Saturday, February 19, 2022

Decoding HFO Numbering

 Undoubtedly you have seen news articles mentioning HFO refrigerants with names like 1234yf, 1234ze(Z), or 1234ze(E). Although these names look like a secret code, there is method in the madness. The good news is that technicians probably don’t need to know exactly how to read this secret code to do their job. However, telling me I don’t need to know what’s behind the curtain just encourages me to pull the curtain back. So here goes.

What is an HFO

First, you need to understand what an HFO is. An HFO is essentially an HFC with a double bond between two carbon atoms. You might remember from high school chemistry that carbon has a valence of 4. Think of the valence as the number of Velcro tabs on the atom. The carbon atoms in a normal hydrocarbon molecule are joined by single bonds, just one set of Velcro tabs joined between each carbon atom in the chain. They are called saturated because they are connected to largest number of atoms possible. Unsaturated hydrocarbon molecules, like HFOs, have a double bond between two of the carbon atoms. They use two sets of Velcro tabs between two of the carbon atoms. The double bond means there is one less atom in the molecule since two bonds are used between a pair of carbon atoms. Thus the designation as unsaturated.

Secret Code

The first four numbers of the secret refrigerant numbering code identify, in order: the number of double bonds, the number of carbon atoms, the number of hydrogen atoms, and the number of fluorine atoms in the molecule. However, there are many ways those atoms can be arranged, and different arrangements of the same components create different refrigerants with different physical properties. The last two or three letters describe how the atoms are arranged in the molecule.

First Number

The first number in the HFO numbering system describes the number of double bonds. At present, I am not aware of any HFO refrigerants that have more than one double bond. Currently all HFO refrigerants start with the number 1.  The 1 at the start of R1234ze(Z) indicates that the molecule has one double bond.  

Second Number

The second number is equal to the number of carbon atoms minus one.  The 2 in R1234ze(Z) indicates that the molecule has three carbon atoms: (#Carbons (3) - 1 = 2).

Third Number

The third number is equal to the number of hydrogen atoms plus one. The 3 in R1234ze(Z) indicates that the molecule has two hydrogen atoms (#Hydrogens (2) + 1 = 3).

Fourth Number

The fourth number is equal to the number of Fluorine atoms. The 4 in R1234ze(Z) indicates that the molecule has four Fluorine atoms.

First Lower Case Letter

HFO refrigerants are based on propylene, which has three carbon atoms. The first lower case letter identifies the atom connected to the middle carbon atom: x for chlorine, y for fluorine, and z for hydrogen. The lower case z in R1234ze(Z) indicates that the atom bonded to the middle carbon is hydrogen.

Second Lower Case Letter

The way the atoms are arranged on the ends of the molecule can vary. The second lower case letter describes the arrangement of the atoms on the end carbon containing the double bond. The letters are defined as 

a: 2 chlorine atoms

b: 1 chlorine atom and 1 fluorine atom

c: 2 fluorine atoms

d: 1 hydrogen atom and 1 chlorine atom

e: 1 hydrogen atom and 1 fluorine atom

f: 2 hydrogen atoms

The lower case e in R1234ze(Z) indicates that the end carbon with the double bond is connected to 1 hydrogen atom and 1 fluorine atom.

Upper Case Letter in Parenthesis

In some instances, there are two ways to connect the remaining hydrogen atoms. (Z) indicates the hydrogen atoms are on the same side of the double carbon bond. Z stands for zusammen: German for together. (E) indicates the hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the double carbon bond. E stands for entgegen: German for opposite. The (Z) on the end of R1234ze(Z) indicates that the two hydrogen atoms are located on the same side of the carbon double bond.

Although R1234yf, R1234ze(E), and R1234ze(Z) are all built out of the exact same type and number of atoms, the difference in how the atoms are arranged makes them three different refrigerants with different physical properties.  




Monday, February 14, 2022

History of Duck Tape

Like many others, I have assumed for years that the original and proper spelling for the ubiquitous gray cloth tape is duct tape, as in taping duct seams. I was wrong. I just recently learned some of the history of the original invention of Duck Tape by reading about it on a Facebook post by George Lanthier. If you work in oil or gas heat in the northeast, you probably have at least heard of George.  I know he knows what he is talking about, but we are talking about a Facebook post, so I did a little more research. According to, the word duck comes from the Dutch word "doek", which means linen canvas. According to, soldiers called it “Duck Tape” because of the way it repelled water. Perhaps both are true. But that is not really the interesting part of the story.

