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  1. #1
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    Default Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    I know TREC (Texas) does not want compressors turned on below 65 degrees. What has been your experience when testing AC in the cooler temperatures ? I hear varying opinions from Licensed AC guys. I know it is okay if it is a heat pump, but what about a straight AC system ? What do you tell your Clients who want to know what it wasn't operated ? Just curious to everyones opinion.

    Thanks

    Gene

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Hi Gene, check out the discussion on past threads on this subject. There are more, this is just the first one my search turned up.
    http://www.inspectionnews.net/home_i...tion-60-f.html

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Dallas, Texas

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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Jim, thanks.

    Gene


  4. #4
    Kevin VanderWarf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Mechanical problems on straight AC is an issue becuase of the lack of a crank case heater unlike heatpumps.
    As an HVAC tech, I always started new systems in cold weather, you almost have to or come back to everything you installed when the weather warms up.
    One of the main reasons I do not run the AC as an inspector;
    It's not running even close to design temperature. You cant connect gages during an inspection, most HI s wouldn't know how to read them anyway.
    So, your running at 65 or below with a thermometer in a vent as your only gage.
    Chances are the temp drop is going to be pretty good if the unit is at all operable.
    The results could be quite different when the weather warms up.
    You were the last one to run or test the A.C., said it was fine, first warm day comes along and it's not cooling, you get the blame.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Hi Kevin, thanks for you input.

    Gene


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Whenever people question it I just explain the statistics..... Sure, the chances are pretty good that you could turn on any given A/C unit in the middle of winter and not break it. But, if you turn on all 100 or so that you encounter over a given winter the chances are you'll break one. Or, as mentioned above, you'll be the last one that ran it so come spring when it doesn't run you get blamed.


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    A couple of months ago I did an inspection on a newly constructed home with five heating and cooling zones. I believe the cooling condensers were Carrier, and the installation/user guides were available. They stated that the cooling condensers should not be started if the outside temperature was 50°F or lower. That's not a typo. 50°F or lower. So after seven years in this business, I've seen 65°F, 60°F, and now 50°F. As technology continues to advance, I suspect that the Alaskans will be able to cool their places down to 32°F in the winter time if they so desire.

    Last edited by Russel Ray; 04-11-2008 at 09:24 AM.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by Russel Ray View Post
    A couple of months ago I did an inspection on a newly construction home with five heating and cooling zones. I believe the cooling condensers were Carrier, and the installation/user guides were available. They stated that the cooling condensers should not be started if the outside temperature was 50F or lower. That's not a typo. 50F or lower. So after seven years in this business, I've seen 65F, 60F, and now 50F. As technology continues to advance, I suspect that the Alaskans will be able to cool their places down to 32F in the winter time if they so desire.
    With a Scroll compressor you can run the units at just about any temperature without causing damage.

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
    www.traceinspections.com

  9. #9
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures


  10. #10
    William Brady's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    I think your question was "what do you tell your client" Tell them why it is not tested. Cold can damage the compressor. Most boiler plate information in HI software says something about testing the AC in cold temps. Talk to them and put that wording in your report.


  11. #11
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by William Brady View Post
    I think your question was "what do you tell your client."
    Exactly. When everything was the same, it wasn't hard to say, "Manufacturers recommend not running the cooling system if the outside temperature is 65F." However, then it went to 60F. Now some manufacturers are using 50F. So if you subscribe to the 65F testing standard, what do you tell your Client six months down the road when he calls and says, "Hey, my cooling system isn't working. You said that it could not be tested because it was 58F outside. However, my air conditioning repairman says that this unit is a scroll compressor and that you should have tested it since it can be operated all the way down to 50F."? Unfortunately, you didn't have the installation/user guide available when you did the inspection, and the exterior of the unit didn't say 'SCROLL COMPRESSOR.'"

    That's why I brought it up. I'm going to still subscribe to the 65F standard, but I'm going to have to rewrite my standard language slightly to take into account different manufacturers and the lack of access to installation/user guides at the time of the inspection.


