Why are air conditioners rated in TONS? What does that mean?
Wikipedia has the most accurate definition: “The ton of refrigeration is equivalent to the consumption of one ton of ice per day and originated during the transition from stored natural ice to mechanical refrigeration.”
In the old days, to “cool by refrigeration” meant that a calculated number of tons of ice was delivered to your building (theaters were first to use this), dumped into a container, and air from the building was circulated over the ice until it melted (hopefully after the movie was over.)
The bottom line is that one ton of air conditioning is equal to 12,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units). Thus, a three-ton unit is equivalent to 36,000 BTUs or three tons of melting ice per hour.
What size is my unit, and how old is it?
The more you know about the unit installed in your home now, the more informed of a consumer you will be. There is a data plate on outdoor units where you can find the model number, serial number, and specifications. This information is helpful for understanding what kind of system has been installed in your home. Unfortunately, labels haven’t always been made out of the most durable materials, so if your unit is old or faces south, you may not be able to read the model number. Here are some key things to know:
Model number (#) — Unfortunately, there is no universal or standard format for model numbers. Every manufacturer uses their own system. In most cases, the equipment capacity is shown in the model number. For example, a typical Lennox model # would be XC25-060-230-1P. The “X” indicates that the unit uses R-410a as a refrigerant. “25” is the series number, and “060” means that the unit is a 5 ton (60 divided by 12 equals 5). Most major manufacturers have a similar system for providing such information. If you can’t figure it out, send us a picture of your data plate, and we will do our best to help you.
Serial number (#) —This number will tell you when the unit was manufactured. Usually, units are installed within 12–18 months of being manufactured. A typical Carrier/Bryant/Lennox unit will have a number, such as 2509D1234. The “09” indicates that the unit was manufactured in 2009. The numbers following the “D” are the identifiers for that unit, and the number preceding it indicates the week that the unit was manufactured.
Refrigerant — This is the most crucial piece of information since the “old” standard refrigerant (R-22) is no longer manufactured due to its high ozone depletion factor. Somewhere on the data plate’s label, you can find the type of refrigerant. It’s not always obvious, but if you look closely enough, it’s there. The number will either be R-22 or R-410a (Carrier called it R-410a “Puron,” but it’s the same refrigerant). Freon is a brand name used by DuPont and can refer to several refrigerants. Look for the R number to be sure.
I only want to replace the outdoor unit in my house, why do I have to replace the whole system?
Sometimes you have the option to replace specific components instead of the entire unit, but usually not. Systems older than ten years typically use R-22 refrigerant, which is no longer available. You can check what your unit uses by looking at its label.
In circumstances where you could replace just the outdoor unit, it may not be beneficial or cost-efficient to do so. The average life span for a central air conditioning system in Los Angeles is 15 years. If your system is nearing the end of its life, it might be worth your money to replace it anyway.
When replacing the air conditioning section of your system, remember that both the indoor and outdoor units must be compatible; otherwise, capacity and reliability can be dramatically reduced.
You can learn more about our air conditioning services here.
Do my refrigerant lines have to be replaced too?
Sometimes—if the refrigerant lines were not sized correctly in the first place, then they should be replaced. Copper doesn’t wear out, so properly sized refrigerant lines can be flushed, cleaned, and used without an issue. Undersized lines reduce capacity, endanger the warranty, and hinder energy efficiency.
What is a whole house fan?
A whole house fan is a large fan that is ideally installed in a central hallway of your home. When the fan is turned on, the air is drawn from outside (through your open windows) and exhausted up into the attic. Under the perfect conditions, these fans can be useful in taking cool outside air into your house and pushing the hot air out of your attic.
There are a couple of downsides to these fans. First off, they tend to be pretty noisy and require a large hole in the hallway ceiling. They can actually increase the load for your air conditioner if they’re operated when the temperatures outside are too high or if the humidity level is high (typical in the “June gloom” weather pattern we experience in most of Southern California).
Rebates are often available for whole-house fans.
What about an attic fan? Should I install one?
Attic fans are a great way to ventilate the superheated air in an attic on a summer day. They have their own thermostat (usually set around 120°), which turns them on and then off when the attic has cooled. Our favorite attic fans these days are solar-powered attic fans. Though they’re more expensive to purchase, they have no operating costs and don’t require a new electric circuit.
What is a condensate drain?
