Month: August 2017

Oil pressure controls… Oil failure controls…  Oil safety controls…   They’re a pain in the neck when they trip and diagnosing those problems can really tax even the best of techs.


As semi-hermetic compressors get larger, they can no longer rely on simple splash or “sling” type lubrication strategies where oil is just flung around inside the compressor and that is sufficient to provide lubrication.   Once we cross that threshold, we need an oil pump to force oil through ‘galleys’ machined into the crankshaft to lubricate all of the bearings.   To ensure that the compressor has adequate lubrication at all times, manufacturers require a safety control to prove there is sufficient oil pressure and shut the compressor off if there is not.


An oil pressure control is, effectively, a differential pressure control with a built in time delay.




Let’s look a little closer.


First thing we have to do is look at how we measure oil pressure.   The oil that we’re pumping through a compressor starts in the crankcase, so it’s already under a certain amount of pressure, depending on the suction pressure of the system.  That suction pressure affects the output pressure of the pump.  To properly measure oil pressure, we can’t just look at the pump outlet pressure, we have to look at the pump outlet pressure MINUS the crankcase pressure. This is called NET oil pressure.


Measuring crankcase pressure rather than just measuring suction pressure will become important later when we get into troubleshooting.  This is why the oil pressure control has 2 pressure ports and is measuring the differential between those 2 pressures.  The pressure control has a time delay because, on startup, the system needs a period of time to stabilize.  This time delay is usually fixed at 90 or 120 second, depending on the manufacturer and the brand and type of control.


Most new controls are electronic, but there are still a lot of mechanical controls out there, so let’s talk about how they work and, once we have a solid understanding of mechanical controls, the electronic ones are pretty easy to understand.


The first thing to understand about oil failure controls is that they require a minimum of 3 wires. They’re more than just a pressure control, remember…


So, we’ve got line voltage going to the control AND we’ve got 2 wires for the control circuit. Typically, you’re going to see terminals “2” and “M” jumpered together so everything I say assumes they are connected electrically.   Some rare applications will require them to not be jumpered but that’s beyond our scope here.


Depending on our control voltage, we’ve got line voltage at V1 or V2, one leg of the control circuit at M and one at L.  It’s very important to understand that L also acts as both one leg of the control circuit AND the second leg of the circuit for the heater (H) in the control itself.  This means that, unlike most other controls, we have to be careful where we put this control because the leg from L cannot have any other switches in it.  This requirement will be made clear in the paperwork included in the control and now you understand WHY.


Now, let’s look at the switch in the control labeled PC.  This switch, pictured as normally closed, will OPEN when there is sufficient pressure differential.  So, when we start the compressor, power is applied to V1 (or to V) and once oil pressure builds up to the 9-12 PSIG range, it will open switch PC and de-energize the heater.


Now, if this switch(PC)  is closed and the control is energized (power to V1 or V2) then the heater H is energized.   Once that heater reaches a certain temperature, switch TD, which is a thermal type switch similar to the one found in an electric heat sequencer, will open, breaking the control circuit.


This may seem complicated, but really stop and take the time to understand this.   You’re not really going to be putting a meter across switch PC, it kind of just works in the background, you just need to understand that it’s there and what it does to make the control function.


Electronic controls integrate these functions into an electronic control board and a small differential pressure switch that screws into the oil pump on the compressor.  They still have the same basic wiring requirements, having to have the third wire for power and an uninterrupted wire from L to the load.  The time delay feature is electronic rather than thermal, but there is still a small differential switch to monitor the net oil pressure.


In operation, an electronic oil failure control works pretty similar to the mechanical.   Power on the line voltage terminal and L supply the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) with power while M and L act as the control circuit.   The PCB monitors the differential pressure switch.  This is typically a brass assembly threaded directly into the oil pump.   If oil pressure drops too low, this time, the differential switch will typically open, signalling the PCB to begin the timing that was handled by the heater in the mechanical control.


Electronics have some advantages over mechanical controls.   More accurate timing being first among those.   A thermal switch is somewhat dependent on its environment.   The same switch in a warm ambient is going to time out faster than it would in a colder ambient.   With electronics, timing is repeatable across a wide range of ambient temperatures.


Moving into the future​.

As electronic controls advance, manufacturers are integrating more features into them.  What was once a single purpose control  monitoring the compressor’s oil pressure is now turning into what amounts to a central control unit, taking oil pressure input along with motor current data, high and low pressure switch inputs, motor temperature inputs and acting as an integrated safety for the machine.   Not only does it provide troubleshooting data to the tech in the form of error codes, some are acting as data recorders allowing more detailed troubleshooting if the tech connects to the controller with a laptop or other device and downloads the data.

— Jeremy Smith CM



The most common and often most frustrating questions, that trainers and senior techs get goes something like this. “What should my ______ be?” or “My _____ is at ______ does that sound right?

Usually, when the conversation is over both the senior and junior techs walk away feeling frustrated because the junior tech just wanted a quick answer and the more experienced tech wants them to take all of the proper readings and actually understand the relationships between the different measurements.

In this series of articles we will explore the, “What should my _______ be?” questions one at time and hopefully learn some things along the way.

So what should the superheat be?

First, what is superheat anyway? It is simply the temperature increase on the refrigerant once it has become fully vapor. In other words, it is the temperature of a vapor above it’s boiling (saturation) temperature at a given pressure.

The air around us is all superheated! Head for the Hills!

How can you tell that the air around us is all superheated? Because the air all around us is made of vapor. If the air around us were a mixture of liquid air and vapor air, first off you would be dead and secondly, the air would be at SATURATION. So the air around us is well above its boiling temperature (-355° F) at atmospheric pressure which means it is fully vapor and SUPERHEATED. In fact, on a 75-degree day, the air around you is running a superheat of 430°

But why do we care?

