Fox Family Installs Ameristar Heating and Cooling Products

4 air conditioner add-ons

What’s the Best Brand for a New Air Conditioner?  An In-Depth Look at Ameristar

Sacramento Valley residents looking for a quality system to replace theirs with can turn to Ingersoll Rand who owns Trane and American Standard HVAC products.  Little known to most people is the other product they manufacture, Ameristar Heating and Cooling.

Trane’s Unparalleled Reputation

Ameristar is one of the most affordable and reliable companies to buy from because of the products they are producing.  When I go out to people’s homes to provide a quote a new HVAC system, I always mention our main product line, Trane.  The reputation Trane has in this HVAC industry is unparalleled.  From their products being made in America to the testing of their equipment in laboratories, Ingersoll Rand and Trane offer the Ameristar line as their budget option for residential HVAC systems.

Ameristar furnaces are manufactured in New Jersey while their air conditioners and heat pumps are made in China.  Consider Trane’s XB80 furnace that was the staple of their furnace installation service for the last 15 years or so.  A simple design allowed technicians to access the control board and dismantle and reinstall the burner assembly for easy cleaning.  The design also allowed for easy access to the hot surface ignitor for testing and replacement as needed.  The blower assembly had a straightforward design to allow for easy removal, cleaning and replacement.

Trane XB80 Vulnerabilities

As a technician who has serviced probably every brand and variation of furnace that a technician can navigate through, I can honestly say that the Trane XB80 furnace has had very few issues with it.  I’d say I’ve worked on them the least of all the others simply because they don’t break down very often.

One of my main repairs on this system has been their control board in the blower compartment.  They had a Molex connection of around nine pins that would interact with the back of the board to tell which components to do what in a certain sequence. For instance, to tell the inducer motor to come on, then to tell the hot surface ignitor to engage, and so on.  The Molex connections would separate from the solder connections on the board and would begin to operate intermittently.  Now it’s just one of those things that most experienced techs can just walk up on and easily diagnose because they’ve seen it enough.

A Great Choice

Every brand out there has its vulnerabilities and this control board issue typically arose at about the 15 to 20-year mark in the life of the system.  I didn’t notice much else going wrong with this system.  Sure, the occasional pressure switch or capacitor would go bad.  But once again this Trane, and now the Ameristar model are both much more reliable and easier to service than the other models out there.  Ameristar really makes for a great choice when deciding on an entry-level design HVAC system for your home or rental.

Now that Trane has moved away from that design and ventured towards an even better product line offering, Ingersoll Rand has allowed Ameristar to basically take that same Trane XB80 design and apply it to their product.  This means you’re basically getting a Trane furnace when you buy an Ameristar furnace.  It literally just has a different name tag on the front of the furnace!

Ameristar’s Star Feature

Let’s talk about the China-made Ameristar air conditioner.  One thing I really like is their use of a scroll compressor.  These are just like the ones being used in high-efficiency condensers.  Its outstanding benefit is the reduced noise level compared to other systems that use cheaper products.  I’ve also noticed the swept fan blade of the Ameristar air conditioner which also contributes to lower noise levels.  Ameristar prides itself on its 74-decibel level operation.  Both of these items really contribute to that low noise level. The fan and the compressor are really the only things that make noise on the outdoor condenser.

Ameristar Quality and Design

You’ll also notice the compact design of the Ameristar AC compared to other modern high-efficiency units.  Some customers want a low-profile unit so it can stay out of sight.  This AC really does that well.  Also, the components inside the electrical panel of the Ameristar AC are quality.  They aren’t flimsy brand names that go out within a few years.  These are the same items I would choose when we come out to replace parts in your current AC system.  I’m really picky about what parts I use on your system for repairs.  If a part were to go out for as long as you own the system, and Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning is in business, we’ll replace that part, no questions asked.

The only negatives I hear from prospective buyers are the words “Made in China” on the side of the box.  With that, I don’t have a lot to say other than I really wish it was made in America, but it is what it is, and I still stand behind this product and the quality parts they are using that make this system run so well and so quietly.

The Ameristar Warranty

As far as warranties go, Ameristar has a 5-year base limited warranty and 10-year registered parts warranty assuming you register it within 60 days of installation.  In California, that means 10 years even without registering it.  Fortunately for us, that’s a great perk of living in Cali!  We don’t have to register our HVAC products to receive the extended warranties like this 10-year parts warranty.  The furnace also offers a 20-year warranty on its heat exchanger.  That means as long as you are the original owner of the AC or furnace, you won’t have to pay for parts for the first ten years of the system or 20 years on that heat exchanger.

What About Labor Costs?

You may still have to pay for labor on those warrantied items to your HVAC company.  You’ll have to work that out with your contractor.  I personally feel home warranty companies are not the way to go.  They rarely stand up for what they say they will.  Even if they do, the type of technician really varies when they send out the companies they use.  It’s usually not the company you would have chosen.  And it can take a long time to get some of those contracted HVAC companies to your home.  Buyer beware.

