Month: March 2017

 

I was sitting in a session at the HVAC Excellence educators conference (which was excellent by the way) and my phone buzzed. So like a typical punk kid I looked down at it to see that my friend Josh had sent me a Facebook message asking if we served the East side of Orlando because he wanted an A/C maintenance on his home. I told him that we did not serve that part of town and I didn’t think anything else about it.

Then yesterday I see this post

So we go out to look at it, and sure enough. The system is BARELY low, like 3 degrees of subcool low and we added 1/2 of a lb of R22 (weighed in) and did a leak detection. Yes, there was a TINY leak in the evaporator coil so Josh will probably end up getting a system at some point… However, the other tech did not do a maintenance at all, he did not quote a coil or anything other than a system. He literally showed up, saw the unit was 14 years old, pulled out his leak detector, found a hit and wrote up a proposal for $5400.00. He tried to close the “deal” right on site. No load calculations, no looking at the ducts, just a leak detection, a proposal and run.

How many 14 year old units have zero leaks?

He didn’t clean the drain or the condenser coil, he hardly even checked the charge. Heck, Josh has a UV light that wasn’t even working due to a simple loose connection, he didn’t even look at that.

Unfortunately for this company, my friend Josh is a local consumer advocate who goes on local TV news REGULARLY to talk about ways to save money and EXPOSE SCAMS. I bet you can see where this is headed.

HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

The standard narrative is that there are just a bunch of greedy scammers out there trying to take advantage of people. Clearly this is true sometimes, but many times the story is longer and sadder than that, often this type of thing happens when well meaning people get worn down.

Tell me if this sounds about right.

A new tech get’s hired into the trade, maybe he has some schooling maybe he doesn’t, either way he get’s his EPA license and starts riding around with another tech. The tech he rides with spends most of the day complaining about his boss, dispatch, other techs, customers and politics but almost no ACTUAL training. When they arrive at the job there are two main objectives

#1 – Get in and out as quickly as possible with as little work as possible.

#2 – Sell as much as possible during that short time. This can be hard start kits, capacitors and surge protectors some places, IAQ products others and some it’s always finding a way to push a new system. For many, it’s all three.

Usually this makes the new tech feel at least a little uncomfortable but this starts to fade as the days of riding around whining broken by short stints of selling continue.

After a few months the new tech is put into a van with some parts, pamphlets, invoices and proposal forms and set loose on the world. If he is smart, he realizes pretty quick that when his bosses talk about customer service what they really mean is making as much money as possible in a day with as few customer complaints and call backs. Usually, the easiest way to do that is to condemn everything , when a system is replaced nobody ever knows if your diagnosis was correct or not. When you do a PM there is always something you can point to as a major issue that gives you an easy out, cleaning after all does not ring the register.

Techs justify their behavior

When I was still in trade school back in 1999 I participated in a skills challenge against other students from schools across Florida. There was another guy who was already working in the field and I remember him saying “I never just change one part, I change as many as I can and the customers never know the difference and their unit will last longer”. I was appalled then as I am now by this type of thinking but I’m pretty sure he honestly believed he was doing the right thing. He had been brainwashed into thinking that this was what being a technician meant.

So this all begs a question, who is to blame and what can be done about it?

The Root Cause

 It is just easier to make money when you focus on selling instead of technical excellence. You can be great at what you do and still not make a profit but when you FOCUS on profit at every level you will usually make more of it…. for a while.

I actually blame the quality techs and companies who don’t charge enough for what they do as one reason this happens.

I have been one of these contractors for years. We squeaked out a meager profit every year driving used vans, using cheap tools, trying to make ends meet and praying the vans don’t break down. All the while, the sales focused businesses have new trucks and spiffy, clean uniforms.

The good guys need to stand up and stop apologizing for what we charge and what we do. we need to CHARGE for the high quality maintenance we do so that we actually make a profit on it. We need to diagnose the whole system and make quality recommendations to our customers based on the solid and complete diagnosis we perform. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to afford quality tools and a well stocked van if we are the ones WHO ACTUALLY KNOW HOW TO USE THEM.

Instead we beat one another up on price and undercut one another, calling another good, quality company who charges more a “rip off” or a “scam” just because they have their pricing figured out to where they can actually make a profit.

