Improper measurement of the performance of the various HVACR devices can do much more than make a building too cold, too hot, or too drafty. It can affect workers’ or residents’ health.

The HVACR industry encompasses four key disciplines that are integral to the smooth operation of virtually every business and the safety and comfort of most residential settings.

And keeping all of these disciplines running efficiently and safely requires accurate measurement of multiple parameters. Neglecting any of these areas, or an inability to gain accurate measurement in one or more of them, can cause the kind of problems that will give a building manager a case of cold sweats and make the average consumer hot under the collar.  

Consider: Improper measurement of the performance of the various HVACR devices can do much more than make a building too cold, too hot, or too drafty. It can affect workers’ or residents’ health, negatively impact manufacturing processes (and the end product), damage building infrastructure, and ultimately cost huge dollars to remediate.

Think of how many parameters must be evaluated in the HVACR realm:

Heating. Servicing a furnace – in a business or in the home - requires exact electrical measurements, as well ensuring proper drafting (air flow using anemometers) and pressure (using manometers). There is also the matter of temperature differential, once heat rises across the surface of the furnace. Humidity also mandates attention, and of course, checking for carbon monoxide must be a priority.  

Air conditioning. As with heating, it is essential to measure temperature differential and heat drop, as well as air flow, temperature and humidity. Voltage measurement (through the use of multimeters and electrical testers) must also be undertaken.

Ventilation. Here, the measurement of air movement and air flow is the most pressing job in this area.

Refrigeration. This is almost exclusively relegated to commercial applications – as it relates to restaurants in food preparation, as well as food storage and transport. In fact, in the food industry, temperature is an especially critical factor. The ramifications of improper temperature can be dire; if certain consumables get too warm en route to food establishments or within their storage units, a breeding ground for potentially deadly bacteria can be created.

Even this overview – which only represents a partial list of the measurements indigenous to the HVACR industry – demonstrates what a daunting task it can be. And the consequences of ignoring or shortchanging any of these areas can be unpleasant at best, drastic at worst.

As noted earlier, one of the most crucial reasons to maintain proper vigilance in these areas is worker/resident health and comfort. Temperature, indoor air quality, and air flow all play a part in creating the overall environmental climate. Humidity is a particularly vital matter: if it’s too low, people can experience allergy problems from dried out nasal membranes; if it’s too high, condensation can form at night, which can lead to mold and mildew. In addition, relative humidity can result in the appearance of dust mites or similar problems.

In the commercial environment, personal health is also significant, though health issues were not traditionally given the consideration they merited when measuring the various parameters. However, that tide has clearly turned: industrial hygienists are starting to get more proactive and involved with concerns about temperature and humidity as they relate to worker welfare.   

There is another consideration that must be examined in the commercial setting: product quality. This is becoming a more prevalent concern in a growing variety of applications. The quality of a finished product - in facilities producing items such as microprocessors or other sensitive electronic components - is directly related to the maintenance of proper temperature and humidity; a few degrees variance can mean the difference between acceptable and rejected product. Consequently, maintaining internal temperature in the interest of process control is critical.  

How does the aggregate volume of units in a commercial setting change the way a technician might approach the measuring process?  In the end, it comes down to the size of the units that are being utilized. In a large commercial enterprise or manufacturing facility, you will find very large chillers and condensing units, perhaps rooftop units. On the electrical side, there is a demand for measurement of heavy duty and large amperages, far lower than would be found in a residential setting. There are only a few companies, like Extech, that can provide instruments capable of measuring up to 100 amps in a clamp-on meter.  

What this all means is that the instruments used to measure these various parameters must be relied on for superior performance in a wide spectrum of environments and ambient conditions. Of course, customers are keenly interested in varying criteria. Being able to measure relative humidity, moisture, temperature, electrical current, and airflow faster, cheaper, and more accurately is obviously of critical importance. In fact, of the three qualifiers, accuracy is arguably the most critical; without accurate measurement, the cost-effectiveness and speed of the process hold little value.  

However, one of the emerging trends is to develop and market instruments that are capable of combining multiple operations within one device. So instead of a person having to walk up a ladder or onto a roof and taking six instruments – or worse, taking just one or two up at a time and being forced to make multiple trips – it is possible to simply take one. The convenience factor in such a scenario cannot be overstated.

Extech is uniquely positioned to offer such instruments. In fact, the company patented the process of incorporating infrared thermometers into clamp meters. And it is constantly developing new products lines that incorporate IR thermometers into a growing number of devices, including airflow meters, humidity meters, tachometers and multimeters just to name a few. Most recently, Extech developed a new product line especially designed to meet the need of the HVACR Industry, called the HD Series. Comprised of four separate devices, each instrument is extremely durable and able to provide a wide range of measurement capabilities, most with optional IR Thermometer capabilities that are ideal for non-contact temperature measurements in dangerous, hard-to-reach areas.

What does the future hold?  The industry, from both the commercial and consumer side, is continually devising additional requirements. As the technology behind HVACR equipment grows in complexity – and as the efficiency of the equipment correspondingly increases – the need for enhanced measurement accuracy will rise. Monitoring refrigerant is an area that will be burgeoning, specifically leak detection. And there will be a need for tighter controls on airflow, temperature, and relative humidity as OSHA and other watchdog organizations become more vigilant and their standards become more stringent.

Data logging will also become a more crucial aspect of measurement. In many HVACR applications, it’s not enough to simply take a single measurement, or a “snapshot,” if you will; it’s necessary to look at different parameters over the long-term in order to get an ongoing picture (trending) of what is taking place. This capability has been growing in importance within the carpet restoration business for some time. But it will continue to take greater hold in other areas relates to mold, mildew, and, as a result, overall quality of life.

For instance, during the day, in a commercial setting, let’s say the air conditioning comes on in the morning during the summertime. Generally, the controls on the air conditioning are then set back to drop down after everyone leaves at the end of the workday. If it’s been really humid, suddenly the dewpoint is reached and condensation occurs, which can translate to mold and mildew. Monitoring the humidity at various points throughout the night will provide insight into exactly where the air conditioning should be set at the end of the day.  

One of key areas contractors don’t always take into consideration is calibrating their instruments on a regular basis. Extech features a superior calibration lab, allowing the company to calibrate to NIST standards. Further, the company is continually trying to upgrade the accuracy of its instruments. Of course, some responsibility falls to the contractor who uses these instruments, in terms of taking care of the instruments and ensuring that they are calibrated on a regular basis.

Ultimately, Extech’s expertise in the HVACR area stems from a long history of producing high-quality instruments for measuring all of the parameters dictated by this industry, with a strong emphasis on devices for humidity and airflow.

And as the requirements of the industry continue to evolve, and as trends such as multi-device instruments and data logging become progressively more critical, Extech’s R&D efforts will focus on creating devices to meet these demands.