It’s very rare to find a home equipped with an air conditioning system that doesn’t also have a furnace. Even in the Houston area, where hot weather is the norm and people rarely turn on their heaters, you’ll still find yourself working on plenty of heaters during your HVAC career. Heating units are similar to air conditioners but require a slightly different focus to repair or maintain.
Heaters may not be the most commonly used home fixture in Houston, but they’re still important for homeowners’ comfort and for your experience. Are you ready to help Houston families stay comfortable during the cooler season this year? Keep reading to refresh your memory.
How Do Electric Heaters Work?
At its core, an electric heat furnace functions similarly to a floor space heater that plugs into the wall. A space heater consists of a heating element and a fan to blow the hot air into the room. If you increase the size of both the fan and the heating element and add an evaporator coil, you have an electric heat furnace. Due to its simple design, an electric heat furnace rarely fails and is easy to diagnose and repair when it does have problems.
Electric heaters, of course, require electricity to power the massive heating element–at least 240 volts, in fact, though the exact motor power you need depends on the size of the house. (The fan uses power too, but not nearly as much.) Look for 1-2 large wires coming from the breaker box powering this heater. A transformer inside the heater converts the power to 24 volts, which is then diverted to the thermostat that determines whether or not the heater turns on. When the thermostat is triggered, it sends those 24 volts of power from the red wire up a white wire back to the furnace. The power then snaps the relays, allowing the heat strips and fan to power on and start blowing warm air into the home.
Remember, the strips in an electric heating element heat up very quickly. The fan isn’t just essential to warming up the house. The breeze it generates also cools the strips down just enough to keep the entire system at a safe temperature. Imagine what could happen if the heater came on but the fan stopped working, allowing the strips to overheat!
Pro Tip: When installing a thermostat and electric heater, program the thermostat specifically for electric heat. The transfer of power is different depending on whether the heater is powered by gas or electricity.
Maintaining Electric Heat Furnaces
Maintenance of an electric heater tends to consist of two primary tasks. First, check the AC coil regularly and keep it clean so air can flow unrestricted. Second, check the wiring connections and tighten any that seem too loose. Wires that carry high amounts of electricity naturally loosen over time, creating a significant fire hazard. When in doubt about whether or not a particular wire is safe, don’t hesitate to call an electrician.
Additionally, check the manual for any recommendations or cautions from the manufacturer. Too many HVAC technicians forget the wealth of information that their manuals hold. Take advantage of this handy guide!
Electric furnaces are 100% efficient, meaning that the homeowner gets heat from every bit of electricity they pay for. The only potential drawback to this is the cost of the electricity used to power the furnace. Depending on how cold the house gets and how often the furnace is used, this cost can add up quickly. Gas heating is generally cheaper even when you factor in its less than 100% efficiency rating. Not every homeowner can choose gas–the builder may have opted for electrical wiring as the cheaper initial option–but if your clients ask for a recommendation, gas heating is generally a better choice for them.
To summarize, the pros of an electric heater are as follows:
- Cheap, easy installation
- Cheap upfront cost for you and your client
- No roof penetration necessary
The largest drawback of an electrical heater is simply the cost of the electricity used to power it.
Understanding Electric Heat Furnaces
In your HVAC career, you’ll be faced with a variety of challenges in a variety of settings. Differing machinery or systems are only the tip of the iceberg. By educating yourself on how a well-run system should function and understanding its pros and cons, you can provide better services to your clients and gain more business in the future.
Join the conversation to learn more about HVAC repairs and maintenance.
Whether you’re new to the Training Center or you’ve been with us for a while, we want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving! It’s time to take time off work, enjoy a great meal, and spend time with your family. What are you thankful for this year? Here’s what we’re celebrating this Thanksgiving!
Our Dedicated Students
Hard work is always rewarded, and our students prove this to be the case every year. Every class is full of focused, sharp-minded learners working toward a new career to better themselves and help others in the process. Keep up the good work and keep your eyes on the goal!
Pro Tip: Missed registration for 2019 classes? Don’t worry, enrollment for our 2020 classes are open now! Hold your spot to join our dedicated student body!
A Stable Career Path
In a world where the job market is unpredictable and it’s easy to be out of work, it’s great to know that your specialty will always be in demand. An HVAC career is a rewarding choice and one that’s well worth being thankful for. Whether you’re established in your career or just considering it, you’re on the right track! Don’t forget to include this career as you count your blessings.
