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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®

Air Conditioner

Best Practice Guidelines

Training Manual

March 17, 2003


Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Table of Contents
Overview ______________________________________________________________ 1
Requirements for best practices _______________________________________________ 1
Not grossly oversized______________________________________________________________ 1
Ensure adequate airflow____________________________________________________________ 2
Proper refrigerant charge ___________________________________________________________ 2
Training Requirements ______________________________________________________ 2
Sizing & Equipment Selection_____________________________________________ 3
Pay More for Capacity Costs _________________________________________________ 3
Why Size & Select Equipment ________________________________________________ 4
Airflow _______________________________________________________________ 5
Why Adequate Airflow ______________________________________________________ 5
Latent Capacity is Relative to the Need _________________________________________ 7
May not be adequate for airflow_______________________________________________ 8
Airflow specifications at 0.5 inches ___________________________________________________ 8
Filters __________________________________________________________________________ 8
Temperature rise method inaccuracies_________________________________________________ 9
Misleading equipment specifications__________________________________________________ 9
More power not always an answer___________________________________________________ 10
Refrigerant Charge ____________________________________________________ 10
Why Refrigerant Charge____________________________________________________ 11
Fixed orifice____________________________________________________________________ 11
TXV refrigerant control ___________________________________________________________ 12
Best Practice Forms & Instructions _______________________________________ 12
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Overview
The following manual provides information on best practice for air conditioner
installation and startup. For ease of use and quick reference, each section begins with a
summary list of important information contained in the section. First, the reasons for
each best practice are discussed along with the reasons certain practices are not adequate.
Many contractors may already understand how do some of the best practices like
refrigerant charge. But it is also important that the contractor understand why each best
practice is important. Second, step-by-step directions are provided on completing best
practices including filling out the form for the Cash-back reward.

Best practices are being developed in collaboration with the HVAC industry in
Wisconsin. The best practices described below are expected to become standard
practices. Best practices are expected to evolve as the Efficient Heating and Cooling
Initiative and the HVAC industry develop and demonstrate even better ways of being of
value to the customer.

Requirements for best practices

ƒ$50 Cash-Back Reward to Contractor


ƒAir conditioner should not be grossly oversized (Bigger is not always better)
ƒDemonstrate airflow with pressure drop across coil or temperature split
using the wet-bulb temperature
ƒDemonstrate refrigerant charge by superheat for fixed orifice and subcool
for TXV
ƒTraining is mandatory for Cash-Back Reward on best practices

A $50 Cash-Back Reward will be paid to the installing contractor for completing the best
practice requirements described below on equipment qualified for a Cash-Back Reward
(i.e. SEER 12 or SEER 13 air conditioners). While the practices are called “best
practices,” they should become standard practices for installation of all air conditioners.

Best practices will be optional through March 31, 2004. It is expected that best practices
will be required for a customer to receive Cash-Back Rewards beginning April 1, 2004.

An overview of the requirements for best practices follows:

Not grossly oversized


The contractor is responsible to ensure that the air conditioner is not grossly oversized. It
is recommended, but not required, that the air conditioner size be selected using a load
calculation such as Manual J by ACCA. As a minimum, the contractor must compare
the size of the air conditioner installed to a typical size based on square feet per ton. If
the installed air conditioner is larger than typical, the contractor must provide the reasons
why a larger size is being installed.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Ensure adequate airflow
There must be adequate airflow for the air conditioner to function efficiently. Adequate
airflow must be ensured by either: a) using the static pressure drop across the new coil
and coil specifications or b) by the temperature split method done in conjunction with
refrigerant charging verification (superheat or subcool).

Proper refrigerant charge


The way proper refrigerant charge must be ensured depends on whether refrigerant flow
is controlled by a fixed orifice (capillary tube or piston) or a TXV (Thermostatic
Expansion Valve). Superheat measurement is required for fixed orifice. Subcool is
required for TXV.

