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AIR CONDITIONING & HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS
A/C - HEAT PUMP CONTROLS & SWITCHES
AIR CONDITIONER BTU CHART
AIR CONDITIONER COMPONENT PARTS
AIR CONDITIONER TYPES, ENERGY SOURCES
AIR CONDITIONER NOT WORKING
AIR FILTER EFFICIENCY
AIR FILTERS, FIBERGLASS PARTICLES
AIR FILTERS for HVAC SYSTEMS
AIR FLOW MEASUREMENT CFM
AIR HANDLER / BLOWER UNITS
ADDING A/C: RETROFIT SIZING
BLOWER FAN CONTINUOUS OPERATION
BLOWER FAN OPERATION & TESTING
BLOWER LEAKS, RUST & MOLD
COOLING COIL or EVAPORATOR COIL
DIRTY A/C BLOWERS
BACKUP HEAT for HEAT PUMPS
BLOWER DOORS & AIR INFILTRATION
BLOWER FAN CONTINUOUS OPERATION
BLOWER FAN OPERATION & TESTING
BOOKSTORE - Air Conditioning "How To" Books
CAPACITORS for HARD STARTING MOTORS
CHINESE DRYWALL HAZARDS
CIRCUIT BREAKER SIZE for A/C or HEAT PUMP
CLEANING & Legionella BACTERIA
CHINESE DRYWALL HAZARDS
COMBUSTION GASES & PARTICLE HAZARDS
COMPRESSOR & CONDENSING COIL, A/C
CONDENSATE HANDLING, A/C
CONDENSATION or SWEATING PIPES, TANKS
COOL OFF HEAT Thermostat Switch
COOLING CAPACITY, RATED
COOLING COIL or EVAPORATOR COIL
DAMAGED COOLING COIL
DIRTY COOLING COIL
DIRTY COIL CLEANING PROCEDURES
FROST BUILD-UP on AIR CONDITIONER COILS
INCREASING RETURN AIR
COOLING LOAD REDUCTION by ROOF VENTS
DATA TAGS on AIR CONDITIONERS
DEFINITION of Heating & Cooling Terms
DEW POINT CALCULATION for WALLS
DEW POINT TABLE - CONDENSATION POINT GUIDE
DIAGNOSE & FIX AIR CONDITIONER / HEAT PUMP
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-BOILER
DIAGNOSE & FIX HEATING PROBLEMS-FURNACE
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
DUCTS - Asbestos
DUCT INSULATION, Asbestos Paper
DUCT INSULATION for SOUNDPROOFING
DUCT SYSTEM NOISES
DUCTS, Asbestos Transite Pipe
DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY
DUST SAMPLING PROCEDURE
EDUCATION, HVAC SCHOOLS
ELECTRIC MOTOR DIAGNOSTIC GUIDE
ELECTRIC MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
ELECTRICAL POWER SWITCH FOR HEAT
EVAPORATOR COIL or COOLING COIL
EVAPORATIVE COOLING SYSTEMS
EXPANSION VALVES, REFRIGERANT
FAN, AIR HANDLER BLOWER UNIT
FAN AUTO ON Thermostat Switch
FAN, COMPRESSOR/CONDENSER UNIT
FAN CONVECTOR HEATERS - HYDRONIC COILS
FAN LIMIT SWITCH
FURNACES WARM AIR HEATING SYSTEMS
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
GAS DETECTION INSTRUMENTS
GAUGE, REFRIGERATION PRESSURE TEST
HEAT LOSS (or GAIN) in buildings
HEAT LOSS (or GAIN) INDICATORS
HEAT LOSS R U & K VALUE CALCULATION
HEATING SMALL LOADS
HOUSEWRAP AIR & VAPOR BARRIERS
HUMIDITY LEVEL TARGET
INDOOR AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT GUIDE
INSPECTION CHECKLIST - OUTDOOR UNIT
INSPECTION LIMITATIONS, A/C SYSTEMS
LEED GREEN BUILDING CERTIFICATION
LOST COOLING CAPACITY
LOW VOLTAGE TRANSFORMER TEST
MANUALS & PARTS GUIDES - HVAC
MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
MOLD in AIR HANDLERS & DUCT WORK
MOLD INFORMATION CENTER
NOISE AIR CONDITIONER / HEAT PUMP
Air Conditioning System Temperatures
Instruments Used to Measure A/C Temperatures
Procedures for Making Temperature Measurements
PORTABLE ROOM AIR CONDITIONERS
PRESSURE READINGS, REFRIGERANT
REFRIGERANTS & PIPING
GAUGE, REFRIGERATION PRESSURE TEST