We measure superheat (generally) on the suction line exiting the evaporator coil and it helps us understand a few things.

#1 – It helps ensure we are not flooding the compressor

First, if we have any reading above 0° of superheat we can be certain (depending on the accuracy and resolution of your measuring tools) that the suction line is full of fully vapor refrigerant and not a mix of vapor and liquid. This is important because it ensures that we are not running liquid refrigerant into the compressor crankcase. This is called FLOODING and results in compressor lubrication issues over time.

Image courtesy of Parker / Sporlan

#2 – It gives us an indication as to how well the evaporator coil is being fed

When the suction superheat is lower it tells us that saturated (boiling) liquid/vapor mixture is feeding FURTHER through the coil. In other words, lower superheat means saturated refrigerant is feeding a higher % of the coil. When the superheat is higher we know that the saturated refrigerant is not feeding as far through the coil. In other words higher superheat means a lower % of the coil is being fed with saturated (boiling) refrigerant.

The higher the % of the coil being fed the higher the capacity of the system and the higher the efficiency of the coil.

This is why on a fixed orifice system we often “set the charge” using superheat once all other parameters are properly set. Adding refrigerant (on a fixed orifice / piston / cap tube) will feed the coil with more refrigerant resulting in a lower superheat. Removing refrigerant will increase the superheat by feeding less of the coil with saturated (mixed liquid and vapor) refrigerant.

This method of “setting the charge” by superheat does not work on TXV / TEV / EEV systems because the valve itself controls the superheat. This does not negate the benefit of checking superheat, it just isn’t used to “set the charge”.

#3 – We can ensure our compressor stays cool by measuring superheat

Most air conditioning compressors are refrigerant cooled. This means that when the suction gas (vapor) travels down the line and enters the compressor crankcase it also cools the motor and internal components of the compressor. In order for the compressor to stay cool, the refrigerant must be of sufficient volume (mass flow) and low temperature. Measuring superheat along with suction pressure gives us the confidence that the compressor will be properly cooled. This is one reason why a properly sized metering device, evaporator coil, and load to system match must be established to result in an appropriate superheat at the compressor.

#4 – Superheat helps us diagnose the operation of an active metering device (TXV / TEV/ EEV)

Most “active” metering devices are designed to output a set superheat (or tight range) at the outlet of the evaporator coil if the valve is provided with a full liquid line of a high enough pressure liquid (often at least 100 PSIG higher than the valve outlet / evaporator pressure). Once we establish that the valve is being fed with a full line of liquid at the appropriate pressure we check the superheat at the outlet of the evaporator to ensure that the valve itself is functioning properly and /or adjusted properly. If the superheat is too low on a TEV system we would say the valve is too far open. If it is too high the valve is too far closed.

#5 – Superheat is an indication of load on the evaporator 

On both TEV / EEV systems and fixed orifice systems (piston / cap tube) you will notice that when the air (or fluid) going over the evaporator coil has less heat, or when there is less air flow (or fluid flow) over the evaporator coil the suction pressure will drop. However, on a TEV / EEV system as the heat load on the coil drops the valve will respond and shut further, keeping the superheat fairly constant. On a fixed orifice system as the load drops so will the superheat. It can drop so much on a fixed orifice system that when the system is run outside of design conditions the superheat can easily be zero resulting in compressor flooding.

When the load on the evaporator coil goes up a TEV / EEV will respond by opening further in an attempt to keep the superheat constant. A fixed metering device cannot adjust, so as the heat load on the coil goes up, so does the superheat.

When charging a fixed orifice A/C system you can use the chart below to figure out the proper superheat to set once all other parameters have been accounted for or you can use our special superheat and delta t calculator HERE

Using this chart requires that you measure indoor (return) wet bulb temperature so that the heat associated with the moisture in the air is also being accounted for as well. This is one of MANY target superheat calculators out there, you can use apps, sliderules etc… Here is ANOTHER ONE

Remember, this chart ONLY applies to fixed orifice systems.

So what should your superheat be in systems with a TEV / EEV? The best answer is… like usual… Whatever the manufacturer says it should be.If you really NEED a general answer you can generally expect

High temp / A/C systems to run 6 – 14 degrees of superheat

Medium Temp  – 5-10 

Low Temp – 4-10

Some ice machines and other specialty refrigeration may be as low as 3 degrees of superheat

When setting superheat on a refrigeration system with any type of metering you often must get the case / space down close to target temperature before you will be able to make fine superheat adjustments due to the huge swing in evaporator load. Once again, refer to manufacturer’s design specs.

— Bryan

P.S. – Trutech has a really great resource on charging best practices

Try out our new, simple superheat calculator for fixed metering A/C systems



This article was written by Gary McCreadie from “HVAC know it all”. You can learn more about Gary and his tips and growing community on Facebook and on LinkedIn

What is an economizer?  Simply put, it is a mechanical device that is designed to reduce the consumption of energy, whether it be fuel, electricity, or other. According to Wikipedia, the first economizer was patented by Edward Green in 1845.  It was used to increase the efficiency of stationary steam boilers.

