11 Red Flags When Buying a New HVAC System

11 Red Flags When Buying a New HVAC System

Can you see the 11 red flags when buying a new HVAC system for your Home? 

Making this expensive purchase is tough enough with all of the hurried salespeople and misinformation out there on the internet.  Today I wanted to highlight what you should watch for with these 11 red flags when buying a new HVAC system.

  1. Get the Right Size System – If a company comes out to give you an estimate on a new system but doesn’t take the right measurements, how do they know they are installing the right size system for you? If a company comes out to your home and sees that your current system is a 3 ton 60,000 btu split system, and they just want to throw another one in that’s the same size, without measuring your actual conditioned square footage, taking consideration for your window infiltration, attic insulation levels, the orientation of the home, and other influences like shade trees that may have recently been removed, I would see that as a red flag.
  2. Buy the Right Technology for your Situation – There are three types of technology when it comes to how an HVAC system works. Single-stage, Two-Stage, and Variable Speed technology.  Which one is right for your Home?  Discuss this with your technician.  If you tell them what you want, and they tell you what they offer, you two will come up with the right system for your home.  The point is, don’t let someone tell you which technology you need to get.  If you aren’t involved in the process, that’s a red flag.
  3. Choose the Right Brand of Air Conditioning System for Your Home – I have written blogs on which brands are the best in the business. Some brands have bad reputations because they are the cheapest brands that homebuilders can find.  They find these cheap brands so they can win the bidding process for the job.  So, now that there are a bunch of these same less expensive systems in the neighborhood when they all start breaking down, they maintain the brand’s bad reputation.  On the other side, the most costly systems may not be right for your rental or vacation home.  Just make sure you’re clued in to any salesmen trying to sell you’re the most expensive equipment out there. That’s a red flag for me.  Check out my blog on this and let that help you make an informed decision on which brand to go with.
  4. Check References and ReviewsChoose the Right Contractor to Install Your New System – Not even the most expensive system in the industry will work right for you if it’s not installed correctly. Manufacturers build the equipment, and contractors install the equipment.  If your contractor just throws your new system in and doesn’t consider the finer points of installation practices, you’ll suffer in the long run, which brings me to my next point.
  5. Check References and Reviews – If your contractor doesn’t have any reviews online, that’s a big red flag. They may not be licensed.  They may not even be a real business.  Sure, you can have some guy who drives around in a pickup truck put your new HVAC system in, but what happens when you need that person to service your equipment if it breaks down? You may never see that guy again! That’s why if he doesn’t have any reviews online, that’s a red flag.
  6. Using the Big Companies in Town – If the company you choose has 50 to 150 employees or more, you might be paying too much for your system. Who’s going to pay for all of those $100,000 salaries for the managers of those businesses? You are. That’s why going with the big guys in town is a red flag to me, too.  Find out more about the company you are considering by asking how many employees that company has.
  7. Licensing, Bonding, Insurance, and Sales Agreements – I think it’s fair to ask your potential contractor if they are adequately insured. What happens if they install it unsafely and the condensate drainage backs up, causing water damage to your ceiling? It’s a huge red flag if your contractor doesn’t have the proper insurance to cover your home in case of installer error.
  8. Contracts Should be in Place – I also think it’s a red flag if your potential contractor doesn’t have you sign an official contract. Did you know contracts in California are about 13 pages long?  If you’re not seeing this when you go to sign, that might be a red flag.  The contract may not have everything written out clearly for everyone to agree to.  The California State License Board has a pretty strict standard for what size font needs to be used.  Attorneys for these companies will want to make the finishing touches on these documents.  Does your contractor have a business attorney?  That’s something you might want to consider.  Legitimate businesses do things the right way and don’t cut corners administratively.
  9. DContracts Should be in Place when Buying a New HVACoes Your Contractor Pull Permits? – Big jobs that involve modifying the gas lines, high voltage, or structure of the house should have a permit pulled. You, as the homeowner, can pull the permit, but I would wonder why a contractor wouldn’t just pull the permit themselves.  After all, they are the professionals at this, right?  If your contractor requires you to pull the permit, I would consider that a red flag.
  10. Maintenance Plans – Some companies want to throw your system in, take your money, never to be seen again. I would like someone to take care of my system after the installation.  Modern high-efficiency systems need a little more care than earlier systems. That’s why having a maintenance agreement in place with your installer is a solid plan.  If they don’t offer you something like that, I would see that as a red flag.
  11. Warranties on New HVAC Systems – New systems come with a ten-year parts warranty. That means if any part of the system breaks down within the first ten years, you won’t have to pay for the part itself.  You will, however, have to pay for the labor for the contractor to do that work for you.  Pay close attention to the labor warranty on your new install.   A measly two-year labor warranty isn’t offering much because new systems don’t usually break within the first two years. It’s usually five, seven, ten years down the road.  If your labor warranty isn’t offered to be extended to five or ten years, assuming you let them do the required maintenance on the system, I would consider that a red flag.