REFRIGERANT CHARGING PROCEDURE
REFRIGERANT DRIERS & FILTERS
REFRIGERANT LEAK DETECTION
REFRIGERANT LEAK REPAIR
REFRIGERANT METERING DEVICES TEVs
REFRIGERANT METERING CAPILLARY TUBES
REFRIGERANT PIPING & DISTANCES
REFRIGERANT PIPING INSULATION
REFRIGERANT PRESSURE READINGS
REFRIGERANT SIGHT GLASS
REPAIR GUIDE, AIR CONDITIONERS / HEAT PUMPS
REPAIR & DIAGNOSTIC FAQs for A/C
RETROFIT SIZING for A/C or HEAT PUMPS
SEER RATINGS & OTHER DEFINITIONS
SPLIT SYSTEM AIR CONDITIONERS & HEAT PUMPS
THERMOSTATS, HEATING / COOLING
THERMOSTATIC EXPANSION VALVES
WATER COOLED AIR CONDITIONERS
WINDOW / WALL AIR CONDITIONERS
WINDOW / WALL A/C SUPPORTS
This article discusses the diagnosis and repair of cooling coil or evaporator coil problems that occur in the air conditioning or heat pump air handler unit such as frost or icing, dirt, blockage, refrigerant leaks, or improper sizing. Our photo at page top shows the cooling coil in the attic air handler component of a central air conditioning system.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.
If your air conditioning or heat pump system has lost its cooling capacity or won't start see REPAIR GUIDE for AIR CONDITIONERS. See How to determine the cooling capacity of air conditioning equipment if the system seems to be working but is inadequate to cool your building. Contact us to suggest text changes and additions and, if you wish, to receive online listing and credit for that contribution. Page top photo of an iced-up air conditioning evaporator coil are courtesy Guy Benfante.
The cooling coil or evaporator coil is where building indoor air cooling actually takes place.
The liquid air conditioning refrigerant entering the cooling coil through the metering device (a capillary tube or THERMOSTATIC EXPANSION VALVE) is increasingly changed to gas form as it "boils" or evaporates as the liquid refrigerant flows through the cooling or "evaporator" coil, so that at the end of the cooling coil the refrigerant is totally in gaseous form.
This state change (liquid to gas refrigerant) absorbs energy, cooling the tubing and fins of the cooling coil and thus indirectly, cooling and dehumidifying indoor air that is blown across the coil.
A cooling coil which is blocked by debris or ice and frost, or which is damaged can obstruct air flow and reduce air conditioning system output. The air conditioning system evaporator coil and problems include ice and frost build-up, dirt or debris blocking air flow through the coil, and damaged or leaky cooling coils.
We also discuss how cooling coils may be cleaned in-place and what to watch out for during that procedure. Cooling coils which are part of an air conditioning retrofit installation onto an existing warm air heating system can also present special problems of sizing and air flow, discussed further at ADDING A/C: RETROFIT SIZING. Sketch of heat transfer at the inside coil, also called the cooling coil or evaporator coil, courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
If ice, dirt, or damage block air flow across or through the cooling coil (evaporator coil) in an air conditioner, the cool air output will be substantially reduced or may even stop entirely.
