# The Enthalpy Method

Imagine knowing the refrigerant charge was correct on a Central Heat Pump or A/C without attaching gauges!  No, I am not referring to the Lennox "Approach" calculation, which I have found to be very unreliable to predict refrigerant charge, but instead using the simple total capacity calculation with the correct tool.

 - Total Capacity Equation -

Here in New England, particularly close to the coast, HVAC Contractors have a very short maintenance season that is usually riddled with less than ideal testing conditions.  Unfortunately, you cannot use this method to fix bad weather.  But, why waste your time on ideal days connecting your gauges, releasing ounces of refrigerant every year?  Listen, I doubt the price of R-22 will go down anytime soon.  Why not consider saving time, the environment, system efficiency, and your customer's bill?  I bet every technician reading this measures the Delta T across the Evaporator, using yet another rule of thumb to "confirm" system performance.  Why not be more accurate and be sure?

A recent addition to the Fieldpiece lineup, the  SDP-2 Dual Psychrometer, makes quick work of measuring the properties of air.  The key measurement which makes this new method possible is Delta H, or change in Enthalpy.  Enthalpy is the heat content of the air, expressed in Btu/lb.  When using the standard weight of a cubic foot of air, one can use a simple equation to arrive at Btu/hr, or capacity.  Even without measuring airflow, this method is useful using an estimated value based on the setting of the ECM motor, as the measured CFM is within 10% of the set point regardless of static pressure.

Prior to the SDP-2, I would measure the wet-bulb temperature in the Supply and Return Plenums (yes, in the ductwork close to the unit) and convert the readings to Enthalpy using the ASHRAE Chart.  Due to rounding, I frequently arrived at numbers that were far from accurate.  The fact that this gauge displays to the hundredth of a Btu/lb, and can display the Delta H without any user error, makes this the new way to test refrigerant charge without connecting gauges!

To make this even easier for you, let me share some insight.  Over the years of testing, I have found some general rules for Enthalpy change based on the airflow measurement/settings.  Take a look at the chart, or print it out if you must.  This will save you some additional time with the math.  If your Delta H falls in these ranges, don't bother connecting your gauges as the refrigerant charge will likely be close enough!  Similar to Delta T: too low may indicate high airflow or undercharged; too high and you have low airflow, etc.

http://excessair.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-enthalpy-method.html

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Comment by Bob Blanchette on August 31, 2013 at 6:34pm

I'd rather measure airflow than enthalpy change. Airflow is more susceptible to change over time as the A-coil and blower wheel load up with dirt over time. If airflow is good and enthalpy change is good then there's not need to check system charge. You must know BOTH in order to have a good assessment of system performance. A dirty condenser coil or improper charge will reduce enthalpy change across the A-coil, loss of airflow will increase it. If you have both factors one will "cancel out" the other if you are basing system performance on enthalpy difference alone.

Comment by Christopher Morin on August 31, 2013 at 5:19pm
Thanks for sharing your experience Bob! By no means do I intend this method to take the place of measuring airflow or adjusting refrigerant charge! If things are off, this is exactly what needs to be done! But, if I have been out there for the last (10) years for maintenance, I know the airflow and have adjusted the charge, why should we keep connecting our gauges and robbing the system of a few ounces every year? I contend with this method, you would not need to! Now if this is a new customer, or new equipment - measure the airflow and adjust the charge! I doubt there is such a need in the next few years after....
Comment by Bob Blanchette on August 31, 2013 at 1:36pm

The problem is less than 10% of systems use ECM motors, and it's those 90% that needs the airflow/pressures and cooling performance tested the most. About 1/3 of the furnaces I see in the field are of the stand pilot light type, 20+ years old. Customers just keep swapping blower motors, gas valves and minor furnace parts as needed. On the condenser they keep swapping parts until the compressor goes/outdoor coil leaks then a new condenser goes in. The A-coil stays until it starts leaking, I've seen those be 30+ years old with new R22 dry unit condensers attached.

New systems aren't installed great most of the time, but they work way better than the old systems.

Comment by Joe Romero on August 26, 2013 at 4:12am

Great approach Christopher Morin!  I think the proposed approach is both robust and efficient. This is a great way of representing the analysis of solidification systems.

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