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HVAC Clinic

Refrigerant
Piping
Table Of Contents

Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 3
Design Requirements ............................................................................................................................ 4
General Piping Guidlines ...................................................................................................................... 6
Suction Line Sizing ................................................................................................................................ 7
Example 1 ............................................................................................................................................. 12
Example 2 ............................................................................................................................................. 14
Suction Line Routing Guidlines .......................................................................................................... 15
Liquid Line ............................................................................................................................................ 19
Example 3 ............................................................................................................................................. 22
Other Liquid Line Considerations ...................................................................................................... 23
Discharge Line ..................................................................................................................................... 24
Appendix ............................................................................................................................................... 27
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Introduction
In the previous clinic, we discussed the refrigeration cycle. In this clinic, we will discuss the interconnecting piping that
connects the components of the refrigeration cycle. Specifically, those are:

1. Liquid Line
2. Suction Line
3. Discharge Line

The liquid line transports cool, high pressure refrigerant liquid between the condenser and expansion device. The
suction line conveys cool, low pressure vapor between the evaporator and compressor. Finally, the discharge line
delivers hot, high pressure vapor between the compressor and condenser (figure 1).

Figure 1

As technology has changed over recent years, refrigerant piping requirements have changed dramatically as well.
Changes in compressor and refrigerant technology have dramatically altered the rules associated with good refrigerant
piping design.

Prior to 2010, most piping guidelines were written around refrigerant R-22. Post 2010, the guidelines have been
re-written due to the phase out of refrigerant R-22 and its replacement, refrigerant R-410a. R-410a is an azeotrope
(blend of two or more refrigerants with a similar boiling point) and operates at pressures up to 50% greater than R-22. In
addition, R-410a uses POE oil, for which it has a very high affinity. The affinity a refrigerant has to its oil is very important
when trying to properly maintain oil flow within a system.

Compressor technology changes have had an even greater impact on the design of refrigerant piping systems. In the
past, the refrigerant piping always had to be designed to transport the compressors lubricating oil throughout the entire
cycle. New scroll compressor designs utilizing very high efficiency oil recovery devices (>99% effective at recovery)
greatly reduce the amount of refrigerant that must be transported throughout the system. These newer types of scroll
compressors are now commonly used in variable refrigerant flow (VRF) design in which line lengths can exceed 400.

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Even more amazing, new centrifugal compressor designs which incorporate magnetic levitation technology require no
oil whatsoever.

For the purposes of this clinic, we will investigate proper refrigerant piping design practices for systems utilizing R-410a
and constant displacement, non-oil recovery type systems. This clinic will focus primarily on the ASHRAE refrigerant
design rules. Because of the dramatic changes that have occurred and that will continue to occur as technologies
develop; please refer to the manufacturers specific design requirements prior to designing any refrigerant piping
system.

Design Requirements
Generally speaking, the goal of any refrigerant piping system is to minimize installed cost while maximizing efficiency
and reliability. In order to accomplish these goals, a few rules should be followed:

Return oil to the compressor at the proper rate, at all operating conditions
Ensure that only liquid refrigerant, not vapor, enters the expansion device at all operating conditions
Minimize system capacity loss due to pressure drop
Minimize the total refrigerant charge to improve reliability, minimize installed cost and lessen the
environmental impact

The first rule is that oil must be returned to the compressor at all operating conditions. Oil is used to seal and lubricate
the moving parts of a compressor. For example, the oil in a scroll compressor provides a seal between the fixed scroll
and orbiting scroll, maintaining a boundary between the low pressure gas and the high pressure gas (figure 2). As
mentioned previously, some newer scroll compressors will recover much of the oil at the discharge, eliminating the need
to transport much of the oil. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that the refrigerant piping
must convey all of the systems oil and return it to the suction of the compressor.

Figure 2

The second rule requires that only liquid refrigerant, not vapor, enters the expansion device at all operating conditions.
In addition to maintaining the proper pressure drop between the condenser and evaporator, the expansion device
meters the flow of refrigerant required to maintain the proper amount of compressor superheat. If the expansion device
allows too much refrigerant flow, the refrigerant will not completely flash and the compressor will slug liquid. If the
expansion device allows too little refrigerant flow, the additional superheat will come at the expense of system efficiency
(recall that maximum amount of energy is absorbed during the process of changing state as opposed to further heating
a superheated gas).