Below we describe how the cooling coil works, what goes wrong with this component, and how its problems are diagnosed by simple visual inspection (inside of the air handler) or by some simple temperature measurements.
How To Inspect, Test, & Diagnose Cooling Coil (Evaporator Coil) Air Conditioner or Heat Pump Problems
Where to look for cooling coil problems: First, make a visual inspection of the cooling coil. Most air handlers provide an access panel or cover that can be removed to give at least partial view of the cooling coil surfaces. Turn off electrical power to the system to be safe from electrical shock. On opening an access cover or panel on the air handler you can recognize the cooling coil from our photos and sketches shown here and elsewhere on this website. You may need to use a flashlight and mirror to see the coil surfaces.
Remember to inspect the cooling coil from the incoming-air side - the side of the coil facing the blower fan assembly. That's because any dirt or debris entering the coil will come principally from this direction. If you inspect the wrong side of the coil it may look perfectly clean even though it is totally blocked by debris on its other surface. DIRTY COOLING COIL has photos of just how blocked a cooling coil can become in an air conditioner or heat pump.
Temperature measurements at the cooling coil: see OPERATING TEMPERATURES for a discussion of where and how air temperature measurements are made to diagnose cooling coil or other air conditioner operating problems.
Below we introduce some of the more common air conditioner or heat pump cooling coil or evaporator coil defects and repairs.
Air flow requirements across the air conditioning evaporator coil: if airflow is weak for any reason (dirty coil, duct system defects, blower fan defects, dirty blower squirrel cage fan), the air conditioning system will not operate properly. Some experts write that there should be between 350 and 400 cubic feet of air per minute (CFM) moving across the evaporator (cooling) coil for each ton of air conditioner capacity.
One ton of cooling or heating capacity = 12,000 BTUH so if your AC unit or heat pump is a 24,000 BTUH unit it is a "two ton" unit and needs to see 700 to 800 CFM of air across the evaporator coil.
Some home inspectors and air conditioning service technicians carry a small airflow meter that can actually measure this number with fair accuracy. (The same tool is nice for comparing air flow and balancing air flow at various building supply ducts and registers.
How Air Conditioning & Heat Pump Evaporator Coils (Cooling coils) are Cleaned
Evaporator coil cleaning often requires cutting refrigerant lines, removal of the coil and other components for cleaning, and reinstallation, pulling a vacuum on the refrigerant lines, and recharge with refrigerant. Such service and repair may involve significant expense, although there are some "in place" cleaning methods using foams and sprays that are a simpler procedure. See DIRTY COIL CLEANING PROCEDURES for details of this topic.
FROST BUILD-UP - Frost Build-up on the Evaporator Coil in an Air Conditioner
BLOCKED COOLING COIL - Air Conditioner Evaporator Coil Blocked by Debris or Dirt
Types of Evaporators or Evaporator Coils or Cooling Coils: Dry vs Flooded Evaporator Coil Designs
Our sketch (left) shows the basic layout of a commercial refrigeration system. Here we detail the difference between frosting and non-frosting evaporator coils and we explain how frosting-type systems must be defrosted to keep working.
Non-Frosting Evaporator or Cooling Coils - No Defrosting Needed
Dehumidifiers are examples of non-frosting type cooling coil designs. These devices are basically little "air conditioners" or cooling systems in their design (though their warm air output is exhausted directly into the same space). The dehumidifier system is a refrigeration system designed such that the coil will never form ice or frost.
Room air conditioners (portable or window or through wall units) are also examples of non-frosting type cooling coil designs.
These "frost-proof" or non-frosting systems (in normal operation) ar more difficult to charge: you must use a precisely measured charge or a temperature-sensing device and matching gauge with the temperature-sensing device - you find where the liquid ends in the evaporator line - where there is no further change in temperature in the evaporator coil tubing, there is no more liquid refrigerant present.
