Tag: electrical

There are many great diagnostic tools available to the service technician today, but I shaven’t found a tool as versatile than the simple isolation diagnosis.

There are many ways this concept can be applied but let’s start with some examples so you get what I mean.

Low Voltage Short Circuit Isolation Diagnosis

You arrive on a no cooling service call at a home and you find the system is off and doesn’t respond to any thermostat settings. You check the breaker and the condensate switch at the furnace by force of habit and look at the door switch, everything looks in order so far.

You take a look at the 3A low voltage fuse and SURE ENOUGH, visually blown.

Now there are many schools of thought of how to proceed from here but I prefer to use logical possibilities and process of elimination before starting to tear everything apart.

First,  look at any possible rub out points on low voltage wires in the furnace, visually inspect the safeties, go outside and check the control wire both inside and outside the condensing unit and ESPECIALLY wherever wires run across copper tubing. If you find nothing at these common failure points I will pull open the thermostat there and check that it’s wired correctly with no exposed copper.

You will notice that I didn’t just “replace the fuse”, because science and experience has shown me that fuses don’t just fail open on their own.

If I still find nothing then the “logical possibilities” part of the diagnosis has ended and we move into the isolation diagnosis part of our testing.

Some techs prefer disconnecting all the low voltage wires at the furnace and ohming them one at a time to ground and common at this point. Sometimes this works but I prefer to let the system work for me rather than pulling apart all the wires at this stage.

I replace the blown fuse with a 3a re-settable fuse / breaker like the one shown above with the thermostat off in all modes (to keep from wasting fuses). I then close the door switch and see if the fuse blows, if it does not then we can determine that there isn’t a continuous short circuit in R.

I then use a jumper wire and connect each switch leg (G,Y,W,O,W2,Y2 etc…) to the R terminal quickly and see if any of them trip the fuse or throw a spark (remember this is 24v it’s not going to hurt you). Often you will find the circuit with the short just that simply and then you can further isolate until to find the exact part of the circuit causing the issue.

Let’s say the Y circuit is the one blowing the fuse, you can then separate the two wires going to the condenser and the thermostat and tap one side at a time to R, if the conductor going outside is the one throwing the big spark / blowing the fuse then that is the direction to focus. You then go outside and disconnect the Y wire at the condenser wire nut or terminal block. If the short continues you know it is in the wire between the condenser and the furnace and not in the condenser. If it continues then you know it is in the condenser or in the contactor itself.

Shorted Compressor Isolation Diagnosis

Compressors shorted to ground or “grounded” is a pretty common diagnosis in the field and leads to an expensive compressor or system replacement. It’s important that we get that diagnosis correct and take away all the guess work so I use a combination of diagnostic tools and isolation diagnosis to ensure I never get it wrong.

When I walk up to a condensing unit and it has a tripped breaker, the first thing I do is reset it and see what happens…

NO IT ISN’T 

The breaker tripped for a REASON and every time I reset that breaker I run the risk of creating a major arc. If that short is inside the compressor I add carbon and acid to the refrigerant every time I reset that breaker.

So once again we FIRST perform a full visual inspection of all the high voltage wires, terminals, contactor, capacitor, crankcase heater and the breaker itself. If that all looks OK then we pull the top and inspect the compressor leads and terminals themselves. Before you go pulling on the terminals or compressor plug make sure you are wearing gloves and safety glasses, it is possible for one of those terminals to blow out of the fusite at that moment and freeze your face or hands.

Another quick tip is take a photo of all wires and/or tag them before pulling them off. We all have cameras in our pockets nowadays which makes mis-wiring upon reassembly a thing of the past (I wish).

Now measure resistance to ground (In this case the copper stubs on the compressor) from each terminal. It is OK to use a megohmmeter if you want, just keep in mind that some compressors are still considered “good” by the manufacturer all the way down to 0.5 megaohms and some meters say “bad” at 20 megaohms.

Once you are certain as you can be that the compressor short to ground is the culprit or if it is reading between 0.5 and 20 megaohms to GROUND making you unsure I have one more task for you.

Now ISOLATE the compressor by taping and strapping up the plug or terminals so they aren’t touching anything. Now reassemble the unit and reset the breaker.

If it doesn’t trip and everything else (Condenser fan motor etc..)  runs properly then you can feel good about your diagnosis, if it trips again then it’s back to the drawing board.

Other Uses 

Isolation diagnosis can be used in things like finding system noises and even in finding open circuits by using jumper wires. Isolation diagnosis is taking a hypothesis and testing it with one component or conductor at a time allowing you to find the culprit through process of elimination.

