How does air conditioning work?

How Does Air Conditioning System Work

Air conditioning is a process we almost take for granted to work to cool our homes and buildings, but how does it actually works?

It’s fascinating to learn how it works, plus it helps you to be able to compare air conditioning systems for your home, such as ductless (also called mini-split) systems vs traditional central air conditioner.

An air conditioner collects heated air from a space, processes it inside itself with f a refrigerant and a group of coils and then releases cool air into the same space where the hot air had originally been collected.

An ac system essentially has four key parts: an evaporator, a compressor, a condenser and an expansion device.

The air conditioner in a central heating and cooling system provides cool air through ductwork inside your home, by providing a process that draws out the warm air inside, removing its heat. In a split system, the compressor condenses and circulates the refrigerant through the outdoor unit, changing it from a gas to a liquid.

This quick video explains the process, plus where the original air conditioning technology came from…it was invented in 1902!

What is single stage, two stage and variable speed air conditioning?

variable stage air conditioning

If you’ve recently moved into a new home or been considering upgrading or repairing the air conditioning system in your home, you may have heard the terms “single stage compressor”, “two stage”, “dual stage” or “variable speed air conditioning”. What are the differences, and which is best for your needs?

We’ll explain the differences in the air conditioning technology in this post.

Single stage air conditioning

Single stage air conditioning is the traditional and still most common type of system used across the USA today. A standard for decades, these systems continue to represent the majority of AC units we service in the Northern Virginia and Shenandoah Valley area. A single stage air conditioner refers to the compressor type. The single stage compressor has one mode of operation: on or off. It’s either full blast at 100% on, or it’s off. If you set the temperature in your home to 70ºF and it gets warmer than that, the unit will turn on and blast cool air until it reaches back down to 70ºF.

Single stage compressors always operate at 100% capacity. They turn themselves on and off continuously throughout the day.

Variable speed air conditioning

Variable speed air conditioning works differently. To maintain the indoor temperature you’d like, they run continuously–but not at 100% capacity. They operate continuously at less than 100% capacity – often as low as 25% or 30% capacity. As a result, they run for much longer cycles than single stage AC units. Variable speed compressors blow a smooth, steady stream of cold air into your home to maintain the desired indoor temperature, rarely turning themselves off.

Two-stage air conditioning

Two-stage falls in between single stage and variable speed. Not as sophisticated as variable speed air conditioning, they’re still slightly more advanced with a high and low setting. It runs at full capacity when you need it to and at a lower level when you don’t. Two stage units don’t run as continuously as a variable speed AC, but they do cycle on and off less frequently than single stage systems.

“So, why would I want an AC that runs continuously that doesn’t blast cold air to cool my home as quickly..?”

One of the biggest problems with single stage compressors is that they’re not running continuously. Relative humidity increases whenever the AC isn’t on, making you feel hotter and more uncomfortable.

Most people deal with this problem by lowering the temperature on their thermostat.
 A single stage compressor blasts your home with cold air before it turns itself off. Then it turns on again when the indoor temperature increases. In the summer, a single stage compressor turns on and off a lot, known as “short cycling.”

Since single stage compressors tend to short cycle, they usually draw a lot more electricity than a variable speed unit that turns on and stays on for hours…
In other words, it’s more expensive.

Variable speed air conditioners run continuously, which also dehumidifies the air.

  • You feel comfortable at higher temperatures
  • They don’t turn on as often, so they lower your utility costs
  • They eliminate mold growth in bathrooms and kitchens
  • They prevent the proliferation of dust mites
  • They create conditions that are inhospitable to insect intruders

Should you change your AC unit to a variable speed air conditioner?

If it’s time to upgrade an aging AC, e usually recommend that variable speed air conditioning is the best way to go. But if your single stage air conditioner isn’t old enough to justify replacement, consider a whole house dehumidifier. If it’s time to replace your AC and you think that your single stage unit does the job fine, stick with what you know. Replacing an old 8 SEER single-stage AC with a new 14 SEER single-stage AC still results in a more efficient system. If your relative humidity is consistently below 55 percent and you don’t suffer from poor indoor air quality, you might not need a variable speed unit. (See our post here on SEER ratings.)

Ask us your questions about AC units and what might be a great fit for you…we’re happy to offer input based on our experience and the size of your home, the climate, your exisiting unit, etc.

 

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An Explanation of SEER ratings for your air conditioner or heat pump

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1569174920139{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]What is a SEER rating on your air conditioner or heat pump? SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it guides consumers to purchase the best air conditioner or heat pump for their home or business.