This company who went out my friend Josh’s  house was going to charge $5,400.00 for a Lennox 3.5 ton 14 SEER Heat Pump system, that isn’t a crazy price but to some it may be seen as a “ripoff” because they would charge $4,500.00. We might charge $6,000.00 for the same system… with a new return liner, and line set, installed with nitrogen flowing, evacuated to 300 microns, with a proper load calculation, permits and a perfectly weighed in charge confirmed by manufacturers specs to a proper subcool.

The “Ripoff” is the one who doesn’t deliver on their promise, not the one who charges more.

What to do About it 

If you are a manager or owner of a company make sure you are supporting your techs to get more TECHNICALLY sound and support them to use those legitimate technical skills to translate into profitable repairs and quality workmanship. Communication skills are key in a residential tech, a tech who understands IAQ like the back of his hand will naturally sell more IAQ products, a tech who understands air flow and duct design will sell more duct upgrades and the tech who understands complete system performance will make more needed repairs. This is long road and there are no shortcuts.

If you are one of the good guys let’s band together, keep our heads up and charge enough to have a good life.

— Bryan

Testo 760 Category IV Multimeter

I was standing at booth at the HVAC Excellence Educators conference and an instructor walks up, grabs a meter and asks me “what’s the difference between a category 3 and a category 4 meter”?

Well, I really wasn’t sure other than that the category 4 is rated for more demanding conditions. So I did some research and dug into IEC 61010-1 and found that category 3 is rated for most uses OTHER than outdoor utility connections and category 4 meters are rated for all uses.

Courtesy of Fluke


There are also some voltage considerations and limitations to the different categories but the primary difference is not the regular duty but the high voltage transients. High voltage transients are often called “surges” or spikes and are most likely when working on outdoor transformers and distribution panels.

Rubber meets the road is that for HVAC use a category 3 meter is likely going to do the job but if you ever work in main panels, or outdoor transformers go for a cat 4 meter.

— Bryan

PS – Fluke has a great info sheet on this HERE 

You can see more about the Testo 760 shown HERE

I heard a great presentation by Ron Auvil today on VAV systems and it got me thinking…

Can you size a system / perform a block load by number of occupants?

Yes! 

No, just kidding that’s crazy talk.

However, in a commercial environment while the perimeter of the building is effected by heat loss / heat gain to the outdoors, the internal zones are “cooling only” zones with the primary load usually being PEOPLE.

This is where the 500 btus per hour comes in. On average a sedentary worker in a building will add 500 BTUs per hour to ALL areas of the building whether it is hot or cold outside. This creates an issue in the winter when the perimeter of a building requires heating and the center of the building requires cooling.

Add in the internal electrical loads from lights, computers and other equipment and you start to realize that EXTERNAL loads are only part of the equation, especially in large commercial buildings with many occupants. 

You must have some method of dealing with the thermal diversity between internal and perimeter zones along with maintaining appropriate ventilation / outdoor air.

Food for thought.

— Bryan

 

Photo Courtesy of Emerson

CO2 (R744) is naturally better suited for lower temperature refrigeration applications because of its low temperature saturated state at atmospheric pressure (-109.3F). You will notice I said “saturated state” because CO2 does not “boil” at atmospheric pressure. At any pressure below 60 psig CO2 goes straight from solid (dry ice) right to a vapor, This is why 60 psig is known as the “triple point” or the point that could be either solid, liquid or vapor.

Now go to the top of the range with CO2, when you apply 1055 psig the saturation temperature is 87.8F but go up even 1 more degree  and CO2 CANNOT be liquified, this is known as the critical point of the substance. Whenever a substance is forced beyond it’s critical point it becomes what is known as a supercritical fluid and has properties that are unique to this state but it is certainly not a liquid. You can see more in this natural refrigerants PT chart.

In a transcritical (trans means beyond or through so transcritical means “beyond critical”) booster refrigeration system the low temp portion of the system operates using it’s own compressors that “boost” the refrigerant from the low temp side and discharge into the suction of the medium temp side. The high stage compressors then pressurize the CO2 (R744) above its critical pressure / temperature.

What is traditionally called a condenser becomes a gas cooler and decreases the temperature (rejects heat from) of the discharge without actually condensing it into liquid. The cooled supercritical fluid goes through a pressure reducing valve, where some of it  condenses into liquid and the rest remains as gas. Liquid and gas are separated in a flash tank (receiver). Pressure in this tank are usually controlled to around 450 to 500psig.

It’s super critical that you understand all of this…

See what I did there.

— Bryan

 

 

The definition of a transformer is a device that changes the voltages in an alternating current circuit.

