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This topic came up because I was testing out the new MR45 digital recovery machine and that machine goes off by itself when it hits a 20″ Hg vacuum. This is a cool feature but it is good to know when that level of vacuum is overkill and when it’s not enough according to EPA requirements.

Why would you need to recover into a vacuum you might ask? Well, so long as you are above a PERFECT VACUUM (and you always do) there are still molecules of refrigerant in a system even at 0 pisg (14.7 PSIA at sea level). In low pressure systems like centrifugal  chillers the entire system charge can often be in a vacuum when the system is off, this means that recovery on these systems means you START below 0 PSIG and go down from there. 

First off let’s pretty much assume that none of you are using recovery machines OLDER than 1993 so really only look at the right side of the chart above.

If you are working on an air conditioning system with UNDER 200 lbs you are safe taking your recovery to 0 or atmospheric pressure. If the system you are working on has OVER 200 lbs of refrigerant or if you are working on a medium pressure or low pressure system you will need to pull the system into a vacuum.

The EPA does make an exception if the system has a know leak and pulling into a vacuum will result in contamination of the recovered refrigerant. Here is an excert from the EPA final rule summary from 1995 (still in force)

Also let me clarify that 25mm hg absolute is another way of saying 25 torr or 25,000 microns, it’s just a finer scale and it goes from 760 torr (760,000 microns) down as the vacuum gets deeper whereas inches of mercury (“hg) goes up as the vacuum gets deeper.

— Bryan

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As we have mentioned in several previous articles, many blended refrigerants have glide, which simply means they boil and condense over a range of temperatures instead of just one temperature.

As an example consider refrigerant R407c, it is a zeotropic blend which means it has enough glide that it makes a big difference if you fail to take it into account.

For example, on an evaporator coil running R407c the refrigerant leaving the TXV will begin boiling at the bubble point, let’s say that the pressure in the evaporator is 80 PSIG that bubble temperature will be 40°.

Now as the refrigerant continues boiling the temperature will begin increasing towards the Dewpoint which is 50.8°. Any temperature gained ABOVE 50.8° on a R407c system at 80 PSIG is superheated, meaning the refrigerant is completely vapor.

So we calculate superheat as temperature above the dew point and subcool as temperature below the dew point and the condensing temperatures and evaporator temperature aren’t fixed but they GLIDE between the bubble and dew and back again when the refrigerant is changing state.

But what does this mean for evaporator and condensing temperatures when calculating target head pressure (condensing pressure) and suction pressure (evaporator pressure) also known as evaporator TD and condensing temperature over ambient?

The simplest way is to use the midpoint between the dew and bubble points to calculate CTOA and DTD.

In the case above you would simply calculate 50.8° + 40° = 90.8 | 90.8 ÷ 2 =  45.5° average evaporator temperature or midpoint

Emerson points out that evaporators would be better calculated using 40% of bubble and 60% of dew but the extra complexity generally doesn’t make enough difference to mention.

I made this video to demonstrate further

 

— Bryan

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There are several types of Ice Machines but in this article we will focus on Cuber style and Flaker or Nugget style. Both types produce Ice but the process of freezing and harvesting is a little different. The application in which the Ice will be used will determine what style of machine is needed. I primarily work with Restaurants and Hospitals so my article will be geared in that direction.

Let’s start by simplifying the ice making process, if we take water and circulate it over an evaporator that is below freezing we will at some point start to freeze that water, once our Ice has formed we than harvest the ice and start our process again. That’s about as simple as it gets

The  steps to make Ice seem simple take water and freeze it, but It’s not that simple. Making Ice cubes is actually a pretty complicated process, with several critical steps that must be met for the process to work correctly. The first step starts with properly cleaning the water that will be made into ice to remove any impurities, water itself naturally contains minerals and those minerals are an Ice Machines worst enemy. The minerals lead to calcium buildup which causes issues with the ice machine. A quality ice machine install will have a high quality water filter system installed that was sized properly and has the appropriate filters inside that are chosen after a water quality test has been performed. Once we have properly filtered water we bring the water into a reservoir inside the machine and the water waits until the machine is ready to make Ice.

Among all the ice machine manufacturers there are several methods that the machine will tell itself that the ice storage bin is low on Ice and to turn on, the most common methods are a thermostat and or some sort of mechanical control that is actuated by ice buildup, subsequently telling the machine that the ice is low and it’s time to turn on.

