September 2020 – Are Your Coils Rusty?





Office: 843 846 2500


September 2020
Number 79

Edith is practicing her walking holding on to the very same coffee table (it was my grandmother’s) where I practiced about 73 years ago!

From the desk … of Abbey

I recently read a Carl Sandburg story that I really like…

[A Kansas sodbuster was leaning on a gate post when a newcomer drove up in a covered wagon and asked…]

“What kind of folks live around here?”

“Well, stranger,” said the sodbuster, “what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?”
“Well, they was mostly a lowdown, lying, thieving, gossiping, backbiting kind, lot of people.”

The sodbuster replied, “Well, I guess, stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here.”

The stranger had just about blended into the dusty gray cottonwoods on the horizon when another newcomer drove up and asked.

“What kind of folks live around here?”

And again, the sodbuster replied, “Well, stranger, what kind of folks was there in the country you come from?”

The friendly stranger said with a smile: “Well, they was mostly a decent, hard-working, law-abiding, friendly lot of people.”

Again the sodbuster said, “Well, I guess, stranger, that’s about the kind of folks you’ll find around here.”

I liked the quote for several reasons.

Mostly it made me realize that for the most part, you will find what you are looking for. You can find the good in anything, you just have to have the willingness to see it, and you have to understand, even though it might not be what we would have picked, it can still be good.

The quote made me think about perspective and how differently we all see things. My attitude and outlook on life immediately affects my perspective. From the glass being half full, to seeing it half empty, it all depends on my attitude.

There is a lot of perspective in the designing, building, decorating and finishing of a house. Some love the look of windows and lots of light while others see windows as energy inefficient and a waste of valuable wall space. Some people love roofs with a lot of interesting angles going in every direction, etc. Personally, I see those roofs as high-maintenance since they need to be cleaned off religiously year-round so that debris does not get built up and allow water to enter the house. Again, it is all perspective and in the end what we want most is for the home owner to be happy!

A lot of people are very decisive and know what they like and what they do not like. Whenever we are asked what we like or what we would recommend we are happy to share our opinion, but we know it is only that – an opinion. We will tell you if we think you are making a mistake (example: doing all the plumbing in your house with CPVC pipes and fittings) and suggest an alternative. Or if you want to do something that may be constant maintenance and require a lot of upkeep, we will warn you. There is a big difference between making a mistake and doing something that is high-maintenance. We think plumbing with CPVC is a mistake. However, if you wanted to finish the entire exterior of your home with pressure treated wood we would warn you that it will be constant maintenance and we would recommend alternatives. Our intention is to prevent you from doing anything that will be high maintenance, unless you are fully aware of it. If it is what you really want we will take as many extra steps as we can to prevent maintenance for as long as possible.

When you are designing your house or thinking about a building project (even if you do not plan on using us as the contractor) please feel free to talk to us. We try to think of ways to utilize all the space possible, think outside of the box and find ways to make your dreams come true without spending your life-savings!

This September 6th is my Daddy and Mama’s 52nd wedding anniversary!! I am so fortunate to have them as parents. They have given me a solid foundation to build on. We should all help others put down good foundations that future generations can build upon. If we keep raising the bar on what is ‘acceptable’ we can move the bar from acceptable to exceptional! I’ve always loved how that sounds: “Be Exceptional” – why be ordinary and simply acceptable when exceptional is an option??

Let’s remember as we come into fall that how this year ends is completely up to us. Let’s not leave the outcome up to the news media or the weather or even the upcoming election. It is up to each one of us to decide in advance how our year is going to play out and we can make it great – no matter what!!

Happy fall!

Your Coils Are Rusty!!! 

Have you ever been having a nice day — the sky is blue, the birds are singing, a cool breeze is blowing, you are sitting on your porch sipping your favorite beverage …. and then …. the AC tech servicing your unit tells you the dreaded news: “Your coils are rusty! You need to replace the unit!”

Before you say, “Do it,” think about if for a few minutes. The “coils” are really part of the evaporator in your air handler. The evaporator is where the refrigerant (“Freon”) evaporates making the coils cool. (That is the very same principle at work when you step out of a warm shower and the water on your body evaporates: you feel cool or maybe cold.)

The evaporator is made of copper (sometimes aluminum) tubing. Neither of these metals rust. Historically, there was a problem when many of the air conditioner manufacturers rushed to China to have evaporators manufactured or copper sourced. Many of the factories in China used or supplied contaminated (not pure) copper for their tubing. The elements in the contamination would degrade and before long the tubing would begin to leak. For the most part, that problem has been addressed and corrected.

