Your Yearly AC Checklist

It’s a slow day in the office and not a one of us here can really focus on our research. The weather is beautiful outside. The sun is shining, there’s a few little clouds drifting lazily in the endless blue sky. The birds are chirping and going after a feeder dangling lazily from a window across the street. I’d drag my computer outside and work from the sidewalk, but Lead Salesman Scott said he’d take my spot by the AC vent. Ah, right, the AC. We should get ready to turn that on. A Long, Harsh Winter Your air conditioner works hard all summer and gets to relax for the winter. Except that it doesn’t. The winter is perhaps the harshest time for your air conditioner, when it’ll have some of the highest risks of taking damage. All summer long, if something’s gone wrong, you’ll notice and get it fixed. In the winter? Not so much. Ice could crack a coil, debris could block up the coils and fans, a seal could fail, a rat could chew through some wires, and more could go wrong. We believe in preventative care as much as possible. Your HVAC Professional should do most of the work of inspecting your air conditioner, BUT there is a little bit you can do. Primarily speaking, you should clear all the dirt, debris, leaves, and other things away from the condenser unit. Keeping this area clear will […]

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Why Do We Use Belts?

It’s getting hot out, you turn on your AC, and everything works great for about an hour or two. Outside, your condenser reaches saturation, it’s cooling fan doesn’t budge, and soon the house is back to the sweltering mess it had been before. It’s unbearable, but there you are. Welcome to Summer, right? The Belt Drive There are a ton of applications where we need something to spin, whether it’s a fan, blower, or even the drum in a washing machine. We often use a belt to connect the blower and anything else back to a single motor. Eventually that belt gives out and needs to be replaced. This could be from simple wear and tear, rot, or even accidental damage, like running over a rope with a tractor, jamming up the mower deck blades, and then burning up the belt with friction. Belts offer a number of advantages though. They’re cheap to manufacturer, flexible, and can reduce the total number of parts a given machine needs. A belt can power multiple output devices, synchronize those output devices, and it frees up the designers to create different designs with fewer parts or more compact layouts than could otherwise be achieved. But WHY?! You could put the blower right on the motor! Belts also serve two other majorly attractive purposes in cutting down costs. A belt allows us to do gear reduction and it allows us to use some cheaper (but […]

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The Unseen IAQ Mennace

We’ve talked about all manner of Air Quality issues: pollen, viruses, volatile organic compounds, and more. There is however, one less frequently talked about devil in the air: radon, methane, and other ground seepage. These are harmful, either explosive, cancer-causing, or otherwise dangerous materials that can seep from the soil below. You’ll never know they’re there until it’s too late. How Does It Happen? Time for some science. The ground beneath you is not pure, solid dirt and rock straight to the Earth’s core. It’s not all one particular elemental composition either. There’s pockets of different materials, gasses, radioactive elements, and so on. These materials either work their way to the surface or they emit something that does. Consider for example, a gas like methane. This exists underground, in porous areas of rock or in large, hollow caves. It’s under extreme pressure from the rest of the Earth pressing down on it. All it takes is a path to the surface for it to flow out. When we do mining for it, we drill down and use a pipe to provide that path to the surface. The Methane is a low-density gas, it wants to move higher up, in the same way helium can make balloons float. There is some amount of natural seepage. The gas makes it way up through the ground and rock, tiny pores and cracks that let it slowly escape. The ground beneath you is not […]

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Cleaning With Light

If you’ve spent any time under the sun on a long, hot, clear day, you’ve probably gotten a wicked sun burn. I may have overcooked myself a bit during our nice Easter weekend too. This brings up an interesting thought: what happens to airborne pathogens exposed to the same light? A sunburn is the result of millions of skin cells being irradiated by UV Radiation. Sunlight contains UV, Ultra-Violet, which can cause skin cancer in high enough exposures. It’s not dangerous in the same way X-Rays are, those would be lethal with a few hours of exposure. UV is weaker, but it still wreaks havoc on small cells. Messing With Molecules Let’s start out with some basic physics. We’re going to ignore the whole “particles & waves” thing for now and just say that all light is made of particles called Photons. When you turn on a light, it spews out photons, that bounce off the wall, lose some energy, strike your eye, and then you perceive the ‘color’ of that photon. What happens is the photon rams a cell in your eye with a certain amount of force, it’s energy, and that tells you it’s ‘color’. To the 3 physicists reading this, shut up. I know it’s more complicated. The problem happens when we give that photon more speed, more energy. Eventually, the photon moves too fast for our eyes to detect. It’s not visible light any more. It […]

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Don’t Clean Your Coils

With a Pressure Washer We previously mentioned that clean evaporator and condenser coils are happy coils. Dirt and debris builds up, restricts airflow, and prevents the coils from doing their job. Recently we realized, while there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, there is a really wrong way to clean your air conditioner. High Powered Cleaning Suppose you need to clean something that’s incredibly ground in. You might scrape at it, or find someway to break up its edges and get under the layer of dirt to pry it up. It’s going to take forever, require a lot of work, but eventually gets the job done. What if you could instantly apply all that force to every weak spot in the dirty build up, and just blast it apart? This is in part, how a pressure washer works. On the one hand, we’re applying a massive amount of force in a small area. Any imperfections or weak points are going to make the substance fracture. The water will shoot through the dirt, and then blast outwards and send it to bits. On the other hand, water isn’t exactly abrasive like sand, BUT it will carry away a little more material with every drop that hits. Detergents can be added to the mix to chemically breakdown whatever it is that’s getting sprayed. If there’s an especially solid build up, you can essentially blast and melt it […]

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Why Is Pollen A Problem?

