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HVAC Unit Recall: GE Zoneline® Units Recalled Due to Risk of Fire

General Electric has issued a recall for certain Zoneline® packaged AC and heating units. Listed below are more details. We found this news information on the GE’s official website and the Consumer Product Safety Commission‘s website.

Which Products are Involved

GE Zoneline® Air Conditioning and heating units, sold nationwide from January 2010 through December 2013. The CPSC site article stated that more than 33,000 of these package units were involved. This type of unit is typically used in commercial spaces or settings such as: apartments, condos or hotels. Because they are used more in commercial settings, they would likely have been installed by a heating and air conditioning contractor.

Reason for Recall

The reason for the recall is risk of fire when the unit is operated with the external vent open. Moisture from the outdoor air can accumulate near the heating unit when operated with the vent door continuously open. This, along with a short in electrical components, can create an electrical ground path and arcing, which poses a risk of fire.

What to Do / How To Contact GE if Your Have These

On its site, GE advises the following: Do not operate the PTAC with the external vent open until after the unit has been repaired. For repair: on the GE web page in the link above in the first paragraph, enter your model and serial numbers. This will determine if your unit is included in the recall. If your unit is affected, to schedule service, you can call the GE Recall Hotline Toll-Free at 1-866-723-2697. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET. Before you call, look on your unit and write down the the model and serial number.

If you have an experience to share about owning on of these units, or if you are involved in repair service for these, please add comments.


HVAC Repairs: Do Universal Fit or Aftermarket Parts Work as Well as OEM Parts?

While reading HVAC industry publications, I frequently see ads for companies that provide “universal” replacement parts.  In this context, universal means that these replacement parts will fit many brands and models of AC and heating systems, but they were not made by the same company that made the original part. In other industries these would sometimes be called aftermarket parts. These universal fit, aftermarket parts often feature settings and mounting hardware that cover a wide variety of applications.  Since repairs tend to be more common during extreme (hot or cold) weather, often both homeowners and contractors often get in a rush to get systems going again.  Although this topic can be ignored, for the long haul you would do well to be aware of this choice — ask a few questions about parts being used in your system.

In other blogs and pages on our website, you’ll see many references to this fact: there are more brands of new HVAC equipment than there are factories making them.  This means that some brands of new equipment have the same or very similar main components as other brands.  A few examples of these parts include: compressors, condensers, coils, fans, blowers, controls, and more.  For these reasons, the concept of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is less differentiated in the HVAC component and parts industry than in some other industries.

HVAC contractor point of view

For the company doing the repairs, having universal fitting parts offers several advantages. For starters, although many AC and heating contractors will focus on a limited number of brands of new equipment, most will repair ALL makes and models of central AC and heating systems.  Universal fit repair parts mean that the contractor can:  a- keep less inventory on their trucks or in their warehouse; b- spend less time going for / waiting on OEM replacement parts; c- be more efficient and make more profit on flat rate repair jobs, save money for the homeowner, or some combination.

Homeowner point of view and questions to ask

For the homeowner, the following considerations come into play when comparing OEM parts with universal fit ones:

Availability – is the OEM part available? If not, your decision just got easier — you’ll have to go with an aftermarket or universal fit one.

Cost – now, and over the life of the repair part or your system.

Performance — does the universal fit product fit and work as well — or better than — a replacement original or OEM one?

Warranty – would a non-OEM part void all or part of the original warranty on your system? If yes, is it worth it? If not, what is the warranty on the parts and labor on the OEM part vs. the universal part you are considering.

If you have related experience with this topic, please share them so others can benefit.




Air Balancing in Home AC and Heating Systems

In this blog post, I’m going to write about an topic that is well known in commercial HVAC, but not as commonly known by owners of residential AC and heating: air balancing.  The ability to balance air delivery is part of a professional installation and the “whole house” approach.  It is one of the criteria that separates professionals from the corner cutters or “connect and go” furnace or AC installation.  As with all our posts, we chose this topic independently and do not receive compensation for writing it.

