Counterfeit and illegally imported refrigerants have existed in the HVAC industry for years. With R-22 increasing in price due to the government phase out (see previous post An Update on the Refrigerant R-22), people are doing anything they can to get their hands on cheaper solutions. Some refrigerants coming into the U.S. from other countries are not just imported illegally, but they are counterfeit, posing safety and health concerns to technicians and consumers. If you are having your air-conditioning system serviced, be alert to the various scams out there!
Several companies have been penalized by the federal government for illegally marketing and selling other hydrocarbon products such as ES 22a as a replacement for R-22. (see EPA vs EnviroSafe and EPA vs Northcutt). According to the EPA, use of ES 22a - a refrigerant meant for window air conditioning units - creates the potential for explosion and fires, and is a serious risk to human health and the environment. R-22 air conditioners weren't built to handle the level of pressure or ï¬‚ammability these substitutes pose. In particular, R-22a, which uses propane, creates a ï¬re hazard. Approved alternatives to R-22 do exist, such as R-422D, so check with your HVAC contractor.
Some vendors have blended the refrigerant with flammable substances such as propane and butane, or with a pine-scented odorant (see R-22a Safety). These have been sold under the names OZ-12®, HC-12a®, and DURACOOL, to name a few. Use of flammable refrigerants as a retrofit in equipment that was designed for non-flammable materials presents risks to consumers, equipment, and service technicians, and will void your equipment's original manufacturer's warranty. There are stories where the compressor burst into flames, the technician sustained serious burns, and the siding was melted off the house!
Some counterfeit or contaminated refrigerants have counterfeit labels on the cylinders and packaging, so you can't tell what's actually inside. Contaminated refrigerants can cause a variety of issues, ranging from increased energy use and decreased cooling performance, to significantly reducing the operating life of your system, and causing injury and equipment failures. Plus, many counterfeit products contain ozone-depleting substances which are illegal. In China, 18 people were arrested from 4 criminal gangs, and 5 illegal production facilities were found, along with 11 storage warehouses and 2 sales offices. Over 28,000 canisters of fake R-134a and other refrigerants were confiscated along with 20 tons of raw materials (see report here).
Many refrigerants, including R-22, R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A, have been found to be badly contaminated (see report here). One of these contaminants is methyl chloride (also called R40 or chloromethane). It reacts with the aluminum and metal alloys used in the internal components of your HVAC system, causing corrosion and a volatile by-product that burns on contact with air. Exposure of the system's contents to air and/or moisture could result in production of a strong acid and violent chemical reaction. This contaminant was responsible for a fatal apartment fire in 2014.
In our next post, we'll tell you what the HVAC industry is doing to fight back and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of fake refrigerants.
Cleaning the air conditioner coils is part of regular spring and summer HVAC maintenance and is something homeowners can do themselves. Dirty coils can adversely affect your air conditioner's performance, and when the heat index creeps up past 100 as it has the past few days you need to get every bit of cooling you can from your air conditioning equipment! Any debris on the coils increases the static pressure across the coils and reduces your system's efficiency. Clean coils can boost your cooling capacity by up to 30%!
Symptoms of Dirty Coils
The coils are the part of your system where the actual transfer of heat occurs. Anything that insulates them will not only impact efficiency, but also will increase operating cost, and increase the likelihood of equipment failure. If you find your compressor keeps getting louder with each passing month, or that the compressor is overheating and turning itself off (leaving just the fan still running), cleaning the coils is a great place to start to remedy the situation.
Start With the Basics
Check around your outdoor HVAC equipment and eliminate all obstructions within 3 feet all around the unit. That means trimming bushes, weeding, and removing all debris. Don't allow the lawn mower to discharge grass clippings onto the unit, or allow mulch or leaves to bury the bottom few inches, because it will restrict airflow, which will decrease efficiency and damage the unit.
Check to see whether any of the fins have been damaged by mowing equipment, hail, or other calamity. Fins are the fine metallic blades that surround the condensing unit. If they have been bent, crushed or have rocks lodged in them, this will need to be remedied.
Check to make sure the foundation upon which the outdoor unit sits is level. This is typically a concrete pad, but could also be plastic or rubber. Often, due to settling, erosion or drainage issues, these can crack, sink or become unlevel. This puts strain on coolant lines, and could bend or break copper or electrical lines, or cause water to puddle in the unit. Make sure the pad raises the unit out of the dirt and that there is adequate drainage around it, so that water does not pool near it during a hard rain.
Don't forget that you must turn the unit off before cleaning it. This doesn't mean simply that the unit is not running (e.g., set to a higher temperature), but rather the unit should be turned off at the switch usually a separate 240V power box near the unit - or at the circuit breaker box.
With these things addressed, you're ready to start cleaning the coils.