As someone in the field for a long time, I think it’s important to share with you the 11 red flags when buying a new HVAC system that I see other companies do to their customers.  Hopefully, you’ll consider these bits of information, and it helps you with some questions you have when buying your next HVAC system.

Can I Replace the Air Conditioner without the Furnace?

Heater Stops Working after a Storm


When it’s time to replace your air conditioner, many people ask ‘can I replace my AC without the furnace?’

Can I replace just my air conditioning unit? You can. However, there are rebates available in some areas that reward folks for changing out their AC unit. In those situations, those folks will be required to change out their furnace with their air conditioning system at the same time.


How You Get Heat


There are three main parts of your central air conditioning system, indoor and outdoor. In the heating season, you have a gas flame that typically that heats a metal box. Inside that same indoor unit is a blower motor that sends air across the hot metal box, which travels through the ductwork to warm air into your rooms. And that’s how you get heat.

Can I replace my furnace without replacing my air conditioner?

How You Get Air Conditioning

In the air conditioner season, that hot metal box is still there physically; it’s just not being heated up and no flame is on at all. Your AC units’ job is to draw the heat from inside your home and replace it with cool air. The A/C compressor starts up and runs the refrigerant through the outdoor AC condenser coil which connects to the evaporator coil near your HVAC system, inside the house. The outdoor unit is a hot coil, removing heat inside the house while the inside coil is a cold coil. The blower inside the furnace sends air past the cold evaporator coil, through the ductwork, and into the home. This is a short explanation of how your home stays cool in the summertime.

Replacing Just Your Outside AC Unit

Back to the question of replacing just your air conditioning units. Now that you know there are three individual units to your central air system — the furnace, the indoor unit evaporator coil, and the outdoor coils — you should know that any one of those components can be changed out, one at a time.

You may have a house where the AC unit is newer than the indoor furnace, especially if you live in parts of the country where your condensing unit works twice as hard as your heating. In this case, it would make the most sense to replace your AC, bypassing furnace replacement.

Can I Replace the Outdoor AC Without the Furnace?

There are some situations where you can even get away with just changing the outdoor unit for a fraction of the cost of a whole new system! It all depends on the type of refrigerant that your unit uses.

If you currently have a unit that has refrigerant R410a or a unit with R22, you can replace just the outside unit with a similar one. For R22 units, check out Coleman’s EVCON 407c units that come empty of refrigerant but are ready to be charged with 407c, which is an excellent replacement for R22. Technically, you could add R22 to it, but that refrigerant type is quite a bit more expensive and less environmentally friendly if a future leak occurred.

Likewise, R410a systems allow you to replace just the outdoor AC unit with an R410a outdoor unit.

R22 System Issues

If you’re having issues with your R22 system and you want to upgrade it to an R410a system, I’d highly recommend you change the indoor cold evaporator coil with the outdoor unit. Metering devices, capacity, and the copper itself will create more repairs in the future. We guarantee replacing your R22 system will save you money in the long term; the cost of this new system will pay for itself in cost-savings over time.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace An Outside AC Unit?

Many factors determine the cost of replacing air conditioners. The size of the unit, energy efficiency referred to as the SEER rating, the brand you choose, and the level of performance (single-stage or variable) will all factor into the cost of your unit. According to a recent review, the average cost of an outdoor unit in America is $4,575. However, it can certainly cost more than $7,500 to replace just the outside unit.