I hope this has helped you with your research on Ameristar products.  Ingersoll Rand is an established company that takes a lot of pride in their products.  Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning is also a company who takes a lot of pride in the products they install in your home.  If I didn’t believe this was a good product that is going to last a long time in your home without giving you problems, I wouldn’t install it for you.

Find the Right Contractor

No matter who installs your Ameristar HVAC system, please make sure they know how to measure and install the correct size system for your particular home.  That doesn’t mean changing it out with the same size your house currently has on it.  Pick the licensed contractor for your California home that will pull a city or county permit and has a good reputation online.  When you do, you’ll have better peace of mind.  Cheap prices don’t usually translate to quality installs.

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

Can I Finance a New HVAC System? Yes!

Can I Finance a New HVAC System

Investing in a new heating and air conditioning system is for many people, an unplanned expense. Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning has several choices if you need to finance a new HVAC system.

When you choose to finance your HVAC system replacement using one of Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning lenders, you will get a superior product, quality installation, and unmatched warranties, at a reasonable monthly payment that fits your budget.

Synchrony Bank

Our most popular choice to finance a new HVAC system is traditional financing through Synchrony Bank. Synchrony allows you to choose the interest rate and payment term you prefer from four different options, including an option for interest-free financing for 18 months. The application process is quick and easy, with instant credit decisions.

The process involves two steps. First, you will walk through a simple credit application with the technician, and once approved, Synchrony will email you a financing agreement with the payment terms you choose, for your acknowledgment. This is all handled electronically, and the entire process takes as little as ten minutes.

There is no minimum requirement for credit, so this option is not limited to new systems – it can also be used to finance those unexpected HVAC repairs.

SMUD Financing

As a registered SMUD contractor, we can assist with your application for a secured, home performance installment loan through SMUD. They offer 6.99% APR for a 10-year loan to finance your new HVAC system. In order to apply for SMUD financing, you must be a current SMUD customer with a clean payment history and have no bankruptcy or foreclosures in the past 36 months.

YGRENE

This program allows you to make energy-efficient improvements to your home using PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing.  PACE pays 100% of your project’s costs.  You repay these over a term of up to 20 years via an assessment on your property tax bill.   Approval is not based on your credit score, but rather the equity in your home. The requirements are a minimum of 15% equity in your home, no bankruptcy or foreclosures in the past 36 months, and you must be current on your mortgage and property tax. In some cases, you can get payment deferment for up to 18 months with this program.   The minimum purchase amount is $5,000.

Contact Fox Family today to get started!

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.

Is R-22 (Freon) Illegal to Use in My Air Conditioner After 2020?

R-22 (freon)

Using R-22 (freon) Refrigerant in the Sacramento Valley

“I was told by my HVAC technician that we had to replace our AC system because R-22 was illegal to use starting in 2020.”  Every day, people are being straight-up lied to in their homes by either super salesy technicians trying to pad their pockets with commissions, or new technicians who don’t know the real truth about the phase-out of R-22 (ca freon).  Stayed tuned and I’ll tell you more!

Is R-22 Refrigerant Really Going to Be Illegal?

“You’ll have to replace your system ma’am because R-22 will be illegal starting in 2020.”

“I’m sorry sir, your air conditioner is leaking refrigerant, and it would be illegal for us to refill it with R-22.  You’re going to have to replace your system.”

This is the stuff that gives the HVAC industry a bad name, and I just want you to know that nothing could be further from the truth.

Relying on Expertise

There are things about my car that I have no idea about.  And when I take it to the mechanic, they tell me a part on my car is broken and needs to be fixed, and I pretty much just go along with it because I have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to repairing cars.  If that mechanic wanted to deceive me and rack up a huge bill, they could very easily do so because they know a lot more about that car than I do.

It’s very similar with HVAC.  We, as mechanics of your AC system, probably know more about it than you do, and it would be pretty easy for someone to only give you some of the truth, or just straight-up deceive you, coercing you to pay out big bucks for a new air conditioning system when you really don’t need to yet.

I just went to a home here in Rancho Cordova that is only 10 years old.  So his air conditioning system is 10 years old.  They’ve had two companies come out and tell him since his system is leaking ac freon refrigerant it would be illegal starting in 2020 to make repairs on it even saying they could be reported to the EPA and fined, or lose their license.  They went on to say that the system was past its normal life span anyway and he should think about getting a new system.

Wow!  That’s some seriously conniving salesmanship right there.  It sounds more like a salesperson than a real HVAC technician.  Just because someone is dressed up in an outfit with the stereotypical button-up, collared shirt with an American flag on the arm doesn’t make them a technician.

Let’s Be Real 

At what point does a $10,000-dollar system need to be changed out, every 10 years, or even 12 years?  HVAC systems can be repaired as long as the owner of that system wants to keep it.  If the parts are available, we can repair your system as needed.

