First off, check your outside unit. On it you will find two copper tubes coming from the house and into the unit. Touch them both.

The larger one (low side), should be insulated and cold to the touch, similar to a can of beer coming out of the fridge. If it's warm, or frosted, it likely means that your refrigerant level is off. Call a professional.

The smaller one (high side) should be warm, but not uncomfortable to the touch. If it's hot enough that you can't leave your fingers on it, it very likely means that your condensing coil is dirty, and it can't properly release the heat that the system is trying to remove from your home, and it's not going to run efficiently ($$$$). It can also make the compressor run hotter than normal, thereby shortening its life (more $$$$).

If your coil is as dirty as the one pictured here



you can make a significant improvement in performance simply by shutting the system down and thoroughly hosing it off, but the most effective way to clean one is from the inside with a high-pressure spray tip since dirt, cotton from cottonwood trees and even lawn clippings can get embedded into the coil. This is also something that can be done yourself, but if you're not comfortable opening up the unit, call a pro to have it cleaned. Again, let me emphasize that the system needs to be SHUT OFF while doing this. The condenser should be cleaned at least once a year, and maybe more depending on the conditions.

Lastly, a few things on airflow, which is key to keeping your home cool.

Check the furnace filter. Does it look more like a throw rug than the filter you stuck in there six months ago? Time to change it out. In the summertime, I recommend the cheap, flimsy ones. While that super duper pleated hypo-allergenic $25 one that Paul Harvey recommended may do a better job of cleaning your air, it's only because it's letting less air through it. There are better ways to clean your air other than choking off your airflow.

Is your humidifier bypass (if equipped with one) closed? Check for a 6" round duct going into your humidifier. There should be a handle somewhere on it, or on the humidifier itself, and it should be marked "summer/winter" or "high/low". Turn it to the summer/low position, or if it's not marked, the handle should be perpendicular to the airflow. Having this open when the AC is running can kill your efficiency by as much as 25% on its own.

You also want to keep all your supply/return vents clear, and open. Your system is designed to move a certain amount of air, and closing off a bunch of vents isn't necessarily going to help keep the other rooms any cooler. If you notice significant differences in temperatures from room to room, try turning the thermostat to "Fan On". On that setting, the AC will still cycle normally as needed to maintain the desired temperature, but the fan will run continuously which may help keep all rooms a more consistent temperature.

Hopefully these suggestions help some of you, I know they've made a difference in my house.
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Old 07-23-2011, 11:56 AM   #31
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That's pretty much what most of the other maintenance guys I work with do. The only thing that trips me up is trying to determine if a unit has a TXV or not. Sometimes you can't tell unless you open them up, and that isn't always an easy thing to do.
It is always best to look. But if you can get model and serial you can also call your distrubitor and tech support of the manufacture and they can tell you. If you are doing maintenance in and or on a specific building it won't take long to find out.
This much I can tell you if it is 410 it will have an expansion valve or an R-22 that is a 13 SEER or higher it will have one as well. Most of the older units don't have them but if someone has changed a condensor and left the old coil then they should of added a TXV.
Here is something that I had to learn the hard way. That a load of people don't know. If you are working on an American Standard or a Trane and you have to change a compressor out. There are 2 line driers that look like mufflers on the side of the condensor where the lines come out of the coil and go back to the compressor.
I didnt know about those so I put a new line drier at the evaperator coil and it basicly made a restriction.
Are you working on anything other than residential split systems yet?
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:06 PM   #32
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It is always best to look. But if you can get model and serial you can also call your distrubitor and tech support of the manufacture and they can tell you. If you are doing maintenance in and or on a specific building it won't take long to find out.
This much I can tell you if it is 410 it will have an expansion valve or an R-22 that is a 13 SEER or higher it will have one as well. Most of the older units don't have them but if someone has changed a condensor and left the old coil then they should of added a TXV.
Here is something that I had to learn the hard way. That a load of people don't know. If you are working on an American Standard or a Trane and you have to change a compressor out. There are 2 line driers that look like mufflers on the side of the condensor where the lines come out of the coil and go back to the compressor.
I didnt know about those so I put a new line drier at the evaperator coil and it basicly made a restriction.
Are you working on anything other than residential split systems yet?
That's interesting that you say that, I had my condenser changed out a couple years ago and I don't believe they changed the evap, and it doesn't have a TXV. I know the pistons are model-specific as well, and I have no idea if they put the proper one in either. That's another reason I went to school for this, it drove me nuts not knowing how the heck any of this stuff worked, and you have no idea who you can trust in the business.

I haven't taken any classes on commercial systems yet, and I have PTACs at one of my properties and all I've learned from them is that they are a complete pain in the ass.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:24 PM   #33
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That's interesting that you say that, I had my condenser changed out a couple years ago and I don't believe they changed the evap, and it doesn't have a TXV. I know the pistons are model-specific as well, and I have no idea if they put the proper one in either. That's another reason I went to school for this, it drove me nuts not knowing how the heck any of this stuff worked, and you have no idea who you can trust in the business.