However, if vapor enters upstream of the expansion device, bubbles of vapor displace the liquid in the port of the TXV,
reducing refrigerant flow (figure 3). This reduction in refrigerant flow significantly increases superheat and reduces the
capacity of the evaporator.

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Figure 3

The third rule is to minimize system capacity loss due to pressure drop. Ideally, our compressor would only require the
necessary lift to provide the proper pressures and associated temperatures to absorb heat in the evaporator and reject
heat at the condenser. However, refrigerant piping and fittings provide additional pressure drop. This pressure drop
must also be accounted for at the compressor. Any additional power required at the compressor to overcome pipe and
fitting pressure drop comes at the expense of system efficiency.

Additionally, pressure loss in suction lines directly contributes to a loss in capacity. For each additional psi of pressure
drop, a system loses 0.6% of its capacity.

Finally, the last rule states that we want to minimize the total refrigerant charge to improve reliability, minimize installed
cost and lessen the environmental impact. The first reason for reducing the refrigerant charge (and the least intuitive) is
that the quantity of refrigerant directly relates to system reliability. The major manufacturers have determined, over
years of analysis, that reducing the system charge increases reliability. Second, reducing the system charge will reduce
the installed cost associated with the cost of the refrigerant and reduce the maintenance cost associated with replacing
lost refrigerant. Finally, there is a direct environmental impact associated with a larger charge. Refrigerant systems can
never be 100% leak proof. While we can minimize leakage by decreasing refrigerant piping length and the number of
fittings, a system will always leak to some degree. US Green Buildings LEED (Leadership for Energy Efficient Design)
establishes environment and energy efficiency goals for commercial buildings. The goal of LEED EA (Energy and
Atmospheric) Credit 4 is to:

Reduce ozone depletion and support early compliance with the Montreal Protocol while minimizing direct contributions to global
warming.

LEED EA credit 4 rewards buildings that minimize refrigerant charge to within certain criteria. The challenge becomes
how to minimize the refrigerant charge. The majority of refrigerant charge is held in the condenser (typically 30-40%)
and the liquid line (typically 25-30%). While the volume of charge held in the condenser is often beyond the control of
the designer, the volume of refrigerant in the liquid line is not. However, minimizing the liquid line charge generally
involves reducing the piping size. However, by reducing the liquid line size and thus increasing its associated pressure
drop, we run the risk of prematurely flashing refrigerant before it enters the expansion device. As discussed earlier, this
can lead to system instability and a loss of efficiency.

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General Piping Guidelines
The following guidelines apply to the application on either factory line sets or field fabricated tubing for cooling only and
heat pump systems:

Many service problems can be avoided by taking adequate precautions to provide an internally clean and
dry system and by using procedures and materials that conform to established standards.
The lines should be installed so that they will not obstruct service access to the indoor coil, air handling
system or filter. Install the lines with as few bends as possible. Care must be taken not to damage the
couplings or kink the tubing. Care must also be used to isolate the refrigerant lines to minimize noise
transmission from the equipment to the structure.
Never solder suction and liquid lines together. They can be taped together for convenience and support
purposes, but they must be completely insulated from each other.
Support all refrigerant lines at minimum intervals with suitable hangers and brackets. Tape and suspend the
refrigerant lines as shown in Figure 4. DO NOT ALLOW METAL-TO-METAL CONTACT.

Figure 4

Use long radius elbows wherever possible.


Use PVC piping as a conduit for all underground installations. See Figure 5. Buried lines must be kept as
short as possible to minimize the buildup of liquid refrigerant in the suction line during long periods of
shutdown.

Figure 5
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Pack fiberglass insulation and a sealing material such as permagum around refrigerant lines where they
penetrate a wall to reduce vibration and to retain some flexibility. If multiple line sets are routed through a
common conduit, then all lines must be insulated.
Insulate all suction lines with a minimum of 1/2 inch of foam rubber. Liquid lines that will be exposed to
direct sunlight or high ambient temperatures such as an attic must also be insulated.

