Saturday, March 28, 2015

WiFi Thermostats

Almost 40% of ALL thermostats sold in 2014 which were WiFi capable. To me, that is an astounding figure. Around 10 million thermostats were sold and just shy of 4 million of those were WiFi capable. Of those, almost 800,000 were sold through HVAC dealers and the rest through DIY outlets such as Lowes or Home Depot. My numbers came from a session Tim Burke of Emerson presented at the recent Instructor’ Conference in Orlando. No matter your view of the utility or necessity of having thermostats connected to WiFi, CUSTOMERS have clearly spoken. The manufacturers are starting to listen and WiFi offerings abound. Just because a thermostat is WiFi capable does not mean it is necessarily a smart thermostat. The WiFi options might simply be to view and set your thermostat from your phone. There are WiFi thermostats selling at under $100. At any rate, our techs need to be up to speed with these devices. An HVAC Service Tech working on a system with a WiFi thermostat should be able to get the thermostat connected to the customer’s WiFi router. I can envision service calls that involve issues with WiFi connectivity, such as “My phone cannot find my thermostat,” or “I changed my router and now my thermostat won’t connect to it. Smart thermostats which “learn” your habits and program themselves can cause issues if the homeowner is not happy with what the thermostat has decided to do. Knowing how to make these behave can be valuable. I know a couple of contractors who have removed these for customers and replaced them with digital non-programmable thermostats at the customer’s request (and expense).

Many digital thermostats will run completely on batteries, allowing you time to play with the thermostat while reading the instructions.With all digital thermostats, I recommend to students that they install the batteries and make sure they can set up the thermostat before installing it.  If the thermostat is already on the customer’s system it can be a bit tougher. One thing to do is make yourself familiar with the most common types sold in big box stores in your area, such as the NEST or the LYRIC. You should also familiarize yourself with the apps these things use so you can show customers how to use them. If you want to offer an alternative to the big box stores, look for full featured thermostats at your local wholesaler, such as the Emerson Sensi or a WiFi Honeywell Focus Pro. Do you HAVE to do all this? No, you can let someone else make all the money that comes from servicing the large number of customers who want WiFi thermostats. Did I mention these also tend to be the customers with the most money?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Meet Me in Orlando!

I will be speaking in Orlando at the HVACR Educators & Trainers Conference. I will speak on Sunday, March 15 at 8:30 on “Using Social Media to Extend Your Reach.” I will speak again on Tuesday, March 17 at 8:30 on the same subject. Social media and the inter-connectivity of individuals through the internet has brought about many changes in the way people communicate and information is spread. Although the iPhone did not invent “smart phones” or social media, the explosion of internet connected devices and the effect on Social Media can be clearly seen. In just a few years smart phones went from a curiosity carried by executives and geeks, to something everybody felt they needed. The first generation iPhones were sold in June, 2007. In less than 8 years these types of devices have become so ubiquitous that it is truly unusual to meet someone who does not have one. Note that several large tool and equipment manufacturers now make devices which are specifically designed to take advantage of this technology. For example, the imanifold digital gauge set which has no screen, but uses your tablet or smart phone. Now Yellow Jacket is selling its Mantooth device- again a refrigeration gauge which depends on your phone for a display. Flit just released an infra-red thermal imaging camera that clips onto your i-phone. An infrared thermal imaging camera that fits in your pocket and costs under $1000! There are bore scopes that use the phone as the screen as well. Just the fact that these companies have invested their research time and money into these projects shows how commonplace hand held computers have become. Our challenge is to figure out how to use these ubiquitous personal communication devices and the net to advance education.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Internet of Things

I read two statements in Kyle Gargaro’s HVACR News editorial that really jumped out at me. He said that 40% of the thermostats sold in 2014 had internet capability. Later he stated that in the coming years the number of devices connected to the internet would exceed the number of people. I found that a little unnerving. Then I thought, I am not connected to the internet, my computer is – and it is definitely a thing. So what is so weird about my thermostat being connected to the internet? Digital thermostats are really just small computers with a very specific task. The difference is just in the human interface and the much narrower scope of operation. However, the real idea of the internet of things is not so much to allow us to talk to our thermostat. There is not really a lot to say to your thermostat. It is the possibility of our things communicating with each other so they can accomplish their tasks cooperatively. For example, the alarm clock can tell the thermostat, coffee pot, hot water heater, and toaster when I plan to arise. They can all use that information to make sure they each perform their function in a timely manner, so I have warm water, a warm house, hot coffee, and toast all at the right time. Or an internet connected electric meter can tell the thermostat when electric rates will increase and decrease, allowing the thermostat to consider the ideal time to turn back my system. I heard a great use the other day on NPR. A cardiologist has his patients wear a bracelet that monitors their blood pressure. The wrist device is connected to their phones via Bluetooth and they can upload their blood pressure history to his office. He can see not just the blood pressure when they walk in, but what it has been for a week or a month. The connected things allow the doctor a much better view of their health, so he can make more informed decisions. Suppose you had all the system’s relevant voltages, pressures, and temperatures before you got in your truck? Or a tool that takes those readings, provides a diagnosis, and offers possible corrective actions? These actually exist now, but they are the exception rather than the rule. I think they may become commonplace when the internet of things takes off.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Checking Airflow is Not Just a Summer Thing

