In HVAC/R we are in the business of moving BTUs of heat and we move these BTUs on the back of pounds of refrigerant. The more pounds we move the more BTUs we move.

In a single stage HVAC/R compressor, the compression chamber maintains the same volume no matter the compression ratio. What changes is the # of pounds of refrigerant being moved with every stroke(reciprocating), oscillation (scroll), or rotation (screw, rotary) of the compressor. If the compressor is functioning properly the higher the compression ratio the fewer pounds of refrigerant is being moved and the lower the compression ratio the more pounds are moved.

In A/C and refrigeration the compression ratio is simply the absolute discharge pressure leaving the compressor divided by the absolute suction pressure entering the compressor.

Absolute pressure is just gauge pressure + atmospheric pressure. In general, we would just add the atmospheric pressure at sea level (14.7 psi) to both the suction and discharge pressure and then divide the discharge pressure by the suction. For example, a common compression ratio on an R22 system might look like-

240 PSIG Discharge + 14.7 PSIA = 254.7
75 PSIG Suction + 14.7 = 89.7 PSIA
254.7 PSIA Discharge ÷ 89.7 PSIA Suction = 2.84:1 Compression Ratio

The compression ratio will change as the evaporator load and the condensing temperature change but in general, under near design conditions, you will see the following compression ratios on properly functioning equipment depending on the efficiency and conditions of the exact system.

In air conditioning applications compression ratios of 2.3:1 to 3.5:1 are common with ratios below 3:1 and above 2:1 as the standard for modern high-efficiency Air conditioning equipment.

In a 404a medium temp refrigeration (cooler) 3.0:1 – 5.5:1  is a common ratio range

In a typical 404a 0°F to -10°F freezer application 6.0:1 – 13.0:1 is a common ratio range

As equipment gets more and more efficient, manufacturers are designing systems to have lower and lower compression ratios by using larger coils and smaller compressors.

Why does the compression ratio number matter? 

When the compressor itself is functioning properly the lower the compression ratio the more efficient and cool the compressor will operate, so the goal of the manufacturer’s engineer, system designer, service technician and installer should be to maintain the lowest possible compression ratio while still moving the necessary pounds of refrigerant to accomplish the delivered BTU capacity required.

The compression ratio can also be used as a diagnostic tool to analyze whether or not the compressor is providing the proper compression. Very low compression ratios coupled with low amperage and low capacity are often an indication of mechanical compressor issues.

Compression ratio higher than designed = Compressor overheating, oil breakdown, high power consumption, low capacity 

Compression ratio lower than designed = Can be an indication of mechanical failure and poor compression

Understanding compression is critical to understanding the refrigeration process. Don’t be tempted to skip past this because it is a really important concept.

Look at the pressure enthalpy diagram above. Top to bottom (vertical) is the refrigerant pressure scale, high pressure is higher on the chart. Horizontal (left to right) is the heat content scale, the further right the more heat contained in the refrigerant (heat, not necessarily temperature).

Start at point #2 on the chart at the bottom right. This is where the suction gas enters the compressor. As it is compressed it goes to point #3 which is up because it is being compressed (increased in pressure) and toward the right because of the heat of compression (heat energy added in the compression process itself) as well as the heat added when the refrigerant cooled the compressor motor windings.

Once the refrigerant enters the discharge line at point #3 it travels into the condenser and is desuperheated (sensible heat removed). This discharge superheat is equal to the suction superheat + the heat of compression + the heat removed from the motor windings. Once all of the discharge superheat (sensible heat) is removed in the first part of the condenser coil it hits point #4 and begins to condense.

Point #4 is a critical part of the compression ratio equation because the compressor is forced to produce a pressure high enough that the condensing temperature will be above the temperature of the air the condenser is rejecting its heat to. In other words, in a typical straight cool, air cooled air conditioning system the condensing temperature must be higher than the outdoor temperature for the heat to move out of the refrigerant and into the air going over the condenser.

If the outdoor air temperature is high or if the condenser coils are dirty, blades are improperly set or the condenser coils are undersized point #2 (condensing temperature) will be higher on the chart and therefore will put more heat strain on the compressor and will result in lower compressor efficiency and capacity.

As the refrigerant is changed from a liquid vapor mix to fully liquid in the condenser it travels from right back left between points #4 and #5 as heat is removed from the refrigerant into the outside air (on an air cooled system). Once it gets to #5 is is fully liquid and at point #6 it is subcooled below saturation but ABOVE outdoor ambient air temperature. The metering device then creates a pressure drop that is displayed between points #6 and #7. The further the drop, the colder the evaporator coil will be. The design coil temperature is dictated by the requirements of the space being cooled as well as the load on the coil but the LOWER the pressure and temperature of the evaporator the less dense the vapor will be at point #2 when it re-enters the compressor and the higher the compression ratio will need to be to pump it back up to point #3 and #4,

This shows us that the greater the vertical distance between points #2 and #4 the higher the compression ratio, which means that both low suction pressure and/or high head pressure result in higher compression ratios, poor compressor cooling, lower efficiency and lower capacity.