  12. #12
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    I have always been told and instructed not to operate a central air conditioning system when temp. is below 60 degrees, due to possible damage to the compressor. The oil in the compressor becomes thick in cold temps and when started in cold temps can damage the unit in a couple of ways, pulls more amps on start up in cold weather, damage the compressor, or lock up the compressor.
    So I always note that on my report and advise to have checked by a professional when temperatures warm, whick I always recommend yearly service on the air conditioning and heating system.

    Going to have to look into operation at 50 degrees, new tech. may have improved, but I would still rather be safe than sorry in operation below 60 degrees for now.


  13. #13
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Hey Russell,

    You know some guys might say you should know about compressors that can be operated below temps or at anytime or year. For me I do not pretend to know every detail of every unit or system. So I set a standard that I do not go below when doing an inspection. That standard it 60 degrees for testing AC units. Don't get me wrong if something becomes common knowledge then I will go by that and rethink my standard. I have never had a problem saying to a client it's been to cold over the last 24 hours to test this unit and why that is. For me it is all about the conversation and then I put it in the report. You propably know the feeling when you explain something to a buyer and the light goes on in them. I know some will come back and say "he never said that" so thats why it is also in the report.


  14. #14
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by William Brady View Post
    I have never had a problem saying to a client it's been to cold over the last 24 hours to test this unit and why that is.
    Why "the last 24 hours?" Surely you're not implying that if it was 45°F last night, but it is now 85°F, (quite common for some areas of San Diego), you would not test the cooling system?


  15. #15
    William Brady's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Not everyone is lucky enough to live in San Diego but that is exactly what I am implying. My standard is just that, and I have never burned a compressor to date. Some have already said that they use 65 degrees other have said centain types of units can be operated no matter what the temp. I use below 60 degrees in the past 24 hours.


  16. #16
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by William Brady View Post
    I use below 60 degrees in the past 24 hours.
    I'll ask again, though: "Why?"

    You have the same type of environment in Las Cruces that we have here in San Diego, colder nights, warmer days. How did you decide that you can't operate the compressor if it's been colder than 60 in the past 24 hours? I have never found a manufacturer's guide that had any such thing in it. Using such a standard would prove problematic in the Midwest and South when a Norther comes through and drops the temperature to 40F for a few days, and the next day it's 85F and 100% humidity.

    I'm just trying to figure out where you picked up such a standard.


  17. #17
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Maybe it's because I just moved here from NYC. Here in Las Cruces during the winters (hows that for overstating) our swamps are off so they can not be tested period. As for the refrigerated air units weather they are combo units on the roof or AC on the ground level I for one do not turn them on if the nightime temps are cold. The 60 degree guide for me is what I use rather then having to go through a long song and dance about well it was 50 last night and so on. I have always used that standard and I for one do not want to buy anyone a new unit just because I pushed the unit on and the oil was solid in the compressor. I statred off by saying this is my standard because thats the way I was taught to do this work and it has worked for me. I do not like to recreate the wheel. You may be an AC guy and have more knowledge than I so if you know a better way thats OK.


  18. #18
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by William Brady View Post
    Maybe it's because I just moved here from NYC. Here in Las Cruces during the winters (hows that for overstating) our swamps are off so they can not be tested period. As for the refrigerated air units weather they are combo units on the roof or AC on the ground level I for one do not turn them on if the nightime temps are cold. The 60 degree guide for me is what I use rather then having to go through a long song and dance about well it was 50 last night and so on. I have always used that standard and I for one do not want to buy anyone a new unit just because I pushed the unit on and the oil was solid in the compressor. I statred off by saying this is my standard because thats the way I was taught to do this work and it has worked for me. I do not like to recreate the wheel. You may be an AC guy and have more knowledge than I so if you know a better way thats OK.
    I can understand the 60F limit. What I don't understand is within the past 24 hours. To the best of my knowledge, they don't make compressors just for San Diego County, so anything that works out here should work the same way in NYC, Las Cruces, Denver, wherever.

    Again, I've read many an installation/user guide, and they all say 65F, 60F, or, now, 50F, but they all say "if the outside temperature" is that. None of them say anything about "within the last 24 hours" because that wouldn't make too much sense.

    One of the problems that I've found in this industry is that there is an extreme lack of standards, notwithstanding 50 state trade associations and six or seven national associations. So even though all those standards tell us to test, evaluate, or inspect, they don't tell us how to, leaving it up to us to determine the standards by which we test, evaluate, or inspect. The sooner we can all agree on a standard, the sooner we can charge what we're really worth.

