Month: September 2019

This article is written by my good friend Neil Comparetto, a contractor and industry influencer who is helping to shape IAQ for the HVAC industry in the US for the better. Thanks Neil!


Indoor air quality (IAQ) monitors can tell you a lot about the air you are breathing. We find that the information is valuable for both contractors and clients. (Most monitors record temperature, humidity, CO2, volatile organic compounds (VOC), and particulate matter (PM). Carbon monoxide (CO) and radon can also be monitored, but typically in separate devices.) This graph shows PM 2.5 levels, and the differences with a poorly installed microwave range hood and a new properly installed range hood. This is what the EPA has to say about PM: “The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • nonfatal heart attacks
  • irregular heartbeat
  • aggravated asthma
  • decreased lung function
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

People with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults are the most likely to be affected by particle pollution exposure.” As shown in the graph, proper ventilation while cooking can drastically reduce PM2.5 levels. It’s recommended to use the range hood during all cooking tasks, from boiling water to using the toaster oven. One of the main issues with range hoods is that they’re loud, which makes them a nuisance to use. There are several factors involved making them loud; quality of the model, how much air they are moving, and most importantly how they are ducted. Even a normally quiet, high quality range hood that is poorly ducted will be loud. If you’re curious about your home’s IAQ I encourage you to get an IAQ monitor. (FYI, the one we install in our client’s homes is the IQAir AirVisual Pro.) Neil Comparetto,
Co-owner of Comparetto Comfort Solutions in Virginia

Voltage drop is one of those topics we often mention but seldom think about in depth. From a very basic standpoint we need to know whether or not the rated voltage is being delivered to the device or appliance while under full load, which is as simple as running the equipment and measuring the voltage at the equipment feed conductors. If the measured voltage is within the rated range while under load then we are in pretty good shape… but there is still more to consider.

The voltage drop across a wire can ONLY be measured under load, simply measuring the potential at the end of a circuit without it being under load tells you almost nothing because the circuit is open.

The voltage drop measured is equal to the percentage of the total circuit resistance being measured across.

In other words… if the total applied voltage at the main panel is 240V and you are measuring 216V at the condenser while it is running that means that 90% of the resistance in the circuit is in the condenser (216V) and 10% of the total circuit resistance in in the conductors (24V) leading to the condenser (which is way too high).

You will also find that voltage drop increases the higher the current on the circuit. This happens for two reasons –

  1. Higher running current is due to lower electrical resistance in the load. When the resistance in the load is lower the resistance of the load makes up a lower percentage of the total circuit resistance and the wiring makes up more it. NOTE: Some of you get confused and think that the resistance in a load increases as the current increases… but it doesn’t… just look at ohms law again. When amperage increases the electrical resistance must go down if the voltage remains constant.
  2. When most metals get hot their resistance increases. So as the wiring current increases it heats up and increases in resistance, further increasing the wires share of the voltage drop.

We care about voltage drop for two reasons –

  1. It can be be bad for our equipment resulting in poor performance and efficiency
  2. It can be an INDICATOR of other conditions that can lead to overheating and arcing which can be a safety hazard

This article includes a lot of references to the NEC (National Electrical Code) because it is the nationally adopted set of rules for high voltage electrical in the USA. The excerpts here are for training and commentary reference and should only be used by licensed professionals who have training in the entire code which can be found at the NFPA website. The NEC (NFPA) 70 is all about fire and shock prevention and 310.15(A)(3) sums up conductor design pretty nicely. I sum it up (further) as

Don’t install anything in a way that’s going to result in it getting hotter than it’s supposed to get 

So high voltage drop occurs because the amperage is higher than it supposed to be or the resistance in the circuit is higher than it should be (or both).

What is Acceptable Voltage Drop?

The NEC recommends no more than a 5% voltage drop from the main panel all the way to the appliance under load with 2% drop allowable on the “feeder” circuits and 3% on the “branch” circuits (NEC 210.19(A) informational note #4). This is only a recommendation for design so long as all the other rules regarding conductor (wire), over-current protection and connections are followed due to the fact that is in an “informational note” in the NEC rather than a code.

From a practical standpoint we really shouldn’t see more than a 5% voltage drop on a properly sized conductor when measured under load other than during motor inrush (locked rotor). It’s most critical that we remember that voltage drop measurements are only valid when UNDER LOAD. If the equipment isn’t running then there will be no voltage drop and the measurement becomes almost meaningless.

In practice there are four primary causes of objectionable voltage drop –

  • Undersized Conductors
  • Poor Connections (Terminations)
  • Higher Than Design Circuit Current
  • Long Conductors (Long Wire Length)

Let’s look at each one individually to see what we can do to diagnose, repair and prevent these issues.


Undersized Conductors

In HVAC we need to size the majority of our conductors (wires) according to NEC Table 310.15(B)(16) which is where we get rules of thumb about wire size, primarily by looking at basic copper conductors in the 60 degree Celsius category.

