Tag: charging


We have been discussing a lot of methods for checking a refrigerant charge without connecting gauges over the last few months. This got me thinking about the “approach” method of charging that many Lennox systems require.

Approach is simply how many degrees warmer the liquid line leaving the condenser is than the air entering the condenser. The approach method does not require gauges connected to the system but it does require a good temperature reading on the liquid line and suction line (Shown using the Testo 115i clamp and 605i thermo-hygrometer smart probes).

When taking an approach reading make sure to take the air temperature in the shade entering the coil and ensure you have good contact between your other sensor and the liquid line.

The difference in temperature between the liquid line and the outdoor temperature can help illustrate the amount of refrigerant in a system as well as the efficiency of the condenser coil. A coil that rejects more heat will have a leaving temperature that is lower and therefore closer to the outdoor temperature. The liquid line exiting condenser should never be colder than the outdoor air, nor can it be without a refrigerant restriction before the measurement point.

Here is an approach method chart for an older 11 SEER Lennox system showing the designed approach levels.

While most manufacturers don’t publish an approach value, you can estimate the approach by finding the CTOA (Condensing Temperature Over Ambient) for the system you are servicing and subtracting the design subcooling.

6 – 10 SEER Equipment (Older than 1991) = 30°F CTOA

10 -12 SEER Equipment (1992 – 2005) = 25°F CTOA

13 – 15 SEER Equipment (2006 – Present) = 20°F CTOA

16 SEER+ Equipment (2006 – Present) = 15°F CTOA

I did this test on a Carrier 14 SEER system at my office so the CTOA would be approximately 20°

Then Find the design subcooling. in this case, it is 13°F

Subtract 13°F from 20°F and my estimated approach is 7°F +/- 3°F. I used the Testo 115i to take the liquid line temperature and the 605i to take the outdoor temperature using the Testo Smart Probes app and I got an approach of 4.1°F as shown below.

More than anything else, the approach method can be used in conjunction with other readings to show the effectiveness of the condenser at rejecting heat.

If the system superheat and subcooling are in range but the approach is high (liquid line temperature high in relation to the outdoor air), it is an indication that the condenser should be looked at for condition, cleanliness, condenser fan size and operation and fan blade positioning. If the approach is low it can be an indication of refrigerant restriction when combined with low suction, high superheat and normal to high subcooling.

If the approach value is low with normal to low superheat and normal to high suction pressure and high subcooling it is an indication of overcharge.

The approach method is only highly useful by itself (without gauges) on a system that has been previously benchmarked or commissioned and the CTOA and subcooling or the approach previously marked, or on systems (like Lennox) that provide a target approach specific to the model.

— Bryan

I am consistently surprised by how much false information still circulates out in the field and one of the ones I hear often is the idea that you cannot or should not “top-off” or recharge R410a systems on top of an existing charge of R410a when the system is low.

So to be clear before we move on, it is 100% OK to add to an R410a charge without fear of any significant fractionation. If you doubt me, you can read THIS from Dupont/Chemours.

R410a is a near-azeotropic blend of 50% R32 and 50% R125. This means that while it has a tiny amount of temperature glide you can still work with it like a zero glide (azeotropic) refrigerant for all practical purposes.

The fear that some have is that if the refrigerant leaks out in vapor phase, one refrigerant will leak at a higher rate than another which could change the blend as it leaks.

While this can (and does) occur with high glide refrigerants, it has been proven that this is most likely to occur in very slow leaks during long periods of storage when the refrigerant is not moving. An example would be a high glide blend in a tank with a slow leak at the valve on top. This is the worst case scenario and an example of where fractionation can be a real issue.

In a running system or a system that runs most of the time, it is unlikely that fractionation would pose an issue because the movement of the refrigerant in the circuit mixes the refrigerant and prevents one part from leaking significantly faster than another. This study by Purdue covers this as it relates to flammability risks.