Training Requirements

The Efficient Heating and Cooling Initiative is promoting best practices for airflow and
refrigerant charge to achieve energy conservation goals. To become eligible for best
practices, each contractor must have at least one experienced person attend who will be
responsible for providing training and guidance to other contractor staff. This person
must be management, lead worker, or a job assignment that includes routinely providing
direction to contractor staff on the work to be performed. If a contractor does not have
such a person, then each staff performing the best practices must attend.

Each HVAC contractor who participates in the Efficient Heating and Cooling Initiative is
required to have at least one regular employee attend at a minimum 8 hours of training by
December 31, 2003. Training on best practices will count four hours towards the training
requirement. The remaining four hours can be taken on any course of their choice from
among the following topics:
A. Proper central air conditioner refrigerant charging and maintenance
B. Improving airflow and the effect on equipment performance
C. Duct testing, design and improvement
D. Ensuring healthy indoor air quality
E. Proper sizing and installation of furnaces and central air conditioning systems
F. Principles of Building Performance Science
G. Combustion safety

The HVAC industry has a variety of existing training (e.g., training provided by HVAC
equipment distributors), competent trainers and tests such as NATE to test technician
competence. This existing training capability can meet the eight-hour basic training
requirement for contractors to continue to participate in the Efficient Heating and Cooling
Initiative.

Contractors must not only understand how to physically perform best practices but also
understand the importance and consequences of best practices compared to doing
something else. The following section discusses the importance of best practices so that

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
each HVAC contractor will not only understand how to perform best practices but also
will believe in and perform best practices.

Sizing & Equipment Selection

ƒ2.5 ton = 3 kW of Electric Capacity


ƒHidden capacity costs
ƒSave $255 to $505 hidden costs

Pay More for Capacity Costs

At times there have been television commercials saying “pay me now or pay me more
later.” The following discusses how electric capacity costs (i.e., the cost to build new
generating plants) result in customers paying more costs later. This electric capacity
costs prominently caused by air conditioners and lack of best practices are not obvious to
customers and are called hidden costs below.

The selection of efficient equipment of proper size and installation may be discouraged
because all of the costs of using air conditioners are not obvious. The energy costs of
using air conditioners may appear low enough that residential customers don’t see a need
to install properly sized efficient equipment. However, the cost of using an inefficient or
oversized air conditioning only seems low because residential customers pay an average
energy charge per kWh of energy used.

Air conditioners cause capacity related costs in addition to energy cost. The costs of a
utility providing electric generation and transmission capacity are real costs that must be
paid for by customers. These additional capacity costs can easily exceed the amount
charged for air conditioning use, even without considering the energy costs. The result is
higher costs for all energy consumed to make up for the amount not charged just for the
air conditioner energy use. In fact, capacity costs from some utilities may be more than
two-thirds of the average energy charge for all energy used. The result is that everyone’s
utility bills go up when utilities have to install capacity to provide service to inefficient or
over sized air conditioners.

A 2.5-ton SEER 10 air conditioner requires 3 kW of generation capability. Depending on


the type of electric generation plant, it could cost $1,500 or more to provide 3 kW of
electric generation capacity. A high efficiency unit installed properly can avoid creating
the need for this expensive, additional capacity cost. A higher SEER air conditioner
might save 17 to 23% of $1500 or $255 to $345 of generation capacity costs in addition
to the energy savings. Proper sizing might save another 10% or $150.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Why Size & Select Equipment

ƒReduce gross over sizing of air conditioners and seek more practical solutions
ƒCustomer comfort and satisfaction
ƒBest way to ensure adequate airflow and save up to another 10%
ƒSave 2 to 10% by reducing cycling losses
ƒReduces hidden costs

It may be tempting to install a larger air conditioner than necessary to provide quicker
cooling or because the “right size” is not known. Time, cost, and information or
knowledge are barriers to installing the right size of air conditioner. The Efficient
Heating and Cooling Initiative will be researching in conjunction with contractors’ better
practical ways of dealing with sizing issues. For now, requirements on sizing are focused
on reducing grossly oversized air conditioners.

