Why Your Sacramento HVAC System May Be Having Airflow Problems

AC Repair

Have you noticed that some sections of a room in your home are cold while others are warm? Your HVAC system may be having airflow issues. Read on and learn some of the common reasons why such airflow problems develop. Use this information to adjust the factors which you can handle and call a Sacramento HVAC professional for help on those issues which are beyond your capacity to address.

Obstructed Outdoor Unit

Heating and air conditioning professionals usually select the most appropriate locations in which to install the indoor and outdoor units of air conditioners. However, some Sacramento homeowners may unknowingly impede the performance of the AC by placing obstructions close to the outdoor units.

For example, a homeowner may place a disused appliance close to the outdoor unit. This can prevent that unit from performing its role of cooling the air which is coming from inside the home. Airflow problems will then result.

This problem is easy to solve. Simply check the outdoor unit and remove anything which is within the recommended clearance in the vicinity of that unit.

Blocked Registers and Vents

Many airflow problems result from a blockage in a register or a vent. For example, you may place a piece of furniture in front of an AC register. That furniture will impede the flow of air within the air conditioner components in that room of your home.

Fix such problems by checking the rooms where airflow problems exist. Remove everything that may be in the way of a vent or a register.

Clogged Air Filters

Another common cause of airflow issues is a clogged filter. Air will be unable to flow freely through the filter and into the room if that filter is dirty. Regular replacement of filters (in accordance with the recommended change intervals provided by the manufacturer) can ensure that a clogged filter will not affect the flow of air within the HVAC system.

Leaky or Blocked Air Ducts

The ductwork may also have a defect which is compromising the airflow within your air conditioning system. For instance, dirt may have bypassed a clogged filter and accumulated within the ducts. Such dirt can constrict the ducts and affect the flow of air. Damaged ducts can also leak conditioned air and limit the flow of air to the places where it is needed.

It is advisable for you to ask an experienced Sacramento air conditioning technician to inspect the ductwork and conduct the necessary repairs or cleaning to fix the airflow problem.

Defective Fan Blower

Blower fans push air through the ducts and channel it to the different rooms in your home. Those fans can become sluggish once the motor powering them grows old or weakens. Such a defect can only be remedied by a technical person who will decide whether the fan simply needs to be cleaned or the motor needs to be changed.

Improperly Sized HVAC Units

Some airflow issues in homes can be traced to an improperly sized air conditioning unit. An oversized AC will cycle on and off too frequently. Those short run times deny the system an opportunity to extract all the moisture from the air circulating inside the home. Consequently, the air will feel clammy and you will no longer be comfortable in the home.

Contact an HVAC expert in Sacramento and let that person advise you on the appropriateness of the AC for the size of your home. This analysis is particularly important in case the system is older and may have been installed at a time when the preference for bigger units was prevalent.

Low Refrigerant Charge

A refrigerant leak can also cause airflow problems. The loss of refrigerant causes the HVAC system to be unable to work properly. Don’t try to fix refrigerant leaks on your own. Ask a professional to use the appropriate tools to identify the leaks and fix them before recharging the system with the right refrigerant.

Many of the airflow problems in the discussion above can be detected and corrected early before they cause bigger repair challenges if you have a habit of inviting a Sacramento heating and air conditioning professional to inspect and service your HVAC system. Address all issues quickly so that your comfort isn’t compromised.

Contact Fox Family Heating and Air if you feel like you are experiencing air flow issues in your home. If you HVAC system is showing signs that it is not performing properly, now is the best time to have it checked out to avoid an unnecessary breakdown as Sacramento summer heat approaches.

Do I need a new air conditioning system?

Should you repair your old AC or replace it with a new air conditioning system?

Imagine your Air Conditioner Breaks Down in The Heat of Summer

You’re hosting a  party this weekend. Suddenly, you notice the house gets warmer than you’re used to.  The thermostats says it’s calling for cool air, but all you feel is warm air coming out of the ceiling vents. You call your local AC repair company and they tell you over the phone you have a bad compressor and it needs to be changed.  Or you get the AC repair company to come out to your house.  The technician doesn’t bother opening up the panels to the AC to find out what could be the problem. He tells you your AC is old and should be replaced. Wow! That’s some sort wizardry right there! How can he tell this without even opening the panel to see what’s going on with the AC?

Believe it or not, it happens all the time. 

What can you expect from a reputable air conditioner repair company?

A reputable HVAC technician is going to come out to your house to properly diagnose your Heating and air system.  He or she will have a meter in their bag to see if proper voltage is getting to the system. They will then test the leads of the capacitor to see if the microfarad rating meet factory standards.  They should place an amp clamp around the wire to the compressor and/or condenser fan motor to see if those motors are trying to draw amperage to start up.  This is the real way to get down to it and see exactly what is going on with your system.  

Did you know a compressor or condenser fan motor on the outdoor AC won’t even turn on if the capacitor is bad?

Does that mean your $2000 compressor is bad?  No. Actually a $210 dollar part can immediately replace your old capacitor and get you back up and running in no time.  A quick check for proper refrigerant levels, amp draws and voltage to the motors and you are back in business, my friend! Having a professional HVAC technician make this repair should only cost you parts and labor, and will definitely give you peace of mind that’s it been done correctly. 

Remember the tech who told you about your bad compressor over the phone?  That’s a $2000 replacement.  That company is clearly not in to earning your trust, just your business.  Too many companies out there have so much overhead and so many high paid managers, they HAVE to sell replacement equipment. They HAVE to get to you buy a new system. A trusted, ethical company is going to come out to your house, spend some time properly diagnosing your system and give you options.  But remember:  you should only let them give you options if they’ve spent time properly diagnosing your system.