Condensation forms on the evaporator coil when the system is in operation. The water is drained out to the ground or, in some cases, to the waste plumbing (usually under a restroom sink), generally through a ¾” white PVC pipe. We highly recommend that you have a condensate safety switch installed in the system just in case the primary drain becomes clogged. Central air conditioning systems can create up to a quart of water per house, and if that water is allowed to drain onto drywall or a floor, it will create thousands of dollars in damage.
Is it safe to put my furnace and coil in the attic?
Yes! Your furnace has multiple safety switches to ensure safe operation, and there is no pilot light with its open flame. The evaporator coil and condensate drain (see above) need to be carefully designed and installed to ensure that the water is controlled. Every evaporator coil we install has a primary drain, a secondary drain (equipped with a safety shut off switch), and a tertiary drain pan just in case the first two have become clogged.
Can one system have more than one thermostat, so you don’t have to cool the whole house at once?
Yes, today’s zoning systems utilize a variable speed feature to increase or decrease the system’s capacity to meet the load. For instance, if you have a two-story home, the first floor could constitute one zone and the second floor a separate zone. When you need cooling upstairs and not downstairs, your system will know and give you just the right amount of cooling. The benefits? No added fan sounds, no wasted energy, and perfect comfort. You can divide your home up into as many as four zones.
How can I keep my house cooler?
- Trees and shrubs planted around the South and West side of your house vastly help reduce your cooling bills.
- Most older homes either have no insulation or R-19. The current standard for insulation in attics is R-30. An upgrade may be warranted, and all utilities offer rebates for insulation.
- Double or triple-pane windows help keep down cooling costs. It’s also worth considering “low E” glass for all windows except for those facing North. Along with decreasing cooling costs, it’ll make window treatments last longer.
How much will all of this cost?
Unfortunately, this is something we can’t answer for you until we have thoroughly surveyed your home, asked you questions about your requirements/desires, and prepared a fair proposal. However, it’s safe to say that the price will be higher than it was even a year ago. Governmental energy efficiency requirements have risen, and state and local governments have added requirements for emissions standards. The state of California has its own unique set of standards that continually increase minimum energy efficiency. The good news is that these systems are more energy-efficient. The bad news is that you don’t have the choices that you used to have.
Fortunately, most utilities and manufacturers offer incentives and rebates, which you can take advantage of to save some money.
I am assuming that with the higher efficiency and all, my new furnace will run less and cost less?
I am concerned with the air filters in my home. Can that be done at the same time as the installation of new HVAC equipment?
Yes! Since many of the new furnaces can circulate the air in your home constantly at a very low rate, the air moves across the air filters at a low rate, making them more efficient. Combined with the longer run time, your air will be cleaner than ever. Air filters are rated with MERV ratings. Additionally, charcoal filters remove odors and ultraviolet lights that sterilize mold/viruses, all of which can be added to your new system.
Can I add all/some of these air filters to my existing system?
What about adding a humidifier?
I have an electronic air cleaner; is that still the very best for air filtration?
Electronic air cleaners used to be state-of-the-art products. While they are still efficient, they have some drawbacks.
1. Most of them produce ozone during operation. The older ones produced quite a bit while the newest models make much less.
2. Since electronic air cleaners get dirty very quickly, their efficiency drops dramatically if they are not kept clean. Bi-monthly cleaning is recommended for most homes, and that is a lot of maintenance!
We don’t recommend electronic air cleaners anymore as the newer air filters are more efficient and require much less maintenance.
Do I really need a preventative maintenance contract?
In our opinion, yes. Today’s equipment is very sophisticated, and maintaining energy-efficiency is accomplished by taking care of the equipment. Every residential system we install includes a preventative maintenance contract for the first year. Furthermore, we are more than willing to show you how to maintain your system yourself if you ask. Though it isn’t that hard, time seems to fly, and replacing the air filters and UV bulbs, along with checking the unit, can be time-consuming. Hence, we recommend letting our service department take care of regularly scheduled maintenance for you.
Do I need a “smart” thermostat?
Most “smart” thermostats (Nest, Ecobee, etc.) offer features that are very convenient, such as access via the internet or an app. They “know” when you leave the house and adjust the thermostat automatically. They also “know” when you are getting close to home and can turn the system on with that feature. Their electronic displays are easy to see, even in the dark. Some brands even go dark until you get close to them, and then they turn on. All of the highest efficiency systems use “communicating” thermostats, which have all of these features and more. Communicating thermostats are brand specific and are not interchangeable since the thermostat is the control that tells the system how much cooling or heating is required to keep the home comfortable and as energy efficient as possible.
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