Old House Restoration

A real family makes an old house their home...for the 2nd time
The Splendido's renovate, restore and rejuvenate their home with their own hands - all while living in the house
and balancing their family needs...you know...like most families have to do it!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Air Conditioning Installed (and more than you ever wanted to know about AC)

I have always wanted a house with Central Air. I sweat a lot! I mean buckets. When nobody else is sweating, I am changing my shirt. Karen used to say I should go to the doctor and get that checked out. It's been 43 years and I have yet to live in a house with Central Air...or so I thought. I just found out that is not quite the truth. I was talking to my mom just last week when I said this same thing. It turns out we had central air on Buttonwood Ave (my childhood home)...but after the first month's electrical bill came in...she says we never used it again. When she says NEVER...she means it. Because I never knew we even had it! So I guess technically I can still say - it has been 43 years and I never lived in a house that used Central Air.

I remember going over friends' houses in the summer while growing up and feeling the "ahhhh" of central air. I wanted it then and I wanted it in my own house. Up until now I made up for the lack of central air with window units...a lot of window units. We used 5 in the last house...and 6 (yikes!!!) last year in this house. Ridiculous. I know.

I HATE window units. They are UGLY. They are NOISY. They are HEAVY. They are INEFFICIENT. They can wreak havoc on your double hung windows - ever notice how the window pains started to rattle from all the vibration?! They are just a huge PITA! You have to store them and put them in and take them out every spring/fall. Talking about fall...last October I dropped one of my window units while taking it out. Lets just say window units are not like Bumbles. They do not bounce. HeHeHe.

One of Karen's first selling points to get me to look at this house was, "...and it has forced hot air. No AC, but it has duct work." I must admit I went from "No way. We are not moving" to "Well maybe it can't hurt just to look."

Some helpful tidbits you should know when selecting an AC

how to install central air - Infinity Air ConditionerOnce again, as I did for my new furnace, I checked out the Scratch and Dent section at my work. There are some hidden gems in there! I found a Carrier Infinity 18 Air Conditioner. Sure it was left over from 2003 (11 year old Paige was quick to point out that was a great vintage), but also like Paige it was the Top of the Line for that year. It is an 18 SEER air conditioner. SEER is Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. It is the standard efficiency rating for all air conditioners. The higher the SEER the more efficient the unit. The minimum in 2010 was 10 SEER, therefore this unit is 1.8 times more efficient than that 10 SEER unit, which equates to 44% in electrical savings. Today the federal minimum SEER is 13...and Carrier's current top of the line Infinity Air Conditioner is 21 SEER. So you can see this unit is still closer to the top of the line than the bottom of today's standards.

Most likely my mom's air conditioner was a 6 SEER back in the late 70's - in fact most AC's manufacturer through 1992 were 6 SEER or less! Keep this in mind as you read what I am about to share with you...especially if you have a really old unit outside your house! My new condenser is 18 SEER. It is 3x's more efficient than that old unit and it will use 66% less electricity to run it....even if you are one of the lucky ones that have a 10 SEER unit outside your house - moving to Carrier's mid-tier 16 SEER AC will save you 38% on your electric.

On top of the increased money savings, the Infinity models are also quieter (less noise outside the bedroom windows) and have 2 speeds which allows a more comfortable indoor environment. The fan can run at lower speeds thus keeping your living environment at a more constant temperature by keeping the unit on longer at a lower setting, instead of cycling on and off constantly at the high setting (cycling = blasting cold air to bring the room down to temperature and then shutting completely off until it gets warm again, then repeating this cycle over and over).

Installing the Condenser (AC/Central Air)

Step 1 - Connect the furnace to the ductwork
In the last entry I mentioned we had placed the furnace into position awaiting for the ductwork to be attached to the furnace and evaporator coil. The furnace will act as the air handler (fan) that will push the conditioned air through the supply ducts and pull an equal amount of air out of my living spaces and back to the system through the return ducts. However for this to work the furnace actually needs to be connected to the house's ducts. Each job is different. Ceilings are different heights. Sometimes there are other pipes in the way. Sometimes the furnace may be in the attic. So the ductwork/plenum needs to be fabricated by professionals, with specialized machines, to meet the specs for the job at hand. I used RMB Heating and Cooling. Brendan and his son, Ryan, really know what they are doing (BTW they are very nice people too. Polite and professional). They made the custom pieces and connected them to the house's ductwork for me.

Before                                                                                  After
No Ductwork                                                              Like a piece of art

Just in case you forgot what my huge old system looked like:

The original system for the house

Step 2 - Make a hole in the wall
Most cinder block walls are VERY easy to break through. In fact, if you drop a new cinder block it most likely will break apart into several pieces. I have even seen cinder block that has started to crumble from getting rained on. Well I think I mentioned that our house was built by Paul Schaefer. He has been called a Master Builder. If master builder means building houses that are solid as a rock, then by all means he was a master builder.