Should I repair the air conditioning system, or replace it?  

That is the question you’ll be faced with when a major part breaks down someday.  But let’s make sure it really is a major part.  You may even want to get a second opinion from another company.

Air conditioning systems are designed to last 12-15 years without maintenance and 18 to 22 years with proper maintenance.  If you find your 18 year old system needs repairs and you’re asking yourself what to do, here’s a good way to measure that decision. Do you want to put your money in the past and repair this AC with a temporary solution?  Or do you want to invest in a modern, high-efficiency air conditioning system?  If your repairs total above $500-$700, that can be a tough decision.  

At Fox Family Heating and Air, we will never tell you what you should do because it’s your money and your budget, and only you know where you are with your finances.  We are an HVAC repair company first.  We want to get you back up and running as soon as possible and we will always be that kind of company.

cost to repair a broken Air Conditioner

To get a real look at the true cost of today’s air conditioner repair, think about this scenario:

  • HVAC service call – $75
  • HVAC repair – $595
  • Future AC repairs – (on avg. $150 per year on older systems)
  • Local HVAC rebates on new high efficiency system – $500-850 dollars
  • Federal tax credit on new high efficiency HVAC system – $300 (2016)
  • Cost of inflation per year on a new system – $150 per year
  • Energy savings per year operating new high efficiency system – $100 (at least)

Now let’s say you are just wanting to hang on to this older system for three more years..

  • $75 service call +
  • $595 repair + ($150×3 years)
  • future repairs +
  • $500 rebate +
  • $300 tax credit + ($150×3 years) for inflation +
  • ($1003 years) in energy savings = $2670

Today’s $670 repair is actually going to cost you $2670 in “true cost” because you’re investing your money in the past and not the future.  Plus your repair is only going to come with a one year warranty on it.  Our repairs do come with a one year warranty but I’m not sure what other heating and air companies offer.

A new heating and air system is going to come with 10 year parts warranties and, if you chose to replace with us, 10 years labor warranty with a maintenance schedule.  Most companies offer 10 years part warranty and 2 years labor on a new air conditioning system.  Now we all know labor is the most expensive part of any repair, so you’re back to paying that company and arm and a leg for labor on a part that is under ten years old!

We’re a Repair Company First

We want to be ethical and tell you what’s really going on with your system and let you decide what you want to do about it.  A lot of times Fox Family Heating and Air will replace the part on your system to get you back up and running today for $670.  Then we’ll let you think about it for a month or two until you decide you want a new system.  We will take that $670 repair and apply it towards the cost of your new system!  This way you’re not out that extra money.  This is just another way we’re trying to earn your trust and develop a long term relationship with you and your family.

We hope this helps you with your replace or repair decision.  Text or call us anytime at 916-877-1577 to have a company that will leave the decision in your hands, rather than trying to force you into a new system.  

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.

Compressor Start Kit

Compressor Start Kit

A component that will extend the life of your HVAC system

In the second part of the summer series of common parts of an air conditioning system, I bring up a part that may not already be installed in your unit or something that came with your outdoor unit when it was installed. A compressor start kit or hard start kit is a component that you can add on to your system that will help extend the life of your compressor, the heart of your air conditioner that pumps the refrigerant.

A compressor start kit significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to get your compressor up to full run speed. For about 7 or 8 seconds while the compressor starts up, the motor windings undergo a tremendous amount of damaging heat and energy, about 10 times more actually. The start assist can reduce the amount of time it takes to start up by nearly half.

Imagine your car broken down in the middle of the intersection. You could probably push that car out of the intersection by yourself, right? Well if I came up and helped you push that car out of the intersection, three things would be better for you. You’d be less tired once we got out of the intersection. You would get there faster, and you could probably actually do it again. Now, those of you who have ever pushed that kind of dead weight more than twenty feet know what I’m talking about.

This is how we know we can extend the life of your compressor. This is an add-on to the system. A lot of manufacturers don’t put one on your system because it is not in their best interest to do so. Why? Because they extend the life of your $2000 compressor! Once installed, a start kit is designed to last 5 to 10 years, but can last the lifetime of the system.

Should I Hook Up My AC Manifold Gauges at Every AC Service Call?

Should I Hook Up My AC Manifold Gauges at Every AC Service Call?

Maintaining the Integrity of Your Sacramento Valley AC System

As a technician starting out in this field, I was told by the company trainer to hook up the hoses to my manifold gauges at every AC service call.  Much like a doctor who wears a stethoscope around his neck, hooking my gauges up meant we were the professionals; and when I bring the customer out to the AC to discuss recommendations or repairs, they would see I was the one with all the knowledge.  Was my trainer onto something, or was this just another effort to blow smoke up the customers rear and make him fall for that company’s high-pressure antics?

If this is your first time reading our blog, be sure to check out our library of blog topics on a wide variety of topics useful for both customers and technicians.

Manifold Gauges: How They Work

Every residential air conditioner has a service valve used by technicians to connect to and read the pressures of the system’s refrigerant. Those service valves have a Schrader core (That’s Schrader Core) that gets depressed when the technician’s manifold hoses attach to the service valve.  It’s just like a valve stem on your bicycle tire.

When the core gets pressed in, the refrigerant is allowed into the technician’s manifold so the pressure can be read on the gauges.  It takes an experienced technician to interpret those readings to accurately determine what’s going on with the refrigerant pressures in the system.  Simply put, we can see the temperature of the evaporator coil, the condenser coil, and can determine the superheat and subcooling levels for that system.

