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Old 06-22-2016, 12:10 AM
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AxleIke AxleIke is offline
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Default HVAC Help/Advice

I'm hoping someone with either experience with HVAC or works in the business might be able to answer a few questions for me, if you don't mind. Thanks for reading!

Backstory:

- We moved in February of this year. House was built mid 90's. Too cold to check AC in winter, but house was shown all winter: We never turned AC on, but always possible PO's or potential buyers did.

- As it got hot, we turned on the AC. It blows "coolish" air, but not cold, and cannot cool the house. At best, I'd call it "maintaining".

- Called an HVAC company.

------------------

The diagnosis: Bad compressor, need all new outside unit, interior coil, etc.... $$$$$

Fine. Except that there were a few things that bugged me about the visit and the diagnosis.

-------------------

The issues/questions:

1. When I called, I described the problem. They said they'd send someone out. When I talked with the tech on the phone before he arrived, I asked if it may just have a very slight leak, which might have resulted in lowered cooling ability.

I admit, I don't know a lot about HVAC, but I in general understand pumps, compressors and heat transfer, so I figured I'd be able to get some idea of what might be going on from the guy.

Not so. I asked a number of questions and he mostly responded with "well, you see, the suction pressure is at 150 so that means its low, see?" I would ask what that would cause with respect to cooling efficiency. "Well, its low, which means its not what it should be, and that equals bad valves". Okay, I replied, and let it drop.

I get a tech not wanting to explain a complex problem to an idiot homeowner, but there were some other things that made me pause as well, which I will get to next.

2. Some funky information: He first said, "This uses R22. They don't make R22 any more, its super expensive. 125 bucks per pound. They haven't used that for years and years.

I said, okay, well, lets hook up, see what the pressure is, and see if we can't get a bit more time out of it by trying to recharge the refrigerant. So he hooked up the R22 and put in a tiny bit. No change in pressures, and told me "man, your pressures are all funny". Put in a bit more. "man, your pressures are really weird."

However, once he decided that the unit had to be replaced, he told me the unit was only 6 years old, and must have been abused by the previous owners for it to wear out so soon. I did a bit of reading and R22 was agressively phased out starting in 2014, but its not completely gone, nor, does it seem, that this was an unknown thing: The phaseout was planned for a while.

So my question is: is it likely that a 6 year old unit would have come new with R22? And if not, would adding the wrong refrigerant cause issues with pressures?

He added only a tiny bit, but sat and stared at his readouts on his phone for quite a long time. Not saying thats a bad thing, but the immediate follow up to fill was "The compressor valves are bad"

3. Bad compressor valves: Reading online HVAC help and references suggests this is a difficult problem to diagnose, as many other things can produce bad compressor valve symptoms. This seems like an involved process, in fact, one site suggested that the system should be baselined and leak-down checks performed.

While I appreciate the guy not spending tons of time (and racking up labor charges) on an intractable problem, the "bad compressor, need a new unit" diagnosis seemed pretty quick. He didn't do a lot of checks nor did he investigate a few other things that were suggested, but that I'm not remembering.

----------------

So, at this point, I'd like a second opinion. However, before I spend another 100 bucks on a service call that gets me nowhere, I'd like to understand a bit more about the system, how it works, and why a complete replacement is needed, rather than a repair.

I'm not saying the guy was wrong, but I also know that replacing and going new is often a lot easier to do (new stuff = less hassle for the tech). And, if HVAC is anything like cars, markup on parts is where the money is, not labor. 6 years seems REALLY short on a lifespan, and hard to believe it would be obsolete so quickly. I definitely felt like the diagnosis was just to get out of there (it was late, he was supposed to arrive between 4:30 and 5 and didn't get here until almost 8 pm).