The following additional guidelines apply to field fabricated piping:

Use hard drawn refrigeration type copper tubing where no appreciable amount of bending around pipes or
obstructions is necessary. If soft copper must be used, care should be taken to avoid sharp bends which
may cause a restriction.
Braze all copper to copper joints with Silfos-5 or equivalent brazing material. DO NOT USE SOFT SOLDER.
During brazing operations, flow an inert gas such as nitrogen through the system to prevent internal scaling
and contamination.

With regards to traps:

Traps are not required if the piping is properly sized. Traps will only add pressure drop to the system,
further reducing capacity. The one exception to this rule is when using double risers. When using double
risers, a trap at the bottom of the larger riser is required to provide an oil shutoff when the system unloads.

Suction Line Sizing


The requirements for sizing and routing for the suction line are:

Ensure adequate velocity to return oil to the compressor at all stages of unloading
Avoid excessive noise due to velocity
Minimize system capacity and efficiency loss

The suction line is the most difficult to size in terms of maintaining oil return to the compressor. The suction line conveys
cool, low pressure refrigerant vapor. This low temperature vapor has a relatively low affinity for oil, especially compared
to liquid refrigerant. The diameter of the suction line must be kept small enough that the resulting refrigerant velocity is
sufficiently high to carry oil droplets, at all stages of compressor unloading. If the velocity in the pipe is too high
objectionable noise may result. Finally, the pipe diameter should be as large as possible to minimize pressure drop and
thus maximize system efficiency and capacity.

The rules for sizing suction lines are as follows:

For line lengths less than 75 and no appreciable change in elevation between evaporator and condenser

Use factory supplied connections for pipe size

For line lengths greater than 75 or for change in elevation between evaporator and condenser

Max pressure drop = based on specific system requirements (goal is not to exceed 5 psi)
Minimum velocity for vertical and horizontal piping based on table 1.
Maximum velocity of 4000 fpm

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Table 1
Pipe Dia Minimum Velocity (fpm)
(in) Riser Horiz/Drop
3/8 370 275
460 350
5/8 520 390
560 420
7/8 600 450
1 1/8 700 525
1 3/8 780 585
1 5/8 840 630
2 1/8 980 735
2 5/8 1080 810
3 1/8 1180 885
3 5/8 1270 950
4 1/8 1360 1020

Some manufacturers give a minimum recommended velocity for both vertical rises and horizontal runs. For example,
York lists a minimum of 1000 fpm for vertical suction risers and 800 fpm for all horizontal runs. While this will simplify the
calculation process, this rule may result in excessive pressure drop. The actual minimum velocity is dependent upon
the actual diameter of the pipe. For example, a smaller piping size will have a more aggressive velocity profile than a
larger pipe size. A more aggressive velocity profile denotes that the refrigerant velocity near the inner walls of a smaller
diameter pipe is greater than that of a larger diameter pipe. This higher refrigerant velocity relative to the distance to the
inner wall implies that we can run a lower overall velocity in the pipe. The decision as to whether to use the values in
table 1 or another rule of thumb for suction risers and horizontal runs is up to the designer.

The procedure for calculating the suction line size is:

1. Determine the total length of piping


2. Calculate the refrigerant velocity at minimum and maximum capacity (figure 6, table 2)
3. Select the largest pipe diameter that results in an acceptable velocity at both maximum and minimum
capacities
4. Calculate the total equivalent length of straight pipe and fittings
5. Determine pressure drop due to pipe and fittings (table 3, table 4)
6. Add pressure drop due to accessories

ASHRAE provides data in tabulated form for calculating pressure drop, temperature drop and velocity (liquid line).
There is data for suction, discharge, and liquid lines. Suction and discharge lines have data for 0.5, 1, and 2F changes
in saturated suction temperature (SST). Liquid lines are based on 1F changes in saturation temperature. The data is
based on 105F condensing temperature (common for water-cooled equipment) and must be corrected for other
condensing temperatures (air-cooled equipment is typically 120 to 125). The tables are also based on 100 feet of
equivalent length. The actual pressure drop is estimated based on the actual equivalent length of the application using
equations in the footnotes of the refrigerant capacity tables.