    You say that's the way you were taught, so I'll ask who taught you that so I can write them and ask them where they learned it.

    Thanks for a useful dialogue that might help many a reader.


  19. #19
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    I have to jump in here.

    First, Ken, thick oil is NOT the reason that there is a problem with starting

    compressors in cold weather, your instructor told you wrong.

    Virtually all refrigerant oil flows quite well in cold weather, the oil circulates

    in the system with the refrigerant and takes on the temperature of the

    refrigerant at each point in the system and even in the middle of the

    summer the oil will be well below 60 degrees at the metering device.

    Refrigerant can become entrained in cold oil, but that is another story.

    THE reason not to operate conventional reciprocating compressors in cold

    weather is liquid slugging.

    Liquid slugging can occur when the compressor is the coldest part of the

    system and the compressor is off for an extended period of time.

    The refrigerant will migrate to the coldest part of the system and pool in

    liquid form.

    The greater the temperature difference, the greater the tendency of

    refrigerants to migrate.

    So on a cold night, the liquid refrigerant builds up in the compressor "pot"

    just waiting for some unsuspecting soul to turn on the unit. If you are

    standing next to the unit it will make you dive for cover because it sounds

    like the compressor is going to break apart.

    Compressors are designed to compress vapor, not liquid. When it tries to

    compress liquid, the rods tend to try to become shorter, valves snap off,

    bend, etc.

    This is the reason that manufacturers tell you not to operate the system

    below a certain temperature.

    I have not seen the stipulation of time above a certain temperature, but

    many will have stickers telling not to start the system unless the power

    has been on for 24 hours.

    This is because some units have a crankcase heater to prevent liquid

    slugging. It is simply a low wattage heat band wrapped around the base

    of the compressor pot that provides just enough heat to warm the pot

    above the critical temperature.

    Bottom line is follow the manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have

    them for that specific brand and model, err on the side of caution to avoid

    damaging the unit.

    I hope this helps and makes sense. This subject has been discussed many
    .
    times in the past, I would encourage reading those threads for more info.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Dallas, Texas

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Thought I'd throw this in....

    State of South Carolina standars of practice:

    "
    LIMITATIONS:
    A) The Inspector is not required to:
    1) Activate systems that have been shut down or otherwise deactivated.
    2) Operate cooling equipment when the ambient temperature has been less than 65 degrees Fahrenheit
    within the previous 24 hours.

    Operative words "Not Required to"


    Also as regards heating systems:

    "LIMITATIONS:
    A) The Inspector is not required to:
    1) Operate equipment when the exterior temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
    2) Activate equipment that has been shut down or will not respond to thermostat controls."


    Critical Home Inspection Services
    www.Home2Spec.com

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    The SC SOP could use some updating.

    If you omit the A/C check based on that SOP recommendation, you would only be turning it on maybe a few days in June, July, August.


    Had a client during the cold winter that turned on the A/C when I was outside, his profession is HVAC inspector. He said "just wanted to hear it run".


    My Bryant/Carrier units have 55 deg in the manual and are electronically locked off at that temp.


  22. #22
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by Russel Ray View Post
    I'll ask again, though: "Why?"

    You have the same type of environment in Las Cruces that we have here in San Diego, colder nights, warmer days. How did you decide that you can't operate the compressor if it's been colder than 60 in the past 24 hours? I have never found a manufacturer's guide that had any such thing in it. Using such a standard would prove problematic in the Midwest and South when a Norther comes through and drops the temperature to 40°F for a few days, and the next day it's 85°F and 100% humidity.

    I'm just trying to figure out where you picked up such a standard.
    I have to agree with Russel on this. It is very common in the South to have temps in the 40's and then in the 70's or 80's on the same day and for a good part of the Spring or Fall. We see 30-40 degree splits all of the time.

    My rule of thumb is to test all A/C units if it is over 60f at the time of the inspection. Truth be known the air temp might be 60, but if that metal condenser cabinet is in the sun it will be a heck of lot hotter. This has been my testing procedure for almost thirteen years and with about 5,000+ homes, and I have yet to have a problem doing it this way. I would say that my procedures have met the test of time and quantity.