The SEER measures air conditioning and heat pump cooling efficiency, which is calculated by the cooling output for a typical cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during the same time frame. A SEER rating is a maximum efficiency rating, similar to the miles per gallon for your car. For example, your car might get 28 miles per gallon on the highway, but if you’re stuck in city traffic it could be lower. If your air conditioner is 21 SEER, that’s its maximum efficiency.

By decree of the US Department of Energy, all air conditioners sold in the US on or after January 1, 2006, must have a minimum SEER rating of 13. Energy Star appliances must have a rating of 14.

Modern air conditioners have a SEER value ranging from 13 or 14 SEER as a minimum (depending on your state’s requirements), to a maximum of 21 or 25 SEER (based on modern technology limitations).

Older air conditioners were rated at around 8 or 9 SEER. So in actuality, a modern 14 SEER unit is still drastically more efficient than an older unit you might be replacing and may be plenty for your needs.

Now, in the case of saving energy, a 21 SEER AC will provide cheaper monthly energy bills than a 14 SEER unit. But even with the monthly savings, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever recoup the higher upfront cost of the unit.

Why?

Depending on your climate, most air conditioners last 15-20 years. If you’re in a warmer climate like Florida, an average lifespan would be more around 10 years. So depending on the use your unit will have, with the upfront expense vs savings on your energy bill, it may not save you much in the long run if you’re deciding between investing in a 16 SEER or a 21 SEER unit, if the unit is going to last about a decade.

Besides money, however, a higher SEER also means greater comfort.

Higher SEER units often come with 2 components that lead to greater indoor comfort:

2-stage compressor
Variable-speed blower

These features lead to even cooling and lower humidity levels in your home, giving you more comfortable air to live in.

If you have questions about SEER ratings and your HVAC system or air-conditioning unit, give us a call! We can answer your questions and explain differences among brands and what might suit depending on your specific needs.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”4/6″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1559424819063{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

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Is a Sanuvox Air Filter a good fit for your home?

Sanuvox air filter

We seal our homes and buildings tightly to save energy, but a downside to this is not being able to filter enough fresh outside air to lower the concentrations of biological & chemical contaminants like viruses, bacteria, mold, chemicals, VOCs, fumes and odors To improve indoor air quality we should install air filter.

Many of us use filters in our home’s ventilation system to remove harmful particulates from the air. Biological and chemical contaminants such as mold, bacteria, viruses, allergens, cooking and pet odors, cigarette smoke, and a host of other airborne pollutants are so small that they pass through even the highest efficiency filters like sand through a tennis racket.

The UVC (254 nm) and UVV (187 nm) light produced by Sanuvox UV Systems are the same two UV wavelengths produced by the Sun. The UVC wavelength attacks the microorganism on a molecular level deactivating and destroying the contaminant while the UVV wavelength oxidizes the chemicals and odors into odorless inoffensive by-products. Unlike conventional UV “stick lights” on the market, Sanuvox UV Air Filtration Systems uses a patented process designed to deliver the maximum UV dosage to the moving air.

With a 3 year Lamp life, the proprietary 18” high-intensity UV ‘J’ Lamp has all the advantages of having the intensity of two UV Lamps with the replacement cost of only one. The combination UVC & UVV wavelengths incorporated into one Lamp make biological, chemical and odor destruction possible.

We’re certified Sanuvox air filter installers and have worked with their products for years. Many of our customers tell us how much they like the systems for their performance, durability and lower cost over the long run.

Ask us about the Sanuvox products if you’re considering options for improving the air quality in your home.

See our installation of a Mitsubishi Ductless Cooling & Heating system

Mitsubishi Ductless Cooling and Heating systems focus on individual living spaces rather than treating every room the same. As a result, the system is more customizable, more energy efficient and easier to install in your home.

For decades, split-zoning air-conditioning and heat pump systems have been the quiet solution for Cooling & Heating problems around the world. These quiet and powerful systems have three main components: an indoor unit, outdoor unit, and remote controller.

Installation is as simple as mounting the indoor and outdoor units, connecting the refrigerant lines, and making a few electrical connections.
This shows our team working together to complete an installation. Typically, it takes 4-6 hours from start to finish.

We serve the Northern Virginia and Shenandoah Valley area; if you’re considering changing the HVAC system in your home, give us a call or drop a note to get your questions answered.

 

So many things are better with age, but…

The taste of fine, 10-year old wine, or a beautifully aged cheddar…or your cute kid: all get even better with age. But not your air ducts, your dryer vents, or your air filters! Eek.

Stop breathing dust, allergens, mildew, pet dander, dust mites, smoke residue, construction debris, dirt and other irritants in your home. The dust in your ducts can cause a variety of issues for your family. On average, we spend 60-90% of our time inside our home.