When conductors are undersized for the rated ampacity of the system the result will be an overheating conductor and voltage drop which is a dangerous issue. Many techs and electricians are’t aware that section 440 of the NEC allows air conditioning system wiring to be sized according to the MCA (Minimum circuit ampacity) listed on the equipment EVEN when the brakes or fuse is larger and sized according to the listed MOCP (Maximum Over-current Protection). No matter what we do, it is critical that we abide by 310.15(A)(3) and ensure that we do not install conductors in such a way that they will overheat whether that is due to the amperage, the ambient conditions they are exposed to or the number of conductors run in a conduit. Poor Connections Higher Than Design Current Long Conductors

Poor Connections

When wires are connected using wire nuts, lugs, splices etc… they should be made with the best possible possible contact with low resistance and compatible materials that won’t wear or corrode. If the connection is poor then the resistance at that point will increase resulting in heat at the point which can lead to more resistance and the issue becomes worse and worse. Poor connections not only cause voltage drop but they can also cause a safety hazard. All high voltage electrical connections and terminations should be made with NEC / UL approved materials and according to instructions. Common causes of poor connections are

  • Connecting too many wires under a lug
  • Using an unapproved connector
  • Connecting dissimilar metals together in an unapproved connector for that use (such as copper and aluminum)
  • Failing to tighten lugs or screws to the rated torque rating

Higher than Design Circuit Current

In some cases the wiring and connections are correct but the device itself is drawing above its rated current. This will lead to high voltage drop and should be corrected at the root cause in the system causing the high current.

Long Conductors

There are some interesting ramifications to long conductors with the first being that the NEC doesn’t really address it… at least not directly. Like we already mentioned NEC 210.19(A) does make suggestions to keep the total voltage to below 5% and this would include drop due to wire length. The reason voltage drop due to wire length isn’t as large of an issue is because it doesn’t cause wire overheating. If the wire is long but still the correct size it WILL have higher resistance which WILL result in greater voltage drop but since the resistance is spread across the entire wire it won’t get any hotter in one spot like a poor connection. The result will LOWER circuit amperage and possibly poor performance of the device but it won’t result in a dangerous condition in the conductor.

We are often responsible to upsize conductors to prevent voltage drop for the sake of the system but not because we are REQUIRED to do so. This means that when wire lengths are long we need to pay special attention to the under load voltage drop, especially in new construction environments.

— Bryan

Before we convert temperature scales, let’s take a step back and think about what temperature is in the first place.

Temperature is proportional to the average kinetic energy of the random microscopic motions of the constituent microscopic particles, such as electrons, atoms, and molecules.

Translation: Temperature is the average “movement energy” of the molecules in a substance

Higher temperature means there is more average heat ENERGY when compared to the same mass of the same substance at a lower temperature. While there is no limit to how high the temperatures of matter can go (at least that science is aware of), there is a bottom limit and that is the point at which there is NO HEAT, and therefore no molecular or atomic motion. That point of no energy is called ABSOLUTE ZERO.

Absolute zero, is a theoretical point because it has never been (and likely will never be) achieved. For most of us, absolute zero has no real application and this is why our most common temperature scales are tied to freezing and boiling instead of absolute zero.

Anyone can make up their own temperature scale. All you need to do is pick a zero based on a known (say boiling or freezing water at atmospheric pressure) and then decide on a size of the degree.

In the “Fahrenheit” scale a guy named Daniel Fahrenheit decided to make a temperature scale, the coldest “constant” he had at his disposal was a water and brine solution, so he called that 0°F. He then used the body temperature of an “average healthy man” and somewhat arbitrarily called that 96°F. This dictated the “size” of the Fahrenheit degree as well as the zero point. From there he ascertained that on his scale water froze at 32°F and boiled at 212°F at sea level (14.7 psia).

The Celsius scale (often called Centigrade by old timers) logically used the freezing and boiling of water as the 0° and 100° points. This established a logical starting point at the freezing of water as well as LARGER degree size than the Fahrenheit scale.

This means that when you are converting a temperature… say 75°F to Celsius, you first subtract 32° to normalize for the different starting points of the scale and THEN you multiply by .555 (I prefer decimals because fractions don’t work on a calculator) so 75°F = 23.865°C

But be careful…

When converting a temperature comparison or differential you must skip the +/- 32° part of the process. In those cases you are only coverting the SIZE of the degree, not it’s location on the scale

This means that if we are discussing 10°F of subcooling, we would simply multiply it by .555 to see that it is 5.55°C of subcooling.

HOWEVER….

Scientists didn’t like the old Fahrenheit and Celsius  systems because they are scientifically nonsensical. There is NO SUCH THING as negative heat! exclaimed the angry Mr. Kelvin & Rankine (at least that’s how they do in my imagination). So they invented scales where zero is ABSOLUTE ZERO so there are no negative numbers. The Kelvin scale starts with 0 at absolute zero and uses the Celsius degree size and Rankine starts at absolute zero and uses the Fahrenheit degree size.

So whenever we make a conversion from Fahrenheit to Celsius on the SCALE we show the converted temperature as °C, but when making a conversion that is simply as comparison or a differential (DTD, Delta T, CTOA, Superheat, Subcool etc…) we show it as °K to help us differentiate.

Consfusing huh?

— Bryan

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