HVAC work is always needed, no matter what time of year. However, it can be nice to have a short break around the holidays to be with your friends and family. That’s why these gorgeous fall temperatures are a great way to make Thanksgiving even better. We’re in the perfect temperature range where homeowners don’t need to have the AC or heater running, leaving HVAC technicians free to enjoy a little extra time. Take advantage of this lovely weather because, given Houston’s track record, it won’t last long!
As the holiday season begins, we hope you can take the time to be with your loved ones and enjoy Thanksgiving. From the Training Center of Air Conditioning & Heating to you, happy Thanksgiving and make sure to make this busy season an enjoyable one!
Home AC units use motors to move the air and motors to move the refrigerant. Whether due to overheating, a lack of proper maintenance, or old age, HVAC motors can break down and cause the entire system to come to a halt. That’s where you as the technician come in! How much do you know about diagnosing and repairing damaged AC motors?
Common Air Conditioning Motors
Every home is different. In your HVAC career, you’re likely to encounter AC systems ranging from the very old to the factory new. Consequently, you need to understand the different types of motors you’ll encounter and how to properly handle and replace each one as needed. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the 5 motors you’re most likely to encounter:
- Condenser fan motor
- Blower motor
- ECM motor
- Combustion fan motors
- Compressor motors
1) Condenser Fan Motor
Since a condenser fan motor will get rained on and be exposed to the elements, it’s rated for use outdoors sealed up on the ends and sides to keep water out. These motors are usually one speed and come in horsepower ranges from 1/6 hp to 1/3 hp. They always have a capacitor, usually a dual capacitor if it’s an original motor and a single capacitor if it’s a replacement aftermarket motor. The factory motor usually has three wires and the aftermarket version usually has 4 wires.
The main thing to remember on a condenser fan motor is the main service issue is usually a bad capacitor. This issue generally surfaces during summer, when the weather is hottest. If the motor is bad, measure the fan blade height to the finger guard before you ever remove it. The placement of the blade is absolutely paramount to the operation of the condenser, even more so than its original placement on the motor shaft. Consequently, you should always keep any replacement fan blades at the exact same height, since getting this blade height wrong by even an inch can mean the compressor will overheat and burn out. If you need to replace the condenser fan motor and capacitor, take note of these key pieces of information first:
- Frame size
Above all, never try to force the replacement blade onto the motor. After all, a motor is easy to replace while the correct fan blade might take you weeks to find.
Finally, don’t fall back on the assumption that you can simply substitute a different pitch blade when necessary. The wrong size or type will not work and may overheat the fan motor or simply not move enough air, meaning that the AC unit won’t do its job. Airflow at the condenser is critical.
2) Blower Motor
Another popular air moving AC unit motor is the blower motor. The blower motor looks similar to the condenser fan motor, except the blower is ventilated on the sides and/or the ends to allow air to pass through. Blower motors also have a capacitor, in addition to way more wires than condenser fan motors.
The main cause for blower motors failing is that dirty air passed over them and stopped up the vent hole, causing the motor to overheat. This indicates a deeper problem since the air filter should catch dirt before it reaches the motor. Sometimes a blower motor experiences a capacitor failure, causing it to turn backward. They look normal running this way but move almost no air. After a couple of hours, the evaporator coil freezes and the house overheats, prompting the homeowner to call for help.
To replace a bad blower motor, remove the blower housing with the motor and blower. You have to remove the curved plate first, but this is where the wheel slides out of the housing. Make sure to reattach the blower wheel securely when you’re done to avoid burning out your new motor. Finally, remember that blower motors also have universal replacements. Just remember that electric heat furnaces us 230-volt blower motors (in contrast, gas furnaces use 115-volt motors) and you’re good to go!
3) ECM Motor
The ECM motor is a blower motor with an electronic control module mounted on the end. These motors are special; some must be set up at the supply house with special programming. Others have program modules you can buy to do it yourself. A few particularly advanced models even allow you to program the unit from your phone!
ECM motors can cost up to $1000, so be sure to get current pricing before you give your client a quote. Beginning HVAC technicians may benefit from getting an expert technician’s input on how to handle ECM motor repairs since, considering their high price tag and complicated inner workings, trial and error is not the way to go with ECM motors. When you’re dealing with equipment this expensive and advanced, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Pro Tip: If you get stuck on an HVAC job and can’t get hold of an expert, call the AC motor’s service number to talk to a brand representative. They’re usually willing to help you out.