Ductwork and air quality is rarely thought about because it’s out of sight. Over time, dust, dust mites, skin cells, dead animals, pet hair and dander and debris build up in your ducts. This air is then circulated throughout your home ever time you turn on your air or heating system.

If you or your family members notice frequent colds, allergies, asthma flare ups, bronchitis or other respiratory issues, cleaning your ducts could dramatically improve that. At Small Solutions, we focus on air purification, HVAC maintenance and repair and duct cleaning in the northern Virginia area. We’re locally owned and operated, and have been named the friendliest HVAC company to work with in the area. Give us a call today for a free estimate and get your ducks ducts cleaned!

Advanced Features to Look for in a Heat Pump

A number of relatively new innovations are improving the performance of heat pumps.

Unlike standard compressors that can only operate at full capacity, two-speed compressors allow heat pumps to operate close to the heating or cooling capacity that is needed at any particular moment. This saves large amounts of electrical energy and reduces compressor wear. Two-speed heat pumps also work well with zone control systems. Zone control systems, often found in larger homes, use automatic dampers to allow the heat pump to keep different rooms at different temperatures.

Some models of heat pumps are equipped with variable-speed or dual-speed motors on their indoor fans (blowers), outdoor fans, or both. The variable-speed controls for these fans attempt to keep the air moving at a comfortable velocity, minimizing cool drafts and maximizing electrical savings. It also minimizes the noise from the blower running at full speed.

Many high-efficiency heat pumps are equipped with a desuperheater, which recovers waste heat from the heat pump’s cooling mode and uses it to heat water. A desuperheater-equipped heat pump can heat water 2 to 3 times more efficiently than an ordinary electric water heater.

Another advance in heat pump technology is the scroll compressor, which consists of two spiral-shaped scrolls. One remains stationary, while the other orbits around it, compressing the refrigerant by forcing it into increasingly smaller areas. Compared to the typical piston compressors, scroll compressors have a longer operating life and are quieter. According to some reports, heat pumps with scroll compressors provide 10°–15°F (5.6°–8.3°C) warmer air when in the heating mode, compared to existing heat pumps with piston compressors.

Although most heat pumps use electric resistance heaters as a backup for cold weather, heat pumps can also be equipped with burners to supplement the heat pump. Back-up burners help solve the problem of the heat pump delivering relatively cool air during cold weather and reduces its use of electricity. Since there are few heat pump manufacturers that incorporate both types of heat supply in one box, these configurations are often two smaller, side-by-side, standard systems sharing the same duct-work. The combustion fuel half of the system could be propane, natural gas, oil, or even coal and wood.

In comparison with a combustion fuel-fired furnace or standard heat pump alone, this type of system is also economical. Actual energy savings depend on the relative costs of the combustion fuel relative to electricity.

How to Operate and Maintain Your Heat Pump

Proper operation of your heat pump will save energy. Do not set back the heat pump’s thermostat if it causes the backup heating to come on; backup heating systems are usually more expensive to operate. Continuous indoor fan operation can degrade heat pump performance unless a high-efficiency, variable-speed fan motor is used. Operate the system on the “auto” fan setting on the thermostat.

Like all heating and cooling systems, proper maintenance is key to efficient operation. The difference between the energy consumption of a well-maintained heat pump and a severely neglected one ranges from 10%–25%.

Clean or change filters once a month or as needed, and maintain the system according to manufacturer’s instructions. Dirty filters, coils, and fans reduce airflow through the system. Reduced airflow decreases system performance and can damage your system’s compressor. Clean outdoor coils whenever they appear dirty; occasionally, turn off power to the fan and clean it; remove vegetation and clutter from around the outdoor unit. Clean the supply and return registers within your home, and straighten their fins if bent.

Small Solutions, LLC Heating and Air Conditioning Services offers annual maintenance of your heat pump to ensure its optimal efficiency. Our qualified technicians can do the following:

  • Inspect ducts, filters, blower, and indoor coil for dirt and other obstructions
  • Diagnose and seal duct leakage
  • Verify adequate airflow by measurement
  • Verify correct refrigerant charge by measurement
  • Check for refrigerant leaks
  • Inspect electric terminals, and if necessary, clean and tighten connections, and apply nonconductive coating to eliminate corrosion or metallic oxidation
  • Lubricate motors, and inspect belts for tightness and wear
  • Verify correct electric control, making sure that heating is locked out when the thermostat calls for cooling and vice versa
  • Verify correct thermostat operation.

 

How do I inspect the system when buying a home?

