Matter, Mass, Weight and Volume (Podcast)

This episode covers some basics of matter that relate to HVAC/R. These basics include mass, weight, and volume. There will also be some talk of specific gravity and specific volume.

Matter and energy are the building blocks of the HVAC industry; we move matter around and transfer energy. Matter refers to anything that exists and takes up space, including all solids, liquids, and gases. We use three means of measuring matter: volume, mass, and weight. Volume refers to how much space an object occupies. Even though we use mass and weight interchangeably, they mean two different things. Mass refers to the amount of matter an object has, and weight is the force exerted on an object by gravity.

Density is a mass-to-volume relationship. Density comes into play when items float or sink in water, and it is a component of specific gravity. Specific gravity does not have an absolute unit of measure; it merely compares an object's density to water. For example, propane has a specific gravity of 1.5 in comparison to air and would sink. Conversely, natural gas has a specific gravity of 0.6-0.7, meaning that it would float in air.

Specific volume is NOT relative; we use a set unit for it, typically cubic feet per pound. The cubic feet of air per pound changes with temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. So, “standard air” isn't a fixed value. All gases can be compressed and can be affected by temperature much more easily than the other states of matter. Specific volume is important because it helps us determine the amount of refrigerant we can safely put into a recovery tank; you must know the difference between the specific volume of water and the refrigerant you are using.

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