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Installation of Refrigeration Equipment

Learning Objectives: When you complete this assignment you will be able to recall refrigeration requirements and the types of installation for refrigeration equipment.

Technicians are often tasked to installation refrigeration systems. Therefore, it is important for you to understand the basic requirements applicable to the installation of the various types of the equipment.

When installing a refrigeration or air-conditioning plant, you must not allow dirt, scale, sand, or moisture to enter any part of the refrigerant system. Since air contains moisture, its entrance into the circuit should be controlled as much as possible during installation. Most maintenance problems come from careless erection and installation. All openings to the refrigerant circuit—piping, controls, compressor, condensers, and so on—must be adequately sealed when work on them is not in progress. The R-12 refrigerant is a powerful solvent that readily dissolves foreign matter and moisture that may have entered the system during installation. This material is soon carried to the operating valves and the compressor. It becomes a distinct menace to bearings, pistons, cylinder walls, valves, and the lubricating oil. Scoring of moving parts frequently occurs when the equipment is first operated, starting with minor scratches that increase until the operation of the compressor is seriously affected.

Under existing specifications, copper tubing and copper piping needed for installation should be cleaned, deoxidized, and sealed. When there is a question about cleanliness of tubing or piping to be used, each length of pipe should be thoroughly blown out. Use a strong blast of dry air when blowing out, and clean the tubing with a cloth swab attached to copper wire pulled back and forth in the tube until it is clean and shiny. Then the ends of the tubes should be sealed until connected to the rest of the system.

Effects of Moisture

As little as 15 to 20 parts of moisture per million parts of R-12 can cause severe corrosion in a system. The corrosion results from hydrochloric acid formed by R-12 in contact with water. A chemical reaction takes place between the acid and the iron and copper in the system to form corrosion products. A strong acid combined with high discharge and compressor temperature can cause decomposition of lubricating oil and produce a sludge of breakdown products. Either the corrosion or the oil breakdown products can plug valves, strainers, and dryers and cause a serious casualty.

NOTE: The formation of ice from a minute quantity of moisture in expansion valves and capillary tubes can occur when operating below 32°F.

Location of Equipment

Adequate space should always be left around major portions of equipment for servicing purposes; otherwise, the equipment must be moved after installation so serviceable parts are accessible (figs. 6-45 and 6-46). Compressors require overhead clearance for removal of the head, discharge valve plate, and pistons with side clearance to permit removal of the flywheel and crankshaft where necessary. Water-cooled condensers require a free area equal to the length of the condenser at one end to provide room for cleaning tubes, installing new tubes, or removal of the condenser tube assembly. Space is needed for servicing valves and accessory equipment.

Service openings and inspection panels on unitary equipment require generally at least 18 inches of clearance for removal of the panel. Air-cooled condensing units should be placed in a location that permits unrestricted flow of air for condensing, whether the condenser is in a unitary piece of equipment or separate. Inadequate ventilation around air-cooled condensers can cause overloading of the motor and loss of capacity.

Figure 6-45.—A low-temperature screw or helix compressor system. (1) Compressor; (2) Oil separator and reservoir; (3) Oil coller; (4) Oil filters (5) Hot -gas discharge line.

Figure 6-46.—A twelve-cylinder semihermetic reciprocating direct drive compressor. (1) Compressor; (2) control Panel; (3) Oil Return from Reservoir; (4) Suction Line; (5) Hot Gas Discharge Line.

Refrigerant Piping

Certain general precautions for the installation of refrigerant lines should be followed. When the receiver is above the cooling coil, the liquid line should be turned up before going down to the evaporator. This inverted loop prevents siphoning of the liquid from the receiver over into the cooling coil through an open or leaking expansion valve during compressor shutdown periods. If siphoning starts, the liquid refrigerant flashes into a gas at the top of the loop, breaking the continuity of the liquid volume and stopping the siphoning action. Where the cooling coils and compressors are on the same level, both the suction and liquid lines should be run to the overhead and then down to the condensing unit, pitching the suction line toward the compressor to ease oil return. On close-coupled installations, running both lines up to the overhead helps to eliminate vibration strains as well as provide the necessary trap at the cooling coil.