If you’ve watched any of my videos or read this blog, you know my home’s basic, old, contractor-grade air conditioner’s compressor went out after 11 years.  I didn’t even remotely think about changing this system out.

Why?  Because your central air conditioning system was designed to last about 20 years.  You can read more about this topic here.  Maybe even more if you really wanted to hold onto it.  Like some of you, I’ve taken very good care of my AC system.  I’ve done the maintenance on it for several years.  So, my system is very clean and still runs great even though I had that one major repair when the system was 11.  That system is 21 years old now, and even though I’ve had to replace a small part here and there, the system has worked great for the last 10 years.

Now that the system has reached that 20-year mark, honestly, I am looking to replace it with a new system.

R-22 Phaseout

But let’s get back to the phaseout of R-22.

Yes R-22 (freon) is being phased out.  It’s been slowly phasing out since the Montreal Protocol of 1987.  This was one of the first internationally organized efforts to stop the production of ozone-depleting substances like Freon R-22 from eating away at the stratospheric ozone layer.

We as technicians can’t continue to just keep going back to the same house year after year and refill the system with R-22.  That would be negligent.  So, it’s very important to find and repair the leak so the tubing the refrigerant travels though stays sealed.  That way there won’t be any more leaks or expensive fill-ups to get your system cooling.

That’s why the U.S. has agreed to phase it out of production because of its damaging effect on the ozone layer.  And it’s working!  According to atmospheric chemist Paul Newman, “Ozone levels are projected to return to the levels they were in 1980, by 2032.”

Here’s the truth

In 2020, R-22 refrigerant can’t be PRODUCED anymore.  But there’s still some quantity of it sitting around in warehouses waiting to be sold.  I have no idea how much.  But even after that runs out, there will still be recycled R-22 that we can use.  You see, we as technicians are mandated by the government to recover the refrigerant we take out of systems and hand it over to certain entities so they can clean it up and use it again as recycled R-22.

What’s Supposed to Happen

We use a company called Rapid Recovery here in Sacramento.  They come out to our shop and take the little tanks of R-22 we’ve recovered from systems around town and transfer them into larger holding tanks until it can go through the cleaning process.  This is supposed to be happening all across America and other parts of the world who participate in the Montreal Protocol.  Some companies do it, some don’t.

I used to work with a technician who was a private contractor over in Iraq during the conflicts over there.  They were there to keep the troops cool in their large tents.  He went on to admit he saw technicians just letting that old R-22 spray off into the air like it was nothing.  Literally pounds of it at a time.  Now that’s a shame.

Have you ever heard of a technician purposely letting freon into the atmosphere?  In order to create awareness about this bad practice, leave a comment below and tell us about it.

R-22 Refrigerant Alternatives

There’s no doubt as R-22 (freon) becomes scarcer, the price of it will skyrocket.  But there is relief.  You should know there are alternative refrigerants like R-407c, R-422b, and others.  These refrigerants operate near the same pressures as R-22, but don’t have all the chlorine in it that ruins the ozone layer.  And they cost half the price of R-22.

So, it will absolutely not be illegal for your EPA certified technician to buy R-22 and refill your system with it.  It will not be illegal to make repairs to your system just because it has R-22 in it.

Your Choice

Be aware that there are alternatives we can use.  You can freely make the decision to either repair or replace your system as you see fit.  It’s not for your technician to decide.  Please don’t ever let a technician tell you that you have to replace your system.  It’s not true.  Once again, as long as the parts are available to repair your system, it can be repaired.  There are refrigerants that can help you get your older R-22 system cooling again.

Summary

I really hope you have a clearer understanding of R-22 and the phase-out of it.  Just think of like this.  If R-22 Freon is used in your air conditioner, you’re grandfathered in.  No one can take that away from you.

Please leave me a comment down below if this is something you’ve encountered.  Has a company in your area told you they can’t service your equipment anymore because it uses R-22?

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

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Can I Still Use My A/C With a Bad Capacitor?

Can I still use my AC with a broken capacitor?

A Common Air Conditioner Problem in the Sacramento Valley

Every spring and summer, we get a lot of phone calls from customers saying their AC isn’t working.  A good portion of those calls is for a common repair.  Their capacitor has failed.  If your technician has told you that your AC capacitor is bad, it’s definitely one of those items you’re going to want to replace. And I’m going to tell you why in this post.

Fair Warning

I want to give a fair warning to everyone reading this.  If you’re reading this with the intention of changing your own capacitor, they carry a lot more voltage than the typical 240 volts that runs the air conditioner.  Capacitors can and will shock you even when the power is turned off.

Serious injury and death can occur, as high voltage doesn’t mix well with the human body.  So this blog post is not meant to teach anyone how to install or replace a capacitor.  There are other YouTube creators that will explain it to you.  I recommend having a real HVAC technician handle this repair as that person will know how to discharge the capacitor properly so no one gets injured.

What is a Capacitor?

A capacitor is a storage bucket of electrons that is constantly giving itself up for the motor it supports.  And, they don’t make them like they used to!  Capacitors made in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s were designed to last a long time.  As a technician, I still come across these late model air conditioners and I’m amazed their capacitors are still running just fine.

That’s unheard of these days.  Capacitors made today are typically designed to last five to ten years.  There are definitely some brands of capacitors that are made better than others, and it’s up to your HVAC technician to find those good brands and use them in the best interest of you, the customer.

Frustrations

I’ve seen caps that only lasted two years!  I know of certain brands of air conditioners that are installed brand new, and two or three years later, we are replacing the capacitor.  Then an HVAC company comes out and replaces theirs with a cheap or less proven brand, and it gives out in a short amount of time, with no warranty on the item.  So the customer has to buy another one.  That’s frustrating for the customer, but not for the HVAC company. They get to keep charging $200+ to keep your AC running every other year.

We use MARS brand capacitors because they are made in America and I personally believe they last longer than the others.  There are several other brands to use out there, but we don’t switch it up and use those other brands just because we happen to be near an HVAC supply store that sells cheaper capacitors.

A Dead Giveaway

Most of the motors in your air conditioner can’t run without a good capacitor.  Like I said, they support these motors.  They help the motor start and run efficiently.  Some people have gone out to their air conditioner and noticed the fan wasn’t spinning on their AC as it should be.  So they get a stick or something to reach into the fan shroud and try to manually get the fan blade to start spinning.  And it works now!  This is a classic sign that the capacitor for that fan motor is bad, and a good example for you that demonstrates why these motors can’t start and run efficiently without a good capacitor.

And we can’t just put any old capacitor in there, because it needs to be the exact size recommended by the manufacturer.  If it isn’t, the motor might start but will operate out of balance. It causes an uneven magnetic field around the motor, which can make the motor noisy, make it work harder (raising the cost to run it,) or just cause the motor to burn out altogether.

Other Complicating  Factors

There are differences in a typical dual run capacitor that normally comes in your AC and a start capacitor that can be added onto your system either by the manufacturer or at your house by a technician.  I’ll explain those in a different blog post and video when I make them at a later date.

But for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to answer a question recently posed by my best friend Matt.  It’s actually an excellent question to answer for other people out there.

If your capacitor has failed, please don’t try to run that part of the system.  It’ll only cause more damage to the system, which might force you to replace a bigger, pricier part, or your entire system.  So just be patient.  Hopefully, your technician has one on their truck already.  They usually will.

Use Caution

Some of you folks out there changing these out on your own better be careful.  Capacitors carry a lot of power and will strike before you know it.  So, that’s just my last bit of warning for you DIY’ers if you try to navigate this repair on your own.

If you are buying these parts online because of price, they might be cheaper, but that’s nothing compared to getting injured or possibly ruining a more expensive part because you didn’t hook it up correctly.  If you’re paying the average price of $100 to $300 dollars for a capacitor from your technician, (depending on which part of the country you’re in,) it’s because you’re paying for that company to have the right one on their truck and install it right now for you.

Thanks for coming by and we’ll see you on the next post.

Four Reasons Why Your AC Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping

circuit breaker tripping

Why Does My Air Conditioner’s Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping?

Have you had an issue with your air conditioner lately where the circuit breaker at the main panel keeps tripping?  Have you gone over to the side of the house and tried to flip that breaker back on only to have it flip right back off?  In this blog, I’ll go over what could be going wrong with your AC system when this happens.

It’s not fun to come home and realize that your house, which should be a cool 75 degrees right now, is sitting at a balmy 85 degrees.  So, you go over to the side of your house and open the main electrical panel.  There you find the air conditioner circuit breaker tripped.  This means no high voltage power is getting to your AC to let it run.  Not cool.

You flip the breaker back to the on position only to have it trip again either immediately or after a few minutes or even seconds.  Now what?  So you call your local AC guy.  He comes out the next day.  Now that the system has been sitting idle for several hours, it doesn’t surprise me when the technician who comes over for a $ 100-weekend service call flips the switch on the breaker, and the system starts working again.  Hey! Someone’s got the magic touch!

You pay the smart technician the diagnostic fee, and they head out to their next call.  Meanwhile, after 30 minutes of the system running fine, the breaker trips again.  The technician is long gone, and likely can’t be back to fix it until Monday when they re-open.

How Do You Know What’s Going on with the Circuit Breaker?

If the breaker repeatedly trips after a while, there’s a problem with one of the parts inside the AC.  If the breaker trips immediately after turning it back on, there something going in the wiring.

You can’t just flip the breaker back on and hope it stays that way.  It might! But most likely, there is a reason it tripped, and that problem will come back around.  When this comes up with my technicians at Fox Family, I tell them to slow down and ask themselves, WHY did the breaker trip?  Sure, the breaker reset when you flipped it back on, but a technician finds out why it tripped.

Danger!

