Ewwwww!!! Swinson AC has a the only one in captivity

Heating and Air Conditioning systems do several things to the air in your home or office:

  • Cooling
  • Heating
  • Drying
  • Cleaning

When your system is performing the first two items on that list it is easy to notice when it isn’t working. The third, drying the air, is not quite as easy to perceive.

The last item, cleaning, takes effort to discover.

You might notice dirt around the ceiling registers or dust on tabletops and furniture. Maybe you have thought about having your ductwork cleaned.

Generally, of all the dirt and mold to be found in an air conditioning system about 5% by weight (if any) is found in the ductwork. The lions share is found in the air handler or furnace, in the cooling coil and the blower wheel.

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Here is a coil after we took a swipe from the face with a wirebrush

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Here’s the wirebrush

Cleaning the blower wheel is a task that has been designed into most blower systems. It is a nut and bolt removal to the outside for cleaning and re installation. This is not the case with the indoor coil. Up until we built our ‘gadget’ cleaning the indoor coil adequately required:

  • removal of the refrigerant from the system
  • cutting of the refrigerant piping
  • removal of the coil to the outside for cleaning
  • re installation
  • nitrogen purging
  • brazing
  • evacuation
  • restart.

Our fee for this job was in the $500-600 range. It is akin to surgery on an air conditioner.

But not any more. We (well mostly Jarrod) built a machine that we have used for about 3 years that allows our technicians to clean your indoor coil while it is in place in the air handler. No opening of the refrigerant system and it takes half the time. So it’s cheaper too.

There is one brand of coil, Rheem/Ruud that it doesn’t work on as well because of the configuration of the coil design. But in the past 3 years we have saved our customers thousands of dollars with our gadget and given them a clean new coil.

Because of the high cost of the old way, many customers would just live with the dirt, reduced performance and higher utility costs.

Give us call if you have been told that your coil is dirty and needs cleaning or replacement. Heat pump air handlers start at about $280 for coil and blower, slightly higher for gas furnaces and attics.

Have your system ‘Swinsonized’!

 

 

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Testing your home for leaks

A long time customer recently purchased a home. The customer replaced a defective thermostat with a newer version that displayed interior humidity. The heat pump system in their home was a better than average two speed system.

As a point of reference, this is not an old home but one built with the past 10 years or so in Timbercreek.

We received a follow-up call a few weeks later reporting that the new thermostat was registering above 70% relative humidity. We told them that we expected 50% even though it had been raining daily.

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After checking that the equipment was operating within expected limits, I recommended that the customer call a colleague who performs our duct testing in new construction.

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy with Home Energy Conservation scheduled an appointment with our customer to perform a ‘whole house blower door test’ and allowed me to tag along and watch. Before the technology was available that Mark is able to carry with him on the job, we would have had to crawl through the attic spaces looking for visible signs of damage or errors in construction, usually with inconclusive results. Now when we suspect building and/or duct leakage Mark is the first call we make.

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Preparation for Blower Door Test

Mark affixed a calibrated blower into the open front door jamb. By exhausting the interior air at very high rates he created a vacuum in the home. This pulls warm or hot air through any defects in the building envelope. This allowed the use of his next bit of magic – Infra-red imagery in real-time.

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Uninsulated areas of the ceiling where the wall joins – normal for 10 year old homes

Two hours of inspection revealed many openings that he included in his report to the homeowner. I have included of few of the images from that report:

Doggy door

Doggy Door to garage area

Recessed ceiling light fixture

Leaking recessed ceiling lighting fixture. There were dozens in this home.

Plumbing wall openings at top plate

During construction the top plate was left unsealed around plumbing stacks allowing heat and moisture into the home

Fireplace

The largest leak was from an open flue on a gas fireplace

Most of the problems found on this inspection called for repairs by trades other than HVAC. Also, some of the leaks will not be practical to correct. But the reason I am posting this is to let you know that here is a relatively inexpensive method to discover definitive answers to where the moisture is coming into your home. Or why your heating and cooling utility bills are higher than you expect.