It’s Spring! The grass is green, the trees are leafy, and the flowers are quite pretty. This however, brings with it an air quality problem: pollen. The HVAC solution to pollen is to maintain positive pressure in the building, good filtration, and implement some good cleaning practices. That however, is not what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about the science of pollen and why we have pollen allergies, because few HVAC Blogs look at this type of science, but we do. Plant Reproduction Most complex life on Earth needs two organisms to reproduce. You have two parents, your dog had two parents, and the tree in your front yard, probably had two parents. The thing is though, trees and flowers can’t walk up to each other to reproduce, they’re just static-things that shift in the breeze. Something has to move genetic material from one plant to the other. Pollen is how plants reproduce. They’re hardy cells that get carried off into the wind in such vast quantities that they’re all but guaranteed to swarm a compatible plant. These cells contain that tree’s genetic material and they’re designed to mix with another plant to produce seeds that will eventually grow into another plant. This is an ongoing process, but it’s worse in the Spring when plants are bursting back to life after a long, dormant winter. Varying weather conditions will cause days with more or less pollen. After a period […]

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Upgrade Season

It is almost comfortable outside. Mother Nature hasn’t yet committed to the warm 70s, but we have a good few days of 50s and 60s ahead. We’re going to have about two months where our HVAC systems can sit nearly idle, untouched and unneeded. This is your ideal corridor for major maintenance and installing new systems altogether. Depending on the scale of your facility, you may well need it. Perfect Weather From a comfort-perspective, the very beginning of Spring is an ideal time. We’re well acclimated to cool weather and the slow move into the low sixties and seventies means we can be comfortable without any HVAC equipment. We can open the windows for a few days and no one is going to be inconvenienced by it. We can shut down the building’s plumbing and install temporary accommodations outdoors and it won’t be painful or disruptive to your employees for a few days. This rare window is different from the fall. Being cold is inherently uncomfortable and harder to compensate for than being too warm going from winter into spring. In the fall, if you get a very cold day, there’s little you can do to heat the building without buying every space heater in the city. In the spring if you get a warm day, tell your employees it’s Casual Friday all week, shorts and t-shirts approved. Open a window or leave the front doors open. The shifting weather […]

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Spring HVAC Prep

The weather is finally warming up. For the first time in months I left the office and didn’t have to worry about getting frostbite on my spleen. We hit 74 degrees last Friday here in Philly, I took a bike ride and came back looking like a drowned rat, but it was warm. It’s only 36 Fahrenheit today, but Spring is on the way. The coming warmth means we should start talking about your maintenance schedules. Do Your Chores It’s vital to inspect, clean, and maintain your HVAC equipment. It’s going to cost you if you don’t. You should inspect your entire HVAC System at least twice a year: once before spring, and again before fall/winter. These little maintenance checks will keep you, your employees, your customers, and any other guests comfortable year round. As the weather warms up, you will begin to dial back your reliance on your building’s heating system. This is an ideal time to find a warm day, shut it down, and have your contractor do some cleaning and inspections. Most burners will leave some measure of dirt/soot in the combustion chamber for you to clean up. Leaving this there will reduce your system’s efficiency and may eventually clog up the heat exchanger altogether. From a maintenance perspective, this is an ideal time to check that the ignition system is in good shape and doesn’t require any adjustment or replacement. Things like the spark rod in […]

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Clean Your Coils

Most people think that it’s only the filters that get dirty. That’s almost right. Almost. Your filters are going to be the first thing you notice being incredibly gross, but the entire HVAC system is exposed to the same types of dirt, pollen, and mold. These can sometimes get past the filter, but that’s not where the biggest problems lay. Efficiency The key parts to your HVAC system are often radiators of some sort (depending on the type of system). If you have hot water heat, you probably have baseboards, which are essentially radiators. Your air conditioner has two radiators, a condenser and an evaporator (these usually called Coils). The job of these devices is to move heat from one place to another. In some places we take heat from the air and put it into a refrigerant. in other cases we take it from the refrigerant and put it in the air. When these things are designed, engineers use materials that are known to have incredible thermal conduction capabilities. We know that paper is an awful thermal conductor and that metals tend to be amazing conductors. Beyond that, we know that specific metals are better conductors than others, conduct into the air better, and we know the number of fins and distance between them necessary to get amazing performance. Under ideal circumstances, especially when these products are fresh and new, they will work flawlessly. When the coils are all […]

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Improve Your Air

You’ve done your testing and your facility has an air quality problem. Stepping through your doors feel like getting a tour of an 1890s steam powered factory. It’s just gross and you’re going to turn your air into something people actually want to breathe. Physical Defenses Your first line of defense is to attack everything getting inside with some physical mitigations. Every person entering the building is going to carry allergens, pathogens, and other problems with them. Imagine someone who just walked through a grassy field, tracking pollen with every step they take. Imagine the gentle breeze blowing through the door as your guests enter, and carrying with it the latest plague to sweep the nation. There are two defenses you can use here. First, you need a nice, big, hefty door mat of some kind, that everyone ends up walking across. They’re tracking pollen on their shoes, make sure it gets stuck where it won’t cause a problem: in a fibrous tangle where it’ll never bother you again. Second, you need to regularly clean the floors of your facility. All the nasty stuff in the air is hovering around, suspended like tea leaves in water. If the air is still long enough, it’ll all settle on your shelves, floors, and equipment until someone kicks it up into the air again. Use microfiber mops to capture and remove the problem while you can. Don’t use a typical broom though, that’s […]

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