If you see ice or frost on these cooling coils it's an abnormal condition that needs to be diagnosed and repaired. See our diagnostic advice at FROST BUILD-UP on AIR CONDITIONER COILS
Defrosting Methods for Cooling Coils (Evaporator Coils) in Refrigeration Systems
Frosting Evaporator or Cooling Coils Require a Defrost Cycle
Examples of frosting evaporator coils or cooling coils include refrigerators (or freezers). When more than 1/4 of the surface is ice or frost that condition acts as an insulator that reduces the efficiency of the appliance, so the appliance will have to defrost itself - either automatically or manually.
There are two defrosting methods commonly used in frosting-evaporator coil designs:
Defrost by electrical resistance heating (common on refrigerators, including frost-resistance for door faces and jambs using extra resistance heating elements in those areas too);
Defrost by hot gas: a solenoid in the compressor discharge line shuts [sketch above left] down vapor from the condenser and deposits high pressure/high temperature refrigerant gas directly into the evaporator coil, bypassing the refrigerant metering valve (TEV or cap tube).
The problem with dumping high temperature refrigerant vapor into the cold (iced, needs defrosting) evaporator is that it causes it to begin to condense - back pressure of the gas goes up and head pressure at the condenser goes down - now liquid refrigerant can back up to the compressor (where it would cause damage).
To avoid compressor damage from liquid refrigerant during this defrost cycle we add heat at the end of the evaporator coil (cooling coil) to insure that refrigerant reenters the compressor as a vapor, never as a liquid. Typically, setting a maximum of 20 minutes of defrost cycle adds protection against warming up food in the refrigerator or freezer where this design is used.
The refrigeration compressor continues to run during the defrost cycle in the hot gas method case, but the compressor will not keep running during the defrost cycle in the electrical resistance defrost cycle method.
When is cooling coil frosting abnormal?
Note that on dehumidifiers and air conditioners or heat pumps frost or ice formation on the cooling coil is not normal and is an indication of the need for repairs. See our diagnostic advice at FROST BUILD-UP on AIR CONDITIONER COILS
How cooling coils are changed-out or replaced
When an evaporator coil or cooling coil needs replacement (perhaps because the old one is damaged or leaky):
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about cooling coils (evaporator coils) in air conditioners, heat pumps, refrigeration systems
Question: what should the air temperature be when leaving the cooling coil of an air conditioning system?
What is normally the air temperature leaving the evaporator?
I never looked into it but I think it should be as close to 32F (freezing) as possible (-- with out reaching freezing - Not to cause ice accumulation on the evaporator fins).
I want to put a thermometer by the evaporator fins and see how good the air cooling is, its probably an good indirect way to see if there is sufficient refrigerant in the system or if there is air or other gases mixed in with it -- making the cooling inefficient. - E.K.
Reply: look at the air temperature drop across the cooling coil rather than looking for an absolute or specific air temperature
Air temperature leaving the evaporator: there may be some standards that I don't know (probably are) but the way I look at it, because of variation in refrigerants, air speed across the evaporator, and temperature of the incoming air aimed at the evaporator, we look more at the temperature difference across the evaporator to see if it's doing its job.
Figure that 15-20 degF would be a good temperature drop across the coil for a typical air conditioning system. Other experts add that the temperature difference across an evaporator (cooling coil) may be as little as 14 degF or as much as 22 degF.
To a beginner HVAC servicve tech [DF] it was striking to see how dramatic and critical was the effect of airflow across the evaporator coil on coil behavior and coil frosting or icing. During an actual case of refrigeration system diagnosis  (the coil was icing over and the system was not cooling) I sought to adjust the TEV to bring the frost line to the end of the cooling coil where it belonged. But one learns immediately that only if the blower fan was sending air across the cooling coil could one expect the system to behave as designed. Without that airflow, at just about any TEV setting of refrigerant flow rate into the evaporator coil the coil would ice up quickly.
Temperature measurements at the cooling coil: see OPERATING TEMPERATURES for a detailed discussion of where and how air temperature measurements are made to diagnose cooling coil or other air conditioner operating problems.
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