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The 1-2-3s of the SEER 13.

For more than six years, the apartment industry has been bombarded with HVAC news, statistics and, just recently, replacement frenzy.

1. Know what it is. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Energy established a role that amended energy conservation standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps to help the nation conserve energy. The regulation, which took effect January 2006, raised the minimum Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) value for residential air conditioners and heat pumps by 30 percent, from SEER 10 to SEER 13, which is the minimum standard.

The July 2005 issue of UNITS addressed owners' and managers' concerns about the regulation and the need for the newer SEER models, and that advice may have calmed some owners' worries.

But now that the regulation deadline has come and gone--and the oppressing heat has settled in for a record-breaking summer--who's going to install, maintain and fix that new HVAC system?

2.Know whom to hire. "Lately there has been a push from contractors and organizations to require communities to have qualified people replacing air conditioning units by requiring permits for each unit replaced," said David Jolley, CAMT, Equity Residential, Piano, Texas. "Requiring permits will do a couple of things: One, the cities can increase income with each unit replaced, and two, it will require more qualified associates and contractors to replace the units. Many onsite employees never have had any technical training and this work will be more than they know how to do."

Some of "this work" includes understanding saturation points, superheat and refrigerant flow, Jolley said.

"In the past, [technicians] just had to make sure that when they wanted to replace a condenser or an evaporator, they bought one that had the same tonnage rating and it usually would work just fine," said Don Willard, CAMT, a consultant from Mabank, Texas. "But not today. Now they have to deal with the newer SEER models and all the headaches they bring."

"To learn SEER13, [maintenance professionals] can read airconditioning books, attend classes in their markets and ask properly trained people," Jolley said. "Many of the people servicing the units have had on-the-job training and have watched someone else charge the units, but they have not attended training sessions to understand the operation of the HVAC unit. They just need more training."

Maintenance professionals can get ahead on that training by familiarizing themselves with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America's newly adopted and approved Quality Installation Specification booklet. Download a free PDF at

Willard advises apartment owners that hiring the right maintenance professionals goes well beyond simply finding someone who can fix the unit. "According to the DOE, all central air conditioning systems sold and installed in the United States must be certified that they meet federal efficiency, capacity and other standards," Willard said. "The DOE has suggested that anyone who installs uncertified 'mix and match' condensing units and evaporators might have violated the law by selling or installing uncertified units. A licensed HVAC contractor who 'mixes and matches' units will be in violation of code and would get his license suspended or revoked."

3. Know how to stay cool. Although maintenance technicians can install a new 13 SEER condenser unit on an old system, Willard strongly recommends considering all the possible future problems.

"The new condensers have different pressures, different coil sizes, different piping sizes and larger unit sizes," he said. "Yes, you can stick a new higher SEER unit on an apartment and it may seem to work, but usually it will fail much sooner, cost more to operate, provide less cooling and be an overall future headache."

And in this heat, that's one headache apartment owners don't need.


Most apartment maintenance professionals probably are comfortable with the SEER 10 or less air-conditioning units, and they probably know what to look for if something goes wrong with that model. A SEER 13, however, can pose a host of new problems, according to Wes Davis, Manager of Technical Services for The Air Conditioning Contractors of America. He listed the four things every maintenance technician should know before working with the SEER 13.

1. The SEER 13 may use different refrigerants. "It is entirely possible that the new unit will use a different refrigerant than the old unit," Davis said. If it does, the new refrigerant is 410a, which is used with SEER 14 and higher; the new refrigerant requires additional training. "They will have different pressure and different oils that lubricate the compressor," he said. The different oils are not compatible and can cause severe problems.

2. The SEER 13 may use a different metering device. Although most SEER 10 models use a fixed-bore metering device or a capillary-tube device, many SEER 13 models use a Thermal Expansion Valve (TXV or TEV) that meters the flow of refrigerant. "[Maintenance professionals] must know what it is, how it works or at least be aware of it," Davis said. "TXVs are more susceptible to poor installation practices, which can result in little carbon bits that will break into about a thousand pieces at just the wrong time." Davis said that TXVs require a higher level of skill and proper technique. "You can stumble along," Davis said. "But after awhile, [the TXV] will probably clog up." The metering device has to match, and be sized for, the condensing unit.

3. Every manufacturer is different. Davis warned that each manufacturer's models are slightly different. Read manufacturers' manuals and information before working on the unit.

4. The SEER 13 is bigger than a SEER 10. A SEER 13's coil surface area is larger than a SEER 10's, which allows heat to transfer better and more quickly. That increased surface area can also increase the unit's size, Maintenance technicians, as well as apartment owners, should be prepared to install units that are larger than their old units.--K.P.


"Do what you can to keep you older systems running. As long as the unit is in good shape physically, just replace the compressor or other parts to keep it running long as possible."

---Don Willard, CAMT

Kate Pierce is NAA's Coordinator of Design and Production. She can be reached at 703/797-0619 or
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Author:Pierce, Kate
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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