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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Engine Driven Air Conditioners

The world of HVAC is a very strange place to live some days. We commonly think of air conditioners as being electrical devices. Perhaps the only real exception to that is the air conditioner in your car, which is essentially powered by your car’s engine. In the early days of air conditioning and refrigeration however, the opposite was true: cooling systems were mainly mechanically powered.   The World Before Electricity It’s the early 1900s. The telephone is still considered cutting-edge technology and you can go down to the local train station to send a telegram anywhere in the country. Electricity however, was not quite so common. In 1900, 3% of US homes had electricity. It wasn’t entirely feasible to just throw an air conditioner in your back room. Even businesses wouldn’t have had the easy option of just plugging in an air conditioning system, even if it occupied half their building. At this point, most working-power was mechanical. Factories would have massive boilers, which produced steam, that turned enormous turbines or ran crank systems, that ultimately ran everything in the facility. In order for any particular innovation to take off, it almost had to be mechanically driven. If you couldn’t throw some coal and water in a machine to power it, you probably couldn’t have it.   Steam Powered AC How exactly do we run an air conditioner on steam alone? Every motor in an air conditioner is doing just […]

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The Fridge Came First

Every now and then, we discover the weirdest facets of fate and history. We’re all familiar with Carrier’s major break through in creating air conditioning in the early 1900s, but it turns out, he wasn’t exactly the first. There were working, mechanical refrigerators before we had working air conditioners.   The Ground Work The first artificial refrigeration was done by a Scottish professor in the 1755. He used a vacuum chamber and ether to lower the temperature inside the chamber. When the ether boiled, it removed energy from the chamber, cooling it down. The effect was just powerful enough to produce some ice inside. In 1758, Ben Franklin and John Hadley at Cambridge University would conduct similar experiments with volatile liquids. They were able to cool a  chamber now to 7 degrees fahrenheit, from an ambient 65 degree starting point. Franklin wrote, “From this experiment, one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer’s day.” At that point in time, there wasn’t yet a practical way to actually freeze anyone. This refrigeration involved a vacuum chamber. Anyone cooled down would be all but freeze dried in the process. Further refinements would come over the next century. In 1820 there was a closed-cycle system that could continuously cool a chamber and condense it’s refrigerant, it would be able to keep cool indefinitely. In the 1860s, German researchers began work on refrigeration for breweries. During the […]

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How to Tame Your Cooling Costs

Air conditioning is expensive, but essential for most of the world except perhaps the arctic circle. It improves employee productivity and attracts customers on the hottest of days. Unfortunately,  it also makes an electric meter look more like a helicopter, buzzing along as we suck down ever more watts in search of comfort.   The Little Things Use light-colored windows blinds and curtains. Every place that light gets into your building is some place it’s going to raise the temperature. Light ultimately creates heat, the sun is giant, nuclear, laser ball. If we can make sure its light falls on reflective things, like lighter colors, curtains and blinds, we can reduce the amount of heat generated inside the room. It would be impractical to close off grand entry ways with curtains, but everywhere else is probably fair game. Even some window blinds in the office can reduce the heat coming in by half, while still keeping the room fairly bright for your staff. Dial back the temperature The greater the temperature difference, the harder the air conditioner has to work to maintain that difference. Remember that you need to only create apparent comfort. If it’s 100 degrees out, your employees and customers will probably be grateful for anything less than 85 degrees. You don’t need to make the office 60 degrees. Close the doors Ensure you’re not venting cool air wastefully. Keep the doors closed or install a closing mechanism […]

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Outdoor Air Conditioning?

It’s summer. It’s hot and humid and we’ll do anything to ease the heat off, even a little bit. Or in some cases, we’ll do anything to ensure our guests, customers, and clients don’t melt just for coming to a major public event. The problem is, how do we cool people down outside? It can’t be that hard, right?   Mother Nature’s Onslaught We first need to understand what we can’t do. On a hot sunny day, there’s effectively hundreds of thousands of BTUs of heat in the air. If we attempt to use a standard air conditioner outside, it’d be every bit as effective as blowing in the wind or using a match to solder 6″ piping. We’re fighting an uphill battle. Modern air conditioning works because we can keep it inside. Air naturally wants to mix and achieve a temperature equilibrium. By putting cool air into buildings, we contain it and prevent any significant dispersal from occurring. Our 40,000 or 400,000 BTU of cooling is able to actually get something done in this way. We could put these massive machines outside and try, but chances are they would have to remain constantly on. Even if a target temperature could be reached, the movement of the air would soon blow our nice, coolness away. It quickly becomes a matter of impracticality. The size, cost, and logistics of the cooling equipment to cool your company picnic or cool an entire […]

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It’s 50 Degrees Out, Why Do I Need AC?

