Every Spring we begin to see advertisements for Air Conditioning Inspections, Cooling System Inspections, and HVAC Inspections. Many of these inspections advertisements talk about energy savings, electric bill savings, and some of them may talk about preventative maintenance. Some contractors advertise a free HVAC Inspection provided the customer follows the advice of any service work recommended by the technician or signs an agreement (contract) to automatically schedule preventative visits at a set frequency (once or twice a year).
At Christopher Molnar, LLC we believe that an HVAC/R inspection should be a true inspection not a combination sales call, preventative maintenance, or even a bait and switch for the equipment owner. HVAC Inspections are normally called for as a part of a real estate transaction (where a home inspection has failed or questions the HVAC system), part of the construction process (rough in inspection), as a result of an insurance claim, a final installation inspection (quality installation verification), or as a part of a complete energy audit of a building. More and more building owners are requesting an HVAC inspection if their normal contractor recommends a system replacement as the cost of the inspection is an economical second opinion prior to spending thousands to replace. If the inspection is combined with a cleaning and servicing of equipment that portion the service needs to be considered a preventative maintenance.
When our fully licensed technicians arrive at your building or job-site they will have a pre-planned inspection checklist and have been trained on all appropriate testing procedures. We will look at the full air conditioning and/or heating system. If it is a heat pump or an air conditioning system combined with a gas furnace our technicians have the proper training to evaluate and test all equipment in accordance with the manufactures installation and service manuals. By the use of our specialized test equipment and tools we are able to give the customer a complete picture of the health of their equipment and building.
What does an HVAC inspection entail? Let’s walk through what you can expect from our trained technicians during a mechanical inspection:
1) The technician will do a walk through with the customer and make sure that they have identified all equipment and the locations of the air duct systems. During this walk through they will also do a preliminary visual inspection to make sure the system is up to code, we want safety to be for front on everyone’s mind and they will take notes for the final report as they do this evaluation. They will also gather all models and serial numbers on their list.
2) The next step the technician will take will be to inspect the thermostat for proper operation. The technician wants to ensure that the system is wired correctly, and that the thermostat responds to heat, cool, first stage, second stage, fan-on, fan-off, and if available dehumidification. If the thermostat does not operate properly they will verify the proper wiring of Y1, Y2, C, R, RC, RH, G, O, B and C (or any other connections that are required for the specific system).
3) The technician will then begin at the air handle or the furnace. Our technicians begin here because without the air blowing through the ductwork nothing else will work. The technician will check all electrical connections in the equipment and make sure none of the electrical components are worn out or showing signs of immanent failure, paying attention to the condition of the wiring and the wire insulation. They will double check any fuses that are in the system and look for signs of a blown fuse. They use a mirror and inspect all areas that are not immediately visible, including the blower motor and fan. They will check the filters and if they need to be changed and the customer has a new one handy they will be happy to replace that filter before they move on. A clean filter is critical to proper results in the inspection process. If there is a gas furnace, the technician will inspect all safety and gas operating controls, including the gas valve. If it is an electric furnace the technician will very proper operation and insulation of the heat strips. If it is a gas furnace they will check to make sure that the burners are clean and that the gas pressure is set to industry standards.
4) Once the inspection of the air handle or furnace is complete they will move onto check the condition of the duct work. Beginning at the plenum they will take a look at the insulation, check the condition and operation of any electric zone dampers including the motors (actuators), and double check to make sure the wiring matches the wiring diagram. If there is a UV light or an air purified installed in the system, the inspector will verify proper wiring and operation. Most residential system do not have economizers (a way to bring in outside cool air without the need to run the compressor on cool days for some energy savings) but if one is present on a commercial system they will check that control and the operation of the dampers and sensors.
5) The technician will continue through the supply ductwork and check and make sure there is not any visible damage to the diffusers and grills. The technician will also check any return ductwork that is present for signs of damage and also check the grilles for proper placement and operation. The technician will keep an eye open and note the location of any suspected biological growth so that it can be sampled and sent to a qualified laboratory to check for mold. The technician will also make note of the cleanliness of the ductwork and recommend if duct cleaning should be performed.