You may have heard of an autotransformer or a buck and boost transformer and these terms are usually being used for the same type of device just highlighting different aspects. A transformer does not need to be a buck and boost to be autotransformer and it does not need to be an autotransformer to be buck and boost but often the two elements go together.

Autotransformer

The word auto in auto transformer really just means one or single not really automatic or automated in the way we usually think of it. It is an autotransformer because it only has one inductive (magnetic) winding shared by both the primary and secondary.

Buck and Boost

Buck just means that it decreases the voltage and boost means it increases it. A buck and boost transformer means that it can both increase or decrease the voltage.

What is their application? 

Buck and Boost autotransformers are often used to make small changes in voltage, say from 208v to 240v (boost) or from 240v to 208 (buck). They are usually efficient and inexpensive when only small changes are needed, whereas a traditional two coil transformer is more practical for larger changes.

Most of these transformers will have multiple tap points for different output and input voltages and can often be connected in different configurations to perform a wide range of functions like in the case of the Emerson Sola HD.

One major consideration with an autotransformer is that there is no isolation between the primary and secondary so a failure of the isolation of the windings of an autotransformer can result in the input voltage being applied to the output and component damage. There is also greater likelihood of harmonic and ground fault issues because of this “mixing” of primary and secondary.

— Bryan

Photo Courtesy of Emerson

What is Cascade refrigeration?

Cascade refrigeration is a term you will hear more and more over the coming years, and while some of the systems may be very complex, the concept is actually pretty simple.

Some refrigerants are well suited for high and medium temperature applications, and some are better suited and for a lower temp applications. In a cascade system the high/medium temp refrigerant circuit is used to cool the condenser of the low temp circuit by way of heat exchanger. In essence, the condenser for the low temp system is also the evaporator or part of the evaporator of the high/medium temp system.

In the diagram above the medium temp circuit is used in the medium temp cases and is ALSO used in the heat exchanger to condense the refrigerant in the low temp circuit.

There are many reasons for this type of system but one of the big reasons is it is a practical solution for using CO2 (R744) as a low temp refrigerant.

— Bryan

 

Have you ever noticed a blower motor rated for 120V draws about twice the amperage of a motor rated at 240V?

This is because motors are rated in Watts or Horsepower and according to Watts law Watts = Volts x amps.

In order to keep the Wattage output the same at 120V it draws twice as much current.

This is different than what happens when you drop the voltage of a motor below its rating.

Here is an experiment I did.

I took a regular 1/6 HP 208 – 230v condenser fan motor and tested it under normal conditions at my office and here is what I got


I then connected the common wire to neutral instead of L1 power which leads to approximately 120v applied and here is what I got.


By dropping the voltage by around 50% the amperage dropped slightly, the wattage went to less than half and the power factor also went in half and the motor slowed way down.

The motor slowing down is due to slip in the motor, meaning that the motor is running significantly slower than the speed it is designed for.

This means that not only is the motor running inefficiently, but it is also going to get hot because as the motor runs slower it has lower inductive reactance (the magnetic resistance in the windings). As the inductive reactance drops the windings have lower resistance and thus get hotter.

Even after all of this, the motor still consumes less than half the watts.

Rubber meets the road is that when a motor is designed for lower voltage it will draw more amperage to do the same work.

When you apply lower voltage you both decrease the work done as well as the efficiency and life of the motor because more of the energy goes to heat instead of mechanical work as the motor slips more and more. You also see higher power factor as the motor begins to slip resulting in even worse power efficiency.

This is one reason why voltage drop is a such an important thing to consider when sizing conductors and why 208-230V units are slightly derated or n both capacity and efficiency when installed on 208v.

Pay attention to Voltage, it can save a lot of money over time in both power efficiency and motor longevity.

— Bryan

First, a thermocouple is not a flame rectifier like a modern flame sensor. A thermocouple actually generates a milivolt potential difference when it is heated by a flame.. Just to get that out of the way for any of you newer techs who are used to modern flame sensors.

With higher efficiency gas fired equipment being the norm for replacement systems, thermocouples and standing pilots are becoming a thing of the past. Newer appliances do not typically utilize a standing pilot, opting instead for hot surface or spark to pilot ignition. These types of ignition systems have benefits over standing pilot, from increased reliability and longevity to higher efficiency numbers. But there are many appliances in the field that still use a standing pilot, and a good service technician should be able to diagnose a thermocouple issue.

 

Many of you will say-

“Why even check the thermocouple? It’s a 5 dollar part, just throw a new one in!”