Getting an Accurate Manifold Gauge Assessment

But do technicians need to hook up every time they go out on preventative maintenance or a service call?  Does it mean we didn’t give a full and comprehensive diagnostic if we don’t?  No!  Most technicians will walk up to a system and assess how the system is running by doing a couple of things.  First, have you asked the customer how their system is running?  If not, that’s valuable information to get.  If the system has been running great according to the customer, there may not be any reason to hook up the gauges.

Steps for Technicians

Let’s say you’ve asked the customer how the system has been performing.  They report that the system’s been running fine.  They just wanted to call you out for a pre-season tune-up, like the ones we offer at Fox Family for just $75.  Have you checked the temperature split to see if the system is blowing nice cold air?  That would be more input that should sway a technician from hooking up their gauges.

I know it’s a little cliché but checking the temperature of the suction line can further indicate that you wouldn’t need to hook up your gauges to the AC system.  The liquid line should be a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature, too.  So, making some initial checks like this can make someone comfortable about not hooking up their gauges to the system.

Why don’t I think you should hook up your gauges so much?  Hooking up your gauges can do several things to actually harm the performance of the system over the long run.  Maybe not today, but the overall lifespan of the system can be affected.


I feel that hooking up gauges from one system to the next contaminates the next system you hook up to.  Taking a little bit of refrigerant from one system, going to the other side of town and putting your gauges on that system has now introduced a trace of contaminants that system has never seen before.  Moisture and air from one system can easily be transferred to another system.

This is definitely true if your no loss fittings or ball valve fittings on your hoses retain the R22 freon in one system and then get hooked up to that one on the other side of town that is an R410a system.   A technician doing this will literally create a new mixture, a new refrigerant even.  Done enough times, it will throw off the system readings enough that not even the most experienced techs can get the true pressures inside that system.  Eventually, a future technician will recommend removing all the refrigerant and starting over with a new manufacturer’s charge of refrigerant.

Avoiding Burns

Another reason is to reduce the chances of exposing yourself to refrigerant burns.  In the unlikely event that you find a burr in the threading of the service valve and get it stuck it could create a situation where the refrigerant starts shooting out of the hoses.  Some techs will persist in trying to get the hose off and burn themselves.  The risk is small, but but tell that to the techs who have ended up with huge blisters on their hands trying to play hero and losing time off work.  Further impacting their paychecks and livelihood is a serious consideration.

Unintended Loosening

My last reason to think twice about hooking up gauges to every AC system is about the Schrader core.  It can be loosened, creating a tiny leak.  The Schrader core is threaded into the service valve.  And while you’re screwing the new core into the valve which way are you tightening it?  Righty tighty.  Lefty loosey.  Taking off your hoses in the normal counterclockwise direction mimics the same direction it takes to unscrew the Schrader core.

Case in Point

Several times this year I’ve gone out on a service call for no cooling.  The client reports that the system only blows room temperature air.  They’ve have been having maintenance done by a local company every spring and fall. Upon inspection, I saw there was no temp split from the registers.  And the suction line at the AC was warm to the touch.  I unscrewed the service valve cap to attach my hoses.  There, I saw some liquid refrigerant spewing out of where the valve core sits.  I think I’ve found the problem.

Put another way, I’ll quote a recent story in ACHR News:

“There is no reason to ever put gauges on an air conditioning or refrigeration system after the initial installation unless a problem with the mechanical refrigeration circuit is suspected.  Using a psychrometric chart, digital thermometer, digital humidity stick, and an accurate method to calculate airflow can replace having to apply your manifold gauges anytime.”

Increasing Equipment Life

Remember, these systems should contain only virgin refrigerant.  Spending less time putting on and taking off our refrigerant hoses saves more than time.  It increases equipment life, maintains performance, and reduces refrigerant emissions into the atmosphere.

Remember, I was told by the company trainer to hook up my manifold gauges on every AC service call.  He said it would make me look like the doctor who wears a stethoscope around his neck.  Customers supposedly expect to see those hoses hooked up, and if they weren’t, they might think something wasn’t right.  The trainer wasn’t worried about the integrity of the customer’s AC system.  And certainly not the integrity of his company’s high-pressure sales antics.

Your Turn

As always, I appreciate you all for reading our blog posts here at Fox Family in Sacramento.  I would love to hear your comments as technicians out in the field.  How does your company practice service and maintenance calls and hooking up your manifold gauges at AC service call?

Thanks so much for stopping by and we’ll see you on the next blog topic!

How‌ ‌I‌ ‌Troubleshoot‌ ‌An‌ ‌Air‌ ‌Conditioner‌ ‌Compressor‌

Trouble Shooting an air conditioning compressor

Hey HVAC techs! I’m Greg Fox, from Fox Family Heating & Air, and today we’re going to talk about how I troubleshoot a compressor.  This is going to be the single best blog you’ll ever read when it comes to troubleshooting an air conditioner’s compressor.  You could also check out our post on How To Troubleshoot An AC Unit.

So you walk into the customer’s home, and they say their AC was working just fine yesterday, but now it only blows warm or room temperature air.   So, I confirm what Mrs. Jones has told me.  There is room temperature air coming out of the supply vents.  That lets me know the blower is running, so I won’t start checking anything there yet. 

The next thing I want to do is head to the outdoor unit and check to see if it’s running. As you head around the corner, you can tell it’s not.

Checking for a short to ground.

Before going anywhere, check at the contactor to see if anything is shorted to ground.  Put your meter setting on “continuity” check.  Put one meter lead on the left terminal on the load side of the contactor and one to ground.  Do you have continuity there?  Try the other load terminal to ground.  Do you have continuity there?  

