Tag: run cap

One of the most common parts to fail on a single phase HVAC system is a run capacitor, so much so that we sometimes refer to junior techs as “capacitor changers”. While capacitors may be easy to diagnose and replace, here are some things many techs may not know.

Capacitors Don’t “Boost” the Voltage 

A capacitor is a device that stores a differential charge on opposing metal plates. While capacitors can be used in circuits that boost voltage they don’t actually increase voltage themselves. We often see higher voltage across a capacitor than the line voltage, but this is due to the Back EMF (Counter electromotive force) generated by the motor, not the capacitor.

Current Doesn’t Flow Through The Capacitor, Just in and Out of It 

Techs notice that the one side of power is connected to the C terminal or the side opposite the run winding. Many techs imagine that this power “feeds” into the terminal, get’s boosted or shifted and then enters the compressor or motor through the other side. While that may make sense it isn’t actually how a capacitor works at all.

A typical HVAC run capacitor is just two long sheets of really thin metal, insulated with an insulation barrier of very thin plastic and immersed in an oil to help dissipate heat. Just like the primary and secondary of a transformer the two sheets of metal never actually touch, but electrons do gather and discharge with every cycle of the alternating current.  For example, the electrons that gather on the “C” side of the capacitor never go “through” the plastic insulation barrier over to the “HERM” or “FAN” side. The two forces simply attract and release in and out of the capacitor on the same side they entered.

The Higher the Capacitance, the Higher the Current on the Start Winding 

On a properly wired PSC (Permanent Split Capacitor) motor, the only way the start winding can have any current move through is if the capacitor stores and discharges. The higher the MFD of the capacitor, the greater the stored energy and the greater the start winding amperage. If the capacitor is completely failed with 0 capacitance it is the same as having an open start winding. Next time you find a failed run capacitor (with no start capacitor) read the amperage on the start winding with a clamp to see what I mean.

This is why oversizing a capacitor can quickly cause damage to a compressor. By increasing the current on the start winding the compressor start winding will be much more prone to early failure.

The Voltage Rating is What it Can Handle, Not What it Will Produce

Many techs think they must replace a 370v capacitor with a 370v capacitor. The voltage rating displays the “not to exceed” rating, which means you can replace a 370v with a 440v but you cannot replace a 440v with a 370v. This misconception is so common that many capacitor manufactures began stamping 440v capacitors with 370/440 just to eliminate confusion.

You Can Test a Capacitor While the Unit is Running

You simply measure the current (amps) of the motor start winding coming off of the capacitor and multiply it times 2652 (on 60hz power 3183 on 50hz power) and then divide that number by the voltage you measure across the capacitor. For a full write up on the process, you can look here

 

 

 

When testing a run capacitor many techs pull the leads off and use the capacitance setting on their meter to test the capacitor. On a system that is not running there isn’t anything wrong with this test, but when you are CONSTANTLY checking capacitors as a matter of regular testing and maintenance that extra step of pulling the connectors off can be time consuming and in these cases it is also totally unnecessary. Testing the capacitors UNDER LOAD (while running) is a great way to confirm that the capacitor is doing it’s job under real load conditions which is also more accurate than taking the reading with the unit off.

First, if you are used to doing capacitor checks during the “cleaning” stage of a PM you are going to need to change your practices and do your tests during the “testing” phase. These readings will be made at the same time you are taking other amperage and voltage readings during the run test.

This method is a practical method and is a composite of two different test practices combined –

  1. Read your Volt (EMF) and Amp (Current) readings like usual and note your readings.
  2. Measure the amperage of just the start wire (wiring connecting to the start winding), this will be the wire between your capacitor and the compressor. In the case of 4 wire motors it will usually be the brown wire NOT the brown with white stripe. Note your amperage on this wire..
  3. Measure the voltage between the two capacitor terminals, for the compressor that would be between HERM and C, for the cond fan motor that would be between FAN and C. Note the voltage readings
  4. Now take the amp reading you took on the start wire (wire from the capacitor) and multiply by 2,652 (some say 2650 but 2652 is slightly more accurate) then divide that total by the capacitor volts you measured.  the simple formula is Start Winding Amps X 2,652 ÷  Capacitor Voltage = Microfarads
  5. Read the nameplate MFD on the capacitors and compare to your actual readings. Most capacitors allow for a 6%+/- tolerance, if outside of that range then replacement of the capacitor may be recommended. Always double check your math before you quote a customer. We need to make sure we are accurate when advising a repair.
  6.  Repeat this process on all of the run capacitors and you will have assurance whether they are fully functional under load or not.
  7. Keep in mind that the capacitor installed may not be the CORRECT capacitor. The motor or compressor may have been replaced or someone may have put in the wrong size. When in doubt refer to the data plate or specs on the specfic motor or compressor.

If you need a visual, here are some good videos on the topic. Note that some will use 2650, some 2652 and some 2653. It all depends on how many decimals of pi they are using in their calculation but all of them will result in an accurate enough conclusion for our use.

At first doing it this way may take a few minutes longer but in the long run you will go quicker, have fewer mistakes (forgetting to put the terminals back), have a better understanding of how the equipment is operating and get a more accurate reading.

Once you replace a capacitor always recheck your readings to ensure the new capacitor reads correctly under load.

It is also a good practice to check Capacitors you have removed with your capacitance setting on your meter as a reference point.

While this method is good, it is only as good as your tools and your math. When in doubt, double check… and always be in doubt.

— Bryan

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