I want to reiterate that I’m only giving homeowners and technicians some reasons why the breaker may be tripping.  Working with high voltage can cause severe injury and even death to even the most experienced technicians.  I read about it all the time in the mechanical chat groups I’m in.

Why Do Breakers Trip?

A breaker trips when there is too much power consumption or current at any given time.  The wire from the AC to the panel heats up enough that it trips.  This stops a potentially hazardous situation from happening.  Here are some reasons your AC will cause circuit breaker tripping:

  1. The breaker could be bad
  2. The compressor or fan is drawing too many amps
  3. A short circuit
  4. Refrigerant pressure issues

The Breaker Could Be Bad

This doesn’t happen a lot.  Breakers are sturdy switches that, when heated up enough that they’re repeatedly tripping, can become weaker and trip more easily.  A new breaker can fix this problem.

The Compressor or Fan is Tripping the Circuit Breaker By Drawing Too Many Amps

Although I can’t cover every situation that might happen, I can give you a couple of common scenarios.  If a motor gets stuck and can’t turn over when the proper voltage is applied, the motor will pull a higher number of amps.  So much so that the heat builds up in the wiring and trips the breaker.  This won’t trip the breaker immediately.  But after a while (and there is no specified amount of time), the breaker can trip whenever the thermostat is calling for the AC to be on.

At the start of the cooling season, this pattern often happens with the compressor, that black cylinder at the bottom of your outdoor unit.  It pumps the refrigerant back and forth through the copper lines, much like the heart does in the body.

Assuming the capacitor is good, sometimes adding a hard-start capacitor to the circuit will help give it that boost needed to turn the motor over.  If it does, count your blessings and start saving up for a new compressor or AC unit altogether.  It’s running on borrowed time. It’s just a matter of time before your AC gives out.

A Short Circuit

Another reason for a circuit breaker to trip is because of an electrical short.  When two normally sheathed wires like a hot wire and a neutral wire touch each other when voltage is applied, it causes a major event.

The AC uses 240 volts.  This means the two or three wires leading to your motor carry at least 120 volts.  A third one can carry even more.  If two bare wires touch each other when the system is supposed to be on, a high current situation can occur, causing the breaker to trip.  As soon as the voltage is applied, the breaker will trip immediately.

Touching Wires

Another way the breaker will trip immediately is if one of the motor’s wires touch the inside wall of the compressor.  Remember, these motors have windings inside of them that help spin the motor shaft.  The windings are covered with sheathing to protect the wiring.  But it still happens, especially on older systems that have been running for ten to 20 years or longer.

Check below for a link to my video that talks about how to diagnose a bad compressor.

Refrigerant Pressure Issues

One last reason a compressor could trip the AC breaker is refrigerant pressure.  If the pressure is too high in the system, meaning there is too much refrigerant, the compressor is once again having to strain too hard to do its work.  The breaker won’t trip immediately, but over time.

This scenario doesn’t happen as often as the other events above but can look like a bad compressor. Removing a pound of refrigerant will tell you if it’s a pressure issue because you’ll see both sides of your gauges go down a little.  If this happens and the temperature split stays between 18 and 22 degrees, I would try removing refrigerant until you get the compressor amps to get back down to below the RLA, and the temp split stays within range.

Starting Over

If removing the refrigerant isn’t working as well as you’d like, it might be smart to tell the customer you’d like to remove all the refrigerant and start over with virgin refrigerant and a factory charge.  You don’t know this system’s history, and you’re not expected to, especially if the homeowner doesn’t know it or have invoices showing what previous techs have done to repair the AC in the past. It’s a fair solution for both of you.  If you do this and the compressor is still pulling high amps, and you’ve checked everything else on the system, you have a bad compressor.

Summary

These are just a few reasons why the circuit breaker in your home could trip the breaker in the main electrical panel.  If it trips immediately after turning it back on, you likely have a problem in the wiring.  If your breaker trips after a certain amount of time, something is going on with a part in the AC system.

Let a Professional Do the Fixing

I can’t tell you anybody can fix these problems by themselves.  In fact, you might not even be able to order the parts you need as it takes a licensed contractor to purchase them from a local distributor.  Let a professional come out and diagnose the exact problem and then fix the system so you can have peace of mind.

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

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Turning on the Furnace for the First Time Each Year

Turning on the Furnace for the First Time Each Year

What is that burning smell when turning on the furnace for the first time each year?

As the winter season approaches, a lot of you will turn on the furnace for the first time this year.  That can be a very intimidating situation for some people.  You may have just moved into your first apartment.  Or perhaps you’ve just moved into your new home this past summer.  The AC worked fine, but now it’s time to see how the furnace is going to work this winter.

Whether you walk over to the thermostat or turn it on manually, what’s that burning smell the first time you’re turning on the furnace for the year?  In this week’s blog, let’s break down the gas furnace, and some of the sounds and smells you get when it comes on for the first time each year.

About Turning on the Furnace

You should understand the nature of the furnace is to provide warm air for your home.  And it does that with a gas flame.  But that gas flame isn’t just flying around uncontrolled the way it does in a fireplace for example.  A very structured flame is sent into the furnace.  If the flame were to roll out or overheat the furnace, a series of safety switches will engage, turning off the furnace.

Whether you walk over to the thermostat or turn it on with your smartphone, the sounds and smells that you experience can be confusing.  That’s not how the air conditioner sounded when it came on, and that’s definitely not how the air conditioner smelled when it was working.

When the furnace gets turned on, the thermostat on the wall tells the furnace which is in your attic, your garage, or your closet in the hallway to initiate a sequence of events that will ultimately shoot a gas flame into the firebox, or heat exchanger.

Turning on the Furnace:  the Basic Parts

There are a few parts that come on before that flame starts to heat the home.  The thermostat tells the control board inside the furnace to come on.  The control board is the brains of the system that will control the following events.

The first motor to come on will be the inducer motor.

Not a large motor by any means, but it’s the one that gets rid of the fumes spent by the flame that warms your home.  The control board and a pressure switch acknowledge that the inducer has come on and is working properly.

The ignitor will come on next.

Usually, it’s a hot surface ignitor made of silicon carbide that glows red hot.  About 2500 degrees.  The timer on the control board then allows the gas valve to open up and pour a controlled amount of gas over the red-hot surface ignitor.

Creating the Flame

This creates the flame we were talking about earlier, that shoots into the metal firebox, which is better known as a heat exchanger to us technicians. A small flame sensor then verifies the flame is on and sends a signal to the board that everything is burning properly, and the system is safe to continue heating the home.

Blower Fan Comes On

If the flame sensor says everything is okay, the control board then tells the blower fan to come on.  The sequence is complete.  Warm air will then start flowing into the rooms until it gets to the desired temperature.

That whole sequence of events that happens takes about 1 minute from the time thermostat tells the furnace to start, to the time the blower turns on and gives you heat through your registers.

When the thermostat senses the room’s warm enough, it tells the control board to end the call for heating, which then cuts the flame.  Meanwhile, the blower stays on just long enough to cool the furnace down quite a bit, about 60 to 90 seconds.  This helps extend the life of the system.

So how does the heat exchanger work?  Well, it “exchanges heat” by keeping the flame and its fumes inside the metal box while a fan blows air over the outside of the metal.  The heat that comes off that metal and the air from the blower is then carried into your rooms where you feel the warm air.

What’s That Burning Smell?

Folks call in every fall when they’re turning on their furnace for the first time and say the system IS working but there’s a strange smell coming through their vents. Almost like a burning smell.  When we get out to their home and verify all the motors are working properly, we let them know something most people don’t know until it’s happened to them.

So what’s that smell the first time you turn on your furnace each season?  It’s just a fine layer of dust that’s settled onto the heat exchanger.  The dust from your house has made its way past the air filter and blower assembly to the metallic heat exchanger.  As the metal heats up, the dust burns off and creates that burnt smell.  It can happen the first few times you turn the system on, but after that, you shouldn’t get that burning smell any more.

If the smell bothers you, you can just open the doors or windows to your house and let it vent out that way for about fifteen minutes.  But rest assured it’s not carbon monoxide.  That odorless gas can only be picked up by a carbon monoxide detector.

Safety First

If you do turn your furnace on for the first time or ANY time this year and your home’s carbon monoxide detector does go off, don’t just remove the batteries.  Don’t treat it like it’s some nuisance alarm, either.  Go ahead and step outside of the home and call the Fire Department.  Let them come out to make sure everything is okay before going back inside.  It might cause a big show for everyone in the neighborhood, but who cares?  It’s your family’s life on the line.

If you don’t currently have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor and the main hallways of your house, now would be a good time to pick those up from your local hardware store.

About Detectors

Speaking of detectors in your homes – if you haven’t done so already this year, it’s time to change out the batteries in those detectors around your home.  Your local fire department usually will come out for free and help you replace those batteries if you have trouble reaching those detectors on your own.  If they won’t and you’re in our area, just provide the batteries and we’d be happy to come out and change them for you.  Otherwise, any handyman in your area would be up to the task.

As a reminder, the single-most-important-thing you can do to keep your furnace clean is to change those air filters.  If the system can’t breathe in because of a dirty air filter, then it won’t be able to breathe out for you at the supply registers in your rooms either.  Again, if you can’t do it because you’re elderly or physically unable to reach the filter, give us a call!

Remove Flammables Before Turning on the Furnace

Another bit of advice we’d like you to consider is to make sure there are no flammables around the furnace.  Remember, we said that the furnace is either in the attic, the closet, or the garage. These are common places to store items that tend to be forgotten over time.

A metal flue pipe that gets very hot when the furnace is turned on can be dangerous if left unattended.  Broomsticks, cardboard, newspapers, clothing, and other materials can scorch over time if they’re resting on the flue pipe.  Setting away from the furnace any flammable varnishes, lacquers, oils, and gasoline will help keep your home safe.