If you have continuity at either of these terminals to ground, then something downstream is shorted to ground. Now you just have to find it.  It could be:

  1. Any of the high voltage wiring.
  2. The contactor
  3. The capacitor or start capacitor
  4. The condenser fan motor
  5. The crankcase heater

Ohm Out The Air Conditioner Compressor

Let’s ohm out the compressor first.

I usually just do this with the wires at the service panel still connected to the compressor.  If I see something screwy, I’ll make an effort to check at the terminals themselves.

>I try and stay away from the compressor lugs themselves because those terminals can actually blow out. There’s a few hundred PSI of refrigerant behind those terminals.  If they were to blow off while you’re in front of them, they could blow right through your hand, chest, or face.  So if I don’t have to go there first, I don’t.

Get your wires that lead to the compressor together.  Check your ohm’s reading between Common and Start, Common and Run, and Start to Run.  Without going crazy in-depth on it in this video, generally, you’ll notice the resistance between Common and Start will be a little higher than Common and Run.  The total of those two numbers is what you’ll read between Start and Run.  So, if you had 2.3 ohms between Common and Start and 1.7 between Common and Run, you should have about 4 ohms between Start and Run

If Common to Start and Start to Run is OL, then you have an open start winding.  Same on the other side.  If Common to Run is OL and Run to Start is OL, you have an open Run winding.

I’m trying to stress the AND here because if you have OL between Start and Common, but when you test between Start and Run, and it’s not open, it’s likely just the internal overload switch that’s open.  Let the compressor cool off and retest it before condemning the compressor. You’d hate to charge a customer for a bad compressor when it was just overheated due to another issue.

When the windings on the compressor are defective, the hermetic compressor will need to be replaced.  Hermetic compressors like the ones we work on in residential HVAC are sealed.  So, we can’t get into them to make any repairs.

What If The Windings Are Good?

Go check the breaker at the main panel.  A breaker has 3 positions. ON, OFF, and TRIPPED.  Is it tripped to the middle position?  Try resetting the breaker by flipping it to OFF and then back ON again.

Breakers trip due to heat and excessive tripping.  Resistance is a source of heat.  High current is a source of heat.  Hot outdoor temperatures beating down on the southwest side of the house can be a big source of direct heat to the breakers inside the panel.

If the breaker trips immediately, you’ve got an electrical short to ground somewhere. If the breaker trips after running for anything longer than immediately, you could have:

  1. Excessive current
  2. Too small of a breaker or fuse
  3. High indoor return air on a scorching hot day, which will put a ton of stress on the outdoor unit.
  4. A dirty condenser coil.  If the outdoor unit can’t draw in air across its coils, it’ll overheat the AC.
Breaker check on Air conditioning repair

A breaker that trips several times can get weaker and weaker until it takes less heat to trip it.  So that’s a possibility to keep in mind.

If the breaker is not tripped, turn it off and check the fuses at the disconnect.  After checking for no voltage (since I just turned the breaker off), I always remove the fuses to check continuity between each end of the fuse.  If either of them is OL, it’s done its job and protected the circuit, but it’s also the reason the AC isn’t starting.  Should we just replace the fuse or reset the breaker and move on to our next call?  No way!  As an HVAC technician, aren’t you dying to find out why the breaker is tripping?

Is It A Locked Rotor?

A locked rotor most commonly happens at the beginning of the season, when it hasn’t been running for a while.  If you hear the compressor is trying to run, but it’s not pumping anything, it could be stuck.  Put an amp clamp on the Common wire while it’s trying to start. You’ll see the amps skyrocket beyond its LRA.  

In this instance, I let the customer know I want to try a hard start kit to see if it will give it that extra little kick it needs to get going.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll take the start kit back.  But if it does work, they’ll need to buy the start kit from us.  At that point, they just need to understand their compressor is on borrowed time.

Bypassing The Compressor

Another thing you can try is, removing the wires from the compressor altogether and just run the outdoor unit with the fan only.  If the fan works, great.  You can move on. You know it’s not the fan tripping the breaker.  

If the fan isn’t working, troubleshoot the fan. You may have to replace the fan motor, cool down the compressor until it’s ready to run again, and retest the system.  Rarely do I find the condenser fan motor, and the compressor will have gone bad on the same day.  But I guess it can happen.

Internal Overload

Let’s assume we do have good power to the condenser’s contactor and on to the fan motor and compressor.  But the compressor’s not working.  You can tell the fan works because it’s spinning just fine and even has good amp draws.

Let’s check and make sure the compressor hasn’t overheated and shut down on internal overload before we condemn this thing.  Check the resistance (by switching the meter to Ohms) between the Common and Start winding and then do the same with the Common and Run windings.  Does the meter show an open circuit on either one of those tests, but not between the Start and Run terminals?

If so, we should let the compressor cool down and retest it. 

Letting a compressor cool down on a 100-degree day can take a long, long time, too.  I like to use a garden hose to pour cool water over its top and let it run down the sides of it evenly.  There is literally a switch inside that compressor that will open or close depending on whether it’s safe to run it or not.  Kind of a self-destruct prevention switch.

Why did the compressor internal overload switch open in the first place?  A bad capacitor or hard start kit can cause the compressor windings to overheat or just not start at all.  So before we diagnose a bad compressor, we should make sure our capacitors are good.  

Something that tricked me one time was a bad start kit.  I called another tech I worked with, and they told me to try bypassing the start kit by removing it from the circuit.  Guess what?  The compressor started, and I haven’t heard from that guy again.

Bad Valves? Are You Sure?

Something I hear technicians say a lot is the compressor has a bad valve.  Well, today’s scroll compressors don’t have valves.  They do have bearings that can go bad!  But valves were an issue with reciprocating compressors in earlier models.

