Month: August 2018

The most common and often most frustrating questions, that trainers and senior techs get goes something like this. “What should my ______ be?” or “My _____ is at ______ does that sound right?

Usually, when the conversation is over both the senior and junior techs walk away feeling frustrated because the junior tech just wanted a quick answer and the more experienced tech wants them to take all of the proper readings and actually understand the relationships between the different measurements.

In this series of articles we will explore the, “What should my _______ be?” questions one at time and hopefully learn some things along the way.

So what should the superheat be?

First, what is superheat anyway? It is simply the temperature increase on the refrigerant once it has become fully vapor. In other words, it is the temperature of a vapor above it’s boiling (saturation) temperature at a given pressure.

The air around us is all superheated! Head for the Hills!

How can you tell that the air around us is all superheated? Because the air all around us is made of vapor. If the air around us were a mixture of liquid air and vapor air, first off you would be dead and secondly, the air would be at SATURATION. So the air around us is well above its boiling temperature (-355° F) at atmospheric pressure which means it is fully vapor and SUPERHEATED. In fact, on a 75-degree day, the air around you is running a superheat of 430°

But why do we care?

We measure superheat (generally) on the suction line exiting the evaporator coil and it helps us understand a few things.

#1 – It helps ensure we are not flooding the compressor

First, if we have any reading above 0° of superheat we can be certain (depending on the accuracy and resolution of your measuring tools) that the suction line is full of fully vapor refrigerant and not a mix of vapor and liquid. This is important because it ensures that we are not running liquid refrigerant into the compressor crankcase. This is called FLOODING and results in compressor lubrication issues over time.

Image courtesy of Parker / Sporlan

#2 – It gives us an indication as to how well the evaporator coil is being fed

When the suction superheat is lower it tells us that saturated (boiling) liquid/vapor mixture is feeding FURTHER through the coil. In other words, lower superheat means saturated refrigerant is feeding a higher % of the coil. When the superheat is higher we know that the saturated refrigerant is not feeding as far through the coil. In other words higher superheat means a lower % of the coil is being fed with saturated (boiling) refrigerant.

The higher the % of the coil being fed the higher the capacity of the system and the higher the efficiency of the coil.

This is why on a fixed orifice system we often “set the charge” using superheat once all other parameters are properly set. Adding refrigerant (on a fixed orifice / piston / cap tube) will feed the coil with more refrigerant resulting in a lower superheat. Removing refrigerant will increase the superheat by feeding less of the coil with saturated (mixed liquid and vapor) refrigerant.

This method of “setting the charge” by superheat does not work on TXV / TEV / EEV systems because the valve itself controls the superheat. This does not negate the benefit of checking superheat, it just isn’t used to “set the charge”.

#3 – We can ensure our compressor stays cool by measuring superheat

Most air conditioning compressors are refrigerant cooled. This means that when the suction gas (vapor) travels down the line and enters the compressor crankcase it also cools the motor and internal components of the compressor. In order for the compressor to stay cool, the refrigerant must be of sufficient volume (mass flow) and low temperature. Measuring superheat along with suction pressure gives us the confidence that the compressor will be properly cooled. This is one reason why a properly sized metering device, evaporator coil, and load to system match must be established to result in an appropriate superheat at the compressor.

#4 – Superheat helps us diagnose the operation of an active metering device (TXV / TEV/ EEV)

Most “active” metering devices are designed to output a set superheat (or tight range) at the outlet of the evaporator coil if the valve is provided with a full liquid line of a high enough pressure liquid (often at least 100 PSIG higher than the valve outlet / evaporator pressure). Once we establish that the valve is being fed with a full line of liquid at the appropriate pressure we check the superheat at the outlet of the evaporator to ensure that the valve itself is functioning properly and /or adjusted properly. If the superheat is too low on a TEV system we would say the valve is too far open. If it is too high the valve is too far closed.