A mom named Vesta Stoudt came up with the original idea for Duck Tape while working in a factory packing ammo boxes. Before the development of Duck Tape, cartridges were packed in heavy cardboard boxes that were taped and dipped in wax to make them waterproof. The box flaps were sealed with thin paper tape, and a tab of tape was left loose so that it could be pulled to release the waterproof wax coating and open the box. The problem was that the thin paper tape wasn’t strong enough, and the tabs frequently tore off when soldiers pulled on them to open the ammo boxes, leaving them frantically scrambling to claw the boxes open while under enemy fire. Vesta developed a prototype cloth tape to solve this problem. She had a personal reason for her concern about the effectiveness of the ammo box sealing method, she had two sons in the Navy.  Unable to convince her supervisors of the merits of her idea, she wrote president Roosevelt. President Roosevelt and his military advisors liked Vesta Stoudt’s idea, and they asked the Industrial Tape Corporation, a division of Johnson & Johnson, to develop and manufacture a cloth-backed, water-resistant tape with a strong adhesive. Duck tape was made with a layer of cotton canvas (doek) coated in waterproof polyethylene, and a layer of strong rubber-based adhesive. 

Soldiers returning from the war found all sorts of uses for Duck Tape and its usefulness made it popular. Duck tape was not used for duct work until after World War II. Unfortunately, the original style Duck tape is not actually recommended for use on duct work. It tends to dry up and become brittle. However, there are many other practical uses for general purpose Duck Tape.  Manco, now part of ShurTech Brands,  trademarked the name “Duck Tape” in 1980. Today, any tape actually named “Duck Tape” is from ShurTech. Now there actually is tape designed specifically for sealing ductwork, and it is referred to as “duct tape.”  Tape used with ductwork should have a UL 181 rating. The next time you hear someone mention “Duck Tape,” just realize they are being historically correct.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Chalk and Talk 

Several years ago a fellow HVAC instructor told me he had been strongly encouraged by his immediate supervisor to do more lecturing. To the academically trained supervisor, working with students in the lab didn’t look like teaching, it looked like training. In the supervisor’s mind, training was a lower level pursuit – akin to monkey see monkey do. The school had just transitioned from a Technical School to a Technical Collage and they wanted to look like a college. 

The instructor was asking for any help I could offer, especially along the lines of “chalk and talk”, his description of what he felt was being asked of him. I think that phrase perfectly embodies why so many students really don’t get a lot out of lectures – they are just observers, not participants. The instructor is writing stuff on the board and talking while the students are just passive observers.  In the days of chalk boards, the instructor was not even facing the class when they were writing. It sometimes seemed like the teacher was engrossed in their own thoughts while they stare at the board and talk to no one in particular. 

We have advanced a bit since then. At least with Powerpoint presentations we are usually facing the class, even if we are staring at our computer monitor most of the time. However, it is possible to lecture and still rise above the mind-numbing norm of a monologue delivered to a captive audience of passive observers.  

Begin by facing your audience and making eye contact with people long enough so they feel you are speaking to them personally. If you are using a Powerpoint presentation, be familiar enough with the presentation and the material that you don’t have to read the notes while looking at the screen. It is OK to look at the screen occasionally, but if your discussion is just straight out reading the notes it will be boring no matter how good the presentation is.

Use voice inflection and hand motion to convey personal interest in your subject matter. How do you expect your class to maintain interest if YOU think the talk is boring.

Stop and take a breath. One dead give away of a nervous speaker is someone who has rehearsed their speech so much that all the words come out in a rapid-fire regurgitation that indicates they are just repeating memorized phrases, not really thinking about they are saying.

Whenever possible, involve your audience. People learn more if they do more. Ways to involve the class could include group questions, prompts for input, or even direct questions to individual students if you know them well enough. Be careful with the last suggestion, the goal is to include the students, not intimidate or embarrass them.