HVAC Rebates

Local municipalities and utility companies want you to have high-efficiency systems. Because of this, they may want you to replace all three components. They want to see a “matching” system that has a blower motor designed explicitly for the other parts of the system. Updated blower motors increase the efficiency of the entire system. You’ll see this with a higher SEER rating, which is what the rebates are trying to promote. They usually want the outdoor AC and the furnace manufacturer to be the same, while the cold evaporator coil has some flexibility there.

Yes, You Can!

I hope this has helped you understand that you absolutely can replace just your air conditioner without replacing your AC system. Keep rebates and efficiency in mind when making any decisions on replacing just the AC unit.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the blog next time.

How Much Money Do HVAC Workers Make an Hour? (2022 Update)

How Much Money Do HVAC Workers Make Per Hour
How Much Money Do HVAC Workers Make Per Hour

The HVAC industry is one of those jobs where going to college isn’t required. You can make a huge impact on people’s lives RIGHT NOW. When people don’t have heating, cooling, or refrigeration, you fix it. You see the results right now, you feel good, and you move on about your day. How much money do HVAC workers make to do that? We’ll talk about it in this video.

Hourly Rates for HVAC Technicians

HVAC techs make good money. You’re not likely to start out at minimum wage, but it’s possible.

Knowing this, you can expect the average salary for an HVAC to be from $20.00/hr (about $40,000/yr) to $50.00/hr (about $90,000/yr). The average technician makes $25.00/hr.

  • Alaska has the highest average pay rate at about $40.00/hr. Alabama has the lowest right now, with an average salary of $19.00/hr.
  • California has the most HVAC jobs available, paying over $50,000 a year. Alaska has the lowest percentage of HVAC jobs offering more than $50,000 a year.
  • Connecticut, Maryland, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Florida, Alaska, and New York all have at least one city where the average technician makes $40.00 to $50.00/hr.

Types of Jobs Within the HVAC Industry

In the HVAC industry, most people think about positions like installers, repair techs, and preventive maintenance techs. And those positions can be held in the residential field (homes), commercial (stores, offices), industrial (hospitals, high rise buildings), and refrigeration (grocery store frozen and fresh food items).

Each one of those types is going to make different money. Residential techs typically earn a little less than commercial and refrigeration techs, which usually make slightly less than industrial techs. You’ll also find that many commercial, refrigeration, and industrial jobs are typically associated with union jobs.

There are more than technician jobs in HVAC too. We need warehouse workers, truck drivers, front desk workers, administrative assistants and dispatchers, “Title 24 HERS” raters, “Home Performance” salespeople, HVAC equipment salespeople, sheet metal fabricators, pipefitters, department managers, territory managers, equipment manufacturers, parts manufacturers, air conditioning engineers, and system engineers.

So there are several jobs available within the HVAC industry. You find a lot of people who finish up their time in the field switching over to some of these less intense, physically demanding positions. Even HVAC business owners who retire from running their company will seek those jobs as a nice supplemental income to their retirement or just stay in the field and have something to do!

I hope this helps with the HVAC salary question.

The Unrivaled Power of YouTube

Power of YouTube

I remember the first video I ever made for my YouTube channel. It was a complete disaster. The audio was terrible, the video was a grainy desktop computer camera, and I had only the slightest bit of knowledge of what I was doing. But I posted it anyway, and to my surprise, a few people actually watched it! Encouraged by this, I kept making videos and got a little better with each one. I learned how to use editing software to improve the quality of my videos, and I became more comfortable in front of the camera. As my skills improved, so did my popularity; today, my channel has thousands of subscribers and I have learned the power of YouTube.

With the Power of YouTube, I have:

  • Tapped into the billions of people watching monthly.
  • Gotten found on Google more organically.
  • Created content that will never disappear from the internet.
  • Earned trust from people without having gone into their homes yet.
  • BONUS: Make monthly pocket change from Google.