#5 – Superheat is an indication of load on the evaporator 

On both TEV / EEV systems and fixed orifice systems (piston / cap tube) you will notice that when the air (or fluid) going over the evaporator coil has less heat, or when there is less air flow (or fluid flow) over the evaporator coil the suction pressure will drop. However, on a TEV / EEV system as the heat load on the coil drops the valve will respond and shut further, keeping the superheat fairly constant. On a fixed orifice system as the load drops so will the superheat. It can drop so much on a fixed orifice system that when the system is run outside of design conditions the superheat can easily be zero resulting in compressor flooding.

When the load on the evaporator coil goes up a TEV / EEV will respond by opening further in an attempt to keep the superheat constant. A fixed metering device cannot adjust, so as the heat load on the coil goes up, so does the superheat.

When charging a fixed orifice A/C system you can use the chart below to figure out the proper superheat to set once all other parameters have been accounted for or you can use our special superheat and delta t calculator HERE

Using this chart requires that you measure indoor (return) wet bulb temperature so that the heat associated with the moisture in the air is also being accounted for as well. This is one of MANY target superheat calculators out there, you can use apps, sliderules etc… Here is ANOTHER ONE

Remember, this chart ONLY applies to fixed orifice systems.

So what should your superheat be in systems with a TEV / EEV? The best answer is… like usual… Whatever the manufacturer says it should be.If you really NEED a general answer you can generally expect

High temp / A/C systems to run 6 – 14 degrees of superheat

Medium Temp  – 5-10 

Low Temp – 4-10

Some ice machines and other specialty refrigeration may be as low as 3 degrees of superheat

When setting superheat on a refrigeration system with any type of metering you often must get the case / space down close to target temperature before you will be able to make fine superheat adjustments due to the huge swing in evaporator load. Once again, refer to manufacturer’s design specs.

— Bryan

P.S. – Trutech has a really great resource on charging best practices

Try out our new, simple superheat calculator for fixed metering A/C systems

This photo above is of a real condenser coil we cleaned just the other day. The outer fins looked OK but dirt and lint was packed deep inside and the head pressure / condensing temperature were sky high.

This illustrates that sometimes a coil can look OK at first glance but may still need to be cleaned. A close inspection and high head / condensing temperature can be good indicators of a dirty coil.

Before you begin the cleaning you will want to identify the following –

Is it a multi-row coil? If so, you may need to split (separate the rows) to allow for cleaning as shown in the video below.

Is the coil microchannel? – If it is a microchannel coil you will need to take extra care not to damage the coil and to use very mild cleaners or water alone when cleaning.

In general, never use higher pressure than needed that can damage fins and tubing, try to force soil out of the coil rather than in and don’t use stiff brushes that can damage the fins.

Choose cleaners carefully to ensure they meet the requirements of the manufacturer and that they won’t hurt you or the coil. We use viper cleaner from Refrigeration Technologies for most coil cleaning jobs.

Here is the step by step process to perform a great condenser coil cleaning.

  1. Shut off power and test with a meter
  2. Wear gloves and safety eye protection when dealing with caustic cleaners
  3. Unwire the condensing fan motor carefully
  4. Remove the condensing unit top and set to the side making sure not to scratch the top
  5. Clean out debris from the bottom and ensure the unit has proper drainage and drain ports clear in the base
  6. If the unit has a hail guard remove it from the outside 
  7. Protect any controls and electrical 
  8. Pre-rinse the coil from inside out
  9. Foam the coil with a foam gun using the proper dilution. Build foam from bottom to top on both sides.
  10. Allow foam to dwell for 5-10 minutes
  11. Rinse straight through the fins between the tubes from the inside out, working from top to bottom. 
  12. Rinse out the base 
  13. Reassemble carefully ensuring no wires are rubbing or pinched
  14. Allow the coil to fully dry as it runs before performing final tests 

The end result should be lower compressor amps and head pressure and better overall system performance. Here is a video of us cleaning a coil from start to finish.

— Bryan

This is Part 4 series by Senior Refrigeration Tech (and prolific writer) Jeremy Smith. Pay attention to this one folks, I know rigging and safe lifting practices may be boring to some of you, but it could very well save your back or your life.


This article is written by a technician representing his real-world experiences and his advice for best practices. You MUST understand the particular application, weight of materials and load strength of every item you use. From struts to pulleys, to anchors, ladders, ropes etc.. HVAC School is NOT giving OSHA approved safety advice. Refer to your managers, safety professionals and OSHA guidelines first and foremost. Apply any and all of these practices at your own risk with the knowledge that we are trying to help keep you from hurting (or killing) yourself.