6) Once complete with the air handler/furnace, and ductwork the technician will set the system to cooling mode, turn down the temperature so that it runs constantly, and move to the outside unit. Once outside the technician will use their multi-meter to check for proper voltage, frequency, and amp-draw on the motors and compressor. They will then take the temperature of all lines and install their test gauges on the system. Our technicians use low loss fittings with electronic communicating gauges so that they have virtually no refrigerant (Freon) loss and they are able to capture the readings and generate reports from their smart phones. Once they have the temperatures and pressures they will shut the outside unit down using the disconnect on the outside of the building.
7) If there was a refrigerant issue (low or high charge) they will do a visual inspection of the line sets and all copper fittings looking for leaks. Leaks are most often pretty visible because there is always a little oil loss. Many times, here in Florida linesets (the refrigerant lines that connect the indoor and outdoor units) are in contact with the ground and fails underground where it is not visible. If the visual inspection does not find any they will quote a leak check to be done at a later time as a part of their final inspection report.
8) Next the technician will perform and electrical inspection of the condenser. They will remove the covers and check the capacitor(s), the contactor, the circuit boards, any pressure switches that are used for safety, they will verify proper operation of any thermostats and temperature probes (most often found on heat pumps) and they will ohm out the windings on the fan motor and the compressor. The resistance of the windings along with the other readings give a true picture of the equipment health. They will note any deviations from the manufactures specifications.
9) Once completed with their electrical inspection the technician will put all the covers back on and restart the unit. They will wait about 10 minutes and then verify their gauge readings again. After removing their gauges and temperature probes they will go back to the inside of the building.
10) Since the equipment is still running and has been running for enough time for readings to stabilize they will now take the temperature of the supply and return air as well as the humidity of the return air. This allows them to use their test instruments and software to generate a “actual cooling” rating that can be compared to the factory rating of the equipment. While the two numbers will never be equal they should be close (there is always some duct loss outside of the factory test conditions).
11) Since Christopher Molnar believes that the HVAC system works in conjunction with the house in general our technician will use an infra-red camera to look for obvious signs of duct leakage in the attic (if accessible) while the system is operational and providing cool air to the space.
Our inspections can be combined with some optional services such as:
1) Duct testing: The ductwork is sealed at each supply and return register from the rest of the building and the ducts are put into a vacuum using a specialized blower and gauges. This allows the technician to determine exactly how much conditioned air is being lost from the ductwork to the unconditioned environment outside. This is wasted cooling or heating dollars.
2) Blower door testing: The building is sealed from outdoors (windows, doors, and fireplace dampers closed), the HVAC system is turned off. The technician than uses a blower door and heavy duty specialized fan to put the building into a slight vacuum. This allows the technician to determine how much air is leaking into and out of the home. The ideal rate of air exchange is about 3 air changes an hour. This means that the air in your building is exchanged with the outdoor fresh air about 3 times and hour. Most older homes are exchanging air with the outside about 10 times and hour. The minimum building code requirement for new construction in Florida is between 3 and 7 times and hour. We never want a building to be on the high end of that range, or over that range.
3) Duct and air balancing: This is where we do a heat load calculation on your building and determine how many CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air is required for each room. We then use (or sometimes need to install) dampers into the ductwork and use these to regulate the correct amount of air into each room. The air is measured using a hood that fits over every supply register.
Once all the steps of the HVAC inspection and any optional inspections have been completed our trained and certified technician will prepare a preliminary report to give to the customer at the time of service. If this inspection was performed at the request of a real estate agent at the time of a home purchase, we will provide a final certified report on the site. Within two business days of our inspection we will provide a final copy of the report that we will mail to the customer along with a letter making any recommendations for corrections of any deficiencies we found.
As you can see a true HVAC inspection is not a small job. A good inspector can complete the basic equipment and ductwork inspection in about 1.5 hours. The additional inspections (Duct and Blower Door Testing) add about an hour each to the process. The air balancing inspection/service can add 2-3 hours depending on the availability of the dampers. Many residential buildings do not include any airflow dampers in the ductwork by default.
Through this entire process our technicians want the customer(s) to be included. We request that you ask any questions, we will do our best to provide answers. If it is outside of the area of our technician’s expertise we will let you know that as well. If you have an air conditioning or heating contractor that you normally use, we are happy to provide them with the results of our testing as well, they are our partners in bringing you comfort and energy efficiency. We do not do any replacement work or new installations, so our inspections are truly a third party and represent only the facts that we are able to document through our test procedures, protocols, software, and manufacturer test programs.
When you find yourself in the need of an HVAC inspection please call us at 863-949-0887 or make an appointment online.