On communicating systems where I wanted to be SURE it was the controller and not the wire I removed the controller from the wall and wired it directly to the fan coil board to make sure it still didn’t work even with no wire between. Sometimes my hypothesis was right and sometimes it was wrong but either way isolation diagnosis has saved me from looking dumb on many occasions.

— Bryan

 

P.S. – Bert Made this video a while back using isolation diagnosis to find a LV short

We do this exercise when I teach electrical basics where we sit down and connect a 10 watt bulb to a power supply and through a switch. A SUPER SIMPLE circuit, the kind you might have learned about in high school science class.

But then I grab another 10 watt bulb and tell them to connect it in line with the other 10 Watt bulb (series circuit) and BEFORE they can turn the switch on I ask them a series of questions.

  • Will the two lights be twice as bright as the one? the same? or half as bright?
  • Will the circuit draw twice the amps as before? The Same? or half the amps?

Before we move on, I want you to make your choice.

So everyone makes their choice.. we turn on the switch…

AND THE MAJORITY OF THE CLASS IS WRONG

The bulbs combined are half as bright, using half the amps and thus half the watts. On my quizzes this is an area where experienced techs and electricians will even get frustrated “If you have X2 10 Watt bulbs that is 20 watts” they will say.

The science is actually really simple. In a light bulb, they may be stamped with a rating wattage but that wattage is just a rated wattage when the full rated voltage is applied. The constant in a light bulb is the resistance in Ohms, not the wattage. When you double the resistance of a circuit by adding in another 10 watt bulb in series you are cutting the amperage in half and therefore also cutting the wattage of the circuit in half.

an electrical circuit is a path between two points that have a difference in electrical potential (Voltage) the amperage (and by extension the wattage) is a function of the total resistance of that circuit between those points. If the resistance goes up, the amperage goes down and vice versa. It doesn’t matter if that resistance is added by a bulb, resistor, thermistor, pitted contactor points, motors etc…

Now when we mix in inductive reactance in motors and other inductive loads that resistance is bit less cut and dry to understand… but we will save that for another tip.

— Bryan

Erich Vinson is a tech from Colorado and one of the most entertaining people I interact with online. He wrote this quick tech tip on stripping back the outer jacket properly on control wires and it happens to also be something I preach. Thanks Erich.


In the first picture (above), you can see what happens when you try to use a pair of wire strippers to remove the jacket. It damaged the wire underneath. Instead use the pull string when you strip the jacket off of a low voltage (control) cable.

Use your strippers to remove about three inches of the jacket (or cut into the end like I show above – Bryan), and use the pull string to peel away the jacket, as is shown in the below.

Then, cut off the wires just below where you used your strippers.

The result will be low volt wires with no damaged insulation, and no hard to find low voltage short circuits.

— Erich

The definition of a transformer is a device that changes the voltages in an alternating current circuit.

You may have heard of an autotransformer or a buck and boost transformer and these terms are usually being used for the same type of device just highlighting different aspects. A transformer does not need to be a buck and boost to be autotransformer and it does not need to be an autotransformer to be buck and boost but often the two elements go together.

Autotransformer

The word auto in autotransformer really just means one or single not really “automatic” or “automated” in the way we usually think of it. It is an autotransformer because it only has one inductive (magnetic) winding shared by both the primary and secondary.

Buck and Boost

Buck just means that it decreases the voltage and boost means it increases it. A buck and boost transformer means that it can both increase or decrease the voltage.

What is their application? 

Buck and Boost autotransformers are often used to make small changes in voltage, say from 208v to 240v (boost) or from 240v to 208 (buck). They are usually efficient and inexpensive when only small changes are needed, whereas a traditional two coil transformer is more practical for larger changes.

Most of these transformers will have multiple tap points for different output and input voltages and can often be connected in different configurations to perform a wide range of functions like in the case of the Emerson Sola HD.

One major consideration with an autotransformer is that there is no isolation between the primary and secondary so a failure of the isolation of the windings of an autotransformer can result in the input voltage being applied to the output and component damage. There is also greater likelihood of harmonic and ground fault issues because of this “mixing” of primary and secondary.

— Bryan

Grounding is an area of many myths and legends in both the electrical and HVAC fields. This is a short article and we will briefly cover only a few common myths. For a more detailed explanation I advise subscribing to Mike Holt’s YouTube Channel HERE

Myth – Current Goes to Ground

Actually current (electrons) move according to a difference in charges/potential (Voltage). When a potential difference exists and a sufficient path exists there will be current. In a designed electrical system current is always returning to the source, the opposite side of a generator, transformer, battery, Inverter, alternator etc… current only goes to ground when an undesigned condition is present and ground (earth) can be a VERY POOR conductor at times. The only saving grace for the earth as a conductor is all of the parallel paths created with a ground rod because of all the surface area contact to earth.