If the tubing does not rust, what about all of those fins? Typically (in essentially all air conditioner evaporators), the fins are aluminum. This metal is used because it conducts heat well — much better than steel. It is also easier to fabricate than steel. Aluminum does not rust, so they are not talking about the fins or the copper tubing.

An evaporator coil is made of basically two or three different metals: copper or aluminum tubing, aluminum fins and a (galvanized) steel frame.

If your AC tech starts talking about rust, he is clearly talking about the frame since aluminum and copper don’t rust.
That leaves the frame or supporting structure. Typically it is made of galvanized steel and it will rust. Will a rusty frame cause a unit to leak refrigerant? That is very unlikely unless it fails and copper lines are rubbing against each other or some other object.

It is worth noting that the fins on the evaporator are normally wet — water from the humidity in your house drips off them. This is the water you see dripping from a pipe outside your home. Eventually, the moisture around the coils and tubing will cause the metal frame to begin to rust. That is simply an indication of age, not pending failure. Minor surface rust is irrelevant — it means your unit is not new, not that it is getting ready to fail.

What should you do if your tech says, “Your coils are rusty?” Ask to see them. If they are in the attic or somewhere you don’t want to go, ask him to take a photo and show you.

If he talks about an impending leak, ask him where the refrigerant is located (it is in the copper lines). Then ask how a rusty frame will cause them to leak (it won’t, but it might indicate age). If he weasel words on you (tries to baffle you with BS instead of dazzle you with brilliance), the chances are good you need a new tech and not a new evaporator.

Certainly, in some cases, rusty “coils” (really the frame) is so far gone it does not support the coils properly, but that is a very rare occurrence.

It could be he is talking about the copper (or aluminum) lines in the evaporator getting ready to fail, but that cannot be determined visually since the impurities that normally cause failures in the Chinese metals are microscopic (and thus impossible to see with the naked eye). Sometimes, you can see traces of oil by a leak, but usually by then the system has failed and you certainly need something repaired or replaced.

Also if your system is low on refrigerant (sometimes referred to by one of its trade names: “Freon”), the coil may ice and cause the frame to rust more quickly than when it is operating properly. Low refrigerant will also cause the system to be less efficient and you will notice it running more and cooling less. Dirty air filters which restrict the flow of air over the evaporator may also cause the unit to ice.

Why would a tech tell you a new system is needed? 

It is possible he just does not know and is saying what he has been told. Possible, but unlikely if he is knowledgeable at all about refrigeration systems.

Another thing to consider is a number of the local air conditioning contractors have been changing their servicemen into service/salesmen by giving them a commission on the units they sell. If they sell you a new unit, they get a commission. Even better, they also get your old unit that they can sell for scrap. (Aluminum and copper bring good returns at scrap yards). They also get another job to do (installing your new unit.) 

So, if you were an AC service tech and could use a few extra dollars, what might you be tempted to do? Certainly many, maybe most, but not all, service techs are ethical and straight shooters. However, you should always be wary of them declaring your units need replacing especially if they are less than 10 years old. 

You may be told about potential energy savings if you replace your system. “Energy savings” can be elusive, so be cautious. Going from 14 SEER (the minimum allowed by code) to 16 SEER (on both the inside air handler and outside condensing unit) is a savings of (very roughly) 13%. If your AC unit is using about $50 per month in power, that means you would save about $6.50 per month or $78 per year or $780 per decade (10 years) by moving from 14 SEER to 16 SEER. How many decades would it take to pay for a new system? Do you have any confidence your new unit will be operating by the time you break even? That is not likely. Check out the SEER rating calculator at the bottom of the following webpage. 

So what should you do if you are told, “Your coils are rusty?”

If your system seems to be working well and the tech cannot clearly explain why the rust is bad, personally, I would be asking around about other AC contractors. If you are not sure, call us. We will talk with your tech and determine if the problem is your system or perhaps a financial “need” of your tech. 

Does it hurt to replace a unit if it is not needed? At best, it creates more waste (the old unit will be scrapped) and possibly your home may receive damage from service techs toting in and out a large, heavy air handler while trying not to spill water from the unit. It is possible that they may not get the line set or ducts properly reconnected and you will need to call them back. You will be out of an air conditioner while the air handler is being swapped. In the end, if you don’t mind spending the money, about the only downside is the scrap created and a good bit of that can be recycled. 

If you are not sure, call us. We will go over the details with you. We don’t get any commission one way or the other, so we are objective. We will explore options with you. No cost or obligation on your part, of course. 843 846 2500.

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