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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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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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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Let the Heat Out

As important as insulation is, there’s also a need for some things to not be so thoroughly insulated, like heating vents. As we get into the cooler weather, it’s important to inspect whatever your heating system uses, whether that’s base boards or air ducts to ensure they’re not obstructed.   The Major Problem Essentially every heating system relies on either being able to blow heated air into a room or having some heated surface that the air is going to flow over. This is a simple enough need to meet, until you consider that your facility might have a maintenance staff of just five people and the remaining three hundred know nothing about heating, cooling, or fire safety. Things get a little worse when you start to count up how many hot air vents or miles of radiator are keeping your facility comfy. No one’s checking to make sure they’re actually keeping your facility warm and comfy. Obstructions can come from all manner of things. One of the bigger ones we’ve harped about and will continued to scream about is clogged filters. Debris fills the filter up and it turns into a gigantic piece of gross, moldy, slimy, stinky blockage. It’s not just the filters you have to worry about. Anything can cause a blockage. If your facility has animals, pet fur is amazingly good at getting stuck to the front of a vent. If there are any small fibers […]

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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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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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What if the Thermostat Really is Wrong?

A thermostat can be ‘wrong’ in that it only represents the temperature in one area, and it’s a poor representation of the overall building temperature or it can be wrong in that it thinks a 100 degree house is currently 0 degrees. Over time, the temperature sensor inside a thermostat can begin to fail. It might be a small error or something entirely bonkers.   Diagnosing the Issue Thermostat issues can be caused by calibration errors, dirt, or complete hardware failure. In the case of dirt, there’s some build up over the sensor, insulating it from the real temperature. Calibration issues can develop over time as the system wears, reading differently as the sensor becomes less resistive or components oxidize, or other issues. There’s also those few occasions where the whole thermostat just loses the ability to read the correct temperature, and that could be caused by a million things, including age, wear and tear, or a power surge. Before we run off and panic, we first need to confirm there is an issue and just how big it is. We need to be sure the thermostat is the cause of the problem and not just a victim of some other failure. The first step in this process is to measure the actual air temperature by the thermostat. You can generally just hold up a thermometer by the thermostat and see what it reads. I’m a bit lazy, I just […]

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Fall AC Maintenance

It’s getting cooler outside. The high today in Philly isn’t even 80 degrees. Just a week or two ago we couldn’t go a day without seeing 90. In another few weeks, we’ll be struggling to see the 70s and we’ll be turning to warmer clothes for the start of fall. As with all things, that means now is about the best time to prepare for winter with some pre-emptive maintenance and cleaning.   We’re Going to Maintain Something… We Won’t Be Using? It’s always best to work on things when you don’t need them and better still to work on them just a little ahead of time. The weather outside is nice and pleasant right now. You can walk outside in a T-shirt and not feel like your arms are going to freeze off. It’s a good time to do any outdoor work before mother nature gives you a nice, awful cold for your troubles. In the case of your air conditioner, there’s a fair bit you can do to get ready ahead of the season. You can clean the area around your condenser, your HVAC contractor can clean out the drainage connections for the drip pan, you can order a protective cover to keep your condenser free of debris throughout the winter, and you can do one last inspection for any worn parts. There is some logic to all of this. Debris is going to trap water from rain […]

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