Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Heat Pump Problems.

About a year ago, maybe less, I had a customer call in with a no heat on her Goodman air to air heat pump. The warranty had just run out and the problem had been occurring for some time. As Goodman has had issues with leaking service valves and the refrigerant level was low, I assumed those were to blame as there were leaks. The problem was that I was back in a week with the same issue. I found a loose nut on the metering device (the expansion valve), tightened it up and filled the system yet again. I also noticed that this was an R-410A system mated to an old Williamson low boy furnace with a belt driven blower, but did not put two and two together.
The unit failed AGAIN and my boss at the time did something else about it outside of my knowledge.
Funny thing was that I was called to a higher end system, still a Goodman heat pump, but it kept going off on high pressure. Because of the issue of putting gauges on same, releasing R-410A, and messing up the charge, I went down to the furnace (as this was a hybrid system, but with a new Goodman furnace with a direct drive blower). The filter was plugged solid and I put a new one in. The heat pump went on without a hiccup and I charged the customer 89 dollars and advised her to change the filter monthly.
So what's the point? R-22 is still being sold in green jugs to service older equipment and fill those units that are still made, but shipped dry for legal reasons. You see, R-22 is no longer available in a precharged system as this is being phased out due to eating up the ozone layer. This is because it's a Hydrochloroflorocarbon. The chlorine binds with the O3 or Ozone molecule changing into oxygen (O2) and Chlorine Monoxide (Cl O). R-22 is a lot more forgiving in certain situations as the pressures used are lower than those of R-410A, which is a Hydroflourocarbon or HFC. With these higher pressures mean some differences in engineering, but the installer world hasn't quite caught up. Special fittings, flares, tools and techniques are called for to prevent problems and one issue with a heat pump is that the indoor coil is going to be the condenser in the winter. Plugged filters, slow blower speeds and dirty coils will cause the pressures inside the coil to skyrocket; sometimes in excess of 500 pounds a square inch. Anything not brazed and only threaded will work loose in short order and this is what happened to the first customer. Her old Williamson furnace wasn't up to the task of moving the air needed and the coil sprung leaks as a result.
If you're considering a hybrid heating and cooling system, mainly an air to air heat pump, don't cheap out and keep your 20 plus year old furnace. You need to replace BOTH pieces of equipment, unless the furnace is less than 10 years old and has a direct drive motor. Otherwise you risk hours of frustration and unnecessary repair bills. If the installer says you can use a belt driven blower with an R-410A heat pump, get another installer. Belt driven furnaces in a residential system cannot move the volume of air needed to keep this system operating correctly. Maranatha!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

High Efficiency Washer Woes and How to Prevent Them.

Shopping for a washer and dryer used to be pretty simple. There was only one type of washer and two of the dryers. Sure, there were lots of bells and whistles to be had, but for the most part the plain vanilla set served the purpose for couple of decades before being replaced with a newer set. Before my time, wringer washers were common and saved water by not having a timer. By the 1970's though, the main choice was a washer with an agitator that moved the clothes and a timer that automatically cycled wash, rinse and spin modes. The one doing the laundry could save time by doing something else or just enjoy a soap opera. The problem was that those washers used 45 gallons of water and lots of electricity per wash. Sure, there was a water level setting. However, most consumers chose to leave it on high for all but the smallest of loads. Another issue is that the dryer would need to work longer to remove the water the spin cycle didn't. This is why laundromats sometimes have a couple extractors; to remove the water and shorten the time running the dryer.
The agitating arm is also hard on clothes; that lint in the dryer screen is from the agitating arm wearing against them. One the other hand, there's very little of any lint from a high efficiency washer. Any that does show up is from the clothes rubbing against the drum and others in the machine and that wear is minimal.

These washers also sense the water level needed and use less water and electricity. Because they remove more water on the spin cycle, are a lot easier on the dryer. The downside is their cycles tend to be longer, but this made up with shorter drying times. Another huge plus is that shorter people can reach into the washer and it's no more inconvenient to anyone else than putting or removing clothes in a standard dryer. Sure, there are pedestals, but these are expensive and for the most part, unnecessary. A decent front loading, high efficiency washer and dryer will cost no more than a decent top loading washer and standard dryer and will save money almost immediately. Depending on the purchase price and how much you use them (as well as repairs) will determine when the pay back time is. Don't just buy one to save energy.

