Fuses -- Anyone who has worked with electrical systems knows all about fuses and how they fail. They can burn out over time, may just be loose, or can blow out during an electrical storm or due to overload from another failed component. Of course, that's what they're supposed to do; they stop surges from going through and damaging the rest of the system. When a fuse fails, whatever system it was protecting will stop working.
Having the most energy-efficient system ever built won't matter much if it's not maintained. Lack of maintenance is the number one killer of HVAC systems. Before each cooling season, it's recommended that your system get a professional tune-up. However, there are things you can do in the meantime to make sure your system runs efficiently throughout the year.
Dehumidification (air drying) in an air conditioning system is provided by the evaporator. Since the evaporator operates at a temperature below the dew point, moisture in the air condenses on the evaporator coil tubes. This moisture is collected at the bottom of the evaporator in a pan and removed by piping to a central drain or onto the ground outside.
Ground source, or geothermal, heat pumps are similar to ordinary heat pumps, but instead of transferring heat to or from outside air, they rely on the stable, even temperature of the earth to provide heating and air conditioning. Many regions experience seasonal temperature extremes, which would require large-capacity heating and cooling equipment to heat or cool buildings. For example, a conventional heat pump system used to heat a building in Montana's −70 °F (−57 °C) low temperature or cool a building in the highest temperature ever recorded in the US—134 °F (57 °C) in Death Valley, California, in 1913 would require a large amount of energy due to the extreme difference between inside and outside air temperatures. A few feet below the earth's surface, however, the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Utilizing this large source of relatively moderate temperature earth, a heating or cooling system's capacity can often be significantly reduced. Although ground temperatures vary according to latitude, at 6 feet (1.8 m) underground, temperatures generally only range from 45 to 75 °F (7 to 24 °C).
HVAC is an important part of residential structures such as single family homes, apartment buildings, hotels and senior living facilities, medium to large industrial and office buildings such as skyscrapers and hospitals, vehicles such as cars, trains, airplanes, ships and submarines, and in marine environments, where safe and healthy building conditions are regulated with respect to temperature and humidity, using fresh air from outdoors.
Contact/Relay -- Relays are electronically controlled switches that activate the various components of your HVAC system. They manage everything from the power going to the motor to automatic dampers, humidifiers, etc. Most of them are controlled by the thermostat. The most common failure for a relay is being stuck in the "open" position. Separated from its assigned contact point, it fails to complete the connection and send the message to whatever it was supposed to operate. This failure usually occurs from use over time. Each time a relay connects and sends its signal, the electrical arcing from point to point eventually causes wear and tear.
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Be careful with HVAC change-outs. Change-outs are only about 15-20% of the HVAC installation industry. Decrease HVAC installation cost by investing in new ductwork now if needed. Your ducts wear out too, and make sure that your ducts are in fantastic shape if you do this. Many contractors push this because it’s easy and cheap for them, with good pay-off. Do your research and replace them if you need to in order to avoid doing it later, as well as avoid potential health hazards from using old, broken ductwork.
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
If you are using existing ducting, it will have to be inspected. Proper ducting loses around 2% to 5% of your energy. Old, leaking ducts can lose 50% or more. A contractor will need to have the ducts inspected and replace any parts ahead of time. If you are changing the size of your HVAC system because of significant changes to your home, you might need to replace the ductwork regardless.
Window air conditioners cost less than central units, averaging $300. These systems generally suffice to keep a room cool on warm spring and summer days. They can bring added comfort for a reasonable price but are less powerful than a central air conditioner. If you have a bigger home with multiple rooms, you will probably need to have a larger system installed. Central air can cool several rooms at once, while window AC units usually only cover one or two rooms at a time.
Central, "all-air" air-conditioning systems (or package systems) with a combined outdoor condenser/evaporator unit are often installed in North American residences, offices, and public buildings, but are difficult to retrofit (install in a building that was not designed to receive it) because of the bulky air ducts required. (Minisplit ductless systems are used in these situations.) Outside of North America, packaged systems are only used in limited applications involving large indoor space such as stadiums, theatres or exhibition halls.
An air conditioning system's SEER is especially important if you live in a climate that changes temperature dramatically. The SEER is determined by the cooling output during the winter divided by its electric input during the winter. The higher the rating, the more efficient it will be. In January of 2006, the U.S. put standards in place for cooling units which are still in effect today. They must have a minimum SEER of 13. So, if you live in a home with a system installed before the new standards went into effect, consider having it replaced. SEER 13 units increase home efficiency by 30 percent.
These factors are included in a "Manual J" calculation. Contractors who make these calculations before recommending a size can take a couple of hours collecting the information and making the calculation. If your contractor doesn't do it, there are services that will do it for around $99. If you're feeling particularly on the ball, there are also free online calculators.
An AC contactor is a $25 mechanical relay that uses low-voltage power from the thermostat to switch 220-volt high-amperage current to the compressor and condenser fan. AC contactors can wear out and are at the top of the list of common air conditioning service failures. Even if your AC contactor is working, it pays to replace it every five years or so. Unscrew the old AC contactor before removing the wires. Then move the wires to the new unit (Photo 6).