Don’t Wait to Turn on the Furnace

Although you might be nervous to turn your furnace on that first time every year, do it.  Turn it on when it’s still mild outside.  Maybe don’t wait for the first winter snap to hit before finding out your furnace doesn’t work.  If you do wait, you might find yourself at the end of a long line.  Other homeowners and property management companies may be requesting service at the same time you are.

Taking Care the Easy Way

If you don’t already have someone coming out to your house each year just to make sure everything is running safely for you and your family, we’d love to be the company that gets to do it for you.  Fox Family offers an easy way to automate this. You won’t even have to remember to call us. We take care of it all.

Your furnace runs better when it’s been cleaned and maintained, much like your car. Every Fall or Winter is a good time to get the required maintenance done on your heating system. Don’t have a desire to be on an automatic program? Call for a furnace tune-up. A typical cleaning lasts 45 minutes to an hour and a half. It’s usually about a 30 point checklist, but I’ll go into that on another post.

Turning on the Furnace: a Recap

The nature of a gas furnace is to use a controlled flame to warm your house.  It’s done in a VERY controlled way by a series of safety switches.  Any unexpected events within the furnace components tell the control board to shut down the unit.

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

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11 Ways to Avoid Hot and Cold Spots in Your Home

Avoid Hot & Cold Spots

Delivering the right amount of air to each room at the same time is key to being comfortable.  And not just in one or two rooms.  A properly set up HVAC system will comfort your whole home or business simultaneously.

Of course, the goal is to have the same even temperatures throughout each room so when you walk through your house, you don’t feel warmer in one room than another.  Today at Fox Family Heating and Air, we’re taking a look at 11 ways to avoid hot and cold spots in your Sacramento Valley home or business.

1. Is your system sized correctly?

First and foremost, is your system sized correctly?  This means the original installer of the system did a proper load calculation of your home.  If they didn’t, then it’s not pushing enough air to your rooms regardless of whether the rest of our checklist is perfect.

2. Return air and supply air unity

Having the right amount of return air to supply air unity means you’ll be delivering the same amount of air out of your system as you are bringing to the system.  You have a return air grille or stand where your filter goes.  That’s where the system draws its air in.  On the other side of that air handler, the system supplies your conditioned air.  Systems are designed to supply about 400 to 500 cfms of air per ton.  But if your system is breathing in enough air from the return, how is it going to supply enough air to keep your home evenly comforted?

3. Adding returns will mix hot and cold air

This brings me to the option of adding more returns to strategic rooms around your house.  That return air grille in the main hallway doesn’t have to be the only return in the home or office.  For example, master bedrooms in newer homes have a return air grille installed in them.  This mixes the air in the room so warm air in the summer gets removed from the room, while colder supply air is being delivered into the room.  You’ll really notice a difference by adding a return to these pesky rooms that are warmer or cooler than others, depending on the season.

4. Closing air registers will force hot and cold air elsewhere

Not one of my favorites, but some folks will start closing down their adjustable supply registers in various room that get too much air.  They’re hoping to force the air somewhere else in the house that isn’t getting enough air.  The only thing I don’t like about this is that those registers that you start shutting down can do a couple things.  One is really annoying and the other can actually shorten the lifespan of the system.  Closing down “strategic” registers in the home or office can make those registers start whizzing.  This makes it louder in that room because we are creating a restriction that speeds up the airflow as it leaves the supply register.

The other reason has to do with the static pressure of the system.  Much like blood flow in the body, we wouldn’t want to pinch a blood vessel in hopes to deliver more blood elsewhere right, this could cause big problems with the body.  The same goes for aerodynamics in your ductwork.

5. Change those filters to eliminate hot and cold spots

Changing your filters quarterly will not only help keep your system clean, but it will allow airflow into the system.  If the filter gets too dirty, you’re creating a restriction if the system can’t breathe in properly, it won’t be able to breathe out the appropriate amount of air.  It’s like breathing in through a straw and exhaling out of your open mouth.  Eventually you’re going to hyperventilate.  So, let’s keep those passages open so the HVAC system can eliminate hot and cold spots in your home or office.

6. Keep Heat at Bay with Window Coverings

The sun’s radiant energy can warm up a room quickly.  A room with sun-drenched walls or windows allow this heat into those rooms and will warm up more quickly.  Installing window coverings will keep this radiant heat at bay.  These come in the form of screens or tinting that can be attached to the outside of windows, or curtains and blinds affixed to the inside of the windows.  Either way you choose, you’re going to enjoy having a more comfortable room if you can reduce the chance of that heat coming in this way.

7. Electronics in Rooms will Increase Warmth

It’s so popular now to have gaming systems or high-tech computer systems in a room or office.  The heat these devices put out is enough to warm up a room, making it less comfortable than other rooms in your house.  Adding more supply air by using a larger duct will help to deliver more air to that room.  Just like I mentioned above, a better solution may be adding a return to this room as it will remove the warm air while cold air is being supplied to the room.  This will make your room more comfortable, faster.