The following are four reasons to not grossly oversize an air conditioner: 1) comfort, 2)
ensure adequate airflow, 3) reduce cycling losses, and 4) reduce costs. Less comfort can
result from increased cycling caused by oversized air conditioners. Temperature and
humidity swings combined with the on and off of airflow can result in dissatisfied
customers.

Properly sizing an air conditioner can also be the best way to ensure adequate airflow.
Modern furnaces in Wisconsin generally are capable of providing adequate airflow.
Therefore, adequate airflow can be insured by simply not installing an air conditioner that
is larger than the size airflow will efficiently support. By eliminating gross over sizing,
the tons installed should be less than the tons that can be supported by the airflow such
that:

Tons < cfm available /425 cfm/ton (or 400 cfm/ton wet coil)

As discussed below, ensuring adequate airflow might save 10% of the energy used by the
air conditioner. Even if there is adequate airflow, reducing the size of the air conditioner
can reduce the amount of fan energy necessary to blow the air.

Installing a smaller air conditioner may also reduce cycling losses. The first few minutes
of air conditioner operation is inefficient because much of the cooling is used to simply
offset the amount of heat added by the fan to circulate air. When the air conditioner first
starts all of cooling is needed to offset the heat from the circulation fan. Even after a
couple of minutes, 40% of the cooling energy is used to offset the heat from the
circulation fan. Sizing correctly can save 2 to 10% of the air conditioner energy.

Reducing the size of the air conditioner saves money. The smaller air conditioner costs
less and reduces the costs for the utility (paid by consumers) to have capacity to supply
the air conditioner. Installing a 2 ton 12 SEER air conditioner instead of a 2.5-ton air

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
conditioner might use 0.5 kW less electric capacity. The following calculation shows a
2.5-ton air conditioner uses 2.5 kW compared to 2.0 kW for a 2.0-ton air conditioner:

2.5 ton *12,000 Btu/ton = 2.5 kW


12 Btu /watt * 1,000 watt/kw

2.0 ton *12,000 Btu/ton = 2.0 kW


12 Btu /watt * 1,000 watt/kw

If it costs $500 for each additional kW of capacity, the 0.5 kW difference could be $250
savings. As discussed above, the capacity costs are hidden in average energy charges that
the customer may not recognize as being caused by the air conditioner.

Of course, the way a customer uses the air conditioner impacts the utility costs. Most
customers operate between two extremes of use. First, the customer who waits until it is
the hottest outdoor temperature to turn on the air conditioner causes the most costs. This
customer may think they are saving money by buying an oversized air conditioner to cool
the house down quickly after it is already hot. But because the air conditioner is
continuously running when most other air conditioners are running, it causes the highest
electric capacity costs that everyone ends up paying.

Second, a customer who does not use the air conditioner during the hottest weather would
still cause costs for the capacity of transmission and distribution lines to deliver the
electricity. But, generation plant capacity costs caused by these customers could be
lowest. Some recent news stories have reported the objection of some citizens to the
building of new transmission line capacity, which might be needed in part to supply
oversized inefficient air conditioners.

Airflow

ƒInadequate airflow can waste 10%


ƒFreeze-up at 200 cfm/ton
ƒLow airflow causes temperature stratification
ƒMore fan power is not always the answer
ƒSelect equipment based on available airflow (at least 425 cfm/ton dry coil)
ƒ400 cfm/ton (wet coil) is needed for superheat refrigerant charge
verification
ƒSelect equipment based on cfm for next to highest speed in case airflow is
less than expected.

Why Adequate Airflow


This section on airflow discusses cfm measured either with a wet coil (air conditioner
operating) or with a dry coil (air conditioner not operating). When there is moisture on

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
the coil 400 cfm per ton is used and when there is no moisture on the coil 425 cfm is
used.

Research1 suggests that low evaporator airflow rates (e.g. 300 vs. 400 cfm per ton) could
produce a 10% increase in residential cooling energy over what would be expected based
on rated performance.