If you have decent refrigerant levels but have problems starting and running efficiently with a lot of vibration, or a metal clanking noise, you could have damaged bearings on the compressor.

It’s caused by refrigerant wearing out the oil, creating a situation where copper plating occurs.  From there, the compressor overheats and draws higher amps. 

Remember, you’ll see higher amp draws on a compressor the hotter it gets outside.  But, if a compressor is running anywhere near its RLA, and the refrigerant charge is good, that compressor is hurting.

If any of this sounds like what’s going on with the compressor you’re working on, it could have bad bearings, not bad valves.

AC repair compressor

Some other things to check

So many things can happen to a compressor to cause it to fail.  Not only do you have to diagnose the bad compressor, but you also have to find out why it’s not working.  I always tell my customers, the most important day of your system’s life is the day it was installed.  

  • Contaminated Refrigerant – The only things that should be inside the refrigerant lines are oil and virgin refrigerant.  If moisture, air, dust, or anything else gets inside, the lines will become contaminated.

Contaminated refrigerant will become acidic and eat away at the protective coating on the stator windings that make the compressor rotor spin.  Once the protective lining has deteriorated, the copper windings will become exposed and fail (in a big way!)  

This creates a situation where the compressor shorts directly to ground.  A wire has now created continuity with the compressor’s body and completely burns and charrs anything inside it.  The oil, the refrigerant, and the compressor components will all become black and lined with soot.  

  1. Burnt wiring – If the terminals attached to the compressor are burnt or barely intact, you can imagine the arcing that occurs across the gap of those loosely stranded wires.  That arcing creates an intense amount of current, which creates a ton of heat.  Replace the wires and retest the system.
  2. Incorrect sizing – Equipment or refrigerant lines of the wrong size can create an unbalanced system. 
  3. Indoor evaporator coil isn’t large enough – If this is the case liquid flood back can happen, causing an enormous amount of stress on the compressor.  
  4. Lineset too long –  There are maximum lengths of the refrigerant lines listed in the installation manuals for a reason.
  5. Stress on the lineset – Does the copper lineset go under a sidewalk or under the ground to make a dip in the refrigerant flow?  This can create a situation where there’s a ton of liquid refrigerant stuck in the lines right there and cause startup issues.
  6. Kinks in the lineset –  Any sort of restriction, even a stuck TXV, can cause unbalanced pressures during startup.
  7. Overcharged system – This can cause a lot of stress and locked rotor amps that are super high, preventing the compressor from starting normally.  Removing some refrigerant will alleviate the pressure.  Sometimes it’s just best to remove it all and start with a fresh charge so you, the technician, know how much is in there.  This helps make the diagnostic easier because now you have more information.

What else should folks check when troubleshooting a compressor?  Leave me a comment down below to share your expertise. Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you at the next blog post.

Heat Pump Water Heater Rebate Reduction from SMUD Puts Pressure on Customers

SMUD’s rebate structure is one of the most generous ones around, especially compared to those available from PG&E.  But those rewards for going green won’t be around forever. 

SMUD’s Rebate Program Manager, Michael Corbett, in coordination with Efficiency First California, has developed a fantastic way to take care of emergency appliance replacements individually while still qualifying for the rebates.  The replacements include water heaters, HVAC systems, ductwork, insulation, and making your home “electric ready.”  In the past, the $13,000 total in rebates required replacement of all these items at once.  You’re now able to take care of these one at a time.

Rebates Won’t Be Around Forever

As the timeline shortens for mandatory building code changes in new homes, utility companies won’t have to provide these great rebates.  The heat pump water heater rebate reduction is an example of that.  SMUD encourages participating contractors like Fox Family Heating and Air to let folks know these rebates won’t be around forever.  They should take advantage of them before funds run out.

Everyone involved in SMUD’s new rebate structure has seen success.  In fact, in just two years, the volume of heat pump water heater installations through SMUD’s program has increased by 1,000%.  It’s been so successful, the funds to support these incentives are running out! 

SMUD Rebate Reductions

Starting April 1, 2020, the rebate for changing your gas water heater to a heat pump all-electric water heater drops by $500.  The $3,000 rebate will now be $2,500.  The $1,000 rebate for upgrading your electric water heater to a heat pump style water heater will now be $500.

Applications must be submitted and approved by March 31st, 2020 to receive the previous $3,000 or $1,000 SMUD rebate.  The utility company processes rebates on a first-come, first-served basis. Your project must meet the efficiency standards of the program as well as other terms and conditions. These include using a participating SMUD contractor and pulling a permit with the city or county.

For questions regarding the program, please email contractorsupport@efficiencyfirstca.org or call 916-209-5117. For questions about your project or to schedule an installation, contact Fox Family — we’re ready to help!

What’s the Required Service Area for HVAC Installations?


Installing Equipment Safely and to Code for our Sacramento Customers

When we install HVAC equipment in people’s homes, there is a code that covers how much service area there needs to be in front of the equipment.  That’s what we are talking about today on Code Corner.  Let’s take a look at what the codes say and adhering to to the code when doing an HVAC change-out.


I’m not here to pretend I know or could even interpret all the codes correctly.  I’m simply trying to open a conversation about codes we cite on the job every day out there without even knowing it.

But where is that code in the book?  That’s what this project is all about.  Ultimately, this project is good information for technicians but if they help you, then that’s great!  And good for you for even caring about the building codes enough to read this blog post.  It means you care about your work too!

Let’s take a look at what the codes say about Required Service Area in front of the HVAC equipment and adherence to the code when doing an HVAC change-out.

Making Space

Have you ever been in front of a furnace in the attic, and noticed you don’t have enough space to work?  Imagine you need to pull the heat exchanger from the furnace and change it with a new one.  If there’s not enough room in front of that furnace, the technician won’t be able to remove and replace parts as needed.   And trust me, this accessibility issue is a major problem because if we can’t get that blower motor out, a more invasive procedure needs to be carried out to extract the part which will cost the homeowner more money at that time in the future.

This has already happened to people a long, long time ago, and they learned from it; And they wrote it in a book so that future techs won’t make the same mistakes they did.

Now, imagine you’re trying to perform a regular maintenance, but can’t get the access panel off the AC because a giant lattice structure has been solidly built around it.  The homeowner doesn’t want to LOOK at this horrid AC in the back yard, so they cover it up.

Well, the builder of the lattice structure at the AC, and the installer of the platform or non-existent platform at the air handler in the attic didn’t install this system properly.

CMC 304.4.3 says a level working platform not less than 30 inches by 30 inches has to be provided in front of the service side of the appliance.

IMC 306.1 says the same thing

The exception to this rule is that a working platform doesn’t need to be provided when the furnace is capable of being serviced from the required access opening. In this case, that furnace can’t be over 12” from the attic access either because some techs might not be able to reach components inside the furnace casing.

Now, you know I like to encourage you to read the installation manual while you’re installing the equipment, right?  I personally like to look through it the night before my next install.  That way I know what I’m saying if something comes up during the install with my co-workers.  Usually, the manual has more restrictive guidelines when installing HVAC equipment.  The city and county code inspectors everywhere defer to the installation manual so many times because the manufacturer has stricter requirements for the installation.

Referring to the Mechanical Code

In the IMC, in 102.1 Conflicts in Code, it says if the codebook and the installation manual conflict with each other, to follow the more stringent requirement.

The installation manual for our equipment in the attic says the clearance in front of the furnace and coil in the attic is required to be at least 24 inches.  If the county inspector adheres to the IMC or CMC, and it says 30 inches in front of the appliance, but the installation manual says we can go 24 inches in front of the unit.  Which is the correct answer?

In this instance, the mechanical code is still more stringent on its requirements, so when I hear people say we only need 24” in front of the furnace, I know it will probably fly, but the inspector could call us on it and ask for a 30” service area in front of the unit.  And you need to know that.

The service platform is supposed to be constructed from “solid flooring.”  Many techs around here use 5/8” plywood. I wouldn’t use 3/8” or 1/2” plywood, because it’s pretty flimsy for bigger guys, and over time can splinter and break.  Nobody likes to sit on a flimsy service platform that was supposed to be built “solidly.”  Instead, get the 5/8” thick plywood.  Its only a few more dollars and will be secure for any technician who has to crawl across it.

Avoiding Obstructions and Providing Space

Is it okay if the service platform is uneven?  Like a step up or down?  I don’t think anybody will give you a hard time if the decking for the service area is 4 inches higher at one point than the other.  The point is to be able to pull parts from the unit without any obstructions, like a wall or truss, and have a spot to put your tools and anything else you might need for the job.  So if that step is going to interfere with the changing of any part of that system, it’s not built to code.

Outside at the AC, just make sure you have a 30 x 30-inch area in front of your access panel.  This ensures future techs can get in there and make the necessary repairs to get the customer up and going again.

Consider the Next Installer

If your homeowner is going to build that lattice structure around the AC, ask them to build it so it can be slid out and then back when the AC tech moves on.  Don’t let them pour concrete piles so it’s secure but never going to move again.  That inhibits technicians from doing their job safely.  There’s nothing more frustrating than having to take down the lattice panels around an AC one screw at a time, just so you can get in there and clean the AC so it will work properly again.

As installers, I believe we have a responsibility a to consider the next tech who comes to service this equipment.  He or she might not be 5 foot 8, and 165 lbs.  There are short techs and tall techs, narrow techs and wide techs.

Correct Equipment Installation

That’s what this series is about.  It’s not to say that I know all the codes, and can interpret them perfectly.  Code Corner is about Fox Family Heating and Air wanting to install equipment correctly, so we can pass the inspection that comes with pulling a permit for the job.  Read more about HVAC installations here.

Remember, any time we alter the electrical, mechanical, plumbing and gas lines, we need to pull a permit and follow the codes and the installation manual.  And then we need to have a third party, unattached inspector come by, and just make sure we installed it correctly.  It’s not a bad thing!  We just look at it as an extra set of eyes on our work to make sure the family who resides in that house, and uses that system we installed, is safe forevermore!

Looking Ahead

I have several other topics I want to open a conversation about when it comes to HVAC and the building codes.  I really hope nobody is taking offense on these topics.  My goal is to elevate the HVAC world and make us all better technicians so we can go out and take care of our customers safely.

Comment below if you’ve have had any weird platforms or service areas so tight you couldn’t service the AC!  I’m sure you all have some great stories.

Thanks so much for watching and we’ll see you at the next blog.

The Easy Guide to Diagnosing a Bad Furnace Inducer Motor

Inducer Motor Troubleshooting tips

Today I want to expand on our recent gas furnace troubleshooting series. “The Easy Guide to Diagnosing a Bad Furnace Inducer Motor” will fill you in on what the inducer motor does, why it’s important, the most common of ways I’ve found inducer motors fail, and how to let the customer know what you’ve found. That’s coming up here on Fox Family Heating & Air.

First, I want to give fair warning to anyone watching this that is not already an experienced technician in the HVAC industry.  This video is for educational purposes only.  Fox Family Heating and Air does not recommend anyone other than a professional to start opening the furnace up and trying to diagnose the failure going on with your system. 