The practice of charging blends in liquid phase still makes good sense because fractionation, to the extent it occurs is still most likely to pose an issue in a static vessel like a tank and charging in the liquid state is just cheap insurance against fractionation.

But once again… It does no harm to top off an R410a system with R410a. This is NOT to say I’m advocating recharging systems without finding and repairing leaks where possible, just that fractionation isn’t a reason not to do so.

— Bryan

In air conditioning service we don’t always see systems with accumulators, if fact they are pretty uncommon unless you work on a lot of heat pumps.

We are Carrier dealers in Florida so we work on heat pumps with accumulators all the time. The majority of Carrier systems use a fixed orifice piston for the heat mode metering device and the accumulator is necessary to prevent compressor flooding.

As a quick review, the job of the accumulator is to prevent any saturated liquid-vapor mix from entering the compressor directly. The refrigerant travels down the suction (vapor) line and drops into the accumulator where the liquid refrigerant and oil drop to the bottom. The compressor suction then draws from the top of the accumulator to prevent liquid flooding into the compressor.

There is a small port with a screen at the very bottom of the return u-bend that allows oil and a small amount of liquid refrigerant to return to the compressor but any liquid will boil off before it makes it to the compressor.

An accumulator is very good at doing its job of protecting the compressor from liquid flooding during certain load conditions but it can lead to issues with charging if you don’t pay attention.

When adding charge to the suction (vapor) valve on a split heat pump with an accumulator, the liquid refrigerant will and to collect in the suction accumulator.

The only way the liquid charged into the accumulator can boil out and enter the compressor is through heat from the ambient outdoor air. This means that as you add liquid refrigerant to a system with an accumulator it takes more time for your readings to change than in a system with no accumulator.

If you aren’t careful you can easily overcharge an accumulator system due to the delayed response time waiting for the refrigerant to boil out.

Here are some best practices when charging an accumulator system-

  • When possible meter in as vapor, this will limit the chilling effect to the accumulator that will result in it holding liquid
  • You can charge carefully into the common suction port if it feeds in after the accumulator. Just be CAREFUL not to flood the compressor
  • Weigh the refrigerant as you add allow to stabilize every so often.
  • Make sure to allow the system to run a good long while after you are done charging to ensure you don’t overcharge

— Bryan

If you don’t use a scale every time you add or remove refrigerant I would suggest you begin doing so immediately if not sooner. Weighing in while charging is fairly obvious and is useful so you can keep track of what you are using and how much to charge a customer.

When you have a system that has just been repaired it is a good practice to weigh in the charge to factory specs plus or minus adjustments for the line-set if it is a split system. This is all pretty evident, but why would you weigh a charge out? There are many reasons but one good example is whenever you have a failed compressor, weighing out the charge can help indicate whether possible undercharge or overcharge may have contributed to the failure. With any significant failure on an older system, weighing out the refrigerant can indicate whether a leak is likely. When possible on major failures you could even weigh out the refrigerant at the time of diagnosis just to ensure that a leak or a compensatory overcharge may be at play.

Using refrigerant recovery as a means to find possible cause or even diagnose leaks on non-functional systems is next level diagnosis in my book. Use your scale.

Weigh in when adding charge

Weigh out as a diagnostic aid and to ensure you don’t overfill your tank.

— Bryan

I’ve heard the phase “It’s too cold to set the charge” for as long as I’ve been in the trade.

“We need to come back and set the charge” or we need to come back to do XYZ other thing.

Granted, there are cases where you do actually need to come back, but it in my experience a lot of this is just punting the ball to the next tech. Admittedly, I’m in Florida so if you live in the great white north you will likely be doing your A/C startups in the Spring. Understandable.

So here’s the next questions you need to be able to answer if you are going to say you “can’t set the charge”.

#1 – Have you read the manufacturers specs on how to properly charge? They will have low ambient charging info and much more. Look it up.

#2 – Have to taken Suction, Head, Subcool, Superheat, Delta T and static? If not you haven’t done your full due diligence.

