Monday, December 7, 2009

Comfort Science

A few years ago someone came into my office asking for my help regarding installing an air conditioning system in his house. He was going to save money by doing it himself even though he had no training and had never run a piece of duct, much less installed a complete system. However, he was confident he could do the job after a five minute discussion with me to fill in any gaps in his information. “After all”, he said, “it’s not rocket science.” I must confess that after he told me more than once “it’s not rocket science,” I had no interest in even trying to explain to him the many pitfalls ahead. He had already determined that there was really nothing to know.

Air conditioning professionals can also be guilty of devaluing installation. Because installation involves more manual labor than service, it is easy to view installation as simply manual labor. After all "it's not rocket science." Nothing could be further from the truth.

I recently had an advisory committee meeting for my program. One contractor stressed that she really wanted people who would take installation seriously. She was especially emphatic that understanding airflow and airflow measurement was crucial. Another contractor mentioned that with the increasing complexity of today’s systems, including communicating controls and variable capacity systems, installing technicians really needed to understand how the systems operate. Yet another stressed that many customers will pay a premium price for a system that is energy efficient. However, if the system is not installed correctly they will be disappointed with the results. Another committee member mentioned that an Atlanta contractor had actually increased their sales by 27% this year. They are performing energy audits and system performance analysis and making selling customers solutions to improve system efficiency and overall comfort. Their technicians are closer to scientists than unskilled laborers.

Properly sizing and installing an HVAC/R system is “comfort science.” If you want the system to perform as advertized selection and design cannot be reduced to a square footage per ton factor and a six inch flex run for every room. After the system is chosen and the duct system is designed, it still must be installed correctly. A 20-SEER split system full of non-condensables will be lucky to operate at 13 SEER. A system with an ECM blower will use even more energy than a typical PSC blower if the duct is too restrictive. Setting up and checking out a communicating, variable speed zone system requires technicians who can read, understand, and interpret technical instructions. This is why I believe it is critical to teach the science behind what we are doing. As HVAC/R becomes increasingly technical, technicians who understand how and why machines work will become invaluable. Installing today’s increasingly technical HVAC/R systems requires technicians that are trained, understand how systems operate, can read technical literature, and can take detailed system performance measurements. In short – comfort scientists!

Fundamentals of HVAC/R has an entire section dedicated to the science of HVAC/R. These units discuss the science foundation of HVAC/R in a straight forward, approachable manner and give practical HVAC/R examples of its application. Units include:

  • Unit 4 Properties of Matter
  • Unit 5 Types of Energy and Their Properties
  • Unit 6 Temperature Measurement and conversion
  • Unit 7 Thermodynamics – The Study of Heat
  • Unit 8 Pressure and Vacuum

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