Use visual aids. This is pretty easy to do today. Just be careful not to overdo the videos and pictures you share. You should not be handing your class over to professor YouTube, just showing snippets that enhance and reinforce your talk.

When using online material, make sure and watch it yourself first. Even though you are not the person in the video, if you show it to your class you are in effect endorsing it. There are some things online that you don’t want to be associated with. 

Finally, this is an HVACR class. It is perfectly OK to have gauges, meters, gas valves, compressors, or any other tools or parts you want as visual aids. If you are talking about meters, every student should have one in their hands. You can even do some small exercises during the lesson. Remember, people learn by doing, so have the students do something. No, this is not your typical college class – it is a hell of a lot more interesting.

Friday, October 15, 2021

 Diesel Effect Compressor Explosions

There have been a few rare but potentially fatal accidents involving exploding compressors due to an effect known as diesel effect. If the gas mixture being compressed contains enough air, the heat of compression can ignite the refrigeration oil in the cylinder, much the same way diesel oil is ignited in a diesel engine. The heat of compression plus the heat of combustion from the refrigeration oil then ignites the refrigerant in the cylinder, creating a dramatic increase in pressure which blows the compressor apart. Note that this is not just a phenomenon limited to flammable refrigerants, but can happen with A1 rated refrigerants such as 134a or 410A. How? 

Refrigerants are rated for flammability according to ASTM E681 at a temperature of 60°C. Many refrigerants that will not burn under ASTM E681 conditions will burn at higher pressures and temperatures, including R-22, R-134a and R-410A. It is worth noting that in tests where they were trying to create diesel explosions, the University of Tokyo found no significant difference between the behavior of A1 refrigerants (R-22, R-410A) compared to A2L refrigerants (R1234yf, R32). They also found that compressing refrigerant and air mixtures without refrigeration oil did not create a diesel explosion. The refrigeration oil had to be present. 

So how can we avoid compressor diesel effect explosions? Simply put: keep the air out. With no oxygen you cannot have an explosion. Air is never good for any refrigeration system anyway. It should not be news to anyone who has studied refrigeration at all that air does not belong in a refrigeration system. However, you may not realize that leaving air in the system not only hurts system performance and reduces the equipment life, it can create a real hazard to service technicians. Here are a few precautions you can take to avoid the specter of a diesel effect explosion in your refrigeration system. 

Check new installations for leaks using nitrogen and repair any leaks in the system.

Never use compressed air or oxygen for leak testing refrigeration systems. 

Thoroughly evacuate the lines and coil of new split system installations AFTER verifying they don’t leak.

Never pump a system down into a vacuum. Reducing the low side pressure to a vacuum can suck in air through leaks or incorrectly positioned service valves.

Never jump out safety controls such a low-pressure switches. Forcing a system to run when it is low on refrigerant creates the possibility of sucking in air through leaks on the low side.

Don’t simply add charge to systems that are low on refrigerant. This is especially true for systems that are significantly low. You should find and repair the leaks.

You can read more about the research into compressor diesel effect explosions here.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Human Search Engine

 Instructors worry about not knowing all the answers. I know that I do. Let me put you at ease. You don’t have to know all the answers to be an effective instructor. In fact, I feel that anyone who knows all the answers hasn’t asked enough questions. Our job as instructors is not to be a human search engine, but to teach students how to search for answers on their own. In short, to help students become more proficient at the learning process, specifically applied to our field of HVACR. To be clear, I am not suggesting that instructors do not need to be competent in HVACR. Nor am I saying you shouldn’t want to know as many answers as possible. Just that knowing every answer a student might ask is not necessary. Discomfort with areas where you don’t know the answers can sometimes cause instructors to cling to the specific areas of information they already know and refuse to broaden their scope. This is particularly true when it comes to new technology and industry developments. I believe this is an unconscious effort to “know everything” by limiting the scope of knowledge you expose yourself and your students to. Venturing into areas of new development can be uncomfortable because you don’t have as many answers at the ready. However, it is perfectly OK to tell a student that you don’t know the answer to a question they ask. Help them by directing them to resources where they might find answers. They are going to need research skills when they enter the field. Teaching students to learn on their own is probably the most important thing you can possibly teach them. On those many occasions when you DO know the answer, it can be more helpful to guide them through a search process than to simply hand them the answer. People tend to remember things they discover on their own more than things that people tell them. It takes discipline to do this. Providing the answer immediately basically concludes the interaction with the student. Asking leading questions or discussing relevant informative resources makes the interaction more of a dialogue and requires more student participation. It definitely takes a little longer, but provides a better long-term result. Remember, students learn more by what THEY DO, than by what you do.  