Mark found aluminum windows that are leaking, flooring that was not caulked to the baseboards, etc.

With a report such as this any homeowner can develop a plan that allows them to know up front what the costs of correction will be with a reasonable expectation of success.

Once this plan is complete we will follow up with a second test. With that new measurement, we will calculate the size of an outside air duct to pressurize the home. This duct pulls in outside air, dehumidifies it and allows it to exit at low rates through the leaks that remain to be repaired.

The customer can monitor the hygrometer on the thermostat to evaluate the effectiveness of the corrections. I will post the results in this space when we’re finished.

Posted in Air Conditioning, Ductwork, Humidity, Mold, Odors, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Termites and your air conditioner

Pest control companies spend some of their time during inspections looking for wet areas under or around your home. These wet areas can attract termites. Drips from plumbing with just a few drops a minute are enough to cause the problem.

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Termite paths into your home

Air conditioners produce gallons per day and most installations dump this water right at the foundation of your home. Besides being unsightly and a possible source for mosquito breeding, chronic wet soil can draw termites to the foundation of your home. Foundation drainage

We offer the installation of a small drainage field at the exit point of the air conditioner’s condensate drainage. What is necessary is an area about 5 or 6 feet away from the outside wall of your home where we can dig and install this field.Foundation drainage-2

This drainage system may require periodic attention just like your air conditioner’s existing drain. But it will dry up the area at your foundation. Even if your home has no known problems this is a good practice to prevent future problems.

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Water condensation under house

Yesterday I had a conversation with an insulation contractor regarding the installation of insulation (say that three times real fast) in a client’s attic. This prompted the post yesterday about water stains on the ceiling.

Today we were involved with a different client’s insurance adjuster regarding water damage on a floor. The flooring was buckled inside and an under house inspection showed water drops beading on the wood floor joists.

This home is probably 50 to 60 years old but we have seen new homes with similar problems. This home was constructed over a ventilated crawl space, uninsulated wood floor, finished wood interior surface.

This is the fifth home we have been involved with this summer but this time there is no ductwork under the home. If you read yesterday’s post linked to above you can see a pictorial description of the thermal properties that must be understood to address and solve this problem.

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The photo above shows several colonies of mold growing on the wood. Notice on the joist at left that the bottom has fewer colonies.

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This photo shows the underside of the plywood subfloor. The light patches are mold.

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Overview of crawl space flooring system

Here is a drawing of the floor system showing one solution that I have used in the past when there is no ductwork in the space. The resistance from contractors is usually something along the lines that you can’t seal up the crawl space; that it must ‘breathe’. This is not the case. The goal is to establish a vapor barrier between:

  • the crawl space and the exterior wall/ambient air
  • the crawl space and the earth below

Caveat: This method only works with a gas permeable flooring surface. Vinyl sheet or ceramic tile is not gas permeable. A wood floor with polyurethane finish might be a problem. Older floors or the newer prefinished wood seems to work OK. But do your homework here before starting.

Also this method is inadequate for crawl spaces that contain air conditioning ductwork. We have a different solution for those spaces.

This method uses your air conditioning system to dry your floor and the floor system dries the crawl space.The reason it won’t work with the flooring materials mentioned is that vinyl sheeting prevents migration of moisture from the crawl space to the home. This blocks the path of dehumidification. It does work with a wood floor or carpet.

Section view of hanging sheet detail at exteerior wall

Section view at perimeter pier

Description of work:

Lay a sheet of 6 mil polyethylene sheeting north-south from one wall to the opposite wall between each set of the interior piers. Lay another sheet east-west , wall to wall atop the first sheet. Perimeter vents must be sealed tight, then nail a hanging sheet (two feet longer than the perimeter wall is tall) from the floor sill beam down atop the sheet you placed on the ground. Weight this sheet with bricks every few feet. Run this hanging sheet around the entire perimeter of the house.