Checking for proper airflow is not just a summer thing. Most techs know that poor airflow is the first thing you should check in the case of freezing up air conditioning coils or lower than normal suction pressures in cooling. We need to be concerned with airflow in the heating season as well. In fact, in the case of heat pumps, airflow is arguably more important in the heating season because the indoor coil is now the condenser. Sure signs of an airflow problem in a heat pump are low suction pressures and icing in the summer and frequent high pressure switch trips in the winter. I have heard several stories about systems which techs “fixed” by adding charge in the summer and taking it out in the winter. In effect, they are overcharging the system in the summer and undercharging it in the winter. Of course this kills both system efficiency and the compressor. In the summer, the overcharge causes liquid dilution of the compressor oil, and in the winter the undercharge makes the compressor run hot. Other signs of poor airflow include open fuse links on strip heaters, open strip heaters, or open thermal limits which eventually fail from opening and closing repeatedly. In gas furnaces, poor airflow will cause a higher than normal temperature rise. In the case of gas furnaces, it is possible to have too much airflow. Too much airflow will reduce the temperature rise below the minimum, which can cause condensation in heat exchangers which are not designed for condensation. Typical temperature rise for mist furnaces is between 40°F and 70°F. However, check the data plate on the furnace for the exact specification.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Shurtape Supports Education

ShurTape has launched an initiative to follow three students at Athens Technical College through their studies in the Air Conditioning Technology Program. To support the students, Shurtape is challenging each of them to a series of missions. They complete the mission and report their findings on the ShurTape blog. The students are paid $500 for each completed mission, up to $5000 for the year.  A mission can be to interview the owner of an HVACR company  about HVACR careers, or discuss job safety with a tech in the field. They have chosen three students with different backgrounds and ages, who are at different points in the program. By following the three students blog postings, you can vicariously experience a little of life as an Air Conditioning Technology student and see how they progress in their career quest. I am quite pleased to be working with ShureTape in helping promote our industry. I really appreciate their support – I know Josue, Daniel, and Thomas do. To read more anut the program and the students taking part, go to

Friday, January 30, 2015

Celebrating A Legacy

Dad turned 89 today. In celebration, my sister hosted a party at Stanfield Air Systems so the many folks who have come to know Dad over the years could celebrate with him. Friends from all walks turned out. The room was crowded with people regaling each other with stories about their life and work with Dad.  Family, neighbors, employees, customers, and competitors all turned out to celebrate and wish him continued good fortune. Dad started Stanfield Air Systems in 1968. The company he started grew in reputation as the place to go, especially if what you wanted to do was a bit off the beaten path. Dad was among the first in our area to tackle high velocity systems, solar heating, and ground source heat pumps. Along the way he also installed Arkla-Servel gas fired air conditioners and Amana EG mini-boiler systems. How did he know about all these technologies? He read and studied. Studying your field was just part of your job. And if I am completely honest here, I think he really enjoyed doing different things. If you work hard at your craft and treat people fairly you collect a lot of friends. Today showed there are many folks in Athens who are very glad Lynn Stanfield moved here and started Stanfield Air Systems in 1968. Happy birthday Dad!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Condensing Furnace Drains

With the abundance of condensing furnaces, drain problems are no longer limited to the summer months, but are now a year round concern. Although the drain on a condensing furnace is a relatively small detail in the overall scheme of things it can shut a system down if not run properly. Normally, there are two furnace drains: one for the condensing heat exchanger and one for the vent. Some furnaces combine then inside the furnace while others require the installer to take care of that. The vent should slope towards the furnace so any water condensing inside the vent runs back to the drain. This also prevents water dripping out the vent and creating an ice dam. The drains need to be trapped, but only once. After the drain leaves the trap the pipe should never rise. Sometimes sags in PVC drain lines cause unintended secondary traps. Secondary traps will keep the water from draining out, creating a mess. Many manufacturers now provide a manufactured trap. If a furnace has a built in manufactured trap you should not add another one. Multi-poise condensing furnaces pose a special problem: you have to know which end is up (literally) to know how to position the trap and drain. Often these furnaces come configured for upflow installation but must be reconfigured for downflow or horizontal installation. Make sure the drain gets moved to the right location for whatever position the furnace is installed in.  In general, you should not run the air conditioning condensate drain and the furnace condensate drain into a common line. The positive pressure from the coil can travel through the drain to the furnace drain and cause the vent safety switch to trip. It is OK to run both into the same condensate pump basin, so long as it is open to the air and not sealed tight. If you use a condensate pump, make sure that it is rated for furnace duty. The condensate from furnaces is moderately acidic and can eat up some pumps that are not designed to handle furnace condensate. If the drain will run through unconditioned space that may drop below freezing, it will need to be wrapped with a heat tape to prevent it from freezing. If the furnace is located in an area which can be damaged by water overflow, such as an attic, it will require a secondary drain pan underneath the furnace. Finally, remember water runs down hill. The drain should slope away from the furnace until its outlet.