#3 – For systems with no data do you have a good feel for the common rules of thumb related to charging? If not you are in the right place, we have a ton of past articles on charging.

#4 – Drive up the condensing temperature (on TXV and EEV systems) and check the Subcool

One of the best ways to drive up head pressure in a controlled manner so that it can stabilize is the Fieldpiece charging jacket. You can control the top opening size to drive up the liquid pressure until you get to a pressure higher than the minimum pressure difference across the valve. I will often use a 100° condensing temperature as a rule of thumb if the manufacturer doesn’t give a guideline though many will use 110°.

Return trips leave the system running improperly, waste money and annoy your co-workers. 

Sometimes you have no choice but to setup a return trip for a warmer day, but any job you can finish the first time is time and money saved for you and the customer.

— Bryan

There are many appliances with compression refrigeration circuits that do not have ports installed for testing, recovery, charging and evacuation.  These can include window units, PTACs, fountains, refrigerators and much more.

This presents a challenge any time you suspect or know there is a refrigerant circuit issue. How can you diagnose and make a repair when you can’t connect?

First, when an appliance is a sealed circuit DONT OPEN IT UNLESS YOU HAVE A GOOD REASON TO DO SO.

If you do need to open the circuit, first look for factory “process tubes” often on the compressor or on the lines near the compressor.

You can then either add a piercing valve to the tube or you can often pinch off the tube with a pinching tool, Leave the tool in place, cut the process tube/stub near the end and solder / braze in a Schrader to the end.

Common pinch off tools

Once the new port is added you simply remove the pinching tool and form it slightly back into shape. It does not need to be completely re-rounded because the size of these types of systems will generally be small so recovery speed will not be a huge factor.

You can then recover the charge and once the charge is fully recovered you can add in additional soldered/brazed in ports.

Another method is to use a piercing line tap valve to access the system like the ones shown below.


These should also only be left on as a temporary measure to get the refrigerant recovered. You then must repair the “pierced” hole, usually by putting a tee schrader in the same spot where the piercing was.


Once you have good, solid access points in place (don’t forget to flow nitrogen), now you can proceed to evacuation, weighing in a factory charge and then performing further diagnosis.


If done correctly the appliance will have no leaks at the ports and will be much easier to service next time.

Keep in mind when working on systems with very small charges that hoses can hold a lot of refrigerant. You may consider using Smart Probes with tees and only one short 1/4″ hose from the charging tank to the suction probe to reduce losses.

Also make sure the hose is well purged before starting the charging process. Keep the air and moisture out.

— Bryan

 

Testo 570 Premium Manifold

This is the article you read BEFORE you call and ask a senior tech what your subcool should be, or the one you send to a junior tech when the call and ask you.

So what is subcooling? (or subcool as many call it)

Subcooling is a measurement of temperature DECREASE of a liquid below its saturation (mixed liquid/vapor) temperature at a given pressure.

For example, water boils at 212° Fahrenheit at sea level (atmospheric pressure of 14.7 PSIA). If water is at 212°f and at atmospheric pressure at sea level you can be sure it is at saturation, which means it is either in the process of boiling or condensing. If you measure that same water and it is at 202° you can be sure that it is fully liquid and that it is no longer in the process of either boiling (changing from liquid to vapor) or condensing (Changing from vapor to liquid). Because the water is at 202°  instead of 212° we know it is liquid and we can also say it is subcooled by 10°. This 10° of subcooling PROVES that not only is it fully liquid but that it has given up more sensible heat energy enough to drop 10° below the boiling temperature at that pressure.

With refrigerant, we measure the subcooling between the condenser and the metering device and it gives us a lot of information. It not only tells us whether or not the line is full of liquid it gives us indications of refrigerant charge as well as condenser efficiency when viewed in conjunction with the condensing temperature (high side saturation temperature). Now be careful, like with all measurements, it is only as accurate as your tools, it must be taken using liquid line pressure and temperature (Line between the condenser and metering device) NOT discharge line pressure and temperature (line between the compressor and the condenser) AND you must have a good connection to the port. I can’t tell you how many times green techs have called me with “crazy” readings only to find out their hose was not depressing the Schrader core fully.