There are high and low voltages that can shock a person.  There are also lots of moving parts that can damage body parts—namely, hands and fingers.  The furnace also produces hot surfaces within the furnace compartments and around the housing, which can cause severe burns.  An actual flame produced by the ignition and startup of a gas furnace can cause severe burns and damage to a person or property.

First, as a technician, you must know the sequence of events that occurs for a gas furnace to start up properly. It’s straightforward, and you should have this memorized before you can even consider being qualified to troubleshoot.

  1. Power to the furnace control board
  2. Thermostat signals the call for heat
  3. Inducer motor kicks on
  4. Pressure switch proves the inducer operates correctly
  5. Ignitor activates
  6. Gas valve energizes
  7. Flame pours across burners
  8. Flame sensor proves all burners are lit
  9. Blower forces air through the ducts

When a furnace begins a new cycle, the inducer motor is the first thing you should see kick on.  120 volts are applied through the wires coming from the control board.  This starts the furnace inducer motor for up to 60 seconds before anything else even happens. It’s a safety feature that creates a negative pressure or draft that purges the heat exchanger of any poisonous gasses, namely the combustion’s biproducts.  It makes the air inside the heat hollow tubes of the heat exchanger cleaner when the flame kicks on. With cleaner air inside the heat exchanger at the time of combustion, the furnace’s efficiency increases.

Without going into it too much, a safety device called a pressure switch activates when the diaphragm inside of it recognizes the suction or purging action of the furnace inducer motor. There’s another video called The Easy Guide to Diagnosing a Bad Pressure Switch, and I’ll make sure it’s attached to the end screen so you can check that out.  But first, you want to know more about the inducer more and how to troubleshoot it.

If the inducer motor doesn’t turn on when it’s supposed to, the furnace will recognize this and shut down.  It will wait a bit and try again.  If the motor doesn’t start after 3 to 5 tries, the control board will stop sending voltage to the inducer motor, and essentially locking it out from attempting it anymore.

Why Furnace Inducer Motors Fail

If the correct voltage is applied to the inducer motor and it’s not turning on, something’s not right. Let’s dig into why:

Unplug the furnace, which removes power to the system.

Is the base of the motor warm or hot to the touch?  This means it’s been trying to spin, but something is holding it up.  Is the flywheel on the motor or the actual squirrel cage unable to spin when you manually try to turn it? This can be a reliable indicator that the motor is bad and needs to be replaced.

Why is this happening?

One reason the motor’s shaft locks up is that the motor’s bearings may be seized, preventing it from turning.  Another reason has to do with the windings inside the motor.  One of them could be open—usually, the start winding in this case.  And finally, some motors have a capacitor that starts the motor and regulates the voltage while it’s running.  If it is a bad capacitor, a new one should get it going again.

One of the first indicators that a furnace inducer motor is on borrowed time is if it’s making odd noises.  Sometimes it’s a rattling noise, a clanking noise, chattering, pinging, shaking, a wobbling noise – you name it!  If it comes on and runs any other way than what you interpret as normal, based on your training and experience with properly operating furnaces, you can see if it’s something you can physically adjust.  If not, the inducer motor should be considered bad.  Why?  Because it’s not running to manufacturers specs.

Think Like the Furnace Builder

Think about it like this. Would the furnace’s builder, who takes a ton of pride in their system’s operation, send this out into the field to be installed, knowing the inducer motor is making a god-awful noise?  The answer is a resounding no!  And you should know that and be comfortable telling the customer this. 

Because many inducer motors are nearly impossible to rebuild, an entirely new unit must be purchased in most cases when one wears out. One of the exceptions to this is the occasional Carrier or Bryant units.

Ordering the Furnace Inducer Motor

So at this point, this is what I need my technicians to do. Inducer motors are ordered through the manufacturer. And since we have flat-rate pricing, which includes the cost of parts, labor, and warranty, if the motor is less than $100, it is a level 7.  Above $100 is a level 8. $200 and above, they need to call a supervisor for pricing.

Be Prepared with Information

You want to know the pricing and availability before you talk to the customer because you want to minimize the number of times you need to bring the customer information.  Coming to them and telling them the inducer motor is bad just to hear them say, “Okay, how much is it?” then means you must find out, come back, and tell them it’s the such-and-such price.  You get their approval on the price, but they want to know when the repair will occur. You’ll need to call back to your parts warehouse to ask when the part will be available.  You then must go back to tell them the part will be in around 5 to 7 business days from the factory. 

All of this back and forth can be avoided if you have all the necessary information upfront before even telling them about the diagnosis.  Even if they don’t go with your repair, you have the information and can log it in your file for the customer if they call back, approving the repair a month from now.

Communicating with the Customer

Once we determine pricing and availability, it’s time to talk to the customer about our diagnosis.  We explain what we found, let the customer know the price, and let them know when we can come back to repair the system.

Just a word to the wise:  good communication between you and the customer would mean telling them they need to change this part on the furnace before seeing if anything else is wrong with the system.  Sometimes you’ll get a customer that asks, “So this will fix my system and get it going again, right?” Well, you don’t really know because you haven’t seen what the rest of the startup sequence and the cycling off of the system is doing, have you?  

It’s very likely the rest of the system will work since multiple failures are pretty rare, but you’re going to feel like a jerk if you forget to tell them you have to see how the rest of the system operates after you replace the inducer motor.  Coming back to them after you’ve replaced the motor only to say, “Oh yeah, now your gas valve isn’t working, that’ll be another $600.” So just remember, without a properly functioning inducer motor, there’s no way to tell if the rest of the system is working to manufacturer specs. 