I can honestly say that making these videos has been the single most cost-effective thing I have done for our marketing and branding presence. Not only are a ton of people in our immediate service area watching and learning from our videos, but they are also learning who we are and our business ethics. We have developed a lot of trust from people all over the country too. Ask my admin team, and they’ll tell you the funniest part of their day is when people call from the other side of the country, and even Canada, asking if we service their area. People are watching overseas too. It’s amazing. Just 6 to 8 hours per video has made us an industry name. In my service area, I have optimized them to stand out when people search for what may seem like mundane things like, Why is my air conditioner so loud?” I am also creating a buzz amongst technicians in my area looking for a better workplace. I can stand at the food truck at Home Depot in the mornings, and a tech will come up to me and express how much our videos have helped him in the field. That’s powerful!

I have found that the more transparent we are while making my videos, the better response we get from them. Showing someone how to replace a compressor isn’t going to lose you business. It is actually going to demonstrate your expertise and what is involved in the process. I remember one comment from that compressor video: “Nope! When I saw the torches come out, I knew I was in over my head.”

I just continued making a video once a week or two and uploaded them to the second most popular search in the world, YouTube. I have oodles of topics to talk about. Every little facet of the HVAC world, from how a pressure switch works to starting a business from the ground up, may seem trivial to you, but to others trying to learn something, it isn’t.

Early adopters of content creation on the niche of HVAC were “grayfurnaceman,” “Dr. Zarklov,” “Zack Psioda,” “Lex Vance,” and “NorCal Refrigeration & H.V.A.C..” These guys were simply sticking a camera in front of their faces and chatting about what they were doing that day. Guys would hit the record button and say, “Hey guys, how are you doing? Today I wanted to bring you along as I troubleshoot a gas furnace.” And then, they would take their camera along, sit it down, and point it at the furnace with them in front of it. Now, these types of videos are still being produced by HVAC business owners and service techs all over the country.

What started out as a few guys putzing around making videos showcasing their personal lives and the life of an HVAC technician out in the field ended up being thousands upon thousands of views a month. Content creation is about repetition. Even if one video flops and you realize no one cares about that topic, you keep pressing on. More videos mean more views. I found myself making a video about something I thought was vague, The Facts About Condensate Drain Lines.” Three years later, that video has over 72 thousand views! Are they all from my service area? Not likely. In fact, I can see from my YouTube analytics that not only people from Sacramento have watched it, but Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Melbourne, Australia, and Long Beach are the most popular cities the video has been watched in.

I had one lady from Phoenix, Arizona, call us in Sacramento and ask if she could fly me down there and put me in a hotel for the night, would I fix her system? In her search for a good company, she only trusted Fox Family from watching our videos. That was surprising, but I knew a company in her area and referred her to them. The problem got fixed, and at the same time, I bolstered my HVAC network by referring that company, which I know now, will refer me likewise.

HVAC is a niche that we are already passionate about. Why not demonstrate that passion and start building trust and familiarity for your company too? YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, and it is easy to see why. YouTube’s search algorithm is very effective, allowing users to find the exact content they are looking for. It’s also a great platform for businesses and creators. By uploading engaging content, businesses can reach a large audience of potential customers. There is no doubt that the unrivaled power of YouTube has helped grow my business.

HVAC Equipment Shortages Due To COVID-19 Pandemic Create Chaos

HVAC equipment shortage

There’s a significant shortage of HVAC equipment needed to replace our customers’ current systems.  In some areas, if you were to sell a new system to a family, there’s a chance that order with your distributor can’t be completely fulfilled.  And I’m going to talk about why.

Nobody thought in March or April of 2020 when we were all sitting at home following Stay At Home orders that our industry, primarily residential HVAC, would see a 30% to 60% uptick in business through the summer months of 2020.

May, June and July were months that our company, as well as almost every other contractor I’ve talked to, saw record sales, especially in the equipment replacement area.  I’ve talked to some contractors in other parts of the country that haven’t seen this increase in sales, but it’s been few and far between.

To get some answers as to why this shortage has occurred, I asked a couple of industry professionals in my area to give me their thoughts.  I wanted to know what other contractors are doing about it, and when we can expect our warehouses to get back to normal levels of equipment inventory.

Why has the HVAC Equipment Shortage Occurred?

COVID-19 affected all manufacturers in one way or another.  Some manufacturers were hit earlier than others due to outbreaks in their facilities, forcing them to abide by CDC regulations and shut down for two weeks at a time.  It slowed down production to a near halt.