In some cases, there isn’t much that can be done about high compression ratios. When a customer sets their A/C down to 69°F(20.55°C) on a 100°(37.77°C) day they will simply have high compression ratios. When a low temp freezer is functioning on on a very hot day it will run high compression ratios.

But in many cases, you can reduce compression ratios by –

  • Keeping set temperatures at or above design temperatures for the equipment. Don’t be tempted to set that -10°F freezer to -20°F or use that cooler as a freezer
  • Keep condenser coils clean and unrestricted
  • Maintain proper evaporator airflow
  • Install condensers in shaded and well-ventilated areas

Keep an eye on your compression ratios and you may be able to save a compressor from an untimely death.

— Bryan

Some techs and contractors swear that flex ducts are an evil invention and should never be used in ANY circumstance. I agree with what duct design expert Jack Rise said on the podcast when I asked him about flex ducts he said:

“There’s a lot of problems with flex duct, there really is and it’s a good product but we abuse it…. It’s a good product, it’s just poorly handled”

While the proper sealing of ductwork in unconditioned spaces is nearly universally recognized as important, it is rare that a flex system get’s installed properly in these other important areas.

Fully Extend The Flex 

Some guidelines suggest pulling a 25′ piece of flex fully extended for 1 full minute before attempting to install it. This reduces the compression and the depth the of the corrugation (the accordion spiral inside the duct). The more compressed the duct is when it’s installed the greater the air resistance of the duct will be. The air duct council states that 30% of compression can result in 4 TIMES the air resistance. This means that fully extending the flex is a big deal and may be one of the most overlooked aspects of flex system installations. Cutting off that 2′ – 6′ of extra flex on the end instead of just “using the whole bag” can mean the difference between a good and a poor duct system in many cases.

Strap and Support the Flex 

Jack Rise spoke about how he tested a duct and measured a .2″ wc change in static when he altered a duct from sagging to properly strapped. In retrofit applications, many companies focus on “sealing” connections but they often don’t truly address sagging ducts with proper strapping. the allowable amount of sag is only 1/2″ per 4′ of length which isn’t much. Don’t ONLY rely on the code required strapping in your jurisdiction, just because a system passes inspection doesn’t mean it’s installed correctly.

Keep the Curves to a Minimum 

When designing a duct system you must calculate TEL (Total Effective Length) not just length. In a flex system each curve has a HUGE impact on the TEL and when a field install doesn’t match the design it can throw the whole system out of whack both from an air balance standpoint as well as a system performance by increasing the TESP (Total External Static Pressure). Every bend and angle matters so keep it extended, properly routed and well supported and all will be well so long as the design is correct.

Seal all the connections

As with all ducts the connections need to be well sealed. With flex, this will generally need to be done with mastic and the BEST way is to fully seal and allow the inner liner to dry before pulling the insulation over the connection. Also keep in mind that leaks, where the boot / can meet the sealing, are very cannon leak points and it’s a good idea to seal them from the inside and/or outside to the final floor or ceiling before installing the grilles

For more info go to the ADC (American Duct Council) website at or download their excellent guide HERE

— Bryan

I didn’t install this unit

First off, attic installations are among my least favorite applications from a serviceability, system longevity and a laundry list of other items. Here in Florida, it’s just a bad idea due to the high humidity and temperature in a vented attic and the condensation issues that can and usually does occur on the equipment.

Besides all of this, the IMC (International Mechanical Code) 2015 edition has some specific code requirements related to attic installation that you should be aware of. The IMC isn’t the “law of the land” and the final say on codes comes down the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction ) in your area, but in general the IMC is the basis for most local codes.

IMC 306.3 (2015) Appliances in Attics

This is a plain language paraphrase of the code

  • The opening needs to be large enough to remove the unit.
  • The opening/passageway must allow for unobstructed access.
  • The passage must not be smaller than 30″ high x 22″ wide and no longer than 20′ unless it’s at least 6′ tall and then no more than 50.’
  • Passageways must have a solid floor no less than 24″ wide.
  • The work area in front of the unit must have a solid, level floor of no less than 30″ x 30″ .
  • You don’t need a floor/passage when you can access/service/remove the unit from the opening itself.
  • There needs to be a light and an outlet by the unit with a switch located at the opening to the passageway.

Practical Considerations

  • Don’t ever cut trusses unless you have engineering that shows it is allowed.
  • If the unit is suspended make sure not to drill trusses in a location that will structurally compromise them. Follow manufacturer recommendations for proper mounting of the equipment.
  • In unvented attics take extra precaution to properly insulate drain lines/copper and seal unit penetrations to prevent moisture issues
  • Make sure that you CAREFULLY read manufacturer install instructions for horizontal installation and run test the system long enough in cooling to ensure there are no condensation issues. Coils and pans are OFTEN installed improperly in horizontal applications.
  • Install a secondary pan at least 3″ wider than the appliance (1.5″ in each direction) and condensate overflow protection to ensure that an overflow won’t result in MAJOR damage in accordance with IMC 307.2.3
  • When it comes to condensate in an attic CHECK EVERYTHING TWICE.
  • Be prepared with plenty of fluids and comply with OSHA confined space rules when applicable.

Mostly, avoid attic installs whenever possible and when required do them with care and prepare to do some extra prep work on the work area to comply with the code.

— Bryan


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