Inadequate airflow wastes energy because of the low airflow across the evaporator coil
and because of temperature stratification within the house. Low airflow across the inside
coil has adverse effects on unit performance. It lowers the evaporator coil temperature,
reduces total capacity, increases latent capacity and lowers sensible capacity. If the
airflow is as low as 200 cfm/ton, the coil can freeze making the problem even worse.

Temperature stratification caused by low airflow also wastes energy. Without adequate
velocity from proper airflow, cool
air simply stays near the floor with 6
hotter air staying in the top part of
the room. The result is 270 cfm/ton
uncomfortable people and o F 4
inefficient air conditioner 320 cfm/ton
operation. The graph to the right
shows the degrees of temperature 2
difference between the floor and
the thermostat in a Wisconsin
house with low airflow. This
0
illustrates it is especially 0 5 10 15
important when there is low
airflow, to have supply registers Minutes
that produce sufficient throw (or
air velocity) to reduce temperature stratification. Air velocity can be increased by
reducing the supply register free surface area or by not having turning vanes in the
register.

Actual airflow can be lower than expected in actual operation and it can be cost
prohibitive to make changes to increase airflow after installation. Selecting and installing
equipment based on the cfm that can be delivered from the next to highest fan speed is
therefore important. The higher speed is available in case airflow in lower than expected.

The next section discusses latent capacity relative to airflow. Then some common
practices that may not be adequate to ensure adequate airflow are discussed.

1
ASHRAE Transactions: Symposia; Impact of Evaporator Coil Airflow in Residential Air-Conditioning
Systems – Danny Parker, John Sherwin, Richard Ralustad, and Don Shirey III.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Latent Capacity is Relative to the Need

ƒLatent capacity is not constant.


ƒLatent capacity increases with relative humidity
ƒLatent capacity increases as the need for latent capacity increases
ƒLatent capacity from low airflow decreases as the need increases

Latent capacity is the amount of capacity the air conditioner has to remove moisture from
air. Latent capacity is not constant. The amount of latent capacity available varies with
both the need for moisture removal and the airflow. Relative humidity reflects how much
moisture is in the air relative to how much moisture air could hold. The following
discusses how latent capacity changes with relative humidity and the amount of airflow.

The latent capacity of an air


conditioner depends on the specific Latent Capacity
models of evaporator and condenser
coils installed. To illustrate the 1.40 -100 cfm @ 75
relative importance of airflow and 1.20
relative humidity on latent capacity, 1.00 -100 cfm @ 85
the performance specifications of a
0.80
Tons

two-ton (13 SEER) air conditioner is


0.60 Lat @ 75 F
shown in the graph to the right.
0.40
The top two lines on the graph 0.20 Lat @ 85 F
illustrate a substantial increase in 0.00
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%

latent capacity as relative humidity


increases. The top line shows the
latent capacity at 75° F outdoor Relative Humidity
temperature; and the second line
shows the latent capacity at 85° F outdoor temperature. Fortunately, the amount of latent
capacity increases substantially as the need for latent capacity increases.

The bottom line2 shows the variation of the tons of latent capacity resulting from a 100
cfm/ton reduction in airflow. While the increased latent capacity from low airflow may
be a significant percentage of the total latent capacity for low relative humidity, it is a
minor part of latent capacity when relative humidity is high enough to be important.

The real problem with humidity control is not the availability of latent capacity when the
air conditioner is running. The problem is that when the air conditioner is off and does
not provide any latent capacity. An oversized air conditioner may simply cycle off too
long to keep proper humidity control.

2
The bottom is actually two nearly identical lines at 75° F and 85° F outdoor temperatures.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
May not be adequate for airflow

ƒAirflow specifications at 0.5 inches w.c. are not adequate


ƒ77% of houses with Static pressure over 0.5 inch w.c.
ƒClean filter analysis inadequate
ƒTemperature rise method had over 20% error in 50% of houses
ƒEquipment specification can be misleading
ƒMore fan power not always a solution (70% more hp for 20% more cfm)

Airflow specifications at 0.5 inches


One approach to checking for adequate airflow is to check whether there is less than 0.5
inches w.c. of external static pressure. Furnace fans are often assumed to be able to
provide 400 cfm/ton (wet) airflow at 0.5 inches w.c. of external static pressure.
However, a dirty filter alone might have 0.5 inches w.c. pressure drop. In a sample of
homes in northern Wisconsin, 77% had total external static pressure exceeding 0.5 inches
w.c.. Over 0.5 inches w.c. for just the filter and return was found in 28% of the homes.
The combined pressure loss across the evaporator coil, the ducts and the filter can in
reality be too much to allow adequate airflow.