I appreciate any help. Thanks!
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  #2  
Old 06-22-2016, 07:10 AM
Phrog Phrog is offline
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Default Hvac

I'm certainly not a HVAC pro, but did have some thoughts that may be helpful:

-Yes, 6 years seems much too short a lifetime for a compressor.
-I certainly would not replace the compressor, based on the evidence you have so far.
-Do a web search using the compressor name/model # and you may find some useful troubleshooting information - service manual, youtube video on how to debug, etc.
-If you do decide to get a 2nd professional opinion, post up your location here and get suggestions for honest and competent techs in your area.
-The fact that it does provide some cooling, just not enough, does point to insufficient refrigerant charge.

Phrog
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Old 06-22-2016, 08:01 AM
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DaveInDenver DaveInDenver is offline
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We went through some of this last summer, similar symptoms actually. Our house was coldish but definitely not working. The compressor had seized but it was obvious in our case, you could see it wasn't turning and the lights dimmed when it kicked on. The system just ran and ran but never got cold.

Six years is maybe a little soon, but FWIW the unit we bought wasn't exactly high end and comes with a 10 year warranty for all parts, although it does comes with a lifetime warranty on the compressor. So you may be on the left side of the reliability curve is all.

Keep one thing in mind, too, that while components might last it comes down to installation, how well the system was evacuated, quality of joints. So the workmanship does matter here. And the manufacturer is always going to blame the contractor an vice versa. So you need to trust your contractor.

I'd get a second opinion from a different HVAC guy personally. The guys we use are Swan here in Loveland, not that this helps, but they are honest and answer our questions (which are probably like yours, being engineers and all).

Which reminds me, they said they could have fixed our old outside unit and were willing (if we were willing to sweat it out, which ultimately we weren't). Being pretty old (probably 15 years) and a brand they don't normally use it would have taken a few days to get the parts. Ended up the cost for just replacing the whole thing was about the same as the parts, which isn't surprising since the outside unit cost is mostly due to the compressor, and we got new plumbing and an evaporator at the same time and had them rebuild the plenum and some ducts that were done really poorly originally. Our whole HVAC system is vastly improved now from when we bought the the place.

I think you hit the mark with the labor question. If it takes 2 days to diagnose a problem that ends up costing a couple of hundred to fix, it's cheaper unfortunately to just spend the grand on a whole new subassembly that only takes a couple of hours to replace. IMHO it's one of those things that you have three major assemblies, troubleshoot enough to point to one of them and just shotgun the repair. In and out in half a day. Particularly now when HVAC guys are busy.
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Old 06-22-2016, 09:54 AM
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Inukshuk Inukshuk is offline
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Sounds shady.

Call Felix Crespin
Crespin Mechanical
(303) 257-5290
Good guy. He did 3 new houses with me, by coincidence worked on my old office at Larimer Square, and recently helped me on my own. I have to call him today actually. Several other satisfied referrals.
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Old 06-22-2016, 09:56 AM
DouglasVB DouglasVB is offline
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I have some friends who supplement R22 systems with propane to keep them running until they get around to switching over to a newer refrigerant. YMMV.
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Old 06-22-2016, 10:01 AM
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FJBRADY FJBRADY is offline
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Sounds fishy get a second opinion.
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Old 06-22-2016, 10:11 AM
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It doesn't sound like you are wanting to do this, but FWIW you are allowed to take a test in Denver to install your own HVAC. You "can" get access to wholesale accounts through Johnstone supply to buy the equipment yourself, and yes, there is substantial markup in the industry. I had a Johnstone account ~4 yrs ago, and I don't recall it being that difficult to get, but I did have an LLC and sales tax license at the time. Those are dirt cheap BTW, but you do have to fill in paperwork for the city on a regular basis. Johnstone never asked me for a contractor's license, but I also was buying pressure gauges and not package units.

Best advice? Find a friend that's in the biz and pay him cash to work on it on the side. I had a guy in NC that did that, and he saved me gobs of cash.
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Old 06-22-2016, 10:37 AM
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AxleIke AxleIke is offline
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Awesome! Thanks for the feedback and the referral!
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Old 06-22-2016, 03:07 PM
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Squishy! Squishy! is offline
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*cracks knuckles and neck* Alright, lets do this...