So what should it be?

Generally speaking 10° – 12° of subcooling at the outlet of the condenser coil is most common but you must look for the proper design subcooling for the particular system you are working on. Some systems will require subcooling readings of up to 16° for maximum efficiency and capacity.

Many techs will say that subcooling  is how you “set a charge” on a TXV / TEV / EEV metering device system

Subcooling is one of many factors you consider when setting a charge but you first need to make sure that your equipment is properly matched with the correct metering device. The air flow is set in properly, the blower, air filter, condensing coil and evaporator coils are clean and WHENEVER adding or removing charge use a scale so you can monitor your progress.

While it is true that subcooling is the primary charging measurement on a TXV /TEV / EEV system, subcooling is important to check on every system, every time you connect (whenever possible).

Negative Subcooling isn’t possible if the liquid line temperature and pressure are taken at the same point. What is possible is to have a miscalibration of your tools that make a zero subcooling look like a negative subcooling.

Zero Subcooling means that the refrigerant in the liquid line is a mix of liquid and vapor, this is not an acceptable condition except in cases where the system is designed to inject discharge gas into the liquid line on purpose to increase liquid pressure (headmaster).

Low Subcooling is an indication that not enough refrigerant is contained or “packed” in the condenser. This can be due to undercharge, poor compression, or a metering device oversized or failing open (overfeeding).

High Subcooling is an indication that more than the designed amount of refrigerant is “Backing up” or “packed” into the condenser.  This can be caused by overcharge, restriction (such as a contaminated line drier or kinked liquid line) or an undersized or failing closed metering device.

Keep in mind, the subcooling can often read in range on a system that still has issues. Many times this is because the previous tech simply “set the charge” by subcooling without fully testing all aspects of the equipment such as airflow.

— Bryan

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

Download the podcast Directly HERE

As always if you have an iPhone subscribe HERE and if you have an Android phone subscribe HERE

Condenser Flooding / Motormaster Podcast Companion

This article and podcast is courtesy of Jeremy Smith, one of the most knowledgeable and helpful refrigeration techs I know.

It’s my feeling that, no matter how well explained, this topic really requires a treatment that is more in depth and one that can be absorbed slowly with the ability to continually return and re-read certain sections to allow for best understanding of the subject matter.

As discussed in the podcast, as the outdoor temperature drops, the capacity of the condenser increases dramatically causing it to be, essentially, oversized for normal operation.   To counteract that, we use a valve (headmaster) or valves (ORI/ORD) to fill the condenser with liquid to effectively reduce the amount of coil that is actively rejecting heat and condensing refrigerant.   This also maintains a high enough liquid pressure feeding our TEV.   This prevents wild swings in TEV control because it is a pressure operated mechanical device.

First things first, let’s open up Sporlan’s 90-30-1 … seriously go ahead and click it , it will open in another tab so you can go back and forth.

This is a document I reference all the time when dealing with condenser flooding problems.  If you’re tech savvy, save it on your mobile device.  If you’re more of a low-tech guy, listening to a podcast and reading an internet publication on your flip phone or whatever, go ahead and print this out, laminate it and keep it in your clipboard.   Heck, even if you are a high tech guy, sometimes nothing beats a hard copy of this the first few times you work through it.

If ,after the podcast, you haven’t read through this to familiarize yourself with it, take the time to do so.   It seems like a really complicated procedure to work through, and the first few times that you do it on your own, it can be.  With practice, however, you’ll get used to it.

We’ll work through a condenser flooding calculation here in slow time, outlining all the different calculations taken into account.

First lets lay out the basic info we need.  The measurements and counts will vary, of course, depending on the equipment that you have.

If we have an R22 unit, 44 condenser passes ⅜” in diameter each are 38 ¾” long with 42 return bends.   Our evaporator temperature is 20°F, current temp is 35°F and the lowest expected ambient is -20°F.