What it means: delivering the proper cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air that each room needs to receive, based on its size and conditions.

Why it matters:  Delivering more air to a room is not necessarily better. Rather, getting the optimum amount of air delivered to each room prevents hot and cold areas within your house, affects how much you pay in utility bills each month, and can even affect how long some components last.

Factors that affect air balancing: size of the room; size, type and condition of the ducts; fireplaces and chimneys; kitchen exhaust fans; bathroom vent fans, etc.

Who does it: the contractor who installs or repairs your ac and heating system should include measured, optimum air balancing in their work. There are national organizations that provide training and certification for HVAC contractors in air balancing.  We’ll provide links at the end of the article.

When to do it: include it as a final stage action in new HVAC system and ductwork installation.  For existing systems, it would be done with an energy audit, duct sealing or replacement, or when replacing major components.

Do you have rooms that are too hot or too cold?  If there are deficiencies in your ductwork, those will likely need to be corrected before your system can be balanced.
Once the ductwork is ready, to properly balance the delivery of conditioned air, your contractor first has to calculate the airflow requirements for each room and adjust the airflow accordingly.  Your contractor may need to install adjustable balancing dampers.

NBI Certification: Certified contractors have an NBI stamp. They put their certification number on drawings and reports.  More info on the National Comfort Institute can be found here.

Book Review: “From Contractor to Consumer” By Joe Gorman

Before going further, we will give a disclaimer that is important to us and should be to you:  we found and purchased a copy of this book unsolicited, and receive no compensation of any kind for this review or from book orders.  We wrote this review because we find its content relevant and useful to home and building owners or occupants.

Who: Author is Joe Gorman, a HVAC contractor in California and industry expert.
What: Paperback, about 60 pages of content
When: Buy before choosing a heating and AC contractor or system, or having repairs done.
Why:    In about an hour, you can read the whole book, and get a candid insider’s view of heating and AC systems and practices.
How Much: $10.95 plus postage
Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars.

What we like most about the book

– Author’s impressive list of credentials and experience.
– Skillful use of tables, lists, and info boxes for easier reading– there are more than a dozen of these.
– The book provides practical and high-impact advice.
– The points he emphasized are very similar to the ones we have emphasized over the years.
– Effective use of technical terms — in the amount necessary — and in a way consumers can understand.

The book has a subtitle: the Truth about Heating, Air Conditioning, and Home Comfort SystemsOur consensus: the book accurately delivers on it. We won’t attempt to go into more detail or somehow condense 60 pages of well written, appropriately technical content into a list for this review.  From our perspective, though, the author makes a great case for why you need to take time to learn about the topic. And, he provides specific action point and next steps.

We are often quoted as saying “the main benefit of any heating and AC system is to provide more comfort and lower bills”.  “From Contractor to Consumer” takes this approach also, and adds some hard-hitting discussion of safety and what can happen if it is ignored.

What we would like to see different
We don’t see much room for improvement.  If there were a way to summarize a bit more of the text into additional tables and lists, that would make the book even better.  As stated above, we counted 12 examples of tables, lists, etc.

If you have related experience you would like to share, please join in the discussion.

Do You Have A Leaking AC Evaporator (Indoor) Coil?

In many of my blog posts, I go into lots of detail.  For this post, however, I’m trying a shorter format for two reasons: a – our readers are busy, and want useful information in bite-sized pieces; and 2- the causes of leaks in AC evaporator coils seems more varied than the solution.