Cuber style ice machines

Assuming the machine is ready to turn on, most brands of ice machines will start in a pre-chill, which means we cool the evaporator with no water running over it, this is done to try and prevent slush from forming. Than by means of a water pump the machine will start to circulate the water over the evaporator, and that water will continually run over the evaporator and down into the sump than it will be pumped over the evaporator again, each time it passes over the evaporator the water will get colder and colder and eventually a little bit of the water will start to freeze to the evaporator plate, this process will continue over and over again until the ice is the proper thickness. The thickness can be determined by many methods including a thickness sensor, water level monitoring, and or a timer. Once it’s time to harvest the ice the most popular method is to introduce hot refrigerant from the discharge of the compressor into the evaporator and subsequently melt the ice off the evaporator from the inside out while running a little bit of water over the cubes to assist dropping the cubes off the evaporator. The harvest cycle is usually terminated by a timer that is in the circuit board. Each manufacturer has their own unique way of making and harvesting the ice. With all cuber style ice machines the harvest cycle is very dependent on maintaining an adequate high side pressure as their defrost depends entirely on it. When the machine is self contained and located indoors its not too hard to maintain the proper head pressure because the building will likely be conditioned, however on remote systems where the condenser is located outside we utilize head pressure control valves (headmasters) to back up the refrigerant in the condenser to reduce the condensing capacity of the condenser and subsequently raise the head pressure.

Flaker or Nugget style Ice machines

These machines have a unique way of making ice they utilize a round cylinder evaporator that has an auger inside of it that is turned by a high torque gear motor. The auger sits directly In the center of the evaporator with less than 1/16th of an inch clearance on either sides and the auger is always spinning it has the shape of a corkscrew. The machine will have a water reservoir that supplies water to the evaporator whenever it gets low. The machine will start to freeze the water and as it becomes ice the continually turning auger will force the ice up to the top of the evaporator and out of a nozzle that will shape the ice into the desired style (Crushed, Flaked, and or Nugget). It is important to notice that with this style of ice machine the harvest cycle happens when the ice gets thick enough for the auger to scrape it off and it both freezes and harvests the ice at the same time.

— Chris Stephens

P.S. – we have a new podcast out on ice machines HERE enjoy

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My Grandfather is a really interesting guy. He grew up working in the Pennsylvania coal mines starting at the age of 7 or 8 and then worked as well driller, and a plumber, also went to HVAC school, and did some gas work worked a while as an electrician, welder, diver and ended up as an aircraft salvage man.

One of his favorite phrases is to call adjustable wrenches and channel locks (slip groove or tongue and groove pliers) “shoemakers tools”. I literally have no idea WHY he would call them that, or why he thought it was so funny to call them that but he certainly didn’t mean it as a compliment.

It is usually best to use a properly sized socket or wrench to do a job rather than reaching for a “multi-purpose” wrench, but every tool has a purpose and if you are going to use a tool it’s best to use it properly. I know this is basic, but we cant assume everyone has a grandpa like mine.

Pull Don’t Push (When You Can)

Whenever possible orient the wrench so that you are pulling rather than pushing (Yes, I know I’m awkwardly pushing in the GIF below) . This is a much more smooth and natural motion and you will be able to apply more force.

Pipe Wrenches are Special

A pipe wrench is only for working with pipe, NOT nuts, and bolts. I know this should be obvious but I worked with a guy once who treated a pipe wrench like a regular wrench and left a lot of damaged bolt heads in his wake.

A pipe wrench has sharp, angled teeth that will grip in one direction and release in the other direction. Open the jaw wide enough that the pipe sits in about the center of the pipe wrench unlike a typical where the object to be turned sits all the way in the back of the jaws.

Keep in mind that a pipe wrench will leave marring on the surface of the pipe, if you don’t want it to be damaged you can use a leather (or even rubber) strap around the pipe to protect it before using the wrench. A leather belt can do the trick.

Turn the Wrench Toward the Bottom Jaw

Maybe there is an exception to the rule, but not in any of my wrenches. If you turn the wrench toward the bottom jaw they will grip properly and be less likely to slip. In order to tighten vs. loosen just flip the wrench over and turn the opposite direction

Righty Tighty is Annoying

Half my childhood was HAUNTED by the phrase righty tighty, lefty loosey. IT IS ROUND! there is no right or left unless it is a reference to another direction (the top). It’s better said as clockwise tighty… and yes, I know that doesn’t sound cool.

— Bryan

 

 

 

 

 

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Like we often do in these tech tips, we will start with the common and more practical explanation of saturation and then move to the more technical and nerdy explanation later.

When we say “at saturation” or “saturated” in the HVAC/R trade we are generally referring to refrigerant that is in the process of changing from liquid to vapor (boiling) in the evaporator or vapor to liquid (condensing) in the condenser.

We generally look at a set of gauges or find the temperature on a PT (Pressure – Temperature) chart that matches a particular refrigerant and pressure and we call that the saturation temperature.

So when a tech connects gauges to the liquid line (high side) of a system and they look at the needle they will refer to the pressure in PSI and the temperature for the particular refrigerant as saturation temperature. On the gauge above the refrigerant in the system is R22 (green scale) they would say that the pressure is 200 PSI and the saturation temperature is 102°F.

To be even more specific, a tech might say that the condensing temperature of this system is 102°F because the saturated state is occurring during the process of condensing in this particular case.

From a practical standpoint in a refrigeration circuit when we say saturation we are referring to –

the pressure and temperature a refrigerant will be if both liquid and vapor are present at the same time and place

One of the most common cases where we will see refrigerant at saturation is inside systems that are off as well as inside a refrigerant tank. If you were to connect a gauge to tank (like this Testo 550 shown) the refrigerant pressure inside the tank will be equal to the pressure that correlates to the saturation temperature of the tank (I know that’s a mouth full but it’s really pretty simple).

In the case of the refrigerant shown above the room temperature is 71.9°F and the refrigerant is R-422D. All I had to do was connect the Testo 550 and select R422D and the saturation temperature (show above the psi on the right) is EXACTLY 71.9°F. In this case, we can say the saturation PRESSURE of R422D is 136.8 PSI at 71.9°F or that the saturation TEMPERATURE is 71.9°F at 136.8 PSI.

Either way, what are saying is that there is both liquid and vapor present inside the tank so it is at SATURATION or in the saturated state if you would rather. So as techs we see refrigerant at saturation pressure and temperature when the system is off, inside a tank and when it is in the midst of boiling in the evaporator or condensing in the condenser.

Now for the more in-depth explanation

I will warn you that this is a bit of a beating around bush explanation, but I’m writing the explanation I wish I had been given early on… so be patient young grasshopper.

 

Let’s start with a dictonary definition of saturation –

The state or process that occurs when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with, or added.

So when something is “full” and can hold no more of something it is said to be saturated, like a sponge saturated with water, or air saturated with water vapor or a in this case, a liquid saturated with kinetic energy.

Many (including Wikipedia) will define saturation as the boiling point of a liquid. This definition is correct but can lead to a misunderstanding. Just because a liquid is at its boiling point doesn’t mean it is actively boiling. The refrigerant in an air conditioner is technically at the boiling point when the system is completely off. Refrigerant in a tank is at saturation (so long as it has some liquid in the tank) even though the refrigerant is static (nor flowing).

In nature, gasses (vapor) and liquids are free to move around and interact with one another with the predominant pressure being atmospheric pressure (14.7 psia at sea level).

You may have wondered why water exposed to the air will evaporate even though it has not reached the boiling temperature? This is because the temperature of a substance is the AVERAGE kinetic energy of the molecules in a substance not the specific kinetic energy of every single molecule. While there may not be enough energy for the entire substance to boil, there is enough energy in a few of the molecules to break free from the surface.

This is why when sweat evaporates off of your skin your skin cools. The highest energy molecules are leaving and taking themselves and their high energy ways with them! 

Translation – Some molecules have more energy than others and are able to escape the liquid form out in nature and we call this evaporation. This evaporation can be measured but it happens below the boiling point and when a substance is uncontained it results in less and liquid remaining.

Translation of the Translation – If you leave water out in a pan it will eventually disappear even when it isn’t boiling

Now if you put a liquid in a jar and screw the lid on, some of the molecules will escape the liquid bonds and fill the void in the jar until pretty soon the jar will be at equilibrium (static) pressure with an equal number of molecules condensing back into the liquid as those that are escaping. The more active the molecules in the jar the more pressure there will be in the jar. Since the definition of temperature is the average kinetic energy of the molecules you can translate that as “The hotter the jar the higher the pressure” or “The higher the pressure the hotter the jar”.

Different liquids have a more or less tendency to escape the liquid form (evaporate), liquids that have a very high tendency to escape will evaporate more quickly and have a higher “vapor pressure” and are also said to be more “volatile”. Alchohol or gasoline are liquids that are more volatile and have a higher vapor pressure at atmospheric pressure than water and disappear quickly even when the ambient temperature is below their boiling point.

Some Liquids (like vacuum pump oil for example) have a very low tendency to evaporate and are said to have very low volatility and a low vapor pressure.

Liquids with low boiling temperatures (like most refrigerants) are very volatile and have a higher vapor pressure than liquids that remain a liquid at atmospheric pressure. We know that refrigerant does more than evaporate at atmospheric pressure and normal atmospheric temperature, it literally BOILS.

A liquid boils when the vapor pressure of the liquid matches the atmospheric pressure. At that point the liquid molecules begin to break free rapidly and if they are uncontained they will simply fly away like water vapor out of an open pot.

If the molecules are boiling and contained they will begin increasing the pressure as they boil until the temperature of the liquid no longer increases and it hits equilibrium between the vapor pressure of the liquid and the pressure inside the vessel (tank, pressure cooker etc..).

Once the vessel is allowed to reach a state of perfect equilibrium it may no longer be boiling but it can still be at the boiling point, that exact POINT of equilibrium between vapor pressure and temperature is the SATURATION POINT. 

So long as the pressure remains constant on a boiling or static vapor/liquid mixed substance we can say that it is at saturation temperature because it remains at the same temperature until either

  1. The pressure changes
  2. The substance is fully boiled

But it is important to remember that it is the vapor pressure of a liquid substance being equal to the pressure around it that results in saturation and then boiling or in the opposite direction, condensing.

Also… Evaporators should be called boilerators but I’m doing being nerdy for now.

— Bryan

 

 

 

 

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If you are used to simple, straight cool split systems you know that the low voltage to the outdoor unit is usually VERY simple with just a Y (contactor power) and a C (common) connected to the outdoor unit in many cases. When the condensing unit controls are strictly two wire low voltage there is no continuous low voltage power so there is also no timers or other logic in the condensing unit. Usually, in these cases, the LV wires connect directly to the contactor coil.

A heat pump needs to be able to switch between heat and cool and defrost which brings in the necessity for more control conductors and complexity.

A heat pump defrost board like most modern controls contain both loads and switches to control different functions.  because it has timers and some basic “logic” the board requires a power supply and for most residential split system boards this power comes from the C (common) and R (hot) terminals from the indoor 24v transformer.

The defrost board also utilizes the constant power on the defrost board R terminal to backfeed voltage through the W2 wire back to the secondary heat inside whether it be heat strips, furnace or hydronic secondary heat.

This helps to counteract the cooling effect that occurs when the heat pump when it shifts from heat to cool mode for defrost. This function is an important thing to test on heat pumps to reduce cold draft complaints during the winter.

Simply force the board into a defrost and check for 24v between w2 and c at the outside board to confirm proper operation or check the secondary heat via ammeter or visual confirmation during the defrost cycle.

— Bryan

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I walked into a supply house the other day and I was looking at “universal” expansion valve on the shelf. The friendly guy behind the counter saw me and walked over, after saying hello he offered

“That’s a great valve, it’s even balanced port”.

Now I am a bit of a trouble maker, I should have just nodded and said “uh huh” but instead I asked, “what does balanced port mean?”. The counter guy sort of half shrugged and said “I guess it means it works on a lot of different systems?”

I would bet that most people in the industry have heard the term “balanced port” and figure it sounds like a good thing but don’t really know what it does. Not long ago, I would have been one of them.

We have all been taught that there are three forces that act on an expansion valve –

  1. Bulb Pressure is an opening force
  2. Evaporator Pressure (external equalizer) is a closing force
  3. The Spring is a closing force

while the system is within its design operating conditions these forces are the primary forces at work that allow the valve to “set” the evaporator outlet superheat.

There is a fourth force and that is the opening force applied by the refrigerant passing through the needle. When the inlet (liquid line) pressure is within the normal operating range this force is accounted for in a normal TXV. In cases where the liquid pressure is higher than usual the force will be greater allowing more flow through the coil and when it is less it will allow less flow.

The result of this effect is fluctuating superheat based on liquid pressure which may be acceptable in small amounts but can become unacceptable quickly on systems that require accurate evaporator feeding or systems that have a wide swing in condensing temperatures and pressures.

Sporlan largely solved this particular issue in the 40’s when they brought the “balanced port” valve to market. While the technology is nothing new it has been improved on over time.

Balanced port TXVs can vary in design but they solve this problem by allowing the inlet pressure to effect the top and bottom of the needle (orifice) equally. This eliminates (or reduces) the liquid pressure as an opening force and instead turns it into a “balanced” force that neither opens or closes the valve.

If you have an application where the head pressure is allowed to change or “float” over a wide range, the balanced port TXV is a great choice.

— Bryan

 

 

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