Every now and then we get asked a question and realize, “the truth is not as straight forward as it seems.” Or “there is a lot more at play here.” Today, that question focuses on why we need to flip on the AC, despite it being perfectly cool outside our homes. The Environment It’s late Spring in Pennsylvania, quickly approaching Summer. Our daytime highs range anywhere from 68 degrees clear to 92 degrees right now and this is considered the ‘cool’ part of the season before things heat up. At night, the lows can range anywhere from 48 to 62 or so for now. This is just pleasant weather. We don’t necessarily think about the air conditioner much yet. Take off your sweaters and you’re going to be pretty comfy outside. The same however, is not necessarily true for inside the house. Despite it being merely 65 degrees outside, and the heater having sat quietly off all night long, my house was already 80 degrees this morning. We had windows open and fans running to suck in the outside air, but the house was still roasting inside. Trapped Heat The first culprit for all this heat is a key part of any efficient building: insulation. My house, like most others will do its best to resist losing heat. There’s thick insulation in the walls and as we’ve covered before, it works well. Whatever thermal energy is in the house, is […]

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What’s the BIG Problem with my AC?

Every season there will be a fair number of people with small problems in their air conditioners. They’ll experience leaks, failed belts, and maybe a few minor electrical issues. These are all little wear and tear things that your contractor can fix for a few hundred dollars. When an air conditioner gets older however, things start getting a little more expensive. There can be some big things starting to fail.   Dead Compressor The compressor is that big, typically black, cylinder or spherical object in your air conditioner. In many ways it is the heart of the system. The compressor will receive refrigerant and through one of many ways, squeeze it down. This compression is what lets us remove heat from the air elsewhere in the system. When the compressor fails or begins to fail, you might experience warm air blowing from the air conditioner instead of cold air, regardless of temperature setting. The system may have difficulties starting up, draw excessive power, burn through fuses, or trip its breaker. When the compressor fails, there’s really only two areas things can go wrong: the motor or the compressor assembly. If the motor starts to go, it’ll perform poorly and draw more power to start and run. Eventually the motor will just get hot and stop cranking the compressor assembly altogether. At that point, it’ll probably blow a fuse and start melting internal components. On the other hand, there’s also a […]

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Why Isn’t my AC Working!?

It’s spring, mother nature is keeping you in the eighties or nighties already. Your office is unbearable. The intern has somehow duct taped ice bags to his back and ruined his office chair in the pursuit of not melting. It’s time to turn on the AC and nothing happens. Kronk throws the lever and the air blasting in is hotter than the pavement Dave the Intern cooked his lunch on. What happened?   The Little Problems There can be a million things wrong with your AC. Some issues are catastrophic and very expensive to repair as our lead sales guy Scott learned the hard way just a few weeks ago. Other issues are smaller, cheaper, and merely annoying. Did you Turn on the Power? Most central cooling systems have a dedicated circuit breaker to turn them on and shut them off for maintenance and long-term deactivation such as through the winter. Turning off this breaker in the fall ensures your air conditioner physically cannot be engaged in the winter and accidentally damage itself. Depending on your situation, you may not have known this switch exists or your building maintenance team just hasn’t turned it on yet. If you enable your air conditioner in your thermostat, crank down the temperature, and nothing happens, this is the first thing to check. If you know where the breaker for your AC is, check on it. If you don’t, contact your building maintenance team […]

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Why Are Compressors Measured in Tons?

When we look at compressors, there are a lot of numbers going around, but one of the bigger ones is the Tons. We sell compressors in all manner of weight-ratings, from less than a ton to hundreds of tons. The thing is though, this doesn’t mean we need a crane and a massive truck to load the compressor before it ships out. Compressor tonage is not actually a measure of weight. In fact, it is the result of some weird and convoluted math and history.   Old Fashioned AC Before we had the modern air conditioner, there were just a handful of ways to actually cool a room or a building. You could open a window, sit in front of a fan, use an evaporative cooler, or get a block of ice. That’s right, once upon a time we didn’t just have “ice boxes”, we had ice-conditioning too. The precursor to modern refrigeration was massive chunks of ice, usually cut from frozen lakes in the north and hastily delivered anywhere cooling was needed. You would go down to your local ice house and buy however much your fridge or cooling system needed. For building-scale cooling, there would be a block of ice essentially placed in a special cabinet in the air ducts and fans would blow air over it. The ice would remove heat from the air and melt. The air would be cooled and circulated around the room or […]

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What About the Other Compressors?

Just how many ways are there to squeeze down a gas? If you look at the entirety of the industrial world, there’s probably a few hundred different devices. If you look at HVAC, luckily the list is a lot shorter. The air conditioning world relies primarily on five compressor designs.   Reciprocating This compressor works pretty much exactly the same as a car engine does, but without the gasoline and combustion. Inside a car you have your cylinders and pistons. When the piston moves up it compresses, when it goes down it sucks. The same principal is used in a reciprocating compressor. At the base of the compressor there will generally be an electric motor, which turns a shaft. The shaft has a bend in it to allow for offset motion. At the bend there’s a connecting rod, which links the shaft to the piston. When the shaft spins, the piston moves up and down. On the downstroke, fresh refrigerant is pulled in. On the up stroke the refrigerant is compressed and injected into the refrigerant loop. This particular design is popular in residential scale compressors. There are more parts involved, so there’s a greater chance of hardware failure, but the well understood nature of the piston and cylinder as well as massive manufacturing tolerances make them cheap to manufacture. Consider, steam engines were around in the 1800s, and this is the same principle as their driving pistons. The complexity […]

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