One industry professional told me, “Everyone felt the effects when the raw materials used to build our equipment became unavailable.  Theses included things like control boards from India, motors, and controls from China, raw steel, raw aluminum, and copper from various parts of the world.”

“When something like COVID interrupts any part of the supply chain system, including how those parts get shipped from there to here, and the number of employees working in these factories, the only thing to expect is chaos. We’re experiencing a weird dynamic right now with worldwide stress, but also with a high demand for our products and services.  The scenario is creating an almost panic for our industry to perform.”

What Are Contractors Doing Since Their Equipment Isn’t Available?

HVAC contractors, large and small, whose usual brand of equipment ran out, were forced to go to other stores and find anything they could get their hands on.  That created an even higher demand for equipment from our local suppliers.  So, while the sales were good for them, almost every supplier felt the squeeze, eventually getting to the point where they were out of product, which usually lasts a lot longer.

Another industry professional told me, “At first it seemed like a lot of contractors became extremely frustrated with the lack of inventory, especially since a lot of the jobs were already sold and they needed the equipment quickly.  But as time went on and EVERY supply house was having the same issue, it became apparent to us contractors that it wasn’t because these supply houses weren’t watching their inventory close enough, and restocking accordingly.  It was a bigger problem all around.”

When Will Things Get Back to Normal?

Equipment manufacturers are not and can not give us ETAs as to when equipment will be back to normal levels.  The demand for products and services in this area has outpaced the manufacturer’s ability to build, produce, and ship out inventory.

Some manufacturers are saying October, but that would be if no new setbacks occur from closures caused by another increase in COVID cases.  And in a time where new issues seem to arise from this pandemic every week, and with no dependable vaccine ready to go by the end of 2020, it’s tough to tell when the HVAC equipment shortage will end.

Fortunately, in California, we’re getting close to the end of the hottest time of the year, so local suppliers should have an easier time restocking their shelves as demand goes down.  Winter months are relatively mild around the Sacramento Valley, so we won’t get that high intensity of equipment change-outs experienced in other areas of the world with longer, colder winters.

Stay safe and follow CDC guidelines so we can get through this sooner than later.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time.

Don’t Miss Our Video on This Topic:

The HVAC Industry Continues to Experience the Effects of COVID-19

HVAC and covid 19 Featured image

HVAC Supply Pricing Continuing To Rise

Folks who purchased their new AC system at the beginning of the year should be singing their praises.  The industry continues to see rising costs of materials combined with a shortage of workers.  

A colleague of mine said, “When something like COVID interrupts any part of the supply chain system, including how those parts get shipped from there to here. We’re experiencing a weird dynamic right now with worldwide stress, but also with a high demand for our products and services. Also, considering the low numbers of employees working in these factories, the only thing to expect is chaos. The scenario is creating an almost panic for our industry to perform.”

Halfway through the summer of 2021, things haven’t gotten any better.  We continue to be frustrated.  Selling equipment is tough enough, but to get the okay from a customer and potentially not have their equipment is challenging.  It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with since becoming a contractor in 2015.

What happens is, when we order our equipment online in the past, we could see the inventory levels of our distributor.  We would look up a particular furnace that matches up with a condenser and evaporator coil and see that they had 20 of those furnaces.  Now when we win a job, we have to submit the order and wait for the distributor to get back to us and let us know if they have the equipment to fill that order.  If they don’t, we have to call the customer back and let them know.

On a few occasions this year, we have had to offer the customer an entirely different brand than Trane, which has always been our equipment of choice.  This has worked out for those customers, and we appreciate them being flexible enough to understand.  

Every HVAC contractor in the United States is dealing with this equipment situation.  Manufacturers say they can’t get equipment out fast enough for the rising demand for new equipment.  This has created the highest rate of price increase we’ve seen in a very long time.  Each year, we typically see a 4% to 6% increase in the cost of equipment.  

attic furnace unit

This year we’ve already seen a 21% increase in that same equipment. This has resulted in your basic $10,000 HVAC system increasing by $2,000 in just one year.  Higher-end equipment has grown exponentially.

With a few to several more months of rapid inflation in the world’s economy, we continue to brace for whatever price increases we may see. These price increases ultimately get passed along to our customers. 

