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Central Air Conditioners: Variable-Speed vs Soft Start Kits

Some time ago I detailed our 2021 decision to upgrade to a variable speed central air conditioner, the various features and benefits underlying that decision. That was the same year, after the Great Texas Freeze of 2021, we went about implementing a practical strategy for backup power.

We had been planning for these projects for quite some time, setting aside the necessary funds. Things might have been quite different if the old air conditioner had outright failed unexpectedly, requiring immediate replacement. We probably would have opted for a single-stage replacement purely on the basis of cost. After all, that’s what happened in 2002 when, as new homeowners, we were more-or-less forced into buying the American Standard Allegiance 12 system.

Single-stage systems certainly get the job done. They’re standard, builder-grade equipment. They simply don’t fit into our current strategy for backup power. At least, not without some fiddling. What follows in an exploration of that fiddling.

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Staying Cool in Texas: Our Recent Air Conditioning Transition

Yeah, I know a picture of an air conditioner's outside coil is not very exciting. It's better than nothing.This begins back when we bought our home in 2001. We gave very little thought to the associated technical systems. It was our first home, which was excitement enough. It had four walls and a roof. A fenced yard for Dickson T. Dog. These were the explicitly stated criteria. It came some with old appliances, an old central air conditioner and a very old gas furnace. The house was built in the early 1920’s, so it’s safe to say that everything was vintage, but we didn’t care.

The Story Begins in 2003

About a year later, the compressor in that obviously very old air conditioner failed. While repairable, it was so old that a major repair (compressor) seemed a bad idea. So, we called our preferred air conditioning vendor and arranged to have a new system installed.

It was spring and not yet too hot. We opted for a 4T American Standard system rated for 13 SEER. Pretty basic, but a leading brand, from a vendor we trusted, with a 10 year warranty. Honestly, I don’t think we even considered anything beyond a single stage unit. It was a vast improvement over the ancient, recently deceased, Kenmore system.

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Sensibo Sky: The Newest Gadget in my Home Office

It’s that time of year once again, when the mercury rises and I am reminded of how the air conditioner in my home office is so critical to comfort and productivity. This is a little story of how I recently enhanced the now nine-year-old master of cool.

The Fujitsu Halcyon ductless mini-split air conditioner installed here is one of the larger models they make. It’s rated for 30,000 BTU (2.5T if you prefer) which is quite large for the 400 square foot office. It was sized to accommodate a full-height rack of broadcast equipment that used to occupy a corner in my office.

Back when it was installed, it was enough that it did the basics. It kept the space cool and dry, without being noisy. It meets those requirements even today.

The Master of Cool

With no controls on the device itself, it’s operated using a simple IR cordless remote control. The remote functions are very basic; on/off, target temperature, mode (cool, dry, auto) and control of the motorized vanes that direct air flow. I hardly had to use the remote control beyond on/off. Since it’s an IR remote, it only works when pointed directly at the indoor unit.

I can’t fault the Fujitsu air conditioner, since it’s installation we have become more sophisticated users. We’ve had a Nest thermostat installed in the house for years. We’ve become accustomed to the ability to program a schedule of temperature changes to minimize energy use. We also appreciate remote control from our smart phones, whether we’re home or elsewhere. This leaves the mini-split feeling primitive and costly to run.

Sensibo Sky

A few weeks ago I discovered Sensibo Sky, a small IoT device that adds all the remote control flexibility of a Nest thermostat to a split ductless unit with IR remote control. It’s similar to the Logitech Harmony remote control scheme, in that it emulates the IR emitter of the original remote, connecting it to our Wi-Fi, and making it accessible via the web and smart phone apps.

Originally priced at $149, Sensibo Sky initially seemed a bit pricey. I found a recent offer of $99 with free shipping too good to pass up, so I bought one.

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Staying Frosty Through A Texas Summer

Nexus4-HighTemperature.pngSome time ago I characterized a high quality coffee machine as essential equipment for home office dweller. That remains true, but given the last four weeks straight of 90+ degree days, culminating in a daytime high of 107 F (!) last weekend, I’m revising my stance to nominate the air conditioner as technological king of this hill.

When my wife and I bought this property some dozen years ago we were specifically looking for a home with a garage apartment that I could adapt into a home office. The one bedroom, ground floor, garage apartment here seemed the perfect candidate.

In general, my home office has served me well. In fact, I’m truly blessed to have such a space. Even so, over time I’ve made some changes to enhance my productivity, including replacing the air conditioner…twice!

The path by which I can to have the current air conditioner was not simple. Along the way I have learned a few lessons. Since the major purpose of this site is to share such experience I thought it about time that I addressed the matter of keeping my cool.

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