This article will revolve around air side economizers.  You will typically see them as an accessory built into rooftop units used for the purpose of “free cooling”.  Free cooling is a funny term because it’s not actually “free”, the fan motor and economizer controls must be powered in order to operate, which consumes energy.  The term merely demonstrates the fact that less power consumption is taking place due to the fact we are utilizing outdoor air to cool a space rather than the use of a compressor or compressors.  Economizers also offer the added feature of providing fresh air to the building and it’s occupants.  A carbon dioxide sensor can be integrated into the set up.  As CO2 levels increase within the building, the outdoor air dampers are commanded to open, filling the space with fresh air.  As CO2 levels drop off, the dampers return to their minimum position.
The Guts of an Economizer
The economizer set up employs several parts in order to operate correctly.
1) A set of outdoor air dampers that are directly linked to the return air dampers are used to control air flow.  They move together as one, as the outdoor air dampers begin to open, the return air dampers begin to close and vice versa.
2) An outdoor air sensor.  This sensor is responsible for determining if the outdoor air is acceptable for free cooling.  In most cases, there will be an option between a sensible temperature sensor or an enthalpy sensor.
Sensible Temp Sensor – Measures dry bulb temperature of the air
Enthalpy Sensor –  Measures heat content within the air measured in btu/lb.  This sensor takes dry bulb temperature and wet bulb temperature into account for total heat content.
3) An indoor air sensor, this sensor reads sensible temperature and is responsible for maintaining mixed or discharge air temperature.  The damper assembly will modulate according to feed back from this sensor to maintain a pre-determined mixed or discharge air set point.  On newer economizer controls, like the Honeywell Jade for example, you are able to set the mixed or discharge air temperature as desired.
4) The damper actuator, which receives a signal from the economizer control board and moves to the assigned position to maintain the mixed air or discharge air set point.
5) When using free cooling you must remember that you are introducing fresh air, this added air into the space can cause positive pressure issues within a building.  To eleviate this problem economizers in most cases will have a built-in barometric relief damper or power exhaust system.
6) The control board is the heart and soul of the operation.  The control board receives sensor input signals, internally calculates the next step and relays the output signals to the damper actuator and power exhaust motor if utilized.
Order of operation
To keep it simple, the following example will be based on a single stage cooling rooftop unit complete with an economizer package.
On a call for cooling from the thermostat or BAS (building automation system), the Y1 terminal will be powered.  In most cases, the signal will first move through the rooftop control board and over to the econmizer control.  At that point, the econmizer control will then decide whether to proceed with free cooling or mechanical cooling based upon the outdoor air conditions either using sensible temperature of the air or the heat content of the air measured in enthalpy.  If the outdoor air is not suitable for free cooling, the control signal will be then relayed back to the main control board of the rooftop and initiate mechanical cooling (compressor operation).  If the outdoor air is suitable for free cooling, the outdoor air dampers will modulate from their minimum position (damper minimum position is set up during commissioning to maintain constant fresh air to the building and occupants) to maintain the mixed air or discharge air set point until the space temperature is reached.  Once the thermostat or BAS has been satisfied, the call for cooling will cease.
Most air side economizers in general, work as explained above.  It is best to contact the manufacturer of the equipment you are working on for technical advice or when issues pertaining to that system arise.
— Gary McCreadie

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This is a basic overview of the refrigeration circuit and how it works. It isn’t a COMPLETE description by any means, but it is designed to assist a new technician or HVAC/R apprentice in understanding the fundamentals.

First, let’s address some areas of possible confusion 

  1. The Word “Condenser” Can Mean two Different Things Many in the industry will refer to the outside unit on a split air conditioner, heat pump or refrigeration unit as a “condenser” even though it will often contain the condenser, compressor, and other parts. It’s better to call the outside component the “condensing unit” or simply the “outside unit” to reduce confusion.
  2. Cold and Hot are Relative terms Cold and Hot are both an experience, a description, a comparison or an emotion. Cold is a way to describe the absence of heat in the same way that dark describes the absence of light. We will often use the words cold and hot to compare two things “Today is colder than yesterday” or to communicate comfort “It feels hot in here”. These are useful communication tools, but they are comparisons not measurements.
  3. Heat and Absolute Zero Can be Measured We can measure heat in BTUs and light in lumens, we cannot measure cold or dark. Absolute cold is the absence of all heat.  -460°F(-273.3°C) (cold) is known as absolute zero, -460°F(-273.3°C) is the temperature at which all molecular movement stops. Any temperature above that has a measurable level of heat. While this is a known point at which all molecular movement stops, it has not (and likely cannot) be achieved.
  4. Boiling Isn’t Always Hot When we say it’s “boiling outside” we mean it’s hot outside. This is because when we think of boiling we immediately think of water boiling in a pot at 212°F (100°C) at atmospheric pressure, which is 14.7 PSI (Pounds Per Square Inch)(1.01 bar) at sea level. Boiling is actually just a change of state from liquid to vapor, and the temperature that occurs varies greatly based on the substance being boiled and the pressure around the substance. In an air conditioner or a refrigeration system, refrigerant is designed to boil at a low temperature that corresponds to the design of the system. On an average air conditioning system running under normal conditions with a 75°(23.88°C) indoor temperature, the evaporator coil will contain refrigerant boiling at around 40°F(4.44°C). In air conditioning and refrigeration when we refer to “boiling”, “flashing” or “evaporating of refrigerant” we are talking about the process of absorbing heat, otherwise known as cooling.
  5. Cooling and Heating Cannot be “Created” We are not in the business of making heat or creating cool; it cannot be done. We simply move heat from one place to another or change it from one form to another. When we “cool” a room with an air conditioner, we are simply absorbing heat from the air into an evaporator and then moving that heat outside to the condenser where it is “rejected” or moved to the outdoors.
  6. Heat and Temperature Aren’t the Same  Imagine a shot glass of water boiling away at 212°F(100°C). Now imagine an entire lake sitting at 50°F(10°C). Which has a higher (hotter) temperature? That answer is obvious-I just told you the shot glass had 212°F(100°C water in it so it is CLEARLY hotter. But, which contains more heat?  The answer is the lake. You see, heat is simply energy and energy at its basic form is movement. When we measure heat we are measuring molecular movement; the movement of molecules–atoms stuck together to make water or oxygen or nitrogen. When molecules move FASTER they have a HIGHER temperature and when they move SLOWER they have a LOWER temperature. Temperature is the average speed (velocity) of molecules in a substance, while heat is the total amount of molecular movement in a substance. The lake has more heat because the lake has more water (molecules).
  7. Compressing Something Makes it Get Hotter (Rise in Temperature) When you take something and put pressure on it, it will begin to get hotter. As you pack those molecules that make up whatever you are compressing, they get closer together and they start moving faster. If you drop the pressure the molecules will have more space and will move slower causing the temperature to go down.
  8. Changing the State of Matter Moves Heat Without Changing Temperature  When you boil pure water at atmospheric pressure it will always boil at  212°F(100°C). You can add more heat by turning up the burner, but as long as it is changing state (boiling), it will stay at 212°F(100°C). The energy is changing the water from liquid (water) to vapor (steam) and the temperature remains the same. This pressure and temperature at which a substance changes state instead of changing temperature is called its “boiling point”, “condensing temperature” or more generally “saturation” point.
  9. Superheat, Subcool, Boiling, and Saturation Aren’t Complicated  If water is boiling at sea level it will be 212°F(100°C). If water is 211°F(99.44°C) at sea level we know it is fully liquid and it is 1°F(-17.22°C) subcooled. If water is 213°F(100.55°C) at sea level we know it is vapor and superheated. If something is fully liquid it will be subcooled, if it is fully vapor it will superheated, and if it is in the process of change (boiling or condensing) it is at saturation.