So, like we said this time last year, as we’re getting close to the end of the hottest time of the year, local suppliers should have an easier time restocking their shelves as demand goes down.  Winter months are relatively mild around the Sacramento Valley, so that we won’t get that high intensity of equipment change-outs experienced in other areas of the world with longer, colder winters.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed America get’s back to normal soon.  People need heating and air conditioning. It’s not a luxury for some people.  With continued demand and lower inventory of equipment and the parts that make that equipment up, inflation continues, stressing this contractor out.  

Stay safe and follow CDC guidelines so we can get through this sooner than later. Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you next time.

How cold can my air conditioning get my house in the summer?

How cold can my house get?


HVAC companies like ours startup because we are passionate about helping people when it gets hot (or cold) outside.  We honestly want to get you comfortable as soon as your AC breaks down.  Some people want their home to feel like a meat locker, but the reality is your system can only get your home so cool.

Your system is designed to cool your house 18 to 22 degrees less than the temperature of the house at any given time.  Meaning, if your house is currently 80 degrees, the temperature of the air coming out of your registers should be 62 to 58 degrees.  As the temperature of the house comes down to your desired 72 degrees, the temps coming from the supply registers will be 54 to 50 degrees.  

Your house can get cooler than that. Most of the time, I sleep with the temperature in my bedroom at 68 degrees.  I can only do that if I strategically set my thermostat not to let my house get too warm during the day.  If you let your house get to warm, say 85 to 90 degrees, before turning your system on, your AC will struggle to bring the temps in your home to 72 degrees or less.  

A system is designed to cool your house one or two degrees every 15 minutes.  But if it’s super-hot in your home, the walls are going to be warm, the furniture is warm, and the ceiling is warm.  All the items in your house will need to cool down before you’re going to start feeling comfortable again.  So if it’s 90 degrees in your home before you decide to turn your AC on, it may have to run all through the night, even into the following day to get you there, depending on the age of your HVAC system.

So, the answer to the question is about 72 degrees.  75 is reasonable for every home, but some systems are old and inefficient.  Some systems aren’t sized large enough for that particular home.  Every house is different. Some systems might be low on refrigerant.  It could be a variety of things.  

One thing is for sure though, if you live in the Sacramento area, Fox Family Heating & Air will be able to get your home nice and cool no matter what’s going on with your AC.  Feel free to schedule an appointment with us at (916) 877-1577 or online at www.foxfamilyhvac.com

PSC Motor vs Constant Torque Motor vs Variable Speed Motor – What’s the Difference Between?

PSC Motor vs Constant Torque Motor vs Variable Speed Motor – What’s the Difference Between?

The HVAC industry has come a long way since its first system was put out on the market.  A big part of that evolution has been the technology used to push the air into our homes.  Today we’re talking about three types of motors: PSC Motor vs Constant Torque Motor vs Variable Speed Motor. We’re going to talk about their operation and their uses in today’s residential HVAC systems.

INTRO – PSC Motor vs Constant Torque Motor vs Variable Speed Motor

We have standard PSC motors that are found in the majority of homes today. I’d say 80 percent of the systems we work on today have PSC motors. They’re the ones that have capacitors strapped to them to help start the motor and help it run efficiently. I’ll explain more about them down below.

Next is the constant torque motor.  One we use often is the Genteq X13 motor.  That motor is a high-efficiency motor that helped manufacturers meet the 13 SEER mandate implemented by the federal government in 2006, which is where the name X13 came from.

Manufacturers of these motors usually refer to them as a standard ECM motor or a constant torque motor.  To be clear, X13 is the Genteq brand name.  Other brands offer similar motors.  However, for the purpose of this video, the term constant torque motor will be used to describe all such motors.

A constant torque motor is not a variable speed motor. But both of them are ECM or electronically commutated motors.

Variable speed motors in HVAC systems are the premium option in today’s systems.  They allow systems to run from a very low speed up to 100% of their capacity.  Being able to dial in the desired speed precisely makes these motors the best choice for all types of advanced systems.

And just as a side note for folks in Sacramento County who might be looking for rebates available through our local utility company; SMUD has verbiage in their new rebate structure (and this is in 2021, so double check these rebates) that the new rebates revolve around furnaces and air handlers that have a variable speed motor.  In this case, ECM variable and ECM constant torque motors are the same to SMUD.  But in the real world, when we are talking to each other about these two different motors, it’s constant torque and variable speed motors.

