When building or remodeling a home, the mechanical system will play a big role in it’s overall comfort and energy efficiency. No matter what the type of heating and cooling system you choose to install, installing correctly sized equipment is critical. The way to determine the correct equipment heating and cooling capacity is by using a Manual J Load Calculation, then use Manual S to select the correct equipment and Manual D to lay out the ductwork.
The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) created the Manual J Load Calculation to allow mechanical contractors to accurately calculate the size equipment needed to heat and cool a given home. The completed calculation is essentially an energy model for your home that uses window sizes, insulation values, orientation, and construction type to tell you how much thermal energy is gained or lost during the hottest and coldest outside temperatures your home will commonly encounter.
In years past, many contractors and mechanical installers would often guess or use a “multi-finger method” to figure how much capacity to install. The multi-finger method was to stand at the curb, hold up 3 or 4 fingers at an arms distance. If 3 fingers covered the house, a 3 ton unit was ordered and if 4 fingers covered the house, a 4 ton was ordered. Yes, this really happened! The sloppy habits have persisted through the years because they didn’t want to do the homework involved in filling out paper forms, looking at tables and performing calculations. They would also often “super-size” a system in order to make certain that the system was big enough to guarantee the power to heat and cool to the clients comfort even during extreme conditions that might happen every decade or so. The problem with a system that’s oversized is that it will not properly control humidity and the inside of the house can seem stuffy or muggy even though the temperature is where the thermostat has been set. Short operating cycles also wear the equipment out prematurely.
Manual J Load Calculations are now completed with computer software that automates most of the tedious parts, similar to the way that tax software has streamlined filing tax returns. Like filing a tax return, as of last October a Manual J calculation is now required in Texas for any new HVAC installation. This is a huge step in the right direction and helps to eliminate the multi-finger method or guessing. A mechanical installer will do the manual J calculation for you, however it would be prudent to understand what goes into the calculation for yourself. The report is only as good as the data that has been entered. Your designer or architect can be a good resource for double checking that the orientation, window, door and wall sizes and other parameters of the home have been properly interpreted from the blueprints.
Once the Load Calculation has been completed, it’s time to choose the heating and cooling equipment, and size the ductwork to distribute the air around the house properly. This is where the load calculation can often get “inflated” since most equipment is in sizes such as 1 ½ Ton, 2 Ton, 2 ½ Ton, 3 Ton, 3 ½ Ton, 4 Ton, 5 Ton. As you might guess, there is an ACCA Manual for these activities too: Manual S will help your mechanical contractor choose the proper equipment combination to meet the Manual J results, and Manual D will help with the design of the distribution system (ductwork) for your system so the proper amount of air is put into the right locations of the house. Custom Design Services offers third party Manual J calculations as an additional service.
When you install a new mechanical system be sure to ask for a copy of the Manual J and other reports involved in sizing your equipment. Ask your designer or architect to review this with you and go over the “house facts” to make sure the data in the reports is correct. You will be glad you did when you feel the comfort of your home and of your electricity bill.