4) Combustion Fan Motors
Combustion fan motors are found in gas furnaces. These types of motors don’t have a capacitor, just two wires. It’s very easy to diagnose what’s wrong with a combustion fan motor. If the motor is receiving its full 115 volts but not running, it’s burned out and the whole thing likely needs to be replaced. You can usually buy replacement units from factory brand reps.
Since these motors tend to last as long as the gas furnace they’re installed on, you likely won’t see too many combustion fan motor failures. But even when you do, the replacement won’t take you very long and will be a pretty straightforward process.
5) Compressor Motors
The most expensive and hardest to replace of the air conditioning motors is the compressor. This motor is sealed inside the compressor housing, so you can’t determine visually if the motor has failed. The only parts you can test are the three terminals sticking out of it.
Compressor motors are really two motors in one: the start motor and the run motor. They just happen to be connected together at the common wire terminal. The start windings are very small wires that are wound on the motor to deliver a quick burst of power and start the motor. Since the start windings are only designed for the initial spark. if the start windings have to work for more than about three seconds, they’re likely to burn out. The motor’s run capacitor ensures the start windings don’t work too hard and keeps the entire motor running correctly.
While this is an expensive part to misdiagnose (a new compressor can cost up to $1000 wholesale), don’t panic. It’s difficult to correctly diagnose a motor you can’t see, so the majority of problems with compressor motors come from misdiagnosis rather than equipment failure. Using a meter, test each of the three terminal connections to see if they display the proper resistance sums and have any charge to ground. If there is any reading to the ground, the motor is bad.
Be sure to always remove the power and discharge any capacitors in the unit. The compressor might not read anything when you test it–this is when 90% are incorrectly condemned. The truth is that compressors have an internal safety switch that turns the motor off when it overheats, and if you test the motor while the switch is activated, it’s easy to assume the motor has burned out. With this information in mind, never rush to the assumption that the compressor is burned out. Compressors should last the life of the unit. Before you try to replace the motor, try to determine the cause of failure or see if the safety switch eventually deactivates.
AC Motor Replacement & Repair
Knowing the normals of each common type of HVAC motor is a critical first step in developing your long-term HVAC career. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the most common types of motors and learn how to repair or replace each as necessary. As you build your understanding of air conditioner systems and maintenance, you’ll become better at your job as a technician.
Connect with us to learn more about our HVAC classes and register for our January 2020 term.
Troubleshooting is one of the most important skills you can possess in the HVAC industry. Learning how to apply these problem-solving methods that point you to the issue quickly will not only save you time, but also leave you with happy customers who are sure to call you next time the HVAC system stops working. What do you know about the process of HVAC troubleshooting?
Troubleshooting Common HVAC Problems
All good troubleshooters have a few natural traits in common. In order to exhibit excellent troubleshooting skills yourself, you’ll need to build on your existing knowledge of how an HVAC system should work, narrow down the problem, and communicate with your clients about what you need to do and why. This process is crucial to providing quality services. Let’s break down each component of an HVAC troubleshooting strategy:
- Know the normal
- Eliminate unnecessary work
- Discuss with the customer
1) Know the Normal
Do you know the normal of the system you’re working on? Good troubleshooters learn this first since you can’t identify a problem without knowing what a normal situation is supposed to look like.
For example, imagine you are working on a condenser unit and the unit is running but the compressor is very hot to the touch, far hotter than anything you’re familiar with. So now you are trying to see what is happening to cause this compressor to be operating at this elevated temperature. If you don’t know the normal of the HVAC unit, you’ll end up spending hours testing each potential problem as your customer gets impatient. Train yourself to look for the cause behind abnormal condition so you don’t end up chasing your tail.
In addition to understanding normal functions of an HVAC unit, you should also be familiar with what mechanical parts should be used and why. It’s unfortunately very common for inexperienced technicians to install the wrong parts in a client’s air conditioning system. If you can’t find anything wrong with the system’s functionality, speed, or temperature, yet the client is experiencing problems, check the components. More than likely, at least one is incorrectly installed or the wrong piece altogether.
Pro Tip: During an HVAC service call, if you notice an installed part that didn’t come from the original manufacturer, double-check it. It’s probably the wrong part for the unit in question.