Last night, one of our friends showed up and told us about the horrible experience she had with her GE washer. I'll spare you the rest of the story, but there was nothing positive to say.

In the case of this technology, there are trade offs. Whether you buy a toaster over or washing machine, you need to do maintenance on it or it'll quit on you. You also need to use the right detergent AND fabric softener. The high sudsing stuff will confuse the sensors and cause the control board (this is NOT a mother board) to fail. This is what happened to our friend's washer. Needless to say, it wasn't the fault of the equipment, as these things are tested for hundreds of hours. These are also designed to work with a door on the side instead of the top AND hold the water in; not a mean feat.

So use the right detergent and fabric softener; look for the h.e. or high efficiency label. Every month, you'll also need to use a washer cleaner and run on the cleaning cycle. To stop the mold and mildew smell that everyone bellyaches about, remember to leave the washer door open between uses AND wipe out the seal behind the door and drum with a clean rag. If it starts acting up, call a technician and don't wait. If there's something wrong, the problems can only get worse and more expensive with time. As with any piece of high precision equipment, follow the direction to the letter and don't try to fudge in your own interpretation. This means giving the regular laundry soap to a friend or neighbor, and not trying to use it "this once" to save money. As far as saving money goes, the "h.e" stuff isn't any more expensive than the regular soap. You can get Purex for $2 or $3 bucks that won't wreck your machine, for example. This is one set of defects that are more attributed to operator error. Maranatha!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nordyne and Carrier 90% Furnace Fix

Arguably Carrier, Bryant and Payne are one of the most well known brands outside of Lennox. Properly maintained, they're reliable and do the job of heating and cooling the home well. Not maintained, these furnaces can be a small nightmare. Trying to reach items like the flame sensor and ignitor require removal of the intake pipe and are still a huge pain. It literally takes me fifteen minutes to a half hour to remove and reinstall either. This isn't to say that other brands can't be a pain too, nor to besmirch Carrier or Nordyne (I have both brands on my house). However, there needs to a component of serviceability to equipment that customer and service technicians expect simplicity in. Goodman has excelled in this and Trane has gotten better over the years. Nordyne is also pretty easy to work on.
Another "problem" with Carrier, Bryant, Payne and Nordyne furnaces is one that's avoidable with proper maintenance, but few realize the importance or a good method of getting it done. Either way, the maintenance is neglected and the furnace suffers from nuisance shutdowns.
Now any furnace with a closed drain trap can suffer from this some problem. Nordyne is another one that comes to mind as does Trane. Amana and Goodman furnaces have open drain traps and unless the hoses are plugged are happy to run; soaking the surfaces underneath with water and possibly ruining them. Give Carrier and Nordyne credit on this one.
The drain trap is one of the most overlooked items on a furnace maintenance or service call, but just as important as an ignitor or flame sensor. If the furnace in question runs for a few minutes and then shuts down with a pressure switch error, pull the pressure switch line. If there's water in the line, then check the drain trap.
For Nordyne (Tappan, Frigidaire, Gibson or Miller), the trap is a "j" shaped piece of clear plastic in the blower compartment. If it's all loaded with crud, take it out and clean it. Cut the strips holding it and undo the clamps on the flexible lines. Take the trap to a sink and dump out the crud, but you may have to blow it out carefully to loosen it up. Put the trap back into furnace and make sure the hose isn't making a double trap that could be making the problem worse.
On Carrier furnaces, this will take a more creative approach. The hoses on older furnaces are likely rotten and easy to break. You need to advise the homeowner of the added cost or you're the one doing the work, make sure you have a replacement kit or you'll be without heat.
Remove the hoses from the top of the little barrel-shaped trap in the blower compartment. The pipe off to the side is likely glued on, so you can't remove it. The openings at the top are also different sizes. What you'll need is a bottle of water you can pour into the trap to help flush it out, a hose that will fit snugly on one of the openings about two feet long.
Pour some water into the trap and attach the hose to one of the spuds and put your thumb over the other. Blow into the tube, (don't suck or you'll get a mouthful of yummy water) until the blockage is out. Then you'll need to either drink some clean water and hold it into your mouth, or carefully pour it into the trap to flush it out. A gallon should be fine, depending on how long the drain is. If the drain is over two or three feet, you'll probably want to get a condensate pump. However, this is a much more expensive story.
Either way, make sure the drains and lines are clear and intact before you put everything back together. Run the furnace with the blower door open for a few minutes to check for leaks and you're done. Maranatha!