Filters
Dealing with the consequence of air filters is a key to maintaining adequate airflow.
Differences between filters and how clean filters are kept can easily turn adequate airflow
into inadequate airflow and waste energy. Even two filters that appear the same can have
one filter with twice as much static pressure loss as the other filter.

While the customer controls the filters used and the maintenance of filters, the contractor
should do what they can to ensure filters clean the air while not causing energy waste
from low airflow. Increasing the effective surface area of the filter is one way to reduce
the pressure loss from the filter. But the increased surface area should not be allowed to
become an excuse for poor filter maintenance. Periodic filter maintenance should be
stressed to consumers.

The Efficient Heating and Cooling Initiative is considering how to promote better
practices for filters in the future. For now, it is up to the contractor to communicate with
the customer and select equipment that can best deal with the consequences of filters.

It is not adequate to measure the external pressure and airflow when the filter is new.
The table below (based on the Wisconsin DFD master specification SECTION 15885B)
illustrates the initial and final resistance from different types of filters. Combining these
filter pressure losses with the pressure drop across the air conditioning coil (e.g., 0.15
inches) could mean inadequate airflow even if there were no pressure loss from supply
and return ducts.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Filter type Initial resistance Final resistance
Inches w.c. Inches w.c.
Panel filter 0.15 0.50
25-30% (dust spot) Efficient Media filter 0.30 0.90
(2” thick pleated, 90-92% weight arrestance)
HEPA filter 1.00` 2.00

Temperature rise method inaccuracies


One approach to measuring airflow is to measure the temperature rise across the furnace.
The airflow is calculated using the amount of heat output by the furnace and the amount
of temperature rise. Both the amount of heat output and the temperature rise have
inherent inaccuracies. Unless one measures the efficiency of the furnace and clocks the
gas meter, it is difficult to know the heat output of the furnace. The temperatures
measured can vary, depending on where the temperature(s) is measured. This
temperature variation is in addition to the need to prevent radiation from affecting the
temperature measurement. Research3 presented at the 2000 conference of the American
Council for an Energy Efficient Economy reported that the single-point temperature rise
method had errors greater than 20% in more than half of the homes tested.

Misleading equipment specifications


Even the use of equipment specifications can have problems in assuring adequate airflow.
Analysis of the fan curve from a case study illustrates some of the difficulties. The top
four lines on the graph to the right show the specifications on fan performance at four
different speed taps. Since, the
product literature shows 1435 2000
cfm fan output at the highest 1800
speed and highest pressure listed
1600
in the literature, one might Low
1400
expect the furnace to easily Low-Med
Med
supply at least 1200 cfm needed 1200
High

for a three-ton air conditioner.


Cfm

1000 Initial cfm


Final cfm
800

But the lower two lines show the 600

measured cfm (before and after 400


cleaning) is much different than 200
expected from the equipment 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7
0
literature. Only 745 cfm was In. W.C.
measured before cleaning.

3
A New Device for Field Measurement of Air Handler Flows by Larry Palmiter and Paul Francisco

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
If a curved line is fitted to extend the product literature to the pressures measured
(including the coil pressure loss),
a better picture of performance is 2000
shown in the graph to the right. 1800
The squares, diamonds, xs, and
1600
triangles are the product
literature points as shown in the 1400
Low
graph above. The four 1200 Low-
M d
Med
downward sloping lines are

cfm
1000 High
curves fitted of the performance initia
800 lfinal
data and the measured points at
four fan speeds. 600

400

200
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9
0
In, W.C.