Myth – To Be Safe, Add More Ground Rods

The ground can be an exceptionally poor conductor. The purpose of ground rods is to carry large spikes in current that comes down your electrical distribution lines away from the building. Adding more ground rods can actually EXPOSE the building to current from near ground strikes. Adding more rods isn’t always the solution and often does nothing useful.

Myth – Connecting Neutral and Ground Together In Multiple Places Is a Good Idea

Neutral and equipment ground should be connected in only one location at the main distribution panel to prevent the grounding conductors from carrying neutral current. If the equipment ground is carrying any current there is a problem.

Myth – Electricity (only) Takes The Path of Least Resistance 

If you have ever wired a parallel circuit you know that electrons travel down ALL available paths between to points of differing electrical charge.

Myth – Common, Ground and Neutral are the Same

Not even close. Common and neutral are terms used to describe the one side of a transformer. They are not grounded unless you ground them and when you do you are designating which side of the transformer will have an electrical potential that is equal with EQUIPMENT GROUND. The earth itself simply acts a really poor and erratic conductor between points of electrical potential that we designate and should not be confused with equipment ground.

Myth – Ground Rods Keep Us From Getting Shocked

Nope. Proper bonding connection between appliances, switches and outlets and equipment ground connected back to neutral at the main distribution panel in conjunction with properly sized circuit breakers and GFCI equipment keeps us safe. Grounds rods have little to nothing to do with protecting you from a ground fault.

Here is a great video on the topic and  you can find an article defining grounding and bonding terms HERE

 

— Bryan

I was talking about dry contacts with one of my techs and he was looking at me like I had three heads and one of them was on fire.

So I figured it would be good to cover the difference…

Basically “dry” contacts is a switch that has no shared power source or supply integral to the control. A common example would be the contacts in a compressor contactor. The contactor has a 24v coil (in residential) but the power supply through the contacts doesn’t have any connection to the coil.

We see wet contacts every day when we connect a residential thermostat. A thermostat uses the same voltage/power source to power the control that it passed to the contacts from the “R” terminal.

This is especially important to differentiate when working on commercial equipment that may have different and varied control. The Danfoss ERC 213 shown above is an example where the compressor (terminals 1 & 2) may be of a different voltage than the wet contacts on 5&6 which must be 120V.

Here is a video where I describe this in more detail –

—  Bryan

 

 



Relays can be used for many different control applications including controlling fans, blowers, other relays or contactors, valves, dampers, pumps and much more. A 90-340 is a very common, versatile relay that many techs have on their truck so we will use it as the example.


A relay is just a remotely controlled switch that opens and closes using an electromagnet. The electromagnetic portion that provides the opening and/or closing force of the switch is called the coil. Relay coils can come in many different voltages depending on the application, but in residential and light commercial HVAC 24-volt coils are the most common.

The portion of the relay that opens and closes can be called the switch, contacts or points. These contacts can either be closed meaning there is an electrical path or open meaning there is no electrical path. Often this open or closed circuit will be described as “making” a circuit, meaning the switch is closed or “breaking” a circuit meaning the switch is open.


It is important when connecting a relay to distinguish which two relay points connect the coil. In the case of the 90-340, it is the bottom two terminals of the relay. Even though the coil is unmarked on most 90-340 relays, you can find it easily by locating the terminals with the small strands of wire connected. These two points connect together through the electromagnetic coil. When 24 volts of potential is applied across the coil the switch portion of the relay will switch from open to closed and closed to open depending on the terminal. Keep in mind that in a normal 24v circuit one side of the coil is connected to a 24v switch leg such as the thermostat “G” circuit for blower control, and the OTHER side of the coil is connected back to common.

The other six terminals are switch/contact terminals and the relay has a diagram embossed right on the top for easy reference. The way the circuit is drawn shows the de-energized state of the relay, meaning the state of the switches when no power is applied to the coil. When power is applied to the coil the points that were previously open (broken) now become closed (made) and the ones that were closed become open. When two points are closed when no power is applied to a relay coil we call them “normally closed” when they are open when no power is applied they are called “normally open”.