Let this hanging sheet cover the access door so that you must push it up out of the way to enter the crawl space. Foam the ground sheet to each pier.

You will not achieve a perfect seal but the better job you do in sealing, the drier the space will be. The path for the moisture from the crawl space to the air conditioning system is restricted by the flooring. A leaky crawl space may overwhelm the ability of the system to dry the space.

The construction methods in use in many of today’s homes with crawl spaces are flawed and intended for another part of the country. I’ve seen this in new homes (recently), I’ve seen this in old homes, I’ve seen a home change occupants then develop the problem. The colder the home interior temperature, the worse the condensation problem will be. I have seen this problem for decades and, before blogs and Facebook, I’ve had to give this speech a thousand (OK maybe fifty) times complete with hand-waving and scratches on legal pads. I’m putting this together for an insurance adjuster and I’ll just email him a link. I thought since I’m writing this anyway I would share it with you. Hope it is of some help.

 

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Water stains on ceiling

Every August we receive a few calls from customers complaining of water stains on their ceilings. We arrive with a short rake and sometimes a leaf blower and find that their ductwork has been covered with blown-in insulation. We remove the insulation from the ductwork and the problem goes away.

Seems like it should work. Why have those cool ducts baking in a hot 120 degree attic when a little blown-in insulation will keep them cool. Sounded good to me. Until one day while chasing the cause of a water stain in Daphne and I put my hand down into 2 feet of insulation and felt soaking wet insulation around a perfectly sealed and insulated duct. I pulled all the insulation away and the problem was solved.

Here is a pictorial drawing of the thermal properties involved in the problem. In this duct buried in insulation, it is wrapped with 1.5″ foil faced wrap and covered with 4″ of blown insulation. In a ventilated attic, humid air of 91 degree dewpoint travels through the blown insulation and condenses on the 78 degree foil facing of the duct insulation.

Sweating duct

The blown-in insulation is causing the foil faced vapor barrier of the ductwork to cool down. This doesn’t occur when the ductwork is in the open attic. The solutions to hot ducts is outside the scope of this article. But always remember to instruct anyone installing insulation to install the insulation so as not to contact the ductwork.

Posted in Air Conditioning, Ductwork, Humidity, Mold | 1 Comment

Freon prices on the rise again

We have received notice from several vendors today of a pending price increase on R22 refrigerant. If your air conditioner is more than 10 years old it is likely you have R22 refrigerant in your air conditioning system.

Swinson Air Conditioning’s last major purchase of R22 refrigerant was about 5 years ago. At that time we began a company transition away from R22 towards replacement ‘bridge’ refrigerants. We successfully completed that move so that refrigerants are not an issue our customers must consider.

We convert systems several times per day reclaiming the used refrigerant and installing our preferred replacement product. It has not been without challenges as the refrigerant properties are different. But we are able to change your existing equipment to eliminate the need for R22 refrigerant. Some of the components are off the shelf and readily available. American Standard/Trane Electronic Expansion Valves are converted by a little solid-state gizmo we designed and built ourselves.

Our converted systems can be recharged at less than half the cost of R22 saving you money. Everyone here has trained and developed our techniques to allow a seamless move away from obsolete R22 refrigerant.

Please read other postings on our blog for more information of this subject.

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Price increase on refrigerant

If your air conditioner is over 10 years old there is a good chance that it uses R-22 refrigerant. We have experienced a large price increase this spring after petitions filed with the United States Department of Commerce and the United States International Trade Commission against Chinese dumping.

Years of below market prices for R22 refrigerant have come to an end and we expect a doubling of R22 retail prices before the middle of this summer.

However…

We have a solution that is actually less expensive than last summer. We are stocking on our service vehicles a replacement refrigerant that has demonstrated the capability to be a ‘drop in’ replacement for R22. Also it is currently less than half the price of R22.

Nevertheless, the least expensive path to air conditioning operation includes the immediate repair of all refrigerant leaks no matter how small. So, we have a bridge to the future that allows you to use your current air conditioning system until replacement is required.

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