So let’s expand a little now on the differences between the three motors: PSC Motor vs Constant Torque Motor vs Variable Speed Motor.

PSC Motors –

Ever heard of Nikola Tesla? I’m sure you have. He’s the inventor of the first practical design of these split-phase induction motors. He made them easy to use, low-cost, and compact in design, so well the industrial market started using them more and more. They got to be so useful, home appliances started using them in a variety of ways – like heating and cooling.

While simple to build and low in cost, they are being drowned out by today’s modern, higher-efficiency motors.

Three or four wires high voltage wires start and control the speed of the motor. They’re pretty simple to switch out. There’s usually a HIGH, MED-HIGH, MED-LOW, and LOW tap attached to these blower motors. When that winding receives 120 volts from the furnace’s control board, it starts up at that speed. But 120 volts isn’t the only thing that is needed to start that PSC motor. It needs a capacitor to provide the energy to get the motor up and running.

The capacitor winding stays in the circuit the entire time the motor runs, which is where we get the P in PSC for “permanent.”

The S in PSC stands for “split” because it’s a motor that uses single-phase AC which has been “split” by the utility into two equal proportions, just in opposite polarities.

And then C is for “capacitor,” which, as we already know, is the storage bucket of energy the motor consumes to start and run efficiently.

PSC motors are getting phased out because they build up heat, which decreases the motor’s efficiency. This earned them a rating of 60% efficiency.  But hey, that’s been the standard in residential heating and cooling for a long time

If there are restrictions in the airflow, like undersized ductwork, dirty filters, or dirty evaporator coils, PSC motors start to lose performance. They deliver less air because they tend to bog down, drawing higher amps. The system’s static pressure (or blood pressure) builds up and fights back against the PSC motor wearing it and the capacitor down through overheating.

PSC motors aren’t the quietest motors either. In fact, between the three motors we’re discussing today, the PSC motor is the noisiest. Having said that, PSC motors are the least expensive to buy and repair. The next two types of motors are much pricier to repair or replace.

ECM Constant Torque Motors (X-13 Motors)

Probably the most familiar name in ECM constant torque motors is the X-13 motor by Genteq. Genteq acquired General Electric’s motors and capacitors division in 2004, and in 2009 renamed themselves Genteq. I bring this up because the first high-efficiency residential HVAC ECM motors were made by GE back in the 1980s.

Even though they’re like upgraded PSC motors, they are a little more complicated in design because they use an integrated control board to send the signal for operation and at what speed (or torque setting) to run at. Because of this, they’re more expensive. Not quite as expensive as variable-speed motors, but significantly higher than PSC motors.

X-13 ECM or constant torque motors were designed in 2006 to achieve higher SEER ratings for the air conditioners being put into homes. The government sets the standard, so the industry has to keep up.  The SEER rating they were trying to achieve at that time was 13, thus the X-13 motor.

So, what does “constant torque motor” mean?

As a system gets dirty or ductwork is too small, maybe the filter hasn’t been changed in a year, the system’s static pressure (or blood pressure) will increase because it’s becoming restricted. So just like the PSC motor, it will start to decrease the amount of air it can push out, but not as drastic as a PSC motor. As much as 20% less impact on a semi-restricted system.

When the airflow decreases on an air conditioning mode, the system can freeze up with ice and completely restrict airflow. While in heating mode, low airflow means the system can overheat and shut down, wait for itself to cool off, start back up, overheat, shut back down, and over and over until it completely locks itself out. So, with a constant torque motor, the chance of the system shutting down because of airflow restriction is less because the drop in airflow produced isn’t as drastic as a PSC motor.

If you decrease the amount of air that a PSC motor moves because of ductwork, a dirty system, or a dirty filter, it will use less power and not deliver the same amount of air as if it were clean. It’s not a “smart” motor.

In the same situation, a constant torque motor will increase its power output to the shaft, which spins the wheel harder, to try and maintain more airflow through the duct system, preventing those issues we just discussed. And, there are safeties programmed into the motor to prevent it from destroying itself if airflow gets really bad.