Symptoms of leak in indoor coils

  • Periodically being told that refrigerant needs to be added
  • AC system and fan runs, but warm air comes from vents

Causes of leaks in evaporator coils

In the HVAC forums I monitor, the posts on leaky indoor coils tend to come in waves, sometime focused in certain geographical areas.  Humid climates tend to increase some of the issues.  Lately the number of posts has been high.  Leaky coil issues are fairly widespread, and are not limited to any particular brand. Listed below are some of the possible causes of leaks:

  • Corrosion of tubes (“formicary corrosion”) increasing due to “tighter” house construction. Corrosion causes pinholes in the copper tubes
  • Corrosive gasses or fumes from defective drywall or other building materials, contents, or household chemicals.
  • AC coils being made of thinner-walled, lighter gauge copper
  • Higher operating pressures in newer equipment
  • Manufacturing defects in tubing

Possible solutions and questions to ask your contractor

  • If your AC and heating system is older (10 years is a benchmark used by some of the municipal rebate programs) or not very efficient, before doing a major repair, such as replacing a compressor, coil, or heat exchanger, you should also compare the cost of replacement.  Most rebates and tax credits require the installation of a new system to qualify.  Plus you’ll lower your monthly utility bills and future repair bills.  If you are in a position to possibly replace your system, you can use our free grid to compare bids.
  • If your AC and heating system is otherwise OK, ask your HVAC contractor if either a plated (tin) or aluminum corrosion-resistant replacement coil will work in your equipment and situation. If you don’t have a reliable service company, you can visit this page to learn how.

If you have experience with a leaky AC coils, either as an owner or technician, please enter your comments so others can learn.



Reasons Service Companies Choose to be Dealers For AC Brands

Before diving into this topic, I’ll repeat three essential, related themes you’ll see throughout our website: a- The quality of the AC and heating equipment installation matters more than equipment brand. Quality includes selecting right size and type of equipment for the local climate and the envelope of your home or building and also how the equipment is installed. b-There are more equipment brands than there are major manufacturers of the most important components. c- Our website is brand neutral — we don’t accept payment for writing about brands.

Within that context, when buying a new AC system or getting your existing one repaired, it can be useful to know why your local AC and heating contractor has chosen to be a dealer for a particular brand, or a limited number of equipment brands.  The info below is taken mainly from my daily reading of a forum of independent heating and AC contractors. These tend to be both candid and insightful.

Listed below are 10 common reasons — and their possible benefits to or impact on you:
1- Access to or trust relationship with local distributors and their account reps for parts and support.

When their supplier is close by, your local contractor can install or repair your equipment more efficiently. This can save time for you too, and can even mean the difference in you being without cooling or heating overnight in some cases.

2- Lower number of items to keep in inventory, both new units and brand specific repair parts.

This can result in your equipment getting installed faster, better, at a lower cost or a combination of these.

3- Time required for required to stay current technical training, service bulletins, sales and marketing info, and internal policies of each manufacturer or vendor.

Same as above…this can result in your equipment getting installed faster, better, at a lower cost or a combination of these.

4- Contractual reasons: Franchise, Ownership, etc.

Being a dealer for a particular brand may be required due contractual obligations of a franchise, or in some cases, being owned by a equipment manufacturer or its parent company.

5- History with that brand, and the expense of / reluctance to change.

Each service company wants the quality of their service to be your main focus. This is natural part of the industry — don’t look at it as a problem. However, if a service company has been a dealer of a brand for a long time, there is a certain inertia involved. Adding another brand or switching brands will have inherent costs and unknowns for any service company.

6- Ability to meet different price points and give their customers a choice: Good, Better, Best.

Positioning, wholesale costs or profit margins can vary among brands. Some brands have been or are “positioned” in the market as premium, good, or “tract home/builder grade” equipment (usually associated with lowest cost and quality).

7- Seeking a lower level of defects, higher reliability, or better warranty / service

All brands will have defects or failures from time to time, and these can come in “waves”.  The practical issue for you and the service company is how efficiently the manufacturer handles claims to make things right with the homeowner and the dealer.

8- Seeking lower competition

Contractors prefer to have less competitors, especially from installers who cut corners or those who have a “captive” audience.  Though competition is generally good for consumers, for the contractor more competitors also means more opportunities for the “corner cutters” to underbid the high-quality installers who won’t cut corners (in places like training, insurance, replacing existing ductwork or dealing with existing wiring issues). Re: the audience, there is a growing trend of utility companies (who have more of a “captive” audience via their utility bills) getting into the HVAC business.