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Figure 6. Refrigerant Suction Gas Velocity for R-410a (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

Figure 6

Figure 7 Assumes 40oF saturated suction temperature, 105oF saturated condensing temperature. For other conditions,
apply correction factors from table 2.

Table 2. Correction Factors For R-410a Refrigerant Gas Velocity (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

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Table 3. Equivalent Length for Fittings (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

Table 4. Equivalent Length for Valves and Refrigeration Devices (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

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Table 5. R-410a Refrigerant Line Size Table (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

Values in Table 5 are based on 105F condensing temperature. Multiply table capacities by the following factors for
other condensing temperatures (table 6).

Table 6. Correction Factors for R-410a Refrigerant Line Sizing

The first goal should be to minimize the refrigerant piping run between the evaporator and compressor. Next, we need
to examine the number of stages of unloading per refrigerant circuit. Most modern refrigeration systems do not have
more than two stages per circuit. Thus, the designer typically wont have less than 50% refrigerant flow at part load.
Even newer variable capacity or VFD driven scroll compressors do not unload below 30 hz. This ensures that the
refrigerant system does not unload below 50% at part load. This gives the Engineer the ability to design the system
such that oil return should be achievable at all operating conditions.

Once we have determined the minimum and maximum refrigerant velocity, we can pick a pipe size that result in an
acceptable velocity at both conditions. Finally, we can add together and calculate the total equivalent length of straight
pipe and fittings and determine the total pressure drop and loss of suction temperature.

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Example 1
Assume at 20 Ton system with two ten ton scroll compressors on a single circuit. There is 50 between the evaporator
and compressor. 30 is horizontal, 20 is vertical. Suction piping contains two long radius bends. Suction temperature
is 40oF. Condensing temperature is 120oF. Find line size and total pressure drop.

Solution:

1. Determine the total length of piping

Total length = 50

2. Calculate the refrigerant velocity at maximum and minimum capacity (figure 7).

Figure 7

Minimum capacity is 10 tons. Maximum capacity is 20 tons. From figure 7, create a table listing velocity at all stages.

Table 7
Pipe Size 10 Tons 20 Tons
2 1/8 630 FPM 1300 FPM
1 5/8 1100 FPM 2300 FPM

However, we must correct the values in table 7 with the correction factors from table 6. Actual suction temperature is
40oF and the condensing temperature is 120oF. Correction factor from table 2 is 1.1. New revised velocity is (table 8).

Table 8
Pipe Size 10 Tons 20 Tons
2 1/8 693 FPM 1430 FPM
1 5/8 1210 FPM 2530 FPM

3. Select the largest pipe diameter that results in an acceptable velocity at both minimum and maximum
capacities

The minimum velocity for 2 1/8 copper pipe is 980 FPM and 735 FPM for vertical suction and horizontal runs
respectively. The minimum velocity for 1 5/8 copper pipe is 840 FPM and 630 FPM for vertical suction and horizontal
runs respectively. The largest pipe diameter that results in an acceptable velocity at both minimum and maximum
capacities is 1 5/8. 1 5/8 pipe is the proper size for both horizontal and vertical suction lines.

4. Calculate the total equivalent length of straight pipe and fittings

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A long radius 90 has an equivalent length of 2.6. Therefore, the total equivalent length of piping is:
Length = 50 + 2 x (2.6) = 55.2

5. Determine pressure drop due to pipe and fittings (table 3, table 4)

The de-rate from table 4 for 120oF condensing temperature is 0.889. Table 3 lists three columns at 40oF suction
temperature; 2oF, 1oF, and 0.5oF temperature loss through the suction line. We want to select the column that yields a
capacity close to our actual capacity after we de-rate for actual conditions. A 1 5/8 suction line at a 2oF suction
temperature loss results in a de-rated capacity of 21.6 tons (24.3 x .889). Our actual capacity is 20 tons. Thus, we
should select the data from the 2oF column in table 3. Table 3 lists pressure drop at 2oF as 4.5 PSI. Calculating the
actual corrected pressure loss:

6. Add pressure drop due to accessories

In this case, we will assume no accessories. Final pressure drop is 2.16 psi. Suction line piping should be sized to not
exceed 5 psi if possible. At 2.16 psi, 1 5/8 diameter pipe yields an acceptable pressure drop.