Unistrut is your friend

The idea for a site built, customizable, gantry struck me about 4 or 5 years ago. I started by throwing a piece of unistrut over a pair of plastic folding sawhorses on the roof. The whole shebang collapsed and I had to muscle the compressor plus the weight of the strut onto the roof but I was convinced that the idea was sound. From that simple setup, I’ve experimented with using ladders, fall protection fences, and various supports I built out of unistrut. I’ve had varying degrees of success and have settled on a design that works and can be modified to suit the conditions on a job site.

Let’s start with a solid base. Looking at the “T” shaped part laying on the roof, make each piece 6’ long at a minimum and and bolt them together with a proper brace. From that solid base, install an upright and the angle bracket, again using proper fittings. The angle brace should be 2 to 4 feet long depending on the height of the upright and the height of the upright depends on what your job requirements are. I’ve used them from 30” high to one that was almost 15 feet high. Now, build a second upright, same as the first one. Remember that crossbar I said we had to just “accept” that is was there? Now it’s time to put it there for real. Using a couple 90° brackets, bolt your cross piece to the two uprights and check for level..

This may seem complicated to build and maybe it is, but a part of this is laying out the basis for some other stuff later. These pictures are from a lifting job I did. 2 15 ton Copeland scrolls up through a roof hatch that came out on a mezzanine, trolley over and lowered to the main roof level.

Note in the last picture, the chainfall is connected to a device extending out of the unistrut. That’s a trolley and it makes moving those loads once you get them up onto the roof very easy. Let’s go back to our block and Tackle example earlier. The crossbar is a piece of unistrut and, instead of connecting your pulley and rope to the bar directly, connect it to this trolley. It is now very easy to lift that load right through the roof hatch, trolley it to one side or the other and lower it onto a cart or a dolly for transport across the roof surface.

A really nice, slick setup based on this that I use very frequently is for loading and unloading these out of your truck. My van is outfitted with commercial steel shelving. If yours isn’t, you may want to just skip this part. So, cut a piece of unistrut to fit across the top of those shelves. You should really have to work to get it in and out. Once it’s wedged in there, it isn’t going anywhere. Now, take a longer piece and support it across the rungs of a ladder parked 4-5’ off the back bumper. Bolt that piece to the crossbar you just installed and, using a trolley and a ¼ ton hoist, you can easily move a compressor in and out of your truck.


Now for the cautionary stuff. Unistrut is awesome. It’s strong and relatively light, but there are limitations to its strength. Please, before you build anything I’m suggesting here, know exactly how much your load weighs and exactly how much every single piece of your lifting equipment will support. I suggest a 2:1 safety factor if at all possible, so if you’re lifting a 100-pound load, make sure that everything in your lifting system is capable of handling twice that weight. Strength information about unistrut in its various applications can be found HERE As you use this reference, pay attention to point load ratings and span figures. As span increases, point load decreases. You DO NOT want that strut failing under a load so keep your loads within the limits of your equipment. If you look closely at the crossbar I use, you’ll see that it is thicker than normal 1 ⅝” unistrut. That’s a 2 ⅛” piece and is much stronger. If you’re going to do heavier lifts, you really need a heavier crossbar like that. Be aware, the engineering specs and the catalog are very dry, boring reading but take the time to learn and know what your lifting gear will do before you have to really stress it and potentially injure yourself or someone else. Remember, the point of this is to lift and move things safely…

— Jeremy
Shopping list
Genuine Unistrut P2950-EG 4 Wheel Trolley Assembly for use with P1000, P1001, P5000, P5001, P5500, P5501 and All 1-5/8″ or Taller Strut Channel

Genuine Unistrut P1325-EG 4 Hole 90 Degree Angle Connector Bracket for All 1-5/8″ Strut Channel

Genuine Unistrut P1031-EG 4 Hole “T” Shaped Connector Bracket for All 1-5/8″ Strut Channel

45° inside brackets for unistrut

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