Now, that seems like a lot of information, but we’ll break it all down.

First, we need to figure the total length of the condenser tubing in feet.   So, we take 44 x 38 ¾ and get 1705” of tubing.   1705 ÷ 12” per foot gives us 142.083 feet of tubing.   Now, that’s just the straight tubing.   We’ve got return bends to account for.

Refer to our Sporlan document.   In TABLE 1, you’ll find an equivalent foot length per return bend.   In the case of a ⅜” return bend, it’s. 2 feet per bend, so 42 x .2 gives us 8.4 feet more.

Add those together for total length of 150.483.  Back to TABLE 1 look in the R22 section under ⅜” tubing and follow the line for -20°F across.   You’ll find a density factor of 0.055.   This number is how many pounds of liquid refrigerant is needed to fill one foot of tubing at that temperature.   So, 150.483 x 0.055.  This gives us 8.28 pounds.  This is the amount required to fill the entire condenser with liquid, but we don’t really need to fill the WHOLE coil….

Back to the document..TABLE 2 this time.

Across the top, find 20° evaporating temp, now follow that down to the -20°F row.   This gives us a percentage.   82%  so, this unit at -20% will have 82% of its condenser filled with liquid.   So let’s take 8.28 x 0.82 to get our flooding charge.

6.78 pounds.

Now, what does this number really mean.   This is the amount of refrigerant we need to add to a system that we’ve JUST cleared the sightglass on when the ambient temperature is 70°F or higher.  If our ambient temperature were 70 degrees or warmer, we could add just that amount past a clear sight glass and walk away, satisfied in knowing that the unit will run properly no matter what the weather throws at it.

Remember, though, that our current ambient is 35°F.   So, now what?

Time to stop.  Get your Sharpie out and WRITE THIS NUMBER DOWN!   Record it on the unit somewhere.  Somewhere easy to see but somewhere that the sun doesn’t degrade the ink over time.   That way, you only have to go through this one time.  If you’re doing a new installation and startup, do the next guy a favor and write both this AND the total system charge down somewhere so that I don’t have to guesstimate the charge when it all leaks out.

Now, let’s go back to TABLE 2 and look at the 35°F row.   We find that at 35°, we need to have 63% flooded.   Well, we’ve got a clear sight glass and it’s 35° ambient so, we’re already 63% flooded.

Since the most we need is 82% flooded, 82%-63% gives 19% so, we take our total, 8.28 x 0.19 to get 1.57 pounds.  At our current conditions, that’s all the flooding charge that we need to add because we’ve already got some flooding going on to have a clear sightglass because we’re under the 70 degree mark and the low ambient controls are in play and doing their job.

Some techs claim that just spraying water on the coil will flood the condenser enough to allow the use of that as a charging technique.    Let’s think about it for a minute.   What variables come into play with a method like that?  Variables that we can’t control…  for starters, what is the wet bulb temperature of the air entering the condenser?  How well is the condenser wetted? With the stakes being what they are, I’m not excited about the prospect of using this because I’m probably going to be the guy who winds up on the roof when it’s -20 and the wind is howling and this unit is low on gas because someone tried to use this method to figure a flooding charge, didn’t get enough gas in the unit and now it’s short.    I’ve still got to my due diligence as a service tech, do a full leak check, not find anything, and walk away wondering if I missed a leak somewhere all because someone else didn’t take a couple minutes to do a little work to do the job properly.  This is a totally preventable service call.

What about TABLE 3, you ask?  Very astute and that tells me that you’re reading ahead. Excellent.  I have never had to use it.

It gives a different flooding percentage for units with an unloader and low ambient controls where they’ll be running in low ambient conditions.  With the unloader, remember that we’re really moving less heat, changing the condenser dynamic and making it even MORE oversized than it would be if there weren’t an unloader, so more refrigerant needs to be added to properly flood the condenser.