So based on this embossed diagram on the relay 1 to 3 and 4 to 6 are open (normally open) with no power to the coil and closed when power is applied. 1 to 2 and 4 to 5 are closed (normally closed) with no power and they open when the coil is energized. There is never a path between 2 & 3 or 5 & 6 because between them, at least one of them is always open. There is also no path or circuit between the top three terminals and the bottom three terminals or between the switch and coil portions of the 90-340 relay.

The data tag on a 90-340 shows both the coil voltage as well as the LRA (locked rotor amps) and FLA (full load amps) that the contacts can handle at various voltages for inductive (magnetic) loads like motors. It also lists the amp rating if the relay is controlling a RES (resistive) load like a heater or an incandescent light.


This relay can control a 39.6 LRA and 6.9 FLA Motor or a 15 amp heater at 240 volts based on the data tag.

— Bryan

Now is the part where we get specific about Start capacitors and inrush. If you haven’t read the first three parts please do so before reading this one or it may not make sense.

I’m going to come out and say it so you keep reading.

What you were taught about hard start kits decreasing inrush amperage is wrong.

Look at the oscilloscope image above. It’s a 3 ton reciprocation compressor with equalized pressures and 230V applied. Now keep in mind the voltage value shown here is RMS and the amperage is PEAK so if the amps seem high in these charts that is why.

So this compressor starts up at locked rotor (on the run winding remember) and it gets up to speed at around 180 milliseconds of run time. That is pretty typical of a good, equalized compressor under normal conditions.

Sometimes compressors do struggle to start and this can be due to.

  • Low input voltage (usually due to voltage drop)
  • Starting unequalized due to short cycling and or non-bleed (Hard Shut Off) expansion valves
  • Long line lengths
  • Refrigerant migration into the crankcase
  • Compressor wear

Here we show a system with low voltage applied (187v) and it HAS a hard start in place (not necessarily the same compressor as the last so don’t try to compare apples to apples)

In this case, the compressor doesn’t get up to speed until about 550 milliseconds and at that point both the run and start winding amperage drops.

This proves that the hard start kit is working in that case.

You can tell this because the only amperage that can enter the start winding is dictated by the run and start capacitors and like we said before… the capacity of a capacitor is dictated completely by the capacitance (mfd) and the voltage across it.

For the amperage of the start winding to go UP at 580 milliseconds, it can only be due to an increase in back EMF as that motor gets up to speed. Then at 600 milliseconds, the potential relay removes the start capacitor and the amperage drops down to the run capacitor only level.

Conclusion #1

Fixing a voltage drop issue does more good than adding a hard start kit.

A valuable test is measuring the voltage feeding your compressor with it under load and rectifying poor line voltage connections or undersized conductors.

Look at these two identical compressors, one with a hard start kit and one without.

Techs are often taught that measuring inrush on the compressor common wire is a way to show how a hard start kit decreases startup amps.

This isn’t what we are measuring when we see a big difference in inrush amps.

What we are measuring is how QUICKLY the compressor starts not the true inrush amps at start. I’ve looked at the specs on several high-end ammeters that measure inrush and they read at 100 milliseconds.

If you look at the two examples above the compressor with a hard start will read lower at 100 milliseconds because it is already almost at full speed and the LRA has nearly passed.

LRA (locked rotor amps) is essentially the amperage the compressor runs when the run winding is functioning as a heater rather than a motor. The quicker the motor starts turning the quicker it gets out of the LRA range.

Now consider the start winding. Take a look at the start winding with no hard start…. it stays the same even though the compressor is essentially locked all the way up to 600 milliseconds. So even though the compressor is locked the current through the start winding is limited to what the run capacitor can hold and release.

With the hard start in place, the start winding amperage peaks right up until the potential relay takes it out at 100 milliseconds.

The problem is that we use tools that measure at 100 milliseconds when that may be before or after the motor has hit that 80% speed

 

Conclusion #2

Locked rotor amps are what they are… that’s why the manufacturer can publish it on the data tag. It’s the amperage that motor will draw when it’s locked at the rated voltage.

When we measure inrush with a meter we are really just taking a snapshot at a particular point in time that may or may not line up with what the manufacturer published depending on how close the motor to full speed at that time.

Conclusion #3

Hard start kits don’t decrease starting amps at the moment of start, they can’t.

What they can do is reduce the time it takes to get the motor started, So in a time-averaged sense, a hard start kit very well may reduce amperage and wattage.

This is why a hard start is often specified for long line applications and non-bleed TXVs. It’s also why Techs have found that adding a hard start can reduce light dimming complaints by speeding up the amount of time the compressor remains at LRA.