Prepare pipe and fittings with care, particularly when cutting copper tubing or pipe to prevent filings or cuttings from entering the pipe. The small particles of copper should be completely removed since the finely divided copper may pass through the suction strainer. The tube should be cut square, and all burrs and dents should be removed to prevent internal restrictions and to permit proper fit with the companion fittings. If a hacksaw is used to cut, a fine-toothed blade should be used, preferably 32 teeth per inch. The use of a hacksaw should be avoided whenever possible. When making silver-solder joints, brighten up the ends of the tubing or pipe with a wire brush or crocus cloth to make a good bond. Do not use sandpaper, emery cloth, or steel wool for this cleansing, as this material may enter the system and cause trouble.

Acid should never be used for soldering, nor should flux be used if its residue forms an acid. Use flux sparingly so no residue will enter inside the system and eventually be washed back to the compressor crankcase. If tubing and fittings are improperly fitted because of distortion, too much flux, solder, and brazing material may enter the system.

The temperature required to solder or braze pipe joints causes oxidation within the tubing. The oxidation eventually will be removed by the refrigerant flow after the system is in operation. The oxide breaks up into a fine powder to contaminate the lubricant in the compressor and to plug strainers and driers. To eliminate this possibility, provide a neutral atmosphere within the tube being soldered or brazed. Use gas-bled nitrogen through the tubing during soldering or brazing and for a sufficient time after the bond is made until the heat of the copper has been reduced below the temperature of oxidation.

All joints should be silver-soldered and kept to a minimum to reduce leaks. Special copper tube fittings designed for refrigeration service should be used since these are manufactured with close tolerances to assure tight capillary joints in the brazing process.

SAE flare joints are generally not desired, but when necessary, care should be taken in making the joint. The flare must be of uniform thickness and should present a smooth, accurate surface, free from tool marks, splits, or scratches. The tubing must be cut square, provided with a full flare, and any burrs and saw filings removed. The flare seat of the fitting connector must be free from dents or scratches. The flare can best be made with a special swivel head flaring tool, available as a general stores item, which remains stationary and does not tear or scar the face of the flare in the tubing. Oil should not be used on the face of the flare, either in making up the flare or in securing it to the fitting, since the oil will eventually be dissolved by the refrigerant in the system and cause a leak through the displacement of the oil. The flare joint should always be tightened with two wrenches—one to turn the nut and the other to hold the connecting piece to avoid strain on the connection and cause a leak.

Where pipe or tubing has to be bent, bends should be made with special tools designed for this type of work. Do not use rosin, sand, or any other filler inside the tubing to make a bend. Threaded joints should be coated with a special refrigerant pipe dope. In an emergency, use a thread compound for making up a joint; remember R-12 and R-22 are hydrocarbons, which dissolve any compound containing oil. A compound containing an acid or one whose residual substance forms an acid should not be used. The use of a thick paste made of fresh lethargy and glycerin makes a satisfactory joint compound; however, the joint should be thoroughly cleaned with a solvent to eliminate oil or grease. Thread compounds should be applied to the male part of the thread after it has entered the female coupling one and one-half to two threads to prevent any excess compound from entering the system.

When securing, anchoring, or hanging the suction and liquid lines, be sure and allow enough flexibility between the compressor and the first set of hangers or points where the lines are secured to permit some degree of freedom. This flexibility relieves strain in the joints of these lines at the compressor due to compressor vibration.

Multiple Compressors

Parallel operation of two or more reciprocating compressors should be avoided unless there are strong and valid reasons for not using a single compressor. In a situation where two compressors must be used, extreme care in sizing and arranging the piping system is essential.

An acceptable arrangement of two compressors and two condensers is shown in figure 6-47. An equalizer line connects the crankcase at the oil level of each machine. Therefore, the oil in both machines will be at a common level. If machines of different sizes are used, the height of the bases beneath the machines must be adjusted so the normal oil level of both machines is at the same elevation; otherwise, the oil accumulates in the lower machine.

This arrangement is called a single-pipe crankcase equalizer. It can be used only on those machines with a single equalizer tapping entering the crankcase in such a position that the bottom of the tapping just touches the normal oil level.

Another method of piping to maintain proper oil level in two or more compressors uses two equalizer lines between the crankcase—one above the normal oil level and one below. The double equalizer system must be used on compressors having two equalizer tappings. A single equalizer line on machines having two equalizer tappings should never be used.

The lower oil equalizer line must not rise above the oil level in the crankcase and should be as level as possible. This is important since the oil builds up in one crankcase if the line rises. The upper equalizer line is a gas line intended to prevent any difference in crankcase. pressure that would influence the gravity flow of oil in the lower equalizer line or the level of oil in the crankcase. This upper line must not dip, and care should be taken to eliminate pockets in which oil could accumulate to block the flow of gas. Valves in the crankcase equalizer lines are installed with the stems horizontal, so no false oil levels are created by oil rising over the valve seat and minimize flow resistance.