— Jeremy Smith

P.S. – You can checkout the Testo 770-3 multimeter we mentioned in the middle by going here

Before I start on this one… At HVAC School we focus on a wide range of topics, many of them are very basic. My experience as a trainer for over 16 years has taught me that no matter what I assume others SHOULD know, it doesn’t change that fact that they often do not. This write up is very basic but you may find that some of the content will be useful for you to give apprentices or junior techs or it may give you a new idea of how to explain it to them… or maybe not. Either way, I feel an obligation to cover even the most basic concepts in the trade to help ensure that nothing gets missed. 

Thanks for understanding.


Before reading this you need to understand some of the terms surrounding air conditioning charging and diagnosis, specifically the term saturation

Next, you need to know something of the basic refrigerant circuit, I suggest that you understand these words and concepts before you ever dive into attempting to charge an air conditioner.  Many who start here may ask “what should my pressures be”, this is NOT how you charge a system so if you are reading this to try and find that answer just be aware, it isn’t that simple.

In order to set a proper charge on an A/C system, you must first know the type of metering device.  The piston / fixed orifice type system primarily uses the superheat method and the TXV / EEV primarily uses the subcooling method.  When setting a charge, it is always preferable to set the charge in cool mode.  Whether you set the charge in heat or cool mode, you should always follow the manufacturers recommended charging specifications.  In this section, we will discuss manufacturer recommended charging and some indicators that you have set a proper charge in heat mode.

But first, There are some things that Trump these guidelines and should make you stop and do more diagnosis

A properly running A/C system with indoor and outdoor temperatures above 68 degrees will have a suction saturation above 32 degrees (freezing), don’t leave a system with a below 32˚ saturation suction without doing more diagnosis even if the superheat/subcool looks correct.

If you see a liquid line pressure that is more than 30 degrees saturation above outdoor temperature (like a 440 psi liquid pressure on an R410a system on a 90 degree day), do not proceed until you have further addressed the possible causes of high head, regardless of what the superheat or subcool might be reading.

Always purge your hoses to prevent introducing air into the system and never mix gauges when using low loss fittings and different types of refrigerants.

Charge in the liquid phase (tank upside down) and add the refrigerant slowly and carefully to ensure you do not flood/slug the compressor with liquid refrigerant. You can do this by watching your manifold sight glass or using a special liquid preventing adapter such as the Imperial 535-C Kwik Charge.

These precautions will prevent causing system damage.

Note: This is only a basic guide for charging. There are innumerable conditions that can alter refrigerant pressures, superheat, subcool and saturation that are not related to the refrigerant charge. This is not intended to cover the complete diagnosis of the refrigerant circuit. 


Superheat Charging

To charge a system using superheat, you will need to monitor the actual temperature of the low-pressure suction line, the saturation temperature of the low side suction gauge and the indoor and outdoor temperatures entering the unit(s).

Most if not all manufacturers have a charging chart available with their respective units.  With the information you have gathered on indoor and outdoor temperatures, you can calculate the recommended superheat or in a pinch, you can use a superheat calculator such as the Trane superheat calculator or a free app like our superheat calculator or even better the MeasureQuick app. A good calculator will require that you determine the wet bulb temperature in the return air stream.  Without a sling or digital psychrometer or hygrometer, you will not be able to determine wet bulb temperature.

Once you know the target superheat you can adjust the system charge to hit it. Let’s say, the recommended superheat was 18 degrees, you would add/remove refrigerant to the system until the actual temperature of the suction line was 18 degrees above the indicated saturation temperature from your low-pressure gauge. Adding charge will decrease the superheat and recovering refrigerant will increase the superheat. 


Subcool Charging

To charge a system using subcool, you will need to monitor the actual temperature of the liquid line and indicated saturation temperature on the high-pressure gauge.  Information on the entering temperatures is not necessary to charge the unit by the subcooling method.