Many manufacturers make coil cleaning products to aid in dislodging the contaminants on the coils. Some coil cleaners come in foaming aerosol cans, others are liquids or powders that must be mixed with water and used in a pump sprayer, still others are solvent sprays. Generally, these coil cleaning products are highly acidic or alkaline, and are harmful when inhaled or when they touch skin, causing irritation and in some cases burns. If you plan to use any of these coil cleaning products, be sure you are not downwind of the spray and that you are wearing gloves and eye protection. And here's a tip: if you're using them in a pump sprayer, this stuff can eat out the seals, so you'll need to use a special heavy-duty chemical-rated sprayer.
> > > Note: All types of coil cleaners are strong chemicals and must be handled with care. The manufacturer's directions should be read carefully and followed precisely to provide the best results.< < <
What About Detergents?
Many coil cleaners are referred to as "detergents," but do not confuse this with dishwashing detergents or laundry detergents! Never use those types of detergents on your HVAC equipment, as most have chemicals in them that are corrosive to metals. The aluminum, copper and metal alloys used in the manufacturing of fins and tubing, as well as the unit's plastic blower wheel and diaphragm (in the case of mini-split systems), are more sensitive and must be cleaned with a safe, non-acid cleaner.
Whether you're using a coil cleaner or not, you'll need a water source. Never use a pressure washer! Doing so could damage the coil fins and disperse chemicals into unwanted areas. Instead, use a standard garden hose. Begin by spraying the water from the inside of the unit outward, rather than from the outside inward, to prevent pushing debris further into the unit. Once you are certain all the debris has been dislodged, you can do final rinsing in all directions. In cases where there might be a thick film of dust, pollen, and grass clippings around the unit, a shop-vac can be used to remove such debris before washing the coils.
We recommend coil cleaner chemicals only if you have several layers of oily grime and only if they are used by a professional. Here's why: These cleaners, especially the foaming kind, can spread into hard-to-reach areas. If they are not completely rinsed out, they can corrode the metal and damage the unit. Coil cleaners are tough chemicals that can not only burn holes in your clothes (which is why you must wear protective equipment), but can damage paint. Consistent use of these cleaners over time can dissolve the outer metal and diminish the life of the coil, so we do not recommend them for routine maintenance. We recommend using just a garden hose and water.
After cleaning the external unit, and turning the A/C back on, you may notice that it is many times quieter than it was before. That's because the motor can work less and cool more efficiently. Few routine chores will pay off more handsomely, both in comfort and in dollars saved, than a simple coil cleaning. You'll also prolong the life of your air conditioner and have quieter operation. So what are waiting for?
You often don't think about your heating or air-conditioning system until something goes wrong. But there is so much you can do to help keep your system from breaking down. We regularly post information to help you learn what you can do to keep your system running, to save money and energy. Search our many posts, videos, and podcasts, for valuable information that is never a sales pitch. Subscribe to receive an email when something new is posted, so you won’t miss any important tips.
Choosing a Repair Company
Whether you’re talking about heating or cooling, repairing or replacing a system, you want a company that can advise you reliably based on what is in your best interest, not based on what is convenient or what earns them the most money (commissions). We'll help you choose the best solution to fit your needs. Check out our many posts at HVAC News You Can Use and our podcasts.
We're concerned about the environment and know all the latest technologies - such as geothermal systems, LED lights, and smart thermostats - that can reduce energy and put more "green" in your pocket! We've provided HVAC systems in certified LEED buildings and written many posts on ways to Go Green.
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We are a repair company performing a full range of commercial and residential heating, air conditioning, energy management and comfort products service, maintenance, and installation. We are a locally-owned company serving Nashville-Davidson County and the surrounding counties including Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson, Sumner, Robertson, and Cheatham.
Who We Are
Our service technicians are fully trained and experienced. We can tackle the most complicated system to the simplest of systems – from large commercial plants to single-family homes. Our ownership group of Eddie Hutton, Tony Anderson, Roger Eldridge, Swaney Powers and Alan Seilbeck have over 125 years combined experience as leaders in the HVAC industry.
We are proud of our dispatchers that respond to your telephone call. When your system is down they make things happen. Our trucks are loaded with most parts needed for a quick repair. You can call day and night 7 days a week. Our normal weekday hours are 7:00AM to 5:00PM. Click on the button below to schedule a service call online. Emails and forms can only be answered weekdays from 7-5.”
Did you know you should service your HVAC on a regular schedule – just like you would your car? We have specialized maintenance programs to ensure the clean, energy efficient and safe operation of your HVAC systems. This helps minimize service interruptions/breakdowns and maximize your equipment's lifespan. All maintenance contract customers are assigned a primary technician that will get to know your facility and equipment and will treat it like his own. You’ll receive discounts on repairs or new installations, and get priority service when it is cold or hot outside and you need service promptly. Plus, maintenance contract customers are never charged overtime rates for emergency services after-hours, weekends or holidays. We’ll teach you how to save on maintenance costs by showing you things you can do yourself and when you need a technician. Here are some good posts: Repair vs. Replace, Things to Try Before Calling for Service, Springtime Tips that Pay Off.
Our team takes on HVAC projects for office, school, retail and industrial facilities. Check out these case studies: