How to Stay Ahead in the A/C Season
A Conversation with ACCA Technical Services Manager Donald Prather
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) maintenance is important to the sustainability of the home during the air conditioning season. However, homeowners often glance over or forget about maintenance service calls with the notion that if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed. Indoor Comfort Marketing spoke to Donald Prather, Technical Services Manager of Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc. (ACCA) about the HVAC pre-season to glean information on what exactly should take place immediately preceding the opening of the HVAC season to ensure homeowners’ systems are in order.
ICM: What is the best time for this pre-season maintenance to be done?
Donald Prather: The best time for a seasonal HVAC system maintenance check to be done is after winter ends – any time in the spring before the cooling season starts. Customers probably don’t think about their indoor comfort system until it stops working and it becomes either too cold or too hot. It’s human nature to put something in the back of your mind as long as it doesn’t cause a problem and stays in the background. HVAC maintenance checks are important because the system has an impact on the air that homeowners breathe, on moisture and mold growth, the amount of energy that the homeowner uses and money that they spend, and most importantly, on their health. Ignoring the indoor comfort system means it will break down more, need replacement sooner, cost more money throughout its shortened lifespan and it might also impact health.
ICM: What types of issues specifically should technicians look for during service calls?
DP: Technicians will look for different things depending on the type of HVAC equipment (the customer) has. ACCA has a complete maintenance checklist that can be downloaded on its homeowner’s web page at https://www.acca.org/homes under the section “What ‘Quality’ Really Means.” The checklist provides homeowners with tools to evaluate maintenance proposals, which can be beneficial to technicians to ensure they are providing quality maintenance and service calls. The questions found in the “What to Ask the Contractor” column are designed to help determine whether or not the contractor is complying with the industry recognized standard maintenance practices and that their services meet the requirements in the Quality Maintenance Standard (ANSI/ACCA 4 QM).
ICM: What testing procedures are put in place for the AC systems? What is tested?
DP: Testing is based on the type of equipment and the manufacturer’s instructions, and should be spelled out for the homeowner’s specific equipment in a professional maintenance contract. Mechanical systems require routine monitoring, adjustments, periodic cleaning and eventual replacement of components. Regularly scheduled inspections and maintenance are often required to maintain the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranty. This standard prescribes basic maintenance inspection tasks and offers recommended corrective actions to maintain most residential HVAC systems. It provides checklists for the inspection of typical residential HVAC systems to meet the minimum maintenance requirements. These equipment checklists are divided by equipment type and provide the minimum visual inspections, performance tests and measurements.
The recommended corrective actions provide generic guidance that should return the equipment to good working order. Conducting regularly scheduled inspections, maintenance and remediation of HVAC systems prolongs equipment efficiency, promotes healthy clean air, supports lower utility costs, guards against unexpected failures and elongates equipment life. Occupants and the environment will both benefit.
ICM: What are technicians most likely to see when out on pre-season/beginning-of-season maintenance calls?
DP: HVAC equipment is like your home or car, it needs to be maintained to operate properly. Thus, technicians will be cleaning the system before they check how it is operating. Once the system is clean, they can verify that it is still operating properly.
ICM: What kind of safety issues are there to look our for? What are the safety procedures?
DP: Technicians should look for electrical hazards, signs of rust or leakage in combustion appliance exhaust and venting systems and for any code violations. It is recommended that HVAC contractors relate the importance of routine maintenance of the HVAC system to their clients. This will likely take the form of annual/semiannual visits to perform the inspection and applicable remediation actions, though the exact frequency may vary. The performance objective of the system will be based primarily on the equipment manufacturer’s performance data. Acquiring this performance data, however, may be more difficult for older equipment. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) will generally have performance data for equipment dating back several decades, and the data is usually available at the distributor level.
ICM: Does ACCA have a troubleshooting flow chart/check list that contractors can refer to?
DP: ACCA provides a consumer checklist on its website that can benefit contractors as well. There is some confusion on what a maintenance service actually is. Maintenance service is done to an operational piece of equipment that needs the routine cleaning, lubrication, filter change and operational checks done. Maintenance rarely covers diagnostics for operational problems. The additional diagnostics and part replacement is generally done during a service call. The advantage of having seasonal service is, when the maintenance technician finds a problem, it should trigger a service call so the HVAC system is fixed before it is actually needed.
Manual J is an industry standard that describes a method for determining, basically, how “big” an air conditioning system should be for the size and type of house on lives in. It’s required by most building codes nationwide, because only Manual J offers the precise determination of system size needed to ensure that systems last longer, operate efficiently and actually makes customers comfortable. Manual J is important, but it’s just the first step toward “Quality Installation,” or QI. QI isn’t just a generic term – it actually refers to a very specific standard, and ANSI/ACCA Quality Installation Specification, which details all the steps that a contractor must take to ensure that a heating and air conditioning system is properly installed for the highest possible quality.
ICM: What type of training do technicians have to go through/certifications do they have to obtain?
DP: Generally, technicians receive HVAC training in a two year post-secondary school or equivalent, and many will have certifications for the type of work they do such as North American Technician Excellence (NATE) or an equivalent. Consumers should look for contractors who support technician certifications, and the related ongoing training required to keep those certifications. ICM
Article Provided By: Indoor Comfort Marketing March/April 2017
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