“Why are you so lazy? Do you even HVAC in real life or just on the internet?”

Yes, I know thermocouples are cheap and I am all for replacing them when they need to be replaced, or while replacing a gas valve or pilot assembly. But over the years I have seen a lot of guys ( me included) go on calls for pilot issues, find a pilot blown out, relight the pilot, and then because it’s the easiest, quickest fix, replace the thermocouple, only to have the same customer call in a day or two later with the pilot being out AGAIN. And when the tech goes back and relights the pilot, then what? Is that brand new thermocouple bad after a few days? Probably not. There is probably some other issue, but checking the thermocouple millivolt production is the first step for a proper diagnosis.

 

So how does a thermocouple work? Well, I’m no scientist ( I’m barely a writer), but I’ll tell you what I know. When different metals are joined, and there is a temperature difference between them, a magnetic field occurs between the joints where the different metals meet. The heat of the pilot flame is the source of the temperature difference in a normal pilot system. Through this process, a small amount of current is produced, generally around 30 millivolts. This voltage is sensed by the gas valve and is used to keep the pilot valve internal to the main gas open. If the pilot goes out, the heat that is generating the potential (voltage) is lost, thus current stops flowing to the gas valve, and the pilot valve is closed, closing off fuel to the pilot assembly. The thermocouple is a safety device. If the pilot flame goes and the pilot valve doesn’t close, the burner compartment and potentially the room the equipment is in can fill up with gas. That the consequences of that would require a different article.

 

When should you check a thermocouple? I am in the habit of checking thermocouples when I encounter them, whether it’s on a maintenance inspection or a service call. If you are in the habit of checking them, it usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes. If the millivolt measurement is less than 26-27, I typically recommend replacement.

 

 

To check a thermocouple, you need a multimeter that is able to measure millivolts. It is typically shown as mV or is just the third decimal over on the DC voltage reading. Remember, the meter should be set to DC voltage.

It’s also helpful to have a extra set of hands, but it is very possible to perform this check by yourself if you hold your tongue correctly (or just use alligator clips). First, disconnect the thermocouple from the gas valve. Then light the pilot. Most gas valves have a turn knob that has to be set from On/Off to Pilot. There usually is a push button that is pressed to manually open the pilot valve, sending gas to the pilot assembly in order to light the pilot. The trick is to light the pilot, and position the meter leads in the proper place to read the voltage. The push button must be depressed through the whole check. With the thermocouple being disconnected from the gas valve for checks, the pilot valve should not stay open and the flame should go out when the push button is let up.

 

 

 

Put on meter lead directly on the gas valve side of the thermocouple. Put the other lead on the copper line as shown by my right hand in the picture above. While holding the meter leads in this position, light the pilot. The thermocouple needs to heat up for 30 seconds to 1 minute in order to obtain a proper reading.

 

30 millivolts is the desired reading, with a swing of plus or minus 5 millivolts. If the readings are in that range, and you have been having pilot failure issues, more than likely there is some other cause. Dirty pilot assembly/ orifice is the most common other issue I encounter, but it could be down draft/flue or combustion air issues, fuel pressure problems, or a failing gas valve. But as stated above, the thermocouple should be eliminated as a potential issue before moving on with a proper diagnosis. Don’t throw parts at a problem and see what sticks. With thorough troubleshooting, you can save a lot of time, headaches, and maybe the customer a little bit of money and frustration.

— Justin Skinner

We work on a lot of Carrier split heat pumps and I have heard the common pressure switch inside called a low pressure switch (because it opens on fall in pressure ) and a high pressure switch (because it’s in the liquid line) but RARELY do I hear it called it’s true name.

Loss of charge switch

In a heat pump system the operational suction pressure can vary greatly from the suction you will run on a hot day in cool mode to the suction you will run on a cold winter day in heat mode. This makes a traditional low pressure switch ineffective.

The loss of charge switch performs much the same role as the low pressure switch but since it is in the liquid line in cool mode (before the metering device and after the condenser) and in the expansion line in heat mode (after the metering device and before the outdoor coil) it will not be as prone to fluctuations and will only keep the system off in cases of very low charge or “loss of charge”in cool mode. 

In heat mode it will also open during loss of charge but also if there is a line drier or heat mode metering device restriction.

All in all it’s pretty easy to understand, so long as you know it’s true identity and purpose.

— Bryan

Scroll to top
Translate »

Daily Tech Tip

Subscribe to our daily tech tip to receive daily tips and advice!
Email address
Name