    I think that much of what we hear is home inspector folklore that has been fostered by incompetent trainers/teaching material in some of the schools around the country.

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
    www.traceinspections.com

  23. #23
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Patterson View Post
    My rule of thumb is to test all A/C units if it is over 60f at the time of the inspection. Truth be known the air temp might be 60, but if that metal condenser cabinet is in the sun it will be a heck of lot hotter. This has been my testing procedure for almost thirteen years and with about 5,000+ homes, and I have yet to have a problem doing it this way. I would say that my procedures have met the test of time and quantity.
    I would agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Patterson View Post
    I think that much of what we hear is home inspector folklore that has been fostered by incompetent trainers/teaching material in some of the schools around the country.
    What's even more distressing is that that folklore sometimes makes it into state inspection standards, such as South Carolina's.


  24. #24
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Since this topic comes up a few times a year, I remember someone suggesting that if you are going to run the A/C in cooler temps, "give it something to do" ie. Run the heat for awhile and get the house up to 75-76 deg and then run the A/C and see if it works ok.

    On new homes, the disconnect is usually found set to "off" for protection or just simply in need of a final startup process.


  25. #25
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce King View Post
    Since this topic comes up a few times a year, I remember someone suggesting that if you are going to run the A/C in cooler temps, "give it something to do" ie. Run the heat for awhile and get the house up to 75-76 deg and then run the A/C and see if it works ok.
    I always run the heating first and then the cooling. As I tell my Clients, "If I run the heating last, then you'll leave the inspection all hot and mad at me. But if I run the cooling last, then you'll leave all cool and refreshed." They get a chuckle out of that, and it also helps me manage their expectations just in case they get the idea six months down the road to call me and tell me that their heating or cooling system doesn't work. Hmmmmmm. "Remember our discussion at the time of the inspection. They both worked then, didn't they? Call your HVAC repairperson."


  26. #26
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Ok here's the question. In this area (the high desert) 4000ft or so above, the nights can go down to 20 degrees and then in the day you can have temps around 70. This is in the winter months. Even now it is down into the 40 degree range at night and today it will be 80. Given what has been said about the slug lying in wait and most AC units have been off for months would you feel comfortable turning one on. It seem to me that the slug hasen't moved in a long time and it is going from thick to loose sometimes on a daily bases. Forget about the terms I used about the slug just help me to undersatand whats going on inside these units so I can get the mental picture. Please remember that you are dealing with a NYC guy who is now living and working in the Sun Belt. What a difference. I have a lot to re-learn.


  27. #27
    Russel Ray's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by William Brady View Post
    Ok here's the question. In this area (the high desert) 4000ft or so above, the nights can go down to 20 degrees and then in the day you can have temps around 70. This is in the winter months. Even now it is down into the 40 degree range at night and today it will be 80. Given what has been said about the slug lying in wait and most AC units have been off for months would you feel comfortable turning one on. It seem to me that the slug hasen't moved in a long time and it is going from thick to loose sometimes on a daily bases. Forget about the terms I used about the slug just help me to undersatand whats going on inside these units so I can get the mental picture. Please remember that you are dealing with a NYC guy who is now living and working in the Sun Belt. What a difference. I have a lot to re-learn.
    The AC units might have been "off for months," but I doubt that they have been disconnected from all electricity. So as long as the AC is hooked up to electricity and can be turned on using the thermostat, I don't have any problem running the cooling system as long as the temperature outside is (50/60/65)F.

    Remember that almost everything has a safeguard built into it by the engineers and designers. Back when I was in college studying wood/structure/civil engineering, the safeguard was 25%. So if a 2x8 slice of Grade A Southern Yellow Pine was tested by the FPL or WIA and found to deflect one inch under a load of 100 psi, then in designing the building, the architect would use 75 psi. That's a very, very simple example, and probably not extremely accurate, but it should get the message across.

    So if the cooling compressor manufacturer says 60F--and no one except home inspectors ever read those installation/user guides--I can virtually guarantee you that the compressor can be operated below 60F. It's just that we don't know the actual safeguard built in by the engineers. Many decades ago (1982-1987) when I was working in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, the professor that I worked for kept his home at a constant 58F, so if it was 59 outside, he had the cooling system running full steam ahead, (and he had that ol' vent register wide open and blowing directly on his desk; I would freeze when I went over there).