Where to start 

Take a look at the diagram at the top of this piece and start at the bottom left. Are you looking at the part at the bottom left? OK, now read this next line OUT LOUD:

Compressor > Discharge line > Condenser > Liquid Line > Metering Device > Expansion Line > Evaporator > Suction line and then back to the Compressor

When I first started in HVAC/R trade school this was the first thing my instructor forced me to LITERALLY memorize forward and backwards before he would allow me to proceed.

While I am not always a huge fan of rote memorization as a learning technique, in this case, I agree with committing this to memory in the proper order.

These four refrigerant components and four lines listed above make up the basic circuit that every compression refrigeration system follows. Many more parts and controls may be added, but these basics are the cornerstone on which everything else you will learn is based. Once you have these memorized we can move on to describing each.


The compressor is the heart of the refrigerant circuit. It is the only mechanical component in a basic refrigeration system. The compressor is like the heart that pumps the blood in the body or like the sun that provides the earth its energy. Without the compressor to move the refrigerant through compression, no work would be done and no heat would be moved.

The compressor creates a pressure differential, resulting in high pressure on the high side (discharge line, condenser & liquid line) and low pressure on the low side (suction line, evaporator and expansion line).

There are many different types of compressors, but you will most likely see Scroll and Reciprocating type compressors most often. A reciprocating type compressor uses pistons, valves, and a crankshaft. Reciprocating compressors operate much like car engines; pulling in suction vapor on the down-stroke and compressing that vapor on the up-stroke. A scroll compressor does not have any up-down motion like a reciprocating compressor. A scroll compressor uses an oscillating motion to compress the low-pressure vapor into high-pressure vapor.

The compressor pressurizes low-pressure vapor into high-pressure vapor, but it also causes the temperature of the gas to increase. As stated in the gas laws, an increase in pressure causes an increase in temperature and a decrease in volume. In the case of refrigerant cooled compressors, heat is also added to the refrigerant off of the kinetic (bearings, valves, pistons) and electrical (motor windings) mechanisms of the compressor. Compressors require lubrication; this is accomplished through oil that is in the compressor crankcase, as well as oil that is carried with the refrigerant. Liquid entering the compressor through the suction line is a very serious problem. It can cause liquid slugging, which is liquid refrigerant entering the compression portion of the compressor. Liquid slugging will most likely cause damage to the compressor instantly. Another problem is bearing washout or “flooding”. This occurs when liquid refrigerant dilutes the oil in the compressor crankcase and creates foaming, and it will greatly reduce the life of the compressor because it will not receive proper lubrication and too much oil will be carried out of the compressor and into other parts of the system. The compressor also (generally) relies on the cool suction gas from the evaporator to cool the compressor properly, so it’s a delicate balance to keep a compressor from being flooded and also keep it cool.



Condensers come in all different types, shapes, and sizes. Regardless, they all perform the same function: rejecting heat from the refrigerant. The refrigerant entering the condenser was just compressed by the compressor, and this process increased the temperature by packing the molecules together which added heat to the vapor refrigerant due to the motor and mechanical workings of the compressor. This process in the compressor also greatly increased the pressure from a low-pressure in the suction line entering the compressor, to a high-pressure vapor leaving the compressor.

The condenser has three jobs:

  1. Desuperheat the refrigerant (Drop the temperature down to the condensing temperature)
  2. Condense (saturate) the refrigerant (Reject heat until all the refrigerant turns to liquid)
  3. Subcool the refrigerant (Drop the temperature of the refrigerant below the condensing / saturation temperature)

The condenser’s job is to reject heat (drop the temperature) of the refrigerant to its condensing (saturation) temperature, then to further reject heat until the refrigerant fully turns to liquid. The reason it must fully turn to liquid is that, in order for the refrigerant to boil in the evaporator, it must first have liquid to boil.

The way in which the condenser removes the heat from the refrigerant varies. Most modern condensers flow air over the tubing where the refrigerant is flowing. The heat transfers out of the refrigerant and into the air. The cooling medium can also be water. In the case of a water source system, water is circulated across the refrigerant in a heat exchanger.

In either case, the condenser relies on the removal of heat to another substance (air, water, glycol etc..). For instance, if you turned off the condenser fan so that no air was flowing over the condenser coil, the condenser would get hotter and hotter. This would cause the pressures to get higher and higher. If it kept going that way it would trip the internal overload on the compressor or cause other damage.