If, however, we cant find a pipe size that result in acceptable velocity at minimum and maximum flow, we must
investigate the use of a double riser (figure 8).

Figure 8

When a suction riser is sized to allow oil return at minimum load condition, the velocity or pressure drop in this line may
be too high when operating at full load. If a correctly sized suction riser causes excessive velocity or pressure drop at
full load, a double riser should be used. Figure 8 shows a method of riser construction. The operation of the double riser
is as follows:

Riser A is designed for the minimum load possible.


Riser B is sized for satisfactory pressure drop through both risers at full load. Riser B is sized such that the combined
cross sectional area of A and B is equal to or slightly greater than that of a single pipe sized for an acceptable pressure
drop at full load without any consideration for oil return at minimum load. The combined cross sectional area, however,
should not exceed that of a single pipe that would return oil in an upflow riser under maximum load conditions.

During minimum operation, the gas velocity is not sufficient to carry oil up both the risers. Oil tends to accumulate in the
trap between the two risers until riser B is completely sealed off. The gas velocity is now sufficient to carry oil along riser
A.

The trap capacity should be maintained to a minimum by close coupling fittings otherwise the oil hold-up could lower the
oil level in the compressor crankcase, thereby impairing compressor operation. The two risers form an inverted loop
and enter the horizontal line. This prevents oil drainage into risers that may be idle during part load operation. Another
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situation that warrants the use of double suction risers is when multiple compressors are used in a circuit. In this case,
one continues to operate while the others may shut down, and the ratio of maximum to minimum capacity becomes
large.

Example 2
Assuming the same system in Example 1, with the exception that the maximum stage is 30 tons and the minimum stage
of unloading is 5 tons. Find the riser sizes for a double riser system.

Solution:

First, we need to determine that a single pipe will not work. A 1 3/8 pipe at five tons would have a velocity of 880 FPM.
This is adequate for a 1 3/8 vertical riser. However, at 30 tons, a 1 3/8 pipe is at approximately 5000 FPM. 5000 FPM
exceeds the maximum allowable velocity for the suction line (3500 FPM maximum). This example will require a double
riser.

In this case, our minimum stage of capacity is 5 tons. First we find the minimum velocity at 5 tons. Two possible pipe
sizes could potentially work; 1 1/8 and 1 3/8 (table 9). Data shown in table 9 is corrected for actual conditions.

Table 9
Pipe Size 5 Tons
1 3/8 880 FPM
1 1/8 1320 FPM

The minimum velocity for a 1 3/8 vertical suction is 780 fpm. Thus a 1 3/8 pipe could potentially work for riser A. Lets
assume a 1 5/8 pipe for vertical riser B. The combined pipe size would be 3 (1 3/8 + 1 5/8). Plotting an interpolated
theoretical 3 pipe (the blue line on figure 10), we see that the combined minimum velocity at 30 tons is approximately
990 fpm. However, the minimum pipe velocity for a 3 1/8 suction riser is 1180 fpm. Thus, the combination of a 1 3/8
riser (A) with a 1 5/8 riser (B) will not yield sufficient velocity at full load (figure 9).

Figure 9

Next, lets assume one pipe size smaller for riser A and riser B. This would give us a 1 1/8 pipe for riser A and a 1 3/8
pipe for riser B. The velocity at our minimum stage (5 tons) in riser A would be 1320 FPM. Next, we plot an interpolated
theoretical 2.5 pipe (1 1/8 + 1 3/8). At full load (20 tons), our 2 pipe would give us approximately 990 fpm, corrected
for actual conditions (figure 11). This is well in excess of the minimum velocity of pipe sizes of this range. Thus, the
combination of a 1 1/8 pipe for riser A and a 1 3/8 pipe for riser B would yield properly designed double riser.

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Figure 10

Suction Line Routing Guidelines


Considerations should be taken when installing the suction line. First, the location and attachment of the remote
expansion valve bulb should be on a section of straight pipe located close to the outlet of the evaporator. This section of
pipe should allow for the bulb to be securely mounted as well as an access port for measuring discharge pressures
(required for TXV adjustment) and an external equalizer line (if needed). This section of pipe should be pitched slightly
in the direction of flow (1/10 is adequate). A good rule of thumb for this section is to allow for 12 of straight pipe for
mounting of the bulb, access port and external equalizer line (figure 11). If an external equalizer line is required, it
should be mounted downstream of the remote bulb. External equalizers are generally recommended if the evaporator
internal pressure drop is more than 2-3oF in temperature loss.

Figure 11

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After the horizontal section of pipe, a small trap is required to provide free drainage from the evaporator and this straight
section of pipe. This ensures that the TXV bulb is not the low spot in the system, where liquid refrigerant or oil could be
trapped and influence the bulb reading. Then, a vertical section of pipe must be installed that rises above the height of
the evaporator. This section of pipe is required regardless of whether the evaporator is mounted above or below the
compressor. The section of pipe prevents refrigerant from free draining from the evaporator to the compressor when the
system is off (figure 12).

Figure 12

If the evaporator is mounted above the compressor and the manufacturer recommends pitching the suction line away
from the compressor, an inverted trap must be used to prevent free drainage from the evaporator to the compressor
when the system is off. The height of the inverted trap must rise above the evaporator (figure 13).

Figure 13

If multiple stacked evaporator coils are connected to a single refrigeration circuit, several guidelines should be followed.
First, arrange the suction lines so that the refrigerant flows down to the connecting pipes exiting the lower suction
headers. The downward connecting pipe should drop below the point of the lowest suction header before turning
upward. The bottom trap allows all of the oil to drain out of the evaporators and collect before traveling up the vertical
riser. Next, the remote bulbs must be located such that the conditions exiting the other coils will not affect its reading.
The double elbow configuration ensures proper drainage and isolates the remote bulb from the refrigerant and oil
draining from the coils at a higher elevation. If the manufacturer recommends pitching away from the compressor, the
vertical riser should extend to an elevation above the top of the highest coils suction header to avoid free drainage from
the evaporators when the system is off.

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Figure 14

The traps shown in figures 12, 13, & 14 allow for free drainage from the evaporator coils and ensure proper TXV
operation. They do not function to drain the suction riser. In the past, it was commonplace to install a trap at the base of
all vertical suction risers and at regular intervals along the vertical riser. It was believed that these traps created
turbulence that aided in breaking up the oil droplets and assisted in ensuring proper oil transport along the vertical riser.
However, it is the mass flow of a refrigerant that ensures proper oil movement in vertical risers. Traps will not aid in
transporting refrigerant in vertical risers (figure 15). What they will do is unnecessarily increase the pressure drop of the
suction line. Transporting oil in vertical risers is dependent upon proper sizing.

Figure 15

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A few other important rules to follow when designing the suction line are:

1. Pitch sections per manufactures guidelines


2. Install suction line filter close to compressor (if required)
3. Install access ports to measure superheat and compressor suction pressure

Pitch the suction line per the manufacturers guidelines. Typically, a pitch of 1 in 10 is adequate. Some manufacturers
recommend pitching the suction line towards the evaporator in order to prevent liquid refrigerant from flowing into the
compressor when the system is off. Others, whom typically employ the use of crankcase heaters, generally recommend
pitching towards to the compressor such that oil is always returned to the compressor when the system is off. The
crankcase heaters are enabled before enabling the compressors, thus eliminating the possibility of slugging the
compressors. The one exception is the short section of straight pipe that exits the suction header. This section of pipe
should be pitched away from the evaporator to ensure proper TXV bulb readings.

If a suction line filter is required, install the suction line filter as close to the compressor as possible. Suction line filters
are generally installed after a compressor burnout to remove debris from the system. If a suction line filter is installed
after a compressor burnout, it is generally good practice to remove the filter after the debris has been removed.

Two access ports are needed to properly operate and maintain the refrigeration system. The first is a port located near
the external equalizing port and is used to measure superheat when adjusting and checking the TXV. The second is an
access port near the compressor to measure suction pressure.

Figure 16

Suction line accumulators (figure 16) are devices designed to allow liquid refrigerant and oil to separate from the
refrigerant vapor before being drawn into the compressor. Liquid refrigerant can damage a compressor. However,
improperly sized suction line accumulators can cause inadequate oil return. An accumulator also increases the
refrigerant charge and increases pressure drop. Some manufacturers, typically those which utilize flooded type
evaporators, require the use of suction line accumulators. Check with the equipment manufacturer to determine if a
suction line accumulator is required.

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Liquid Line
The liquid line transports high pressure, high temperature liquid refrigerant between the condenser and the expansion
device (figure 17).

Figure 17

The primary considerations when designing the liquid line are:

Minimize Refrigerant Charge


Avoid excessive noise and pipe erosion
Ensure only liquid refrigerant enters the expansion device

As much as 25-30% of the refrigerant charge is stored in the liquid line. As discussed earlier, there is a direct correlation
between reliability and the amount of refrigerant charge. By reducing the refrigerant charge, the system will operate
more reliably. In addition, a lower charge will reduce environmental impact in the event of a refrigerant leak. Thus, our
first design goal is to reduce the amount of refrigerant charge contained within the liquid line.

Second, we need to avoid excessive noise and pipe erosion. While the liquid line velocity must be adequate to transport
the systems oil and minimize charge, we must ensure that excessive velocity does not create noise in increase the
potential for pipe erosion.

Finally, we need to ensure that only liquid refrigerant enters the expansion device. If refrigerant vapor enters the
expansion device, bubbles form around the port of the expansion device, reducing refrigerant flow. This reduction in
refrigerant flow increases superheat and decrease the capacity of the evaporator and the efficiency of the system.
In the past, it was commonplace to think of the liquid line operation as functioning independent of the other refrigerant
system components and was sized only for design load conditions. This assumption often led to oversizing the liquid
line. For example, at a high load, high ambient conditions, a larger liquid line increased the amount of subcooling
available at the expansion device (a desired outcome). At high load, high ambient conditions, the condenser is
designed to provide a fixed amount of subcooling. At design, the condenser may be able to provide 15 oF of subcooling
(figure 18).

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Figure 18

However, what if we were to oversize the liquid line and plot the same refrigeration cycle at a low ambient, moderate to
high load conditions? First, our condenser pressure will drop as the ambient temperature drops. The compressor is
providing the same amount of lift (pressure differential) and the evaporator refrigeration effect remains moderate to high.
The expansion device is requiring a high volume of refrigerant to maintain the evaporator load and superheat. The
combination of a high flow at the expansion device and a higher liquid density in the liquid line (due to the colder
condenser temperature) pulls refrigerant away from the condenser. The condenser can no longer maintain design
subcooling (figure 19).

Figure 19

It becomes apparent, that if we oversize the liquid line, more liquid is pulled away from the condenser and subcooling
before the expansion device decreases further. Thus, at low ambient, moderate to high load conditions, we may not be
able to maintain liquid at the expansion device. This example illustrates why we need to examine liquid line sizing at all
ambient and load conditions. It also further emphasizes why we do not want to oversize the liquid line. The liquid line
should be made as small as possible to compensate for density changes a varying load and ambient conditions.

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When sizing liquid lines, we will size based on two criteria:

1. Maintain 5oF at TXV


2. Maximum velocity of 600 fpm

As discussed earlier, sizing for a fixed pressure drop will likely not ensure that we maintain subcooling at the expansion
device. Thus, assigning a fixed pressure drop as a design condition for the liquid line is not practical. Ultimately, we
want to ensure 4-6oF of subcooling at the expansion device. A design goal of 5 oF at all operating conditions is a good
rule of thumb.

Second, we want to minimize the maximum velocity to minimize erosion. A velocity of 600 fpm is generally adequate to
ensure no system erosion. In the past, lower minimum velocities were recommended due to the potential for water
hammer. However, with todays slower closing solenoid valves, water hammer is rarely a concern.
The process for sizing liquid lines is:

1. Determine the total length of piping


2. Obtain subcooling provided by condenser
3. Determine refrigerant velocity
4. Select the smallest pipe that results in an acceptable velocity at maximum capacity
5. Calculate the total equivalent length of pipe and fittings
6. Determine total pressure drop of pