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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Sealing In The Heat

There’s more than one way to insulate your facility. We often think of insulation as just the stuff in the walls or on the pipes. It’s important to remember we need to also essentially insulate the air, isolate the air inside our buildings from the air outside. In a perfect world, all the air we heat up stays inside. In reality, every opening to the outside door is money lost in the breeze.   The Doors The doors in your facility are where you’re going to lose heat the fastest. In a large department store for example,  the doors may as well not even be there for peak shopping hours. Customers will enter and leave so frequently that the doors are constantly open. In arrangements like this, it’s important to choose a door configuration that retains as much heat as possible. You may notice that most large stores feature an enclosed entry. That is, you go through two sets of doors to actually enter their building. This reduces the volume of air going straight to the outside world, and tries to keep that warm air at least inside the entry way to warm guests as they begin to enter. The only major downside to this type of entry is some slight inconvenience to the customer. Some large chains forgo this design in order to make their entry into the store more open. They believe the enhanced aesthetic of just one […]

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You Really Should Weatherproof That

Today we’re going to look at a massive plumbing FAIL and hope that people can learn from a billion dollar mistake. It’s relatively common knowledge among plumbers that pipe + water + freezing = big paycheck @ 3am. When water freezes inside a pipe, it starts to expand outwards, and eventually the ice crystals will force themselves into a rigid shape, which will push outwards on the pipe like a microscopic bottle jack. Pipes are pretty rigid, but water doesn’t compress well and ice doesn’t really squeeze down either. It’s going to take on the shape it wants to take. The pipe bursts and things get expensive.   Russia’s Plumbing Problem The USSR, the Soviet Union, was apparently unaware of these issues in physics when building their only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. It’s been reported that the onboard plumbing was not weather proofed. When the ship entered sub-freezing environments, it was possible for pipes to freeze and burst. This can be a massive issue for a combat vessel. You don’t want to be fighting your own cooling systems, drinking water, or risking flooding your ship with your own water supply while you’re fighting off an attacker. That makes for a really bad day. Repairing this isn’t a small task either. The Kuznetsov is an aircraft carrier. It’s about as long as three football feels end to end, with change left over. It weighs 55,000 tons. There’s room for a […]

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Why Do Electronics Fail?

Your HVAC system has countless little controller boards and electrical components driving it. There’s the boards in your thermostat, furnace, and in some cases even in your pumps, just to scratch the surface. These boards do all burn out eventually, but the weird thing is that, there are no moving parts in them TO burn out. What’s going on?   Anatomy of a Circuit Board Let’s take apart one of these circuit boards and see what’s going on. The backbone of this whole thing is the PCB, Printed Circuit Board. This is that flat chunk of plastic that everything else sits on. It’s the thing you normally hold in your hands. These boards are basically copper and plastic, that act as wires, connecting multiple parts together. There’s traces of copper on the board that go from one item to the next to the next. PCB’s are pretty long-lived, but they have their weaknesses: chemicals, voltage, and physical stresses. If there’s too much power going through one part of the board, such as from a power surge, it can blow out one of the traces. If there’s anything at all corrosive that leaks onto the board, it’ll eat the traces or even eat a component of the board itself. Sometimes, this even happens from components on the board themselves, capacitors and batteries can leak corrosive fluids that will cause complete failures. In retro electronics, it’s actually pretty common to “re-cap” a […]

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The Mechanical Parts DO Fail

We use clever design and parts like bearings to prolong the life of our mechanical equipment, but that’s not enough to save them indefinitely. Even if the immediate friction of metal on metal doesn’t kill something, there are other forces at work that will. It’s only a matter of time before something gives out in a big way.   Friction is STILL the Enemy Bearings let us reduce the friction between spinning parts, that way we don’t have metal grinding on metal inside motors, valves, vents, or anything else mechanical. That’s not where the friction ends though. Friction is literally everywhere. Whenever two materials touch, there will be friction, including between the air and water against an object. This is destructive. Air and water seem soft and safe to us, but they’re actually capable of being extremely destructive over time. This is most evident in pumps. The impellers spin and push the water around, creating movement and pressure. A new impeller will have precise, ‘teeth’, shrouds, that work direct the water like the blades of a fan. Over time however, the smallest imperfections will be worn into massive design failures. These shrouds will be worn down until they don’t trap, grab, and push water around anymore. They won’t hold up to pressure anymore. Overtime, the water is grabbing bits and pieces of the metal itself and just carrying it away. Any weaker parts of the pump will be eaten and […]

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Why Don’t the Mechanical Parts Fail?

We use belts in HVAC equipment because they’re cheap and don’t require the lubrication and maintenance of chains. This raises the question though: why don’t all the OTHER mechanical components wear out too? If we’d have to lubricate chain drives and gears, why don’t we have to lubricate motors too?   The Big Killer: Friction Almost all hardware failure is because of friction. Two surfaces touch and gradually chew each other up, create heat that weakens them THEN chew themselves up, or otherwise just get worn down from sliding and grinding together. Eventually, something will have just been ground down to the point it has shorted out or no longer works. Without friction, most equipment would last nearly indefinitely. Modern equipment uses a lot of techniques to reduce wear and tear. The contact areas are reduced as much as possible and those areas that do grind together have sacrificial components. These parts are usually made of tougher materials, contain special lubricants, and are meant to be replaced over the lifetime of a piece of equipment. This allows things like motors and pumps to last longer, be rebuilt, and seemingly never fail.   The Humble Bearing Perhaps the most common friction-reducing part is the bearing. Your motors likely have a few bearings in them. The armature, the shaft that spins inside the motor, only touches two things: the bearings and the output device (your blower wheel, belt pulley, etc). As much […]

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Why is There a Belt in the Furnace?

Is it weird that we use belt drives in furnaces? Belts aren’t necessarily known as the most durable or flame-resistant thing in the world. Why would we put a belt next to a roaring inferno? It’s 2018, why don’t we just bolt the motor straight to the fan, blower, or whatever it is we’re driving?   Gear Reduction Spinning blowers, fans, and other equipment requires a lot of mechanical power. At the same time, it can take more power to overcome the friction on a resting object, especially for heavier parts or equipment that’s not perfectly supported. There can be additional friction by such offset loads. Providing enough force to move this equipment requires bigger and bigger motors. Or does it? Physics is full of tricks. We can use a concept called Gear Reduction so that a smaller motor can get the job done. Instead of outputting a lot of power at once, we output less power, but more revolutions of the motor. For every 2 rotations of the motor, the blower might only spin once. This reduction requires the motor to spin faster to achieve the same result as a bigger motor, but it won’t need as much torque to do that work. The easiest way to see this concept in action is to look at a multi-speed bike. Your gears are different sizes to allow for different speeds. In low gear, it is incredibly easy to spin the […]

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To Do: Preventative Furnace Maintenance

As with all things, an ounce of prevention is worth a couple tons of cure. After a long spring and summer of sitting little or even unused altogether, your furnace needs some attention before the long winter comes. This can vary from model to model, but in general, you can expect your HVAC Professional to do a lot of cleaning and even some replacing.   The Big Cleanout Nearly every fuel-burning heating system is going to produce some sort of soot or ash from running. Modern heating systems are incredibly efficient, but they’ll still produce a bit of waste material. This waste can be combustion byproducts, contaminants left behind in the fuel, or in some cases even microscopic particles of other components of the furnace itself, such as particles from a spark rod. This build up will cause a number of issues over time: Inefficiency, the soot will absorb heat, requiring more fuel than normal to reach the same temperature changes. Dirty emissions, by exhausting the soot out into the open air, a potential health and legal hazard. System failure, by clogging up the burner or otherwise preventing the furnace itself from running. The general process of cleaning up the furnace is straight forward. Your contractor will remove some parts of the case to get into the combustion chamber and use a vacuum to collect the soot. Depending on how much soot there is, it may be necessary to replace […]

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Sam’s Kitchen Nightmares

The Blog is Back! Happy 2018! And may I say… Good Riddance 2017! Today we’re going to look at my last DIY Repair of 2017 and what a nightmare it was. Sit back, relax, grab your popcorn, and prepare to laugh at my misfortune.   The Kitchen Drip This little adventure starts with the most innocent and harmless of problems: the kitchen faucet leaked. It could range from a slow, occasional drip to an outright constant drizzle of wasted hot water. It’s an old faucet and heating oil isn’t free, so we immediately went for the obvious fix: tighten the knob and therefore pull the valve fully shut below. This worked for about an hour before the drip returned. The next rationale step was an InstantOff attachment for the end of the faucet. Unfortunately, lady luck is not known to be rational. I’d left the faucet be to source my little drip-fixing attachment. Not long afterwards, the family dragged me back to the kitchen. Mom had accidentally gutted the entire hot water side of the kitchen faucet. The control knob and more or less the entirety of the valve’s guts had come loose and out the top. The old fixture had been eaten by time and entropy, there was no longer any chance of repairing it. We shut off the water under the sink to discover Nightmare’s 2 and 3 waiting for us.   The Kitchen Pond Problem one was […]

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Do I REALLY Need to Change My Filters?

There’s something that is often overlooked about winter preparation. Most people remember to turn off their air conditioner, shut off it’s power, clean them up, and put covers over their condensers and outdoor equipment. How many of you remembered to change your air filters before winter?   Why!? We have a couple of good reasons to replace every filter. Changing out filters ensures clean air, it prevents allergens and diseases from spreading, and it makes your office a better, healthier place. It’s just a matter of getting someone to actually change the filter. We’ve found  that filters are one of the most overlooked parts of HVAC Maintenance. They are tended to only after they’ve clogged an air vent or they’ve caused the CEO to have a day of sneezing due to allergens. Your switch over from cooling to heating is the perfect opportunity to check on those gross, old air filters and replace them. This is also the time when such a check up is a necessity. Depending on your exact configuration, there may be filters in the heating system that haven’t be changed since the spring, such as the furnace intake filter. A dirty intake is going to cost you fuel and early hardware failure in the furnace itself. The filters for your AC System may sit dormant all winter long if you have centralized cooling and a hot water heating system; in which case it’s better to get […]

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