  28. #28
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    Smile Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Thanks Russell for the info. I am on the way out to do an inspection and I am hoping to get other comments on this subject to see how others handle the AC thing. Most of my work is now on newer homes and the older one in this area are all swamp coolers. Thats another situation altogether. The point being, newer homes the chances are low (I know I will regret that statement) and the AC units are all good and not testing one and referring it to an AC guy when it warms up seems to work well for most buyers. The warmer days here and this conversation has made me think about the test. As I said I have a lot to get used to in this new enviroment. The first time I heard the term refrigerated air I thought they were talking about the refrigerator.


  29. #29
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    It seem to me that the slug hasen't moved in a long time and it is going from thick to loose sometimes on a daily bases
    Just to clarify the mental picture, there is not "a slug" that is thick, etc. The terminology is sluggING liquid (not a technical term, just common usage in the trades.)
    The problem is LIQUID refrigerant as opposed to vapor. Any liquid at any temperature or viscosity is a problem when sucked into the suction port of the compressor. Refrigerant is constantly moving in a system as a result of changing temperatures even with the system off.
    I agree totally with the safety factor explanation, which tends to explain why folks get by with no damage most of the time even though violating the rules. As Dirty Harry would say "Do you fell lucky?"

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Dallas, Texas

  30. #30
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    One other thing to remember is that different areas of the country may have different solutions to the liquid migration issue. Some areas with rapidly fluctuation temperatures may have crankcase heaters as standard equipment or suction line accumulators.
    What we are talking about is the minimum safe standards to run a system.
    With knowledge or luck, you can exceed the standards without problems.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Dallas, Texas

  31. #31
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    With all the above mentioned replies, I am curious how other inspectors inspect the operation of an ac unit when the outside temperature, for arguments sake, is warm enough to operate yet cold enough that the occupants are operating the heater upon arrival and/or during the inspection? This seems to be common with older people or in climates as that can be below freezing at night and 80 degrees during the day.


  32. #32
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by phil kaznowski View Post
    --- I am curious how other inspectors inspect the operation of an ac unit when is warm enough to operate yet cold enough that the occupants are operating the heater upon arrival and/or during the inspection?
    Crank up the Heat, Flip on the AC.

    If your staying Put on a sweater.


    It Might have Choked Artie But it ain't gone'a choke Stymie! Our Gang " The Pooch " (1932)
    Billy J. Stephens HI Service Memphis TN.

  33. #33
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    I explain to the residents that I will be operating EVERYTHING which includes the dishwasher, oven, heat and air. That also comes with the "of course it doesn't take me long to check the heat when it is 100 degrees outside and I will be in a 150 degree attic! They get the point, usually. Of course, I did have an elderly little lady that followed me around turning everything off as soon as I left the room no matter how well I explained that I was testing.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Dallas, Texas

  34. #34
    phil kaznowski's Avatar
    phil kaznowski Guest

    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Jim,

    How much time do you wait to test between heating and cooling?

    Thanks,

    Phil


  35. #35
    Russel Ray's Avatar
    Russel Ray Guest

    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    I'll turn the heating off, and as soon as the fan turns off, usually about five minutes later, I'll turn the cooling on.


  36. #36
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by phil kaznowski View Post
    Jim,

    How much time do you wait to test between heating and cooling?

    Thanks,

    Phil
    It depends on the unit. Today, I ran the cooling first (75 degree day) and switched straight from cool over to heat. Horizontal unit in the attic with gas heat.

    If in doubt, I wait long enough for the pressures to equalize (3-5 minutes) or until any internal timers clear.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Dallas, Texas

  37. #37
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    As far a identifying these scroll compressors. Are they all taller and a smaller diameter compared to a standard compressor?

    Paul Kondzich
    Ft. Myers, FL.

  38. #38
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    Default Re: Testing AC in cooler temperatures

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Kondzich View Post
    As far a identifying these scroll compressors. Are they all taller and a smaller diameter compared to a standard compressor?
    Yes, they are taller and thinner. Most will say Scroll on their label if you can see it.

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
    www.traceinspections.com

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