Why is the AC Hissing?

Air conditioners produce liquid water by design and by the simple nature of physics. Sometimes this harmlessly leaks out around the air conditioner, such as with window units, and sometimes it leaks when a drain gets blocked. There is however, a second leak an air conditioner can develop: refrigerant leaks.   The Cooling Compound Air conditioners work by exploiting physics around state-changes. When liquid turns into a gas, it can absorb heat.The effectiveness of the state change varies from compound to compound. For air conditioning, we tend to use things like R134a (freon), R12 (phased out/illegal in much of the world now), and even propane. These are all chemicals which have particular properties ideal for cooling. For example, they won’t turn solid at 0 degrees C like water, so they won’t clog up the air conditioner’s tubing and fittings. These chemicals though have some downsides we can’t really escape. Propane is outright flammable and probably capable of turning your air conditioner into a flaming set piece in the next post-apocalypse movie. R12 destroys the ozone. And R134a is toxic. It causes a wide range of symptoms from headaches to hallucinations and death in the worst case exposures.   The Hissing Leak When the air conditioner is running or has recently been run, the refrigerant will be highly pressurized. In order for us to make it work, we compress it. We’re cramming a lot of material into a small space, which […]

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Unfreezing a Freezer

How do you run your refrigeration hardware through the winter? How far does our industry go to keep a fridge running in the winter or a hospital chilled in a blizzard? There are a number of technologies at play, all working to manipulate the hardware to do their bidding. These are collectively called Defrost Controls.   Let Nature Take Its Course The simplest defrost system is little more than a few switches and a timer. In many systems, the greatest concern is that the evaporator coil may freeze over. This is especially common with industrial freezers. This is a year-round problem and it can be caused by staff frequently entering and leaving a freezer. The freezer temperature increases and many refrigeration systems end up running for entirely too long. The evaporator coil builds up ice from being chilled too much. In configurations like this, the simple solution is a time delay. The compressor shuts down, but the evaporator fan is run for an extended period, forcing relatively warm air over the coil. Whatever ice was there melts and the system can return to it’s regular cycling after the defrost cycle finishes. This can be set to run on timers or in more advanced systems, as necessary using temperature readings. In some installations, it can even be boiled down to a timer which triggers the cycle once every 24 hours and just turns off the refrigeration system for an hour to […]

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Gas Furnace Ignition

We’ve talked a lot about the safety systems keeping your furnace from burning down the building or blowing up your building. This all begs the question: how do we get the flame started in the first place? It’s actually not a fully straight forward answer, and it varies by fuel source and furnace design.   The Old Fashioned Pilot Light In days long-gone, a furnace needed a constant flame to light it’s burner. This was called a Pilot Light. It was just a tiny, constant little flame like a lit candle. When the burner started, it simply had to turn the gas on and the pilot would ensure that the whole burner lit afterwards. The solution worked well enough, but by modern standards is an incredibly wasteful way to run a furnace. In systems with an always-on pilot light, fuel would always be getting burned, even if there wasn’t heating anything. Overtime, this adds up to hundreds and thousands of gallons of wasted fuel. It certainly worked for a time when we had no better alternatives but it’s a relic in today’s high-efficiency world.   Intermittent Pilots One of the major hurdles of moving on from a pilot was creating enough energy to light the fuel. It takes more than just a spark for ignition, it can take significant voltage. Between the fuel mixture, spark size, spark temperature, and everything else, it’s a difficult ballet to directly, electrically light a […]

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Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Last week we covered how a draft inducer and it’s attached pressure sensor can help prevent Carbon Monoxide from leaking out of a furnace. This week we’re moving up to the next line of defense: a dedicated Carbon Monoxide Detector. These are often installed in new homes and offices as required by local building codes in most of the United States. Where they’re not installed by construction, they’re usually installed by the facility’s owner as a precaution.   What’s the Big Deal? Carbon Monoxide is one of the deadliest, common compounds in the world. It’s is a colorless, odorless gas that will kill you at the right concentrations. There’s only two ways for someone to know they’ve been exposed to a harmful dose: Use a detector or Recognise the Symptoms before it’s too late. The initial symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, vomitting, chest pain, and confusion. In large part, these common symptoms can be attributed to hundreds of other ailments, including the common flu. Greater exposure can lead to passing out, arrhythmia, seizures, and death. Even then, there will be longterm complications, including memory problems, movement disabilities, and fatigue. Most people are not able to detect and react to these symptoms as Carbon Monoxide poisoning before it’s too late. They’re often waived off as a flue or some other lesser problem until it’s too late.   How Do We Detect An Invisible, Colorless, Odorless Gas? While Carbon Monoxide itself is […]

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Preventing CO2 Poisoning with Pressure

We have rollout switches and temperature sensors to prevent fires from spreading beyond the furnace. What about exhaust gasses? Almost every heating fuel we use produces deadly gasses. CO2, NO2, and more. If these gasses escape your furnace, you’re either going to leave the building or be killed by the gasses. It’s essential that we keep these gasses away from you. Your furnace has some very interesting ways of doing this and detecting a deadly hardware failure.   The Draft Inducer Older furnaces rely on physics and chemistry to get the CO2 out. As your furnace runs, it creates hot gasses. The hotter a gas is, the higher it rises in the atmosphere. As long as the exhaust is hot, it should rise up into your chimney or exhaust flue and be vented safely outside away from people. This isn’t entirely ideal, the exhaust is limited by the temperature difference, slowing it down. It’s possible for wind and other atmospheric conditions to disrupt the exhaust flow. There’s no mechanism to detect and respond to a blocked exhaust path. Modern furnaces don’t let the hot gasses just meander out the chimney. We use Draft Inducers, essentially blowers built just for furnace exhaust. These little blowers kick on a minute before ignition to vent the combustion chamber and usually remains on until after the furnace has shutdown. On the surface, this just makes the furnace burn cleaner. If there’s less carbon dioxide […]

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