Let’s Get Technical: Common HVAC Acronyms & Terms in Layman’s Terms

February 25, 2020
Advice

Whether you’re getting your HVAC equipment serviced, or you need to install new equipment, you may feel like there are tons of confusing terms being thrown your way. Do you feel like the HVAC technicians are speaking in a different language? Let’s translate it to layman’s terms with the help of our resident expert, Jake Sandlin, Charlotte Mechanical’s Operations Manager.

Q: Jake: why do you feel this information is important to homeowners?

J: We pride ourselves on absolute and complete transparency with our customers. And part of that is education. I see it as a disservice to the customer if homeowners are not told this information, so that’s part of our training program – to help our technicians and installers explain all the technicalities of HVAC in simple and straightforward ways. I expect the same when I’m the customer, perhaps buying insurance, stocks or the like. I would hope that particular expert would steer me in the right direction since I wouldn’t understand every aspect of what they do.  

Q: What does the Ton rating mean? Why does it matter?

J: A ton of refrigeration is a unit of power used to describe the heat-extraction capacity of refrigeration and air conditioning (A/C) equipment.

A refrigeration ton is approximately equivalent to 12,000 BTU/h. Air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment capacity in the U.S. is often specified in "tons" of refrigeration or BTU’s.

So, we perform a load calculation on your house to figure out the proper size for your home’s A/C unit.

If a contractor puts too large of an A/C unit in your house, it will not run long enough to remove moisture from the air making your house cool, but humid. If a contractor puts in too small of an A/C unit, it will be on all the time and never bring the temperature down to the set point on the thermostat.

Q: What does it mean when a HVAC company says, “We are doing a load calculation on your house?”

J: We are saying we want to verify how many Tons or BTUs we need to heat or cool your house properly. Units manufactured in the U.S. range from 1.5-5 tons.

Q: What are ECM motors and should homeowners have one?

J: ECM stands for Electronically Commutated Motor, which basically means that this motor has been converted from AC to DC current. By doing this, the motor uses less power, can run much quieter (assuming you have properly sized duct work), and moves more air as well.

I recommend an ECM to every customer if they are deciding to upgrade equipment. With the performance and energy savings difference, it is an easy recommendation. (I have an ECM in my house.)

Q: Are all ECM motors the same orare there differences?

J: There are differences and you should be aware of them. HVAC sales people freely throw around the saying “it’s an ECM motor” but there are actually major differences.

- Constant Torque “X13” Motor: This motor has preset speeds 1-5. Once set, the motor will make sure that it is operating to the torque level predetermined by the motor manufacturer. Think of this motor like a ratchet; as your filter gets dirty it will adjust to the next higher setting to try and maintain proper airflow.

- Constant CFM “Variable Speed” Motor: These motors have settings that the installer sets to try and match the exact amount of airflow needed for your house. If your filter gets dirty it can adjust to almost any amount of airflow necessary. There are limitations though. If the installing company did not verify properly sized duct work, it can leave you with an excessively loud motor. Or if the installer didn't verify/set the motor correctly, the furnace/air handler may not be delivering enough airflow. When installed properly, a Variable Speed ECM motor is the ultimate in comfort, efficiency and noise level.  

Q: What is SEER and when might homeowners expect to hear about it?

J: SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. Think of SEER as MPG with your car. The higher the SEER rating, the more air conditioning you get per dollar. We discuss SEER every time we recommend getting a new system.

Q: What if homeowners have additional questions?

J: Just ask! We love explaining the ins and outs of HVAC. You can click the icon on our website (look at the bottom right corner) to text us, shoot us an email or give us a call at 704-771-1020. We look forward to hearing from you.

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