HVAC Pro Blog
Correctly Sizing
a Capacitor

I don't know how many times a technician has said that they installed a part based on what was on their service truck. I have heard of technicians wasting money over-sizing contactors, cutting down air filters, and even using controlled substances to clear condensate drains! Of course, these scenarios all get the job done, but I would argue the many reasons why not to do these. The one thing that gets to me is when a technician doesn't verify they are installing the correct size dual run capacitor. Believe it or not, there is a simple method to figuring the correct size capacitor, without waiting on hold for the distributor's guru. Of course, you could use a multimeter that reads microfarads (uf), but this will only tell you if the existing capacitor is weak - not the correct size!

Testing Volts / Amps

With the condensing unit operating under a load, you will need to measure the total volts between the HERM and COMMON terminals on the run capacitor (i.e. 345 VAC). Next, measure the amperage on the wire leading from HERM to START on the Compressor (i.e. 4 amps).

Use the equation below to verify the size of the capacitor. The resulting microfarad (uf) should match the size of the installed capacitor.

An over or under-sized capacitor will cause an imbalance in the magnetic field of the motor. This hesitation when operating will cause noisy operation, an increase in power consumption, a drop in motor performance and eventually overheating or overloading motors like compressors. The run capacitor should have the exact microfarad (uf) that the motor is rated for. Capacitors rated above 70uf are considered Start Capacitors and are generally removed from the circuit electrically during operation. This is where the rule of +/- 10% of the rating came from, for Start Capacitors ONLY! The voltage rating should be no less than the listed amount for the motor, for central heat pumps and air-conditioners this is usually a minimum of 370VAC. Most new condensing units are specified for 440VAC capacitors, and are more durable during fluctuations in power supply. I have seen some universal type dual run capacitors rated for as much as 700VAC, as this voltage rating does not impact uf performance. The changes in uf will impact amperage draw and reflect on kilowatt hour usage though.

When completing your early season maintenance this year for your customers, do them a service by testing capacitors and verifying their size. You could just increase your service ticket total and save some all important power. You may even prevent a call-back during the next heat wave!

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