It is poor practice to skimp on piping when making up these equalizer lines. Oversize piping is preferred to undersize piping. General practice indicates the use of oil equalizer lines equal to the full size of the tapping in the compressor.

The discharge lines from the compressors are also equalized before they enter the condensers. This, in effect, causes the individual condensers to function as a single unit. This is the most critical point in the piping system. It is here that pressure drop is extremely important—a pressure drop of 0.5 psi being equal to a 1.0 foot head of liquid. Excessive pressure drop in the equalizer line may rob one condenser of all liquid by forcing it into the other condenser. One of the results may be the pumping of large quantities of hot refrigerant vapor into the liquid lines from the condenser of the operating compressor. This could reduce the capacity of the system materially. For this reason, the equalizer line should be just as short and level as possible. A long equalizer line introduces an unequal pressure in condensers if one of the compressors is not operating. The refrigerant then accumulates in the condenser of the non-operating compressor. The equalizer line should also be generously sized and should be equal to or larger than the discharge 1 ine of the largest compressor being used.

If the condensers are more than 10 feet above the compressor, U-traps or oil separators should be installed in the horizontal discharge line where it comes from each compressor.

The traps or separators prevent the oil from draining back to the compressor head on shutdown. Should a single compressor or multiple compressors with capacity modulation be used in an instance of this kind, another solution may be dictated. When a compressor unloads, less refrigerant gas is pumped through the system. The velocity of flow in the refrigerant lines drops off as the flow decreases. It is necessary to maintain gas velocities above some minimum value to keep the entrained oil moving with the refrigerant. The problem becomes particularly acute in refrigerant gas lines when the flow is upward.

It does not matter whether the line is on the suction or discharge side of the compressor; the velocity must not be allowed to drop too low under low refrigerant flow conditions. Knowing the minimum velocity, 1,000 feet per minute (fpm), for oil entrainment up a vertical riser and the minimum compressor capacity, the designer of the piping can overcome this problem using a double riser.

The smaller line in the double riser is designed for minimum velocity, at the minimum step, of compressor capacity. The larger line is sized to assure that the velocity in the two lines at full load is approximately the same as in the horizontal flow lines. A trap of minimum dimensions is formed at the bottom of the double-riser assembly, which collects oil at minimum load. Trapped oil then seals off the larger line so the entire flow is through the smaller line.

If an oil separator is used at the bottom of a discharge gas riser, the need for a double riser is eliminated. The oil separator will do as its name implies—separate the major part of the oil from the gas flowing to it and return the oil to the compressor crankcase. Since no oil separator is 100 percent effective, the use of an oil separator in the discharge line does not eliminate the need for double risers in the suction lines of the same system if there are vertical risers in the suction lines. When multiple compressors with individual condensers are used, the liquid lines from the condenser should join the common liquid line at a level well below the bottoms of the condensers. The low liquid line prevents gas from an "empty" condenser from entering the line because of the seal formed by the liquid from other condensers.

NOTE: A common water-regulating valve should control the condenser water supply for a multiple system using individual condensers, so each condenser receives a proportional amount of the condenser water.

Frequently, when multiple compressors are installed, only one condenser is provided. Such installations are satisfactory only as long as all of the compressors are operating at the same suction pressure. However, several compressors may occasionally be installed which operate at different suction pressures—the pressures corresponding, of course, to the various temperatures needed for the different cooling loads. When this is the case, a separate condenser must be installed for each compressor or group of compressors operating at the same suction pressure. Each compressor, or group of compressors, operating at one suction pressure must have a complete piping system with an evaporator and condenser, separate from the remaining compressors operating at other suction pressures. Separate systems are required because the crankcase of compressors operating at different suction pressures cannot be interconnected. There is no way of equalizing the oil return to such compressors.

The suction connection to a multiple compressor system should be made through a suction manifold, as shown in figure 6-47. The suction manifold should be as short as possible and should be taken off in such a manner that any oil accumulating in the header returns equally to each machine.

Figure 6-47.—Parallel compressors with separate condensers.

Evaporative condensers can be constructed with two or more condensers built into one spray housing. This is accomplished quite simply by providing a separate condensing coil for each compressor, or a group of compressors, operating at the same suction pressure. All of the condensing coils are built into one spray housing; this provides two or more separate condensers in one condenser housing.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015