The hot vapor from the compressor enters the condenser and the superheat  (temperature above condensing temperature) is then removed. The refrigerant then begins to change state from vapor to liquid (Condense). The refrigerant maintains a constant temperature until every molecule of vapor is condensed. The temperature of the liquid again starts to fall. This is known as subcooling. When we measure subcooling we are measuring degrees of temperature rejected once the refrigerant has turned completely to liquid.

Temperature above the saturation temperature is called superheat. Temperature below the saturation temperature is called subcool or subcooling. So when something is fully vapor (like the air around us) it will be superheated, and when it is fully liquid (like the water in a lake) it is subcooled. 

Metering Device

The metering device is a pressure differential device that creates a pressure drop to facilitate refrigerant boiling in the evaporator coil.

The metering device is located between the liquid line and the evaporator. The liquid line is full of high-pressure liquid refrigerant. When the high-pressure liquid hits the small restrictor in the metering device, the pressure is immediately reduced. This drops the pressure of the refrigerant to such a degree, that the saturation temperature is lower than the temperature of the air surrounding the tubing that the refrigerant is in. This causes the refrigerant to start changing from liquid to vapor. This is called “boiling” or “flashing”. This “flashing” brings the refrigerant down from the liquid line temperature to the boiling (saturation) temperature in the evaporator, and in this process a percentage of the refrigerant is immediately changed from liquid to vapor. The percentage of the refrigerant that changes during flashing depends on how great the difference is. A larger difference between the liquid line temperature and the evaporator boiling temperature results in more liquid lost to flashing and reduces the efficiency of operation.


There are a few different types of metering devices. The most common ones being the Thermostatic Expansion Valve (TXV/ TEV) and the Fixed Orifice (often called a piston)– as well as electronic expansion valves, capillary tubes, and others.



The evaporator is also known as the cooling coil, because the purpose of the evaporator is to absorb heat. It accomplishes this through the refrigerant changing from liquid to vapor (boiling). This boiling process begins as soon as the refrigerant leaves the metering device, and it continues until the refrigerant has absorbed enough heat to completely finish the change from liquid to vapor. As long as the refrigerant is boiling it will remain at a constant temperature; this temperature is referred to as saturation temperature or evaporator temperature. As soon as the refrigerant is done boiling, the temperature starts to rise. This temperature increase is known as superheat.

When the indoor air temperature or the air flow going over the coil is higher, the evaporator pressure and temperature will also be higher because more heat is being absorbed into the coil. When the air temperature or airflow over the coil is lower, it will have lower pressure and temperature in the coil due to less heat being absorbed in the coil.

The refrigerant leaves the evaporator, travels down the suction line and heads back to the compressor where the cycle starts all over again.

Refrigerant Lines 

Suction Line = Line Between the Evaporator and the Compressor

The suction line should contain low-pressure superheated suction vapor. Cool to the touch on an air conditioning system, and cold to the touch in refrigeration.

Discharge Line = Line Between the Compressor and the Condenser 

The discharge line should contain high temperature, high pressure superheated vapor

Liquid Line = Line between the Condenser and the Metering Device

The liquid line should be high pressure, slightly above outdoor temperature subcooled liquid

Expansion Line (When applicable) = Line Between the Metering Device and the Evaporator

On most systems, the metering device will be mounted directly to the evaporator making the expansion line a non-factor. Some ductless mini-split units will mount the metering device in the outside unit making the second, smaller line and expansion line. The expansion line is full of mixed vapor/liquid flash gas.

Yes, this was long, but more than anything else just keep repeating over and over: compressor>discharge line>condenser>liquid line>metering device>expansion line> evaporator>suction line and on and on and on…

Jim Bergmann did a great whiteboard video on the MeasureQuick YouTube page that explains the basic refrigerant circuit





Testo 557 vacuum gauge and Appion core removal tools shown

I’ve had a change of heart.

Back in the early 2000’s during the big construction boom I did a lot of system startups on residential units for a large company I worked for.

When installers were running the linesets prior to startup they weren’t always very careful to keep them clean and dry and many times we would end up with a restriction in the piston or TXV.

These new residential systems come with a precharged with refrigerant in the condenser. So after my vacuum was complete I would “release” the charge by slowly opening the liquid line service and watching to see if my suction pressure would steadily rise.

I did this so if there was anything in the liquid line it would hit the screen or drier before the metering device instead of possibly running the other way and clogging the TXV or orifice.

Many times I would know that there was a restriction before I even started the system because I got used to watching that suction needle rise. While I did this for a good reason that reason is in the past.

When we install systems we take great care to make sure the lineset stays clean and dry and we flow nitrogen while brazing with the line drier installed near the indoor coil.

It’s a new day and I’m giving up my old sins.

So now I must admit… the better way to do it is to slowly open the SUCTION valve first. This prevents oil loss out of the compressor into the discharge line and out of the liquid line.

It is not likely that you will lose enough compressor oil to cause any damage by opening the liquid line slowly, but any oil the compressor does lose has a long journey before it gets back to the compressor. The other issue is that oil loss in those first few moments in the life of a new system can have long lasting effects on the operation and longevity of that compressor.

Have you ever taken a liquid line hose off after a new system install and gotten oil all over?

The reason for that is often due to opening the liquid line first and the compressor losing oil to the discharge line and then to the liquid line.

When you open the suction side slowly first and oil loss from the compressor will enter the suction line. Once the compressor begins running no it will pull that oil back into the compressor.

When doing it this way you would attach your micron gauge to the liquid line core remover side port with the schrader in place in the side port. Once you completed your vacuum and proved you had no leaks or moisture by valving  off the VCT’s and watching your decay rate. You would then attach your gauge manifold and slowly crack the suction side until you see a few psi on the liquid side. Now remove the vacuum gauge to ensure it is not damaged by the system pressure.