If it is a part that’s available for pickup, call the office to determine a date to pick it up and return and complete the replacement.  If it is a part that needs to be shipped, we want to let the customer know that the part should be arriving at said date and that we’ll call to schedule the appointment when the part arrives.  You’d also want to communicate to the customer and the office how long the repair will take. 

During the inducer motor installation, we need to either replace the gasket (usually comes with the new motor) or make a gasket with high temp silicone. Once installed, a good technician will test the system for proper operation to ensure there are no other issues with the furnace.

Diagnosing a Furnace Inducer Motor: A Recap

So, just to recap, inducer motors pull the flame through the heat exchanger and vent the exhaust through the roof. To determine an inducer motor’s failure, we need to verify the proper voltage is being sent to it. If the motor has proper voltage, the capacitor tests good and is not turning on, the motor is bad.  If it’s making a lot of noise, the homeowner should know the part is working but is on borrowed time.

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

Don’t miss our video series on this topic:



Do I Have to Replace my Ductwork When I Get a New Air Conditioner?

HVAC system ductwork

Ductwork problems don’t always require replacements. Your licensed HVAC contractor can perform tests to help determine the condition of your home’s system.

If your current HVAC system is getting old or isn’t working anymore, you’re likely getting estimates for a new system from local companies like Fox Family Heating and Air.  It’s wise to get a few quotes from different companies around town.  Just be careful.  My industry can be a little scandalous when it comes to salespeople telling you what needs to be done for your new system to work correctly.  For example, you may be told to replace your ductwork.

During a new AC installation call, I’ll often ask how the air distribution is around their house.  I’m asking if there are any hot or cold spots in the house.  Are there any bedrooms, offices, or living areas that they would like to get more air.  I would say about 80% of the people I ask say they’re just fine with the airflow they have.  All the rooms seem to be balanced, just fine.

Some people will say they have a problem room and would like it to get better comfort.  In an effort to rack up the price of your new HVAC system, salespeople may be focused on their own commission checks.  They will recommend you spend the extra $5000 to 10,000 to change your ductwork to solve the problem.  Is that really necessary?  I say no, not every time.  Here’s why.

HVAC Ductwork Repair

Ducts can be repaired individually.  You don’t have to replace every duct in your house to get better air to one or two rooms.  Those rooms can have more airflow delivered to those rooms by increasing the size of the duct leading to the room.  Another way to get more air to a room is to relocate the duct on the supply plenum to a spot that is more advantageous for getting air there.  Typically the end of the plenum.

You can fine-tune this process by cutting in manual dampers that can be adjusted to decrease the amount of air going to one side of the house so that it can be diverted elsewhere in your home.  I still recommend a professional do this.  Messing around with the ducts is similar to shutting down registers in your home in order to get more air to another side of the house.  This airflow disruption can cause high static pressure.  This can affect the more expensive mechanical parts of your air conditioning system.  The aerodynamics of the delivery system is essential to the longevity of the system.  That’s all I’m saying, so unless you know how to check static pressure in the ductwork, repairs like this should probably be left to the pros.

HVAC Ductwork Inspection

Your supply air ducts connect to your forced air unit.  The forced air unit is either in the closet, garage, attic, or in the package unit on the roof.  The air from that unit is sent into a big box called a supply plenum.  Attached to that supply plenum are several ducts that lead to each room of your house.  Here’s how to tell if those ducts are in good shape or not:

  • The ducts are strapped properly or lying on the floor of the attic.
  • Those ducts are straight, not bent or kinked, restricting airflow.
  • The duct’s vapor lining on the outside of the duct is not torn or melted.
  • Good to decent insulation, which maintains the temperature of the air as it heads towards the room that duct leads to.

There’s not a lot more you can ask from your ducts.  If they’re adequately strapped, meaning each duct is straight or has long sweeping bends (no kinks) that lead to where they need to go, and they have metal or vinyl straps that secure them in place, that’s a good sign.  Another thing that you’d like to see for your ductwork is that the vapor lining, which is yellow, pink, grey, black, or silver, is in good shape.

HVAC Ductwork Standards

Ductwork has an R-value to insulate your ducts to a set standard.  30 to 50 years ago, those standards were not as high as they are today.  So, ductwork has evolved in performance through the following stages:

  • The yellow and pink is actually insulation. They may or may not have a clear wrapping around them. This wrapping is the vapor lining.  If you have this setup, the ductwork may be original to the house, as it’s not too common to install them this way anymore.  You can expect this ductwork to be 30 to 50 years old.  It has an R-Value of two (R-2).  Not the best in the world, but I’ve seen people keep it because it works just fine, and I support them on that decision.
  • Grey ductwork typically has an R-Value of four (R-4). Once again, not the freshest ductwork we see out in the field, but if the ducts still meet those guidelines from above, people have chosen to keep that ductwork a little longer.
  • Black and silver ducts can have an R-Value of either R-6 or R-8. R-6 has been around for the last 25 years or so.  R-8 is the newest standard and has the thickest layer of insulation surrounding the inner lining.

HVAC Ductwork Lifespan

I tell people your ductwork’s life averages about 30 years.  Some people replace them every time they get a new system, but most of the people I sell equipment to, don’t.  That’s because it’s impractical to do so.  Yes, the higher R-value of the ductwork, the better performance you’ll have.  The ductwork will hold the hot or cold air it’s delivering inside it better.  That translates to cooler or warmer air to your rooms, depending on which season it is.  Your decision is whether you want to spend the extra money to change your ductwork out every time you change your HVAC system.  Hopefully, I have armed with some useful knowledge going into your next project.  Good luck!