Conclusion #4

Hard start kits do increase the current on the start winding, in fact, that’s essentially all they do differently than a run capacitor. They both provide a phase shifted current to the start winding, a start capacitor just does MORE of it.

The argument that hard start kits reduce wear and stress on the start winding is false. With no hard start the load on the start winding is constant and very low. Adding in a hard start adds in more current at start and the possibility of potential relay sticking that can definitely cause start winding stress.

This isn’t to say start kits are a problem when sized properly. They can and do reduce LRA on the run winding by adding more phase shifted current to start.

Conclusion #5

Start capacitor sizing and potential relay voltage ratings are really important and should be selected to do the job of starting the compressor quickly without staying in too long or providing more start winding current than needed.

— Bryan

This tip was created by Jason Pinzak and originally posted on the HVAC Technician’s Facebook group. It is reposted here with permission from Jason. Thanks!


Contactors are useful in commercial and industrial applications, particularly for controlling large lighting loads and motors. One of their hallmarks is reliability. However, like any other device, they are not infallible. In most cases, the contactor does not simply wear out from normal use. Usually, the reason for contactor failure is misapplication. That’s why you need to understand the basics of contactors.

When someone uses a lighting contactor in a motor application, that’s a misapplication. The same is true when someone uses a “normal operation” motor contactor for motor jogging duty. Contactors have specific designs for specific purposes.


When selecting contactors, you’ll use one of two common standards: NEMA or IEC. Both match a contactor with the job it has to do, but they do so in different ways.
The NEMA selection process always results in a choice of a contactor you can use over a broad range of operating conditions. For example, you could use a NEMA Size 5 contactor to run a 50-hp motor operating at 230V or a 200-hp motor at 460V.


Using IEC standards, however, you can size contactors very close to their ultimate capabilities. In many cases, this precision allows you to predict how long they’ll last. For example, an IEC-rated contactor may run a motor that draws 40A at full load. In that duty, it should last for more than two million operations. But, if you used it for consistent jogging and plugging, you’d have to replace it after just a few thousand operations.

Since a contactor should last for years, don’t automatically replace one that fails with an identical unit. Instead, take a few moments to see if there is an obvious problem. A contactor really has only two basic parts: the contacts and the coil. The coil energizes the contactor, moving the contacts into position. The contacts transmit the current from the source to the load. Heat can destroy either of them, so take a good look at both.

Contacts will overheat if they transmit too much current, if they do not close quickly and firmly, or if they open too frequently. Any of these situations will cause significant deterioration of the contact surface and the shape of that surface. Erratic operation and failure will be quick. To check the contacts, just look at them. Some minor pitting (see photos) as well as a black oxide coating is normal, but severe pitting or any melting or deforming of the contact surface is a sure sign of misapplication. Replace contacts with such symptoms.

Coils can overheat if operating voltages are too low or too high; if the contacts fail to open or close because of dirt or misalignment; or if they have suffered physical damage or experienced an electrical short. Coil insulation degrades quickly when it gets too hot. When it degrades, it will short out (and blow a fuse) or just open and stop operating.

To check a coil, measure the ohms across the contactor coil. Infinite resistance means the coil is open. A shorted coil will still often register significant resistance and can be confused with a good coil . If you happen to have a matching contactor nearby, compare the two coils. The shorted coil will usually have significantly lower resistance than the good one but a compromised coil can alos have a higher resistance. If the difference is significant, replace it. Replacing the contacts or coil often means replacing the whole contactor. But no matter what you replace, compare the NEMA or IEC rating with the job the contactor will be doing. If you match it to the application, it should last a long time.

— Jason Pinzak

P.S. – Here is another good article on the difference between IEC and NEMA rated contactors

Testo 760 Category IV Multimeter

I was standing at a booth at the HVAC Excellence Educators conference and an instructor walks up, grabs a meter and asks me “what’s the difference between a category 3 and a category 4 meter”?

Well, I really wasn’t sure other than that the category 4 is rated for more demanding conditions. So I did some research and dug into IEC 61010-1 and found that category 3 is rated for most uses OTHER than outdoor utility connections and category 4 meters are rated for all uses.

Courtesy of Fluke

There are also some voltage considerations and limitations to the different categories but the primary difference is not the regular duty but the high voltage transients. High voltage transients are often called “surges” or spikes and are most likely when working on outdoor transformers and distribution panels.

Rubber meets the road is that for HVAC use a category 3 meter is likely going to do the job but if you ever work in main panels, or outdoor transformers go for a cat 4 meter.

— Bryan

PS – Fluke has a great info sheet on this HERE

You can see more about the Testo 760 shown HERE

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