The power block to the constant torque motor receives a high voltage and a low voltage signal. The upper portion of the block has connections for the high, and the lower terminals are for the low voltage taps. So instead of having high voltage determine the speed like the PSC motor, low voltage taps are plugged into either the 1,2,3,4, or 5 terminals which have been pre-programmed to a specific torque setting by the manufacturer.

And only some of those taps may have been pre-programmed. So maybe only the 1,2, and 3 terminals work on the low voltage side. The maker of the air handler decides it.

A constant torque motor is a brushless motor, which reduces heat within the rotor and stator area. They’re 80% efficient compared to PSC motors which are rated at 60% efficient. They also don’t need a capacitor to start and run.

They have integrated electronics built into the motor, which means if either the motor windings or the circuitry goes bad, the whole motor has to be replaced.  When I talk about variable speed motors, I’ll explain why I mentioned that.

Variable Speed Motors –

GE, which I said before was acquired by Genteq (on the motors side), introduced the first variable-speed motors for use in HVAC systems in 1987. So, it’s not a new technology.

So, you know how when you get in your car on a 100-degree day and set the AC with that AUTO button to reach 70 degrees? When the car first starts, the AC fan turns on about as high as it can to match the cooling effect the system is trying to produce. Then, as the system starts reaching that 70-degree set point, you may notice the fan actually starts to ramp down little by little because the demand isn’t as high.  Once you reach 70 degrees in the car, the airflow doesn’t really stop, does it?  No. The air stays on lightly while keeping you at 70 degrees.

Do you notice how that motor ramps up and down instead of the constant torque and PSC motors that have set speeds for specific demands from the thermostat? Variable speed motors can fluctuate between very low speeds and high speeds with their brushless design, which helps maintain an impressive 80% to 90% efficiency rating.

When airflow in variable speed systems becomes restricted, airflow volume stays the same (constant airflow) because they’ve been programmed to know exactly how much torque and airflow the system needs to function properly.

So, variable-speed motors are constant airflow motors. Constant torque motors can apply a little more power to the blower wheel in an attempt to maintain the airflow needed by the system.

The motor is made of two pieces – the mechanical part (the motor) and the control module. The control module has microprocessors and electronic controls, which increase or decrease the speed of the motor. One part or the other can be replaced if needed, so you don’t always have to replace the entire motor and module together.

That saves quite a bit of money when it comes time for repair. But – remember that these need to be programmed by the manufacturer, so you can’t just buy one on e-bay and think it will work for your specific application. Variable-speed systems are not cheap to fix. So, it’s like, yes, they save money by being more efficient, but they cost an arm and a leg to repair, so who’s really coming out ahead?

If the shaft is stuck and won’t spin, or the windings are out of sort, you can just replace the mechanical portion of it. If the shaft spins freely and ohms out correctly, and the motor is getting the proper voltage and communication, then you could have a bad module. It’s kind of hard to troubleshoot a module without special tools that can give the proper signal to the motor, in which case, if it didn’t respond properly, you’d know the module was bad.

The variable-speed motor is powered by high voltage plugged into a power block, just like the ECM constant torque motor. It also receives another signal to the power block very similar to the constant torque motor. Instead of individual taps with 24 volts applied to speed terminals, variable speed motors have a multi-pin communication connector. Previous versions of variable speed motors have used AC signals, DC signals, and in today’s motors, serial communication – another reason why technicians need those special devices to troubleshoot them.

Conclusion –

PSC motors are simple, fairly inexpensive, moderately efficient motors with a reputation for being loud and not very dynamic. They also come hitched with the always unpredictable capacitor, which can go out due to overheating.

ECM constant torque and ECM variable-speed motors are pretty complex in design, high-efficiency motors, known for being much quieter on start-up and shutdown. Their ability to control airflow better than PSC motors makes them smart motors because they can ramp up power as needed (the variable speed more so than the constant torque motor.)  All of this comes with a higher price tag, though, when it comes to repairs.

The practical side of me asks, “So the ECM motors are more efficient, saving money on the operation (of a low amperage blower motor) by 20%. But when it comes to repairs, I’m going to pay thousands for a technician to install a new motor?”

And this is the world we live in.

Thanks for reading the blog this week, and we’ll see you on the next one!