9– Rebates and incentives that can be passed along to customers

Any way to lower the initial cost will help sell more systems. It also means a quicker return on/of the homeowner’s purchase of a new system rather than keeping an older, inefficient one going.

10 – Personal preference of the service company owner.

Each AC heating brand has a company culture or “personality” in both customer perception and in behind-the-scene operations.  In some cases, either aspect can be enough to cause a service company owner to be attracted to a brand, or choose to avoid or drop it.

If you need more info on how to choose a reliable contractor, use the main navigation in the gray bar at the top of this page.  Also, if you are considering a private label AC heating system, here is a related blog.

Do you have a related experience or opinion to share? If so, please send it.


Review of the “Cash For Caulkers” Program HVAC Resource

I am always on the lookout for useful websites and research about home AC, heating, energy efficiency, rebates, saving money, and HVAC related topics. Every week, I dig through a small mountain of articles and alerts, and many (in fact most) of them are filled with keyword spam and lack anything useful.  In sharp contrast to the norm, last week I got an email and phone call from Houston Neal, Marketing Director at another Austin based company named Software Advice. They have put together an usually useful article and simple grid to help home and building owners (and others) understand the Cash For Caulkers program. I’ll paste an except from the article below and then a link to the full article at the end.

“Cash for Caulkers” is nearly here. Last month the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5019 – also known as the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 or “Cash for Caulkers” – to kick-start construction, create jobs and cut back carbon emissions. While the bill still needs to clear the Senate, supporters predict it will pass this summer.

This is great news for homeowners and contractors alike. The bill provisions $6 billion for energy-efficient or “green” retrofits. It is expected to fund renovations for 3 million families, create 168,000 new jobs and save consumers $9.2 billion on energy bills over the next 10 years.

But in order to cash in on upcoming rebates, homeowners and contractors will need to do their homework. There are 13 types of retrofits eligible for funding. Each retrofit has unique eligibility requirements and set rebate amounts. You can read the full text at the link below.

We made it really easy to wade through the legalese. Below is a table that breaks down the 13 retrofits of the bill, along with the requirements and rebate amount for each. In addition to the requirements we listed, each retrofit must comply with Building Performance Institute (BPI) standards or other procedures to be approved by the Secretary of Energy.

If you have a related experience or opinion, please send it in so others can benefit from it.

Why Heating A/C and Plumbing Contractors Do Background Checks On Their Technicians

Recently, I had the chance to meet with a long-time veteran of the home heating, A/C and plumbing business in a large western U.S. city.  He said something I knew a little about, but had never heard stated so directly.  He said:

Heating, A/C and plumbing are some of the main vocational training programs that are taught in prisons. That’s one of the reasons our company does background checks and drug addiction screening on all our employees…”

After a prisoner has served his or her sentence, having a productive job can help keep them from returning to prison. This, of course, is a good thing for a civilized society.  At the same time, home or building owners need to know that a technician who will be working in or own their property is both competent in HVAC and trustworthy.

Screening and background checks on employees could prevent a person with violence, molestation, or similar baggage in their past or present (particulary offenses with a high rate of recidivism) from getting a job at your local heating and air conditioning company.

What you can do to find quality heating and A/C service companies

So, in addition to the quick tips you will see on the pages of our website, before you have a contractor repair or replace your heating and AC equipment, ask if and how they screen their employees for undesirable history.

Background checks, like other overhead costs of technical training and certification, bonding, and insurance, can translate into higher bids or costs than companies who do not cover these benefits or protection for their customers. Of course, cost can naturally be divided into initial cost and longer term or unforseen costs. Generally, service companies with good infrastructure have better procedures.  This usually means they are less likely to make mistakes. And if they do make an error or if a defect in equipment presents itself, they have the resources to make things right.