What is a Metering Device - Depending on the type of HVAC air conditioning or heat pump system it is and the efficiency range of the system will depend on the type of metering device the system has installed by the HVAC manufacturer of the air conditioner or heat pump system. Lower efficiency HVAC air conditioner and heat pump models have fixed orifice types while higher efficiency systems have thermostatic expansion valves installed in the HVAC air conditioner or heat pump system. The thermostatic expansion valve is far more complex than the fixed orifice metering device as the thermostatic expansion valve metering device modulates the refrigerant flow based on the temperature of the refrigerant temperature in the evaporator coil. This allows a specific amount of refrigerant, based on demand, to be metered into the evaporator coil while the fixed orifice metering device allows the same amount of refrigerant to enter the enter the coil no matter the conditions or the demand. As the liquid refrigerant enters the metering device it changes temperature and pressure. A partial amount of the liquid refrigerant flashes into a refrigerant gas or vapor as it leaves the metering device and enters the evaporator coil.
What is a Metering Device - Specific Types of Metering Devices used in HVAC Refrigeration:
Thermostatic Expansion Valve - Also referred to as the TEV or TXV for short the thermostatic expansion is used in many air conditioning and heat pump applications including use in chillers for chilled water systems. TXVs respond to the temperature of the refrigerant leaving the evaporator coil or evaporator barrel. The TXV has a sensing bulb that holds a slight refrigerant charge inside the bulb. The TXV bulb is remote from the TXV and is attached to the TXV via a capillary tube or cap tube. As the temperature increases and decreases the refrigerant inside the bulb responds by expanding and contracting based on the temperature pressure relationship of refrigerants. As the refrigerant expands and contracts causes a bellows to move in and out which causes a piston to open and close precisely based on the leaving temperature of the refrigerant in the evaporator coil. This allows the TXV metering device to feed the evaporator coil the precise amount of refrigerant it needs to maintain a specific superheat. Because the TXV precisely meters the refrigerant the TXV is used in many air conditioner and heat pump systems that need a higher efficiency. A properly engineered and installed system that uses a TXV will only give the evaporator coil what it demands and nothing more or nothing less.
The other type of expansion valve used in HVAC is the fixed orifice. The fixed orifice is simple and can be either a piston type or utilize a distributor that feeds capillary tubes which terminate in the evaporator coil. The piston type comes in various sizes and is interchangeable with the capacity or tonnage of the condensing unit. Always follow the manufacturers instructions for piston size if using the fixed orifice for HVAC refrigeration.
Capillary tubes (cap tubes) are also used to meter refrigerant to the evaporator coil. These are considered fixed orifice since they hole in the tube(s) is a fixed size.
There are other non-conventional types of metering devices used for HVAC refrigeration including the float type and the electronic type however these are not commonly used in standard HVAC equipment.
What is a Metering Device?
There are other types of metering devices used in HVAC vapor compression refrigeration but these are the most common types are used in HVACR in both the commercial market and residential markets. As systems grow more sophisticated and complex that is likely to change. Electronic types are the next big step in refrigeration used for air conditioning and heat pump systems.
Evaporator Coil for Heat Pumps & Air Conditioners - the evaporator is responsible for absorbing heat into the coils and the refrigerant. The evaporator is an essential component of vapor compression refrigeration. This is usually done as result of passing air or water over the evaporator coil where a heat exchange process takes place. Heat leaves the air or water (whatever medium is used) and is absorbed into the coil and the liquid refrigerant. As more and more heat is absorbed by the evaporator coil and the refrigerant again changes state from a liquid to a refrigerant vapor. By the time the refrigerant leaves the evaporator coil the refrigerant should be all vapor and ready to be received again by the refrigeration compressor.
Evaporator Coil for Heat Pumps & Air Conditioners - Refrigerant Flow
A new evaporator coil replacing an old leaking coil
The evaporator is typically inside the air handling unit or it can be installed in the duct work near the air handling unit. When the air handler blower turns on and the condenser is running refrigerant flows from the compressor through the condenser and then through the metering device. and into the evaporator.