Most micron gauges can handle some pressure, for example the Testo 552 can handle up to 72 PSIG(4.96 bar) and many can handle 400 psi(27.57 bar) or more. it never hurts to remove that expensive and sensitive micron gauge before you expose the sensor to high pressure, but never remove it BEFORE the system is under positive pressure or you will lose the entire vacuum.

You would then purge your manifold hoses and fully open the suction valve and then the liquid line valve.

When charging a system that has no charge (not running) weigh refrigerant into the liquid line first until both sides equalize in pressure to ensure that you are not introducing liquid refrigerant right into the compressor crankcase.

Also keep in mind that running the crankcase heater once the charge has been released and before the system is started is also a good practice to prevent flooded start on the compressor.

— Bryan

Jim Bergmann and I recorded a podcast for HVAC School that covered when and how to check the refrigerant circuit without connecting gauges. Listener Joe Reinhard listened several times and wrote up this summary of what he gained from the episode. I edited it lightly but most of this is his work. Thank you so much Joe!

Following mostly from two 45-50 minute podcasts from discussions between Bryan Orr HVACR, expert tech, teacher, & business owner, and Jim Bergmann, renowned HVAC-R expert & teacher, from Redfish instruments and the MeasureQuick app, providing a detailed explanation of why techs should not connect gauges & hoses to system just to check refrigerant charge (in many cases).

Why Not Connect?

The benefits of NOT connecting gauges during every visit for HVAC-R business owners, technicians, and clients include:

  1.  Non-invasive measurements with only temperature data taken. Exact same way one checks if a typical refrigerator was operating properly which has no ports to attach hoses and gauges.  
  2. Just measuring DTDs (Design Temperature Differences) and line set piping temperatures are non-invasive, involve less liability both for the system and technician safety, and demonstrates technical knowledge and best practices.   
  3. Better for the refrigeration system and the environment (“green”) since it saves R22 and R410A released to atmosphere.
  4. Time savings at site so techs can concentrate on better and more preventative maintenance (PM) of the air flow system (including condensate drainage) and PM checking electrical characteristics of various control components (capacitors, contactors, sequencers, etc.,.)
  5. Eliminate more call backs and potential premature system cooling (and heating for heat pumps) performance problems and failures due to cross contamination, moisture contamination and lost refrigerant.
  6. Saves the customer money on refrigerant added due to connection losses.

Term Definitions 

  • Evaporator DTD (Design Temperature Difference) is the designed difference between the evaporator coil saturation / boiling temperature as measured on the suction gauge and the return air temperature. 35°f (1.66°C)of difference is considered normal for a typical system set at 400 CFM(679.6 m3/h) per ton airflow. Oversized evaporator coils and increased airflow above 400 CFM(679.6 m3/h) per ton will result in lower DTD and lower airflow with smaller coils will result in higher DTD.
  • Condenser CTOA (Condensing Temperature Over Ambient) is the temperature difference between the condensing coil saturation / condensing temperature as measured on the liquid line high side gauge and the outdoor temperature. This difference will vary depending on the efficiency of the system / efficiency of the condenser coil.

6 – 9 SEER Equipment (Very Old) = 30° CTOA

10 -12 SEER Equipment = 25° CTOA

13 – 14 SEER Equipment = 20° CTOA

15 SEER+ Equipment = 15° CTOA


  • Delta T (Evaporator Split) is the temperature difference between the return and supply air. Delta T will vary quite a bit depending on airflow and indoor relative humidity. This chart shown below is designed for a 400 CFM(679.6 m3/h) per ton system. Lower airflow will result in a higher delta t and higher airflow will result in a lower delta t. This is why Jim Bergmann does not prefer Delta T as a firm diagnostic or commissioning tool but rather as an approximation of airflow.
  • Target Superheat on a TXV system is dictated by the design of the TXV. Usually target superheat on a TXV system will be 5°f-15°f(2.75°K – 8.25°K) at the outlet of the evaporator where the TXV bulb is located. On a piston system the target superheat is calculated using a superheat chart and measuring and plotting the outdoor dry bulb temperature and the indoor wet bulb temperature.


  • Target Subcooling on a TXV system will be listed by the manufacturer but is generally between 8° – 14°(4.4°K – 7.7°K)subcool. Subcooling will vary quite a bit on fixed orifice systems but 5°-20°(2.75°K – 11°K) is a common range.

DTDs (Design Temperature Difference) of the coils, after a system is newly commissioned or first-time assessed with gauges, should not change over the life of the sealed refrigeration system once a system has been charged correctly unless one or more of the following has developed:  

  1. Air flow restriction with dirt buildup as main cause – dirty outdoor coil, dirty indoor coil, dirty filter,  dirty blower blades/inside housing, Return/Supply duct restrictions, blower motor speed or operation problems, and if homeowner installs a so-called high efficiency, nothing-gets-thru-including-air filter.
  2. Critical component failure.
  3. Refrigerant flow restriction.  

So after the first-time visit performance assessment or a new system is commissioned, subsequent system checkups or maintenance visits should be performed without connecting gauges.    

The following risks, problems, and liabilities occur and eventually develop when technicians attach gauge hoses every time to check the system refrigerant characteristics versus just using measured system temperatures and knowledge of Return/Supply air TD, Evaporator/Condenser splits, and refrigerant P/Ts.   Not attaching hoses & gauges to systems without good reason is actually correct practice and the following could be avoided or greatly minimized.

  1. Techs are inducing system contamination if, prior to connecting the hoses the techs did not use dry nitrogen to purge air, moisture, and/or old refrigerant out of their hoses & manifold from the prior system the gauges were attached.  Perhaps the prior system had a different refrigerant that may/may not have been contaminated with non-condensables and other refrigerant(s)?
  2. Were the hoses on the gauges left open to the atmosphere in the back of the truck used for the prior R410A system?  If so, the coating of POE (polyester) refrigerant oil (highly hygroscopic) would have absorbed moisture which, if not correctly purged with dry nitrogen, would contaminate systems by inputting moisture which will cause TXV and liquid filter-drier freeze ups (blockages), cause contaminated refrigerant (making R22 recycle subject to high fees and fines), and cause acids which will attack and corrode compressor surfaces (copper plating), valves, and windings.  Hoses should always be tightly connected to the manifold parking ports to prevent moisture contamination.
  3. Are techs properly & carefully disconnecting gauge hoses while the system is running?   If not, perhaps a service call back will shortly occur since, every time hoses are connected and disconnected, some refrigerant is lost.  If the liquid hose is not charged back through the manifold and Suction hose, several ounces or more in the liquid hose are lost if techs inadvertently or on purpose blow or dump refrigerant by not properly disconnecting gauge hoses while the system is running.  This occurs if techs are inexperienced or decide not to take the time or are not equipped with low-loss-ball-valve hose end fittings to slowly, carefully, after purging hoses if needed, charge from the liquid hose (holds 7x the R410A as the vapor or suction line; 10X for R22) thru the gauge manifold into the vapor or suction hose back into the running system.  If this procedure is not done correctly, air and moisture can enter the system.   After one, two, or three years of visits, techs can be chasing “leak(s)” created by multiple connects/disconnects.  
  4. Caps no longer inadvertently left off on Schrader valve ports leading to leaks.
  5. Reduced safety issues for techs since less chance of refrigerant in eyes and frozen-fingers and loss refrigerant to atmosphere.


Data to record during first-time system performance assessments and new system commissioning using refrigerant gauges so that benchmarks exist to compare to future checkup visits but without attaching gauge hoses if no observed or reported system problem reasons.  


  1. TD or Temperature Difference between the Return air dry-bulb (DB) and Supply air DB.   TD level depends on sensible & latent heat content of inside air.  Higher TD for low RH% (Relative Humidity), lower TD for high RH%.  20°F(-6.66°C)  TD is good if system operating properly at 75°F(23.88°C), 50% RH and set for 400 CFM/(679.6 m3/h)ton.  If reduce CFM/( m3/h) ton, TD increases, but if RH% increases, the TD decreases back-and-forth so the TD can range 16°f – 24°f(8.8°K – 13.2°K) (or more in extreme cases, see the Delta T chart)    
  2. Evaporator DTD (Design Temperature Difference), also called “Split”, is temp difference between the Return air dry-bulb (DB) temp and the refrigerant saturation temp of the coil – either 35°F(1.66°C) at 400 CFM/(679.6 m3/h) ton to 525 CFM/(891.98 m3/h)ton or 40°F(4.44°C) at 350 CFM/(594.65 m3/h) ton.  
  3. Evaporator outlet SLT (Suction Line Temp) and SH (SuperHeat) On a TXV system the superheat range 5°f(2.75°K) to 15°f(8.25°K) depending on factory setting +/– 5°F(2.75°K) of 10°f(5.5°K).   Fixed-bore or piston reading depends on inside heat load, Return air WB, and outside air DB temp
  4. TESP (Total External Static Pressure) inches WC of the air handler between non-turbulent point in Return plenum before a clean filter and in the Supply plenum non-turbulent area.  With caution, drill 3/8”-1/2” holes to cover when done with vinyl or plastic professional looking plugs. On a furnace drill above the filter for the return reading and between the furnace and the coil for the supply reading. Note if the coil was wet or dry since TESP changes. 
  5. Pressure Drop  “wc across the filter.
  6. Pressure Drop  “wc across the Evaporator coil, note if wet or dry coil, and plug holes.
  7. Indoor Blower motor (IBM) running load amps (RLAs) compared to nameplate Rated or Full Load Amps (FLA) with the panels on.
  8. SLT and SH at the Condenser (Compressor inlet).  SH within +/– 5°f(2.75°K)  is acceptable. For a TXV, superheat average 10°f(5.5°K) plus additional 1-3°F (.55°K – 1.65°K)of SH the Suction/Vapor line absorbs (as measured).  For a fixed-bore or piston Metering Device at the indoor coil, a total “target SH” is determined by outdoor DB and indoor WB temps.  
  9. Condenser DTD or Split is temp difference between the refrigerant saturation temp and the DB temp of air at entering middle of the coil. As SEER increases, condenser surface areas are larger but are limited by diminishing heat transfer capability as the temperature difference between the outdoor air and the coil temperature decrease.  
  10. LLT (Liquid Line Temp) and SC (SubCooling) at the Condenser outlet.   SC within +/– 3 °f(1.65°K)  is acceptable. Ex. for 85°f(29.4°C) ambient, 13 SEER with a 20°f(-6.66°C) DTD split, and 10°f(-12.22°C) SC nameplate, the LLT = 95°f(35°C)  (= 85°f(29.44°C) outdoor + 20°f(-6.66°C) CTOA  – 10°f(5.5°K) Subcooling ).
  11. Compressor and OFM running load amps (RLA) compared to nameplate Rated and Full Load Amps (FLA), respectively.  
  12. Measured suction temperature differential between the suction line leaving the evaporator and entering the compressor in °f. So if the suction line is 50°f(10°C) inside and 53°f(11.66°C) outside there would be a 3°f(1.65°K) temperature rise.
  13. Measured liquid temperature differential between the liquid line leaving the condenser and entering the metering device in °f. So if the liquid line is 95°f(35°C) outside and 92°f(33.33°C) inside there would be a 3°f(1.65°K) temperature drop.

Again, benchmarked DTDs, SHs, SC, and ESPs should not change during the life of the system unless one or more of the following has developed:  

  1. Air flow restriction
  2. Component failure
  3. Refrigerant flow restriction  


Data to record during follow-up seasonal checkup visits and compare to benchmark data.  See if problems have or are developing and show improvement after any services are performed which offers value to clients/customers paying for the service call or membership fee.  Service could be simple as a filter change, coil cleaning, and blower maintenance but, since have more time for PM, also identify potential electrical parts failures and inform clients to choose fix now or later.

  1. TD between the Return air dry-bulb (DB) and Supply air DB.  Should be in 16-24°F(8.8°K – 13.2°K) range depending upon sensible & latent heat content of inside air (see chart).  
  2. Evaporator outlet SLT.  If a TXV, should be within +/– 5°f(2.75°K)  of benchmark reading.   Fixed-bore or piston reading depends on inside heat load, Return air WB, and outside air DB temp.  More practical SLT determine at outdoor coil Suction/Vapor line.
  3. TESP (Total External Static Pressure) “wc of the air handler and note if wet or dry coil.
  4. Static Pressure Drop “wc across the filter and re-plug holes (or visually inspect / replace)
  5. Static Pressure Drop “wc across the Evaporator coil, note if wet or dry coil, and re-plug holes.
  6. SLT at the Condenser (Compressor inlet). For an indoor TXV, should be within +/– 5°f(2.75°K)  of benchmark reading.  For fixed-bore or piston indoor coil Metering Device, determine total “target SH” from outdoor DB and indoor WB temps.  
  7. LLT (Liquid Line Temp) and SC (SubCooling) at the Condenser outlet.   LLT using SEER-rating split, should be within +/– 3°f(1.65°K)  of benchmark reading. Outdoor air temperature + CTOA based on system efficiency – subcooling = target liquid line temperature


Other notes:

Always use pre-tested, calibrated (as possible) digital thermometers to measure air temps and line set pipe temps or insulated temp sensors.  Do not depend upon the space thermostat to accurately represent inside air temps since could be Return duct leakage, bypass ducts not dampered correctly, and air handler cabinet leaks e.g. holes/gaps at indoor coil line set inlet affecting the Return air temp.  

Air flow through/across Evaporator and Condenser coils will only decrease and not “magically” increase. Primary reason is dirt accumulation on air flow components e.g. coil fins, indoor filter, indoor blower blades, outdoor fan blades.  Other reasons includes leaky air handler cabinets from gaps at Return & Supply duct connections, holes at line set inlet to Evaporator cabinet, and a bypass duct with no damper to close off air flow between Supply and Return in Cooling mode.

Systems should not be benchmarked with a wet Condenser coil or if the LLT is at or below the outdoor ambient air DB temperature.

Use a battery or cord operated leaf blower to dry out the coil in 5-10 minutes.  

The only action that increases air flow is increasing the fan or blower RPM or speed.   If Suction line supposed to be 54°F(12.22°C) (40°F(4.44°C) coil + 10°f(-12.22°C)  SH if TXV + say 2F SH addl to Vapor line length) but is 47-48°F(25.85°K – 26.4°K), look for indoor air flow restriction issues.   Evaporator is like a boiling pot of water but a sealed system so if the burner heat is turned up, P&T increase. More than addl 2-4°f(1.1°K – 2.2°K)  Superheat at the Compressor inlet, probably better insulate the Vapor line.

Maximum inlet temperature Suction line at Compressor inlet should be below 65°f(18.33°C) .   If not, the Compressor will have the potential overheat and oil breakdown can occur do to excessive discharge superheat / temperature.

TXV designed to maintain 5-15°f(2.75°K – 8.25°K) superheat (10°f(5.5°K) given +/- 5°f(2.75°K) range) but only at the Evaporator outlet or where the sensing bulb is located on the suction line.  Some SH is added to suction line before gets to the Compressor inlet.   However, if the line set is located in a 145°F(62.77°C) attic and Vapor line not well insulated, significant SH gain will be seen at the Compressor inlet. Vapor line needs good insulation (also for Heath Pumps in Heating mode) e.g. with thicker tubing insulation and/or using foil-bubble wrap or “Reflectix” attached with foil tape since reflects IR heat.

Summary of the Jim Bergmann / Bryan Orr Podcast on checking the charge without using gauges by Joe Reinhard

P.S. – As mentioned in the podcast the Testo 605i and the 115i make a great pairing to check a system in the way described above

You can now do ALL of these calculations easily with the MeasureQuick app at

Service factor is an interesting motor rating that you will see on many motor data tags. It simply means how much additional “work” a motor can do or “load” it may be placed under for short periods of time without failure or overload.

For example. The FLA or Full Load Amps of the motor above is 10.8 amps at 115 volts

The Service Factor or S.F. is 1.5, which makes the Service Factor Amps 16.2 (rounded down to 16 on the motor tag) because 10.8 x 1.5 = 16.2

Don’t confuse SFA with LRA (Locked Rotor Amps). LRA is the current the motor will draw when the rotor is stationary, such as during startup. Service Factor is simply a short term “fudge factor” that the motor has for short periods of higher than normal load.

When a motor is running above its Full Load Amps and in the Service Factor range it may function but its operational life will be shorter and it will generally run at lower efficiency and power factor.

— Bryan

I was about 13 years old the first time I bent EMT with my uncle. We were doing a renovation at a church, and watching him bend EMT and then getting to do it MYSELF was a truly religious experience.

There are a few things in the trade where workmanship really comes into play such as copper pipework, making up a panel or fabricating ductwork… bending EMT belongs on that list. While most commercial electricians do it every day, HVAC techs and installers only run into an application where we do it on a rare occasion. When that does happen its good to have a basic understanding of how it works. In this video Juan from the The Air Conditioning Guy channel goes over some quick basics on bending EMT

For more info you can read this great guide on bending from Klein

— Bryan

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