I haven't taken any classes on commercial systems yet, and I have PTACs at one of my properties and all I've learned from them is that they are a complete pain in the ass.
Don't trust anyone else in this business! There are to many people that think they know what they are doing simply because they have been doing it for 20 years.
If you know the series of operations and the flow of refrigerant you should be alright. Things just get bigger. Meaning 2 speed equipment, bigger tonage attained by multiple compressors and so on. Be sure to learn your 3 phase power stuff for the commercial work.
Now you will find some equipment that uses amonia as its refrigerant in larger buildings. Be very careful with those units. Amonia is a lot more explosive than other refrigerants.
PTACS do suck but they are basicly glorified heat pump window units. Cheaply made and not meant to be repaired much.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:36 PM   #34
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Don't trust anyone else in this business! There are to many people that think they know what they are doing simply because they have been doing it for 20 years.
If you know the series of operations and the flow of refrigerant you should be alright. Things just get bigger. Meaning 2 speed equipment, bigger tonage attained by multiple compressors and so on. Be sure to learn your 3 phase power stuff for the commercial work.
Now you will find some equipment that uses amonia as its refrigerant in larger buildings. Be very careful with those units. Amonia is a lot more explosive than other refrigerants.
PTACS do suck but they are basicly glorified heat pump window units. Cheaply made and not meant to be repaired much.
Heh, we have a commercial rooftop unit that cools the hallways in one apartment building, and I noticed the two huge compressors in it. That thing intimidates me...lol. Haven't had any trouble with it other than it inexplicably froze up after we had a power outage, but I just shut it down for a day to let it thaw and it's been fine ever since then.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:39 PM   #35
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Good stuff Bug....thanks for the info.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:47 PM   #36
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That's what I always thought as well, but I was told by several people who are a hell of a lot smarter than me that it's not the case.
Well they are wrong or they are taking a simplistic view in a very small house. Assuming you have plenty of ducts shutting off a room or two that are not being used will not hurt your system. Too little airflow can cause the coil to not get warm enough from the passing air which can be a problem.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:53 PM   #37
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:53 PM   #38
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Heh, we have a commercial rooftop unit that cools the hallways in one apartment building, and I noticed the two huge compressors in it. That thing intimidates me...lol. Haven't had any trouble with it other than it inexplicably froze up after we had a power outage, but I just shut it down for a day to let it thaw and it's been fine ever since then.
Those 2 compressors do not pump refrigerant through the same lines. They have seperate refrigerant lines that run through the same coils. I was taught to think of them as 2 systems working in series to make it a 15 ton or whatever tonage the unit is. So if you have a problem with the charge you will have to check the charge the same number of places as you have compressors in a unit. I have worked on some that you have to crawl up in the rooftops to service all 6 compressors.
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Old 07-23-2011, 12:55 PM   #39
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Well they are wrong or they are taking a simplistic view in a very small house. Assuming you have plenty of ducts shutting off a room or two that are not being used will not hurt your system. Too little airflow can cause the coil to not get warm enough from the passing air which can be a problem.
No, it won't necessarily "hurt" the system, my point is that it's not going to make the remaining rooms much cooler, if at all. And you're not really going to save much money by shutting those rooms off.
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:04 PM   #40
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Well they are wrong or they are taking a simplistic view in a very small house. Assuming you have plenty of ducts shutting off a room or two that are not being used will not hurt your system. Too little airflow can cause the coil to not get warm enough from the passing air which can be a problem.
If you shut off more than 10% of the airflow it will void your warranty. And it will take life off your system. The average a customer gets charged when I have to change out a blower motor is $400.
If you have a 3 ton system. That equates to 1200 cfm's of air. The average bedroom will have a 6 or 7 inch piece of duct that feeds the register that you see in your floor. A duct calculator figured at .10 static pressure will tell you that a piece of 6" duct will flow about 100 cfm. A piece of 7" duct about 150 cfm.
So you can only safely shut off 1 register in your home if you have a 3 ton system.
Now there are exceptions. A variable speed blower will ramp up to make the difference up. If you have a zoned system the extra air will be put into the "dump" zone.
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:22 PM   #41
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Just to clarify, here's an example from my own house. I've never been satisfied with how well my system cools, so I always used to keep the main bath vent closed. My thinking was that since it was a small room, and we were rarely in it for very long, that there was no sense in pumping a bunch of cold air into it. Plus I figured it meant that more cold air would go to the other rooms.

Well it turns out I was wrong on both counts, it's not sending any more air anywhere else, it's not making my system work any less harder, so I may as well have it open. And regardless of where it's coming from, the more cool air you have moving through your house, the better off you are.
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:31 PM   #42
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No, it won't necessarily "hurt" the system, my point is that it's not going to make the remaining rooms much cooler, if at all. And you're not really going to save much money by shutting those rooms off.
Not true. If you think of it in simplistic terms imagine a 5 ton AC unit that has to cool 3000 sq ft. Now imagine all ducts are closed off but one 500 sq foot room (with the thermostat there). It will cool that room much quicker and cycle off much faster (other considerations of wear and tear aside for the moment).

Now is it safe and is it worth the savings is an entirely different argument but all things being equal smaller sq footage = energy savings.
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:55 PM   #43
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Not true. If you think of it in simplistic terms imagine a 5 ton AC unit that has to cool 3000 sq ft. Now imagine all ducts are closed off but one 500 sq foot room (with the thermostat there). It will cool that room much quicker and cycle off much faster (other considerations of wear and tear aside for the moment).

Now is it safe and is it worth the savings is an entirely different argument but all things being equal smaller sq footage = energy savings.
Well that goes against everything I've been taught, which is a fan with x amount of power can move y amount of air through a z size duct, and anything else would require breaking the laws of physics.
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:57 PM   #44
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Not true. If you think of it in simplistic terms imagine a 5 ton AC unit that has to cool 3000 sq ft. Now imagine all ducts are closed off but one 500 sq foot room (with the thermostat there). It will cool that room much quicker and cycle off much faster (other considerations of wear and tear aside for the moment).

Now is it safe and is it worth the savings is an entirely different argument but all things being equal smaller sq footage = energy savings.
That will get to temp quick, but won't remove humidity. Removing humidity is the main point of an A/C system.
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:59 PM   #45
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Either way, do what works best for your home and makes you comfortable. I'm just throwing things out that have worked for me.
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