2) Eliminate Unnecessary Work
What can you do to eliminate time-consuming tests as you search for the problem? For example, if a customer tells you their attic HVAC unit isn’t powering on, don’t immediately start disassembling it and hunting for faulty wiring or other problems. Check that the power switch is turned on. While this may seem silly, it’s surprisingly common for stored Christmas decorations or a distracted family member to accidentally flip the switch. This simple solution definitely saves you time!
Additionally, keep yourself informed on the situation before you even arrive on the scene. Talk with your client to get the big picture. Which technician or service company did their HVAC maintenance work in the past? What exactly did they do? If you can, drive past the worksite and observe the unit from the street. Has it been tampered with? Have bushes or weeds grown around it?
Before you begin the job, sit down with the client and discuss any complaints they may have about how their HVAC system works. Additionally, ask them about their home’s work history and any variables that may have contributed to the problem. For instance, if they noticed the AC beginning to falter after they hired someone to mow their lawn, it’s possible that one of the mowers accidentally severed a cord with their machine. This gives you an excellent idea of where to look for the problem.
For an easy reference for both you and the customer, create a flowchart of common HVAC problems and their possible causes. While this isn’t a foolproof method, having the information easily accessible in a chart can help you narrow down the problem quickly. A chart will also give the customer a better idea of what you need to do and why.
3) Discuss with the Customer
Finally, remember that your first priority is customer satisfaction. Once you believe you know what the problem is, discuss your findings with the customer and explain what you need to do, why, and how much it will cost. Don’t save this part till the end! Make sure the customer knows exactly what they’re getting and what they’re paying you to do. This also gives them the option to refuse a certain service if they don’t want it.
This step not only builds trust with the customer, but it also establishes you as an expert on their HVAC system and as an honest contractor. Rather than trying to upsell them on expensive work or equipment they don’t need, you’re trying to restore their comfort level in their home. A satisfied customer will recognize this and happily refer you to their friends!
Your HVAC Troubleshooting Strategy
In the end, remember that operating with an effective HVAC troubleshooting strategy benefits both you and your client. Your client, of course, will be happy with a job that’s both well done and finished quickly. Meanwhile, you’ll have extra time to apply toward other jobs, as well as a satisfied customer who will recommend you to friends and almost certainly call you back for further work. Don’t sell yourself short by neglecting problem-solving knowledge! Practice troubleshooting in an HVAC setting to ensure your future successes.
Join the conversation for more insights into the troubleshooting process and how to better your skills.
HVAC certification consists of both hands-on work and studying to pass tests. While the hands-on lessons take place in class with fellow students and an instructor, studying generally happens on your own time. Consequently, it can be too easy to let this important part of learning fall by the wayside. How can you prioritize your study time?
If your current study method isn’t working, it’s time to form new habits that will help you make time to study and absorb the information. After all, the better your study habits, the better your grades will be! Here are just a few strategies to help you study for your HVAC class and get your habits back on track.
Make a Schedule & Stick to It
Building a new habit depends on consistency. As you get used to setting aside daily time for studying, focus on establishing a specific time to get it done. For instance, if you get home around 4 pm every day, have your study time start at 4:30 consistently. Your mind will adjust to this new part of your routine. Don’t just accept any excuse to delay your study time–the more consistent you are with your schedule, the more likely it is to feel natural.
Make Studying a Priority
In life, some tasks are more important than others. Schoolwork follows the same principle. If one assignment is due tomorrow and the other is due in a week, it makes sense to prioritize the one due tomorrow. This may seem like a no-brainer. However, if the task due in a week appears daunting or time-consuming, you may be tempted to try tackling as much of it as possible and accidentally let the more time-sensitive assignment go undone. Don’t let that happen! Learn to organize your homework by priority.
Find Your Learning Style
How do you typically absorb information? Do you do better memorizing data on your own, with a partner, or by listening to an instructor? Experiment with different styles until you find yourself retaining the knowledge you need for your HVAC class. Once you know how you learn best, keep it up! Allow yourself to find the best strategy for your own needs.
Pro Tip: For involved work like HVAC repairs, hands-on practice and instruction is a proven method. A well-structured HVAC class will help you absorb the information you’ll need for your career.
Studying for an HVAC Class
Everyone learns differently, so what worked for another student may not work for you. However, you’ll never know how much you can improve your study time without trying. Try a few different solutions until you find one that boosts your time management as well as your retention of the material. You can pass your HVAC class!
Connect with us to learn more about preparing for your upcoming HVAC career.