All my work friend and I had to do was break a 2 inch hole through one cinder block 8 inches thick. No big deal right?!...A hammer drill, 3 drill bits, 3 pound hammer, cold chisel, a sledge hammer later and 2.5 hours later we were through. You know how they say they just don't build them like they use to...well the same goes for cinder blocks!!! Holy cr*p.

how to install central air - Infinity Air Conditioner

Step 3 - Squeeze 5 Items through a 2 inch hole

how to install central air - Infinity Air Conditioner
how to install central air - Infinity Air ConditionerWe placed a 2 inch PVC pipe through the hole. Then through that hole we threaded the two copper tubes of the line set, the electrical line, the thermostat line and the condensate pump tube. We ended up changing the route for the condensate tube later.

Step 4 - Run the condensate pump tube to a drain - and why you need the pump

The condensate pump sits on the right side of my furnace in the pictures in Step 1. All air conditioners and heat pumps create condensate as a by product of the cooling process. The warm humid air condenses on the evaporator coil. This condensation needs to be carried to the outside or a sink to drain, otherwise you will have a wet basement (or attic) depending on the location of your system. At first, we tried sending it outside, but then remembered that we are also installing a high efficiency furnace. All high efficiency furnaces are also known as Condensing Gas Furnaces. Like the AC, they also create condensation as a by product of the heating process. All standard efficiency furnaces (80% AFUE) do not produce condensation. However, all Carrier furnaces greater than 90% AFUE are condensing gas furnaces (if you forgot what AFUE is check out my last entry). Therefore, since we will need to use the condensate pump during the winter - draining to the outdoors is not an option. A frozen tube will lead to a flooded basement. So we ran the tube in the ceiling rafters and over to the laundry room sink. You could also use a floor drain if your basement has one. I threaded the tube through an extra piece of copper tube to keep the tube exactly where I wanted it in the sink.

Step 5 - Solder the Line Set to the Evaporator Coil and Outdoor Unit
The larger tube is now covers by insulation.
The line set carries the refrigerant between the outdoor unit (AC or HP also called a Condenser) and the indoor unit (Evaporator Coil or Fan Coil if you are not using a furnace).

What the Line Set does and how it works  ***Warning*** I am about to get more technical than I ever intended...but after I wrote it I could not get myself to delete it...when your eyes start to glaze over...and they will...just skip to Step 6...The line set is made of two copper tubes that are imperative for transferring cool and warm between the indoors and outdoors. There is a larger copper tube that carries the cold vaporized refrigerant. This tube is covered by a insulated foam cover. And a smaller liquid tube which carries the warmer liquid refrigerant. The Outside Unit (Condenser) contains a compressor in it. This compressor compresses the refrigerant into a cold vapor gas. This gas is carried in the larger copper tube to the evaporator coil that sits above the furnace. The furnace blows warm air over the evaporator coil. The cold refrigerant extracts the heat from the warm air, thus making the air cooler as it moves over the coils. (Note air conditioning does not add cold to the air, it actually removes heat from the air). This cold air is then sent through the supply ducts to your living spaces. Your return ducts bring warm air back to the furnace were the refrigerant absorbs the warmth from the air. When it does this the refrigerant condenses back to a liquid. This warm liquid refrigerant is carried back to the condenser in the smaller copper tube. This copper tube connects to the coil that surrounds your air conditioner. Your air conditioners fan will turn on, sucking the relatively cooler outdoor air over the coils absorbing the heat from the refrigerant in the coils and the fan then blows the warmed air out through the top of the AC. The compressor then compresses this refrigerant, starting the process all over again.

BTW - today's most manufacturers use a refrigerant called 410a. It is safe for the environment. Many systems installed prior to 2010 had R-22, but it was deemed unsafe for the environment and banned from being manufactured in new systems. However, Carrier began switching to 410a back in 1996 because it was more eco-friendly. They trademarked the name Puron for their 410a systems.

Step 6 - Test the pressure in the system
Using a special vacuum pump and gauges (my work friend owns) you need to verify there are no leaks in the refrigerant system. After this step is performed you can release the refrigerant that is stored in the outdoor unit during manufacturing into the rest of the system.

Step 7 - Connect the Electricity

If you do not already have an condenser, than you will need to run a line to the outside that is connected to its own circuit breaker(s). You should also check to see if your electrical service can handle the increase draw. As such, we had our 100 amp service updated to 200 amp service last fall in anticipation of adding AC. Then this spring we had our electrician (Niskayuna Electric) run the line, too.

Then we attached a Disconnect Box to the outside of my house and connected the electrical line. The Disconnect Box is then connected to the Condenser with a Whip (the dark grey line in the picture to the left). The disconnect box just makes it very easy to disconnect the electricity running to the unit...thus making it easier and safer to service the AC.

In the picture to the left you can also see the refrigerant lines connecting to the outdoor unit as discussed in Step 5.


how to install central air - Infinity Air Conditioner

Pretty well hidden from the driveway view, however...
...looks like I better break out the hedge trimmer next!

...but more importantly...completely hidden from the front walkway view...
...thus keeping the charm of our 1938 stone and clapboard home and wooded lot...and
...happy wife...happy life  :-)

Oh...btw - I heard a rumor there is about to be a surplus of window units available on Craigslist soon...if you are looking for one (or four) let me know.


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