- As it got hot, we turned on the AC. It blows "coolish" air, but not cold, and cannot cool the house. At best, I'd call it "maintaining". -Lack of air flow (dirty fan, filter, coils), or low refrigerant.

- Called an HVAC company. -oops. lol

------------------

The diagnosis: Bad compressor, need all new outside unit, interior coil, etc.... $$$$$ -this is a typical up-sell, but is not necessary 80% of the time

Fine. Except that there were a few things that bugged me about the visit and the diagnosis.

-------------------

The issues/questions:

1. When I called, I described the problem. They said they'd send someone out. When I talked with the tech on the phone before he arrived, I asked if it may just have a very slight leak, which might have resulted in lowered cooling ability. -This is a distinct possibility. Loss of refrigerant is a common failure do to damage or manufacturing imperfections that cause failure after extended time. Goodman/Amana has a 10 year warranty for this reason

I admit, I don't know a lot about HVAC, but I in general understand pumps, compressors and heat transfer, so I figured I'd be able to get some idea of what might be going on from the guy.

Not so. I asked a number of questions and he mostly responded with "well, you see, the suction pressure is at 150 so that means its low, see?" I would ask what that would cause with respect to cooling efficiency. "Well, its low, which means its not what it should be, and that equals bad valves". Okay, I replied, and let it drop. -this means he truly doesn't understand how heat transfer works. Did he measure wet/dry bulb and line temp in correlation with pressures? It would have shown expertise in the matter. I'm confident in diagnosing 75% of issues without all those steps, but with challenging issues they are necessary!

I get a tech not wanting to explain a complex problem to an idiot homeowner, but there were some other things that made me pause as well, which I will get to next.

2. Some funky information: He first said, "This uses R22. They don't make R22 any more, its super expensive. 125 bucks per pound. They haven't used that for years and years. -yea good instincts, that's BS. They have starting phasing it out and manufacturing has stopped, but believe me, just like R12, there are STOCKPILES of the stuff.

I said, okay, well, lets hook up, see what the pressure is, and see if we can't get a bit more time out of it by trying to recharge the refrigerant. So he hooked up the R22 and put in a tiny bit. No change in pressures, and told me "man, your pressures are all funny". Put in a bit more. "man, your pressures are really weird."- "weird" is not a diagnosis. A plugged evap coil (airflow) will result in very little heat transfer to the R22 (low head pressure, low suction pressure), while a plugged condenser (airflow) will result in very little heat transfer from the R22 to atmosphere (high head pressure, low suction pressure). You can check the condenser coil yourself easily, it looks just like a radiator and you can pull the fan assembly off an spray the coils clean from the back side (aka-inside). Low R22 will have low head and suction pressures and a bad compressor will cause the needles to "flutter" and show low head pressure and normal suction. All diagnosis is based of of ambient temperatures/humidity both inside and outside.

However, once he decided that the unit had to be replaced, he told me the unit was only 6 years old, and must have been abused by the previous owners for it to wear out so soon. I did a bit of reading and R22 was agressively phased out starting in 2014, but its not completely gone, nor, does it seem, that this was an unknown thing: The phaseout was planned for a while. Again good instincts

So my question is: is it likely that a 6 year old unit would have come new with R22? And if not, would adding the wrong refrigerant cause issues with pressures? you would see needle "flutters" and inconsistent pressure/line temp readings

He added only a tiny bit, but sat and stared at his readouts on his phone for quite a long time. Not saying thats a bad thing, but the immediate follow up to fill was "The compressor valves are bad" -Adding refrigerant to a system without properly diagnosing it first can DESTROY PARTS. It's a sign of an inexperienced (or lazy) tech.

3. Bad compressor valves: Reading online HVAC help and references suggests this is a difficult problem to diagnose, as many other things can produce bad compressor valve symptoms. This seems like an involved process, in fact, one site suggested that the system should be baselined and leak-down checks performed. -Absolutely correct. It is usually a last choice diagnosis
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  #10  
Old 06-22-2016, 03:27 PM
tedmtb tedmtb is offline
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I have a Free 3 ton R22 unit Located in Centennial
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