8. Ceiling Fans will Mix Hot and Cold Air

Another way to mix the air in your room is to turn on that ceiling fan.  When it’s hot outside, have the fan blowing straight down towards the floor.  The warmer it is, the higher the fan speed should be.  Conversely, in the wintertime, turn the fan so it blows upwards.  Both ways will mix the air more effectively and make those rooms more evenly comforted.

9. Keep Hot and Cold Air Moving by Preventing Airflow Restrictions

Remove hot and cold air spots by taking a look at your ductwork.  It might be under the house or in the attic.  If you can see your ductwork, you will be able to determine if it’s delivering the air efficiently.  If the ductwork is sagging or kinked, it won’t deliver the air properly.  Each duct has a finite amount of air it can deliver appropriately.  Making sure it is installed correctly is a great way to keep your house evenly conditioned.

10. Prevent Hot and Cold Spots by Checking Insulation Levels

You can also control hot and cold spots by paying attention to insulation.  Attic insulations levels can greatly impact how quickly that hot or cold air infiltrates through the ceiling into your room.  Sometimes various service professionals will need to work up there.  In the process, they may matte down some of your insulation, making it less effective.  If there is not enough insulation over one room or the other, this will create hot or cold spots.  These reduce your comfort level in those rooms.  By blowing in some more insulation, you can make your whole house more comfortable to be in.

11. Properly Sized Ductwork Improves HVAC Efficiency

The size of your HVAC system as well as the right size duct system to deliver that air evenly are both crucial to your comfort.  This isn’t the easiest thing to figure for most DIY’ers.  An hvac professional can help you determine what size duct is needed for each room.  A system of supply and return ducts running every which way can be confusing.  Making the right decisions with your ductwork will make your HVAC system more efficient and comfortable for your home.  This will eliminate hot and cold spots in your home

Summary

Let Fox Family come out and take a look at what can be done to make your home more comfortable if you’re experiencing hot or cold spots.  Making your system as efficient and effective as possible will certainly add to your quality of life.

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

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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.

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How Do the PG&E Shutdowns Affect My HVAC System?

power shutdowns

PG&E Shutdowns and Rolling Blackouts in Northern California

Once again, PG&E shutdowns are happening for over 150,000 customers in locations caught in the middle of local wildfires.  Rolling blackouts will also occur this week for customers in other parts of northern California who aren’t necessarily impacted by local fires, but have to succumb to the needs of their electric company who needs to relieve the stress on the delivery of electricity on the hottest days of the year.

So many people are using their AC’s on hot days.  This can create a high demand for the power company to deliver.  The heat can be life-threatening for people who depend on electricity to cool their homes.  Some people are sensitive to temperature swings.  Infants and older adults are groups most impacted by power grid shutdowns.

PG&E Shutdowns and Your Air Conditioner

Beyond shutting down your electricity, these PG&E shutdowns can actually damage your AC.  Your compressor that sits at the bottom of your outdoor unit is one of the hardest motors in your house to start up.  Once that motor is started, it’s imperative to have regulated voltage applied to it to run effectively.

Power shutdowns and sudden re-energizing of your home’s power supply can send jolts through the power delivery system.  When jolts hit your air conditioner’s power supply, it feeds into the parts themselves, especially if they’re running at the time.  The same thing happens when the system calls for cooling when the power is turned back on by the power company in your area.  The inrush of power hitting your house, albeit ever so slight, is enough to take out the most expensive parts of your AC system.  Here is one of my most popular videos on diagnosing a bad compressor.

Rolling Blackouts Can Damage Your Control Board

Another expensive part that can really get fried is control boards.  These are the brains of the system.  Control boards tell which parts of the indoor and outdoor units to run and at what time.  High voltage and low voltage parts of these control boards can receive massive pulses of power, ruining the smallest parts of control boards.  Here is a video where I explain some more about how control boards get damaged.

It’s really unfortunate when PG&E power shutdowns randomly impact your home.  Damage is often done when systems are running at the time of the shutdown and upon re-energizing the grid.  There are times when power companies are forced into some tough situations.  Randomly selecting which area of the state gets shut down is one of them.

Lawsuits for causing wildfires and power grid relief are the main reasons PG&E has to monitor usage during certain times of the year.  And right now is one of those times of year.  Power shutdowns can damage your AC equipment at your home unintentionally.  It’s very similar to situations when someone takes out a power line in your neighborhood, sending a jolt to the heart and brain of the system.

Equipment Protection During PG&E Shutdowns 

Homes can be equipped with surge protectors.  This would be one way of suppressing voltage spikes entering your home’s power supply, related to shutdowns and start-ups.  We hope this never happens to you but if it does, visit our website to schedule an appointment for us to come out and diagnose the damage to your system.

To learn more about how long your HVAC system should last, check out our blog post on this topic.

Thanks so much for reading this week, and we’ll see you on the next blog.

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