Most manufacturers have recommended subcool charging information with the units if it is designed for a TXV (TEV).  If for some reason, there is no information with the unit, or if it has worn off, you can set a typical residential air conditioner charge to 10 to 12 degrees of subcooling which is a relatively safe range to use.

Let’s say for example the manufacturers recommended subcool is 14, you would add enough refrigerant to the system so the actual temperature of the liquid line was 14 degrees less than the saturation temperature, as indicated on the high-pressure gauge for that particular refrigerant. Adding more refrigerant will increase the subcool reading and recovering refrigerant will decrease the subcool reading. 


Approach Method

 Lennox factory information asks that we charge by the approach method on TXV systems. I suggest charging to at least a 6˚ subcool before even attempting to calculate the approach method. 

The approach method is a calculation based on the relationship of liquid line temperature to outdoor temperature.  To calculate approach, subtract outdoor ambient from actual liquid line temperature.  The outdoor temperature used to calculate approach should always be taken in the shade and away from the hot condenser discharge air. To increase the approach differential you would remove refrigerant to decrease it you would add refrigerant. 

Some Lennox heat pump systems come with a subcool chart next to the approach chart. This subcool chart is for < 65˚.  This means the subcool chart is only valid when the outdoor temperature is below 65˚.  Follow the instructions on the unit carefully when charging in subcooling in <65˚ temperatures.  The method requires that you block sections of the coil to achieve higher head pressures before setting by subcooling.


Heat Mode Charging for Heat Pumps

In most, if not all, cases you will charge a unit in heat mode according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.  In those cases where no information is available, there are other indicators that you may use to set a proper charge in heat mode.

First, make sure you switch your hoses so the suction gauge is reading off of the “common suction” port that taps in between the compressor and reversing valve. You may put your high side gauge on either the discharge or liquid (on most systems) depending on what you are checking.

Before doing any heat mode charging use common sense, if installing a new system the best bet is to calculate line distance and weigh in any additional charge before moving on to the detailed testing phase.

The first one is the 100˚ over ambient discharge temperature rule.  The general rule to this is that a properly charged unit will have a discharge line temperature of 100˚ above the outdoor ambient temperature.  If the discharge line is too hot. you would add refrigerant which would lower the discharge temperature.  Alternately, if the discharge line were too cool, you would remove refrigerant to raise the discharge temperature.  This rule is to be used only as an indicator and, in some instances, may not be accurate given some other factors such as dirty coils, excessive superheated refrigerant entering the compressor, etc.  

Another common rule of thumb is suction pressure will be close to the outdoor temperature in an R-22 system, this is totally a fluke and has no scientific basis other than it just generally tends to work out that way. this means that on a properly functioning R22 system if it is running in heat mode and its 40 degrees outside the suction pressure tends to be around 40psig. This guideline obviously doesn’t work on an R-410A system or any other refrigerant.

A more applicable guideline is 20˚- 25˚ suction saturation below outdoor ambient temperature. This means if it is 50˚ outside the suction saturation temperature would generally be between 25˚and 30˚on a functioning system.

Remember that in heat mode the colder it gets outside, the lower the suction pressure and the hotter it gets inside, the higher the head pressure.  Since the roles of the coil are reversed in heat mode, if you notice an abnormally high head pressure it may be due to a dirty air filter or evaporator coil.  A dirty condenser coil would cause the suction pressure to drop below normal and also cause superheat problems.

Once heat mode a charge is set, whether by manufacturer specification or an alternative method, you can still verify the subcool and superheat on the unit in some cases.  Do not confuse the superheat or subcool methods recommended by the manufacturer though when running in heat mode.  These are only used for setting the charge in cooling mode and not in heat. Look for heat mode specific or low ambient guidelines. 


 

Finally and most importantly is ALWAYS TEST EVERYTHING. Airflow, Delta T, Superheat, Subcool, Suction Pressure, Head pressure, Amps, Incoming voltage, Filter etc…

Read manufacturers specs, understand the units the units you are working on, only then will guidelines and rules of thumb help instead of hinder you.

— Bryan

 

 

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