Ideally, if you’re looking at a house to purchase and make your new home, you’d want to find a licensed home inspector or an HVAC technician (like us!) to come and inspect the HVAC system for you. It’s like paying a mechanic to check out a used car before buying it. That’s the quick and easy way to get it handled and have peace of mind. (Click here to contact us to coordinate with us to do an inspection for you.)

One of the things that makes buying a house stressful is the nagging fear that something will break down soon after moving in. The range won’t heat up, the boiler will start leaking, or the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment will refuse to work, leaving a major hole in the household budget.

Regardless of the home’s age or the condition of the HVAC equipment, you should insist that the seller provide a home warranty to cover unforeseen issues over the next year.

If you notice any problems with the HVAC system layout or the equipment itself as you tour the home, bring up your concerns with the seller.

HVAC System Inspection

A few questions to ask the seller:

  1. What type of HVAC equipment is installed and how old is it? Is it still under warranty?
  2. What is the HVAC equipment’s brand, efficiency rating, and fuel type?
  3. Do you have a copy of maintenance and repair records?
  4. Do you have an HVAC maintenance agreement you can transfer to me if I buy the house?
  5. Is a programmable thermostat installed?

If you want to get an idea of what you’re dealing with, here are tips on how to inspect the HVAC system in a house:

  • Determine how old the system is. The average HVAC system lifespan is about 15 years. Ask the seller to repair or replace the HVAC system if it’s over a decade years old, appears damaged, or suffers from problematic performance. If they don’t want to make the upgrade themselves, ask for an allowance or discounted selling price so you can afford to install new equipment once the house is yours.
  • Check the condition of the duct work. Leaky ductwork wastes precious heated and cooled air while meandering duct runs force HVAC equipment to work harder. Check whether the ductwork has any loose connections, visible gaps, torn sections, or other problems.
  • Look at the equipment. Does the equipment look like it is in good condition? Does it make odd noises? You probably won’t be able to make an accurate assessment of the system based only on how it looks, but you may notice something that concerns you.
  • Look for insulation. It’s difficult to check insulation levels in the walls without professional equipment, but you can peek into the attic as you take a tour. You’re looking for a thick blanket of insulation covering the attic floor. Any ductwork running through the space should also be insulated.
  • Note the comfort level of the rooms. Pay attention to the overall comfort level as you move from room to room. If you notice temperature differences, stuffiness, or drafts, there could be something wrong with the HVAC equipment, ductwork, or insulation levels.

If you hire us to help you make an inspection, here’s a checklist of what we’ll be reviewing:

  • Check the operation of the thermostat
  • Check air filter
  • Inspect blower components
  • Inspect electrical connections
  • Inspect quality of installation
  • Inspect areas where equipment is located
  • Inspect equipment condition
  • Inspect condenser and evaporator coils for air conditioning units
  • Test safety controls
  • Examine condensate drains and drip pan
  • Examine the duct work
  • Examine heating and air conditioning equipment for proper match
  • Examine heat exchanger, ignition and burner assemblies
  • Test gas pressure and piping

Upon completion of your HVAC inspection, we will provide you with a completed report of our professional assessment, giving you clarity on what needs to be considered for replacement or when to upgrade to a more efficient system.

How long does it take to clean out the air ducts in my home?

So, first, what is air duct cleaning?

In your home, if you have a heating or cooling system, you likely have ducts running throughout your house. These can get clogged with stuff (dust, hairballs, carcinogens…and even mold) over time. Air duct cleaning is  like cleaning out your vacuum bag or the lint catcher in your dryer. If you let it go to long, it can become a real problem.

We come in with our pro equipment and team and can clean your air ducts efficiently without hassle. Within a few hours, we’ll be finished and you’ll know you and your family are breathing quality indoor air. We go through and clean all the duct work passageways in our cleanings, as well as inspect and sanitize them. We have specialized blowers, brushes and vacuums designed for air duct systems so it’s way easier for us to do it in a fraction of the time it would take without that equipment. We then clean any registers, grilles, fans, motors, handlers and coils in your HVAC system.

air duct cleaning services

How often should your air ducts be cleaned like this?

Generally we recommend doing this every 5-7 years. If you have pets, respiratory issues, or a compromised immune system, we’d suggest more often. If you’re moving into a pre-built home, you may want to do this before you move in. Depending on the filtration system you have, you may need less frequent cleanings.

 

How long does it take to clean air ductwork systems?

We estimate usually around two to four hours to clean with our crew. We usually send 2 technicians. Older homes, older systems or homes that have pets may take longer.

 

Do you use any chemicals during this process?

Nope. Unless required by an industrial hygienist or a certified contractor, we don’t use chemicals. If we had to, we only use an EPA-registered anti-microbial solution.