More power not always an answer


One temptation is to simply increase the fan motor power to provide adequate airflow.
As shown below, the horsepower to increase airflow in a fixed system is proportionate to
the cube of the cfm airflow or to the cube of the fan speed. For instance, a 70% increase
in power could be required to increase the cfm by 20%. One should not always simply
increase the power (or speed) of the fan to provide adequate airflow.

Horsepower new = Horsepower initial * (cfm new / cfm initial)3

Increasing the cfm with more power may simply offset the savings due to improved
airflow when the static pressure is already high. This means the fan speed for cooling or
heating should not be set higher than necessary for the equipment to function efficiently.
The above equation applies to a fixed system and not to changes in the filter or ductwork.
It is therefore better to increase cfm through reductions in static pressure loss than
through increased power and increased fan speed setting.

Refrigerant Charge

ƒCharge refrigerant as accurately as possible for fixed orifice


ƒFixed orifices waste 1% for each 1% deviation in charge
ƒ57% found not to be within 5% of proper charge
ƒTXVs save by adjusting to varying conditions
ƒOptimal charge less important for TXV systems

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
Why Refrigerant Charge
Fixed orifice
According to research published in
ASHRAE transactions4, over 1% of air
conditioning energy is wasted for each 1%
error in refrigerant charge in residential air
conditioners with fixed orifices. Fixed
orifices (capillary or piston) are used to
meter refrigerant flow in as much as 90%
of residential central air conditioners.

Research5 presented at the 2002 American


Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
(ACEEE) illustrates the degree of problem
with refrigerant charge. Based on 8,873
residential central air conditioners, 57%
were identified in need of charge repair to
bring the air conditioner within 5% of
manufacturer recommended charge. The graph above illustrates the range and degree of
charge error found for the air conditioners with improper charge.

It is important for contractors to be as accurate as possible with the amount of refrigerant


charge on air conditioner systems with fixed orifices. Contractors have an opportunity to
receive a reward for demonstrating the proper refrigerant charge through superheat
measurement on systems with fixed orifices. It is expected that demonstrating proper
refrigerant charge will eventually become mandatory. If contractors don’t properly
charge systems with fixed orifices, a TXV may eventually be a requirement for customers
to receive a Cash-Back Reward.

While contractors should install equipment in accordance with manufacturer


recommended specification, a standardized superheat method with airflow measurement
will be required for the reward. The standard superheat method contains a target
superheat based on the condenser dry bulb temperature and the return air wet bulb
temperature.

It is generally recognized that measurements of proper superheat require 400 cfm per ton
airflow. Also, improper airflow can waste energy, as discussed above. Therefore,
demonstration of adequate airflow is also mandatory to receive a reward.

4
Influence of the Expansion Device on Air Conditioner System Performance Under a Range of Charging
Conditions by M. Farzad and D.L. O’Neal
5
What Can 13,000 Air Conditioners Tell Us by Tom Downey and John Procter, Proctor Engineering
Group, Ltd.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
TXV refrigerant control
A TXV (thermostatic expansion
valve) adjusts flow of refrigerant
based on actual operating conditions.
This ability to adjust refrigerant flow
reduces energy waste due to less than
optimal refrigerant charge, airflow,
and air conditioner size.

The graph to the right (from the


ASHRAE research) shows the
impact of refrigerant charging for air
conditioners with fixed orifices and
air conditioners with TXVs. Air
conditioners with TXVs instead of
fixed orifices do not waste significant
amounts of energy from improper
charge when charged within –15% to
+5% of the proper charge.

Manufacturers recommend the subcool method to verify refrigerant charge for air
conditioners with a TXV. Proper refrigerant charge is needed to ensure liquid refrigerant
does not return to the compressor and cause damage in addition to ensuring the charge is
accurate enough to allow the TXV to function properly. The Cash-back reward is
available for contractors charging refrigerant according to manufacturer
recommendations on subcool.

Best Practice Forms & Instructions


The following section provides step-by-step instructions for completing forms required
for best practices.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®

Best Practice

Forms and Instruction