Friday, September 10, 2021

Gigabit vs Dialup


When lecturing, you should be more interested in ensuring the students understand what you are saying than covering a specific amount of material. Even if you manage to vocalize every important piece of information about a particular subject, it is largely a wasted effort if the students are not receiving the information. Your job is not to state all relevant facts, but to communicate them to the students. It is easy for us to transmit data faster than the students can absorb it. Remember, you have seen all this information before, probably said it all before, many times. You are not having to mentally connect the facts into a logical framework because you have already done that. However, the students who are hearing it for the first time have to comprehend each statement and then tie the different statements together in some logical manner in order to really understand what they are hearing. Help them comprehend the information by including analogies, similes, and connecting statements. One of the most powerful teaching techniques is to introduce new concepts and ideas using things people already know and understand. For example, “the refrigeration system moves heat from one place to another, much like a sponge can absorb water in one place and then release it in another when you squeeze it.” Like all analogies, it is imperfect, but it starts the process of thinking about absorbing heat in one place and releasing it somewhere else. Once you get that point across you can start talking about what the refrigerant does to absorb heat. Maybe boil some water in a flask. Learning is not just collecting data, it is making mental connections between the data points to develop new concepts. This takes time. If you are talking at gigabit speed while your students are listening on dial-up, most of the information will be lost. I have been guilty of this. I can recall asking students questions at the end of a one hour lecture only to discover that they did not really understand something that I said 15 minutes into my lecture. So although I discharged my duty to cover everything, really, I just wasted everyone’s time – including mine! So when lecturing, take some time along the way to ask a few questions and engage in some dialogue with the students to make sure your message is being received. Remember, the idea is not to demonstrate your knowledge, but to help the students increase theirs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Teach the Process

A common problem that many students have across all levels of education is a failure to gain a thorough understanding of the subject matter being taught. I believe that the primary culprit is our over reliance on standardized, multiple-choice tests.  Information is presented as a disjointed collection of individual facts to memorize so they can be recalled on a test. Think of these facts as data points. People make poor data storage devices. Computers do a much better job. Now that everyone carries a computer in their pocket that is connected via the internet to supercomputers all over the world, there is very little reason for people to spend much time practicing personal data storage by memorizing and recalling facts. Instead, we should focus on what we are better at: understanding. By studying relationships and processes in addition to data, we gain an understanding of subject matter that is far deeper and more consequential. This level of learning exceeds what is possible by simply storing “facts” in our imperfect personal data storage units. 

It takes very little to make our collection of facts useless. A few years ago I was asked to write some technical literature for schools teaching HVAC in Georgia. I readily agreed, after all, I live in Georgia. After agreeing I found out the literature was to be for the Republic of Georgia, the one next to Russia! They don’t measure things in BTUs, CFM, tons of cooling, pounds, Fahrenheit, or any of the other thousand factoids I have rattling around in my head. Things like “400 CFM per ton” instantly became useless. Memorized snippets of code nearly as useless – I had to look up their laws and codes. Most every “fact” that I thought I knew became irrelevant. 

Fortunately, the principles that make the refrigeration cycle work are still the same. Although pressure is measured in kilopascals, temperature in Celsius, heating and cooling capacity in kilowatts, the processes and relationships are the same no matter which Georgia you are working in. While most of us will not have to worry about working in the “other” Georgia, we will have to adapt to technical advancements and changes which can make our set of “facts” just as useless. Take “400 CFM per ton”. Most new equipment does not come set for 400 CFM per ton out of the box anymore. New refrigerants are going to bring a whole new set of PT charts, so those saturated pressures at 45° and 100° are going to change. It is far easier to adapt to tomorrow’s technology if you truly understand today’s technology. Teach the processes, not an assortment of facts.