Evaporator Coil for Heat Pumps & Air Conditioners - Changing State
The refrigerant changes state in the coils. In the evaporator coil the change of state is from a liquid to a vapor while in the condenser the change of state is from a vapor to a liquid. This is all necessary for the process of refrigeration to work properly. The typical evaporator coil is constructed of copper with aluminum fins surrounding the copper coils. The aluminum fins adds surface area to the copper coils and enhances the heat exchange rate making the coils more efficient.
The Condenser for Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps - The condenser coil receives the high pressure high temperature refrigerant vapor from the compressor and immediately begins to remove heat from the refrigerant vapor. As the refrigerant vapor makes its way through the condenser coil more and more heat is removed and the refrigerant vapor changes state from a refrigerant vapor to a refrigerant liquid. While the liquid refrigerant changes temperatures from a higher temperature to a slightly lower temperature the pressure remains constant. As the refrigerant vapor leaves the condenser coil it makes it way to the metering device.
The Condenser for Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps - Components
Most condensing units utilized in HVAC whether it is the commercial HVAC field or the residential HVAC field are constructed of copper with aluminum fins. The aluminum fins are mechanically attach to the copper tubes that make up the condenser coils or the piping that channels the refrigerant from the beginning of the condenser coils all the way to the end or exit of the condensing unit where the refrigerant makes its way to the metering device. The aluminum fins attached to the copper pipe enhance the heat exchange process in the air source condensing units. A few manufacturers use only aluminum coils in their condensing units to take advantage of the efficient heat exchange properties of aluminum. The aluminum coils also have fins on them and these are usually referred to as spine fin coils. The spine fins extend the surface area of the aluminum coil enhancing the heat exchange process for efficiency purposes.
The Condenser for Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps - Conclusion
Many condensing units also house the compressor and condensing unit controls. The condensing typically utilizes its own dedicated circuit from the main circuit breaker panel. In a split system the condensing unit will have a line set or refrigeration lines that run from the condensing unit to the evaporator coil inside the building. The condenser is an essential component of vapor compression refrigeration.
This high SEER Trane condenser uses an ECM variable speed fan motor to modulate the speed of the fan
Variable Speed ECM Condenser Fan Motors are used in condensers for the high efficient models so that the fan speed for the condenser can be modulated according to the load of the system. The ECM fan motors are used in condensers that either have a modulating compressor or condensers that have two compressors where one compressor is small and one compressor is large. The ECM motor adds to the efficiency of the system by modulating the condenser fan motor to match the compressor use needed to satisfy the load.
Variable Speed ECM Condenser Fan Motors - Peak Operation
On very hot days you need more air conditioning capacity to satisfy the heating load demand put on your home in the summer. In milder weather you do not need to run the air conditioner at 100% to satisfy the higher demand. HVAC equipment manufacturers have introduced systems that have the ability to run in two-stages so that on the hotter days you can satisfy the demand and on the cooler days you can run the system at a lower setting thereby using less energy.
Using less energy is the objective so how do we do this? The solution is two-fold for having an efficient running system. One is to reduce the heat gain by insulating the home and adding things to the home such as attic fans. These things help reduce heat gain to the living areas that you want to condition with cool less humid air. The second thing you can do is to purchase a higher efficient system that can modulate or offers staging from a high level for higher demand to lower level for lower demand.
Variable Speed ECM Condenser Fan Motors - The Future
HVAC Manufacturers introduced two-stage compressors and in the future (offered currently in commercial systems) modulating compressors that will run according to the demand based on exactly what you need to condition your space. Since the compressor would stage based on demand they needed a condenser fan motor that would also stage based on demand. Some manufacturers use a standard multi-speed fan motor while others use a ECM fan motor to facilitate a higher speed for the increased demand when the system is calling for higher demand and a lower speed when the system is calling for a lower demand. So when the compressor is running at a higher speed the condenser fan motor will also run at a high speed and when the compressor is running at a lower speed the fan motor will run at a lower speed.
An ECM Variable Speed Blower Motor in a squirrel cage blower
Variable Speed ECM Blower Motors - Variable speed blower motors have become increasingly popular in residential air conditioning and heating systems and for good reason; these motors increase efficiency of the systems and offer a whole range of other benefits that help the system and the consumer.
Variable Speed Blower Motors first offer a higher efficiency for air conditioning systems based on the manufacturers set up of the control with the ECM Variable Speed Motor. Each manufacturer calls it a different thing such as Trane calling it the Comfort R and Carrier calling it Infinity Control. Despite what the manufacturer calls it helps efficiency with air conditioning by starting the blower slowly and letting it run at a 50% speed for the first few minutes (up to 7 minutes) to remove more humidity. This increases comfort and efficiency by removing more moisture from the air. The lower the humidity in the cooler you will feel so the variable speed blower with this type of control will enhance comfort.
ECM variable speed motor manufacturers include General Electric and Emerson with Emerson offering their very own packaged control and control program to meet various control sequences to meet efficiency and comfort for any manufacturer that uses the Emerson variable speed ECM blower motors for their equipment.
Other benefits include:
Soft start capabilities which reduces high inrush current like conventional blower motors.
Precision control to deliver a set amount of CFM's for whatever the HVAC equipment manufacturers need for their equipment for airflow control.
High efficiency which reduces energy bills.
Very quiet operation
Better comfort as described above
One of the disadvantages include a high replacement cost if something happens to the motor or controls. ECM variable speed motors need the attention of a qualified HVAC technician if something goes wrong as special diagnostic tools are needed to diagnose any problems which may arise with the motor or controls.
These motors are typically offered in the medium to higher end models of air handlers and furnaces so you will have to pay a little more for the initial cost but the benefits will give you a pay back in the future with increased comfort and higher efficiency. Here at High Performance HVAC we always recommend going for higher efficiency models because the cost of energy is not going to go down in the future and the high efficiency models will help reduce the cost of energy so your utility bills will be reasonable in the future. The bonus this air handler or furnace component also adds comfort while increasing efficiency.
Never assume the blower motor is bad. Always perform a cursory look at other components and inputs before condemning the ECM blower motor. Check the air filters and duct work integrity before beginning component checks outlined below. The system needs good air flow to function properly.
Check the main control board in the air handler. Wiring connections including the thermostat wire coming from the thermostat. Always perform these checks with the power turned off. Check for loose connections, corrosion, and burned spots on the board. Some HVAC equipment has an additional control board for control of the ECM blower motor in the air handler. Also check all the connections going to the motor including pins inside the molex plug connection. A bent or loose pin will cause problems.. A plastic molex plug should make the connection between the motor and the control board.
Next check the input voltage for the board. Restore power and use a volt meter to check both the main line voltage and the control voltage. The control board should use 24 volt for the control voltage and all voltage ranges should be plus or minus 10%. Make sure that the safety circuit is good. Switches in the safety circuit will keep the system from running.
Using the manufacturers instructions, check additional settings on the control board. Many have dip switches that will control RPM's for the proper air flow for the sizing requirements of the system. Ensure these are set properly.
Ensure when you start the system that you wait for the programmed delays. An ECM blower motor, properly programmed, will start off very slow and then ramp up to a low speed according to what the program calls for. After a specific period of time, usually around 7 minutes, the blower will ramp up to 100% of the program according to where the dip switch settings is set for RPM's or CFM's.
If this doesn't work then and you still have problems check with the manufacturer for a ECM blower motor troubleshooting flow chart or guide. Some manufacturers have a diagnostic tool that will confirm specific problems and can indicate if the motor or the controls are bad. If the motor is turning too many RPM's or not enough RPM's and is causing issues with the air conditioning or heating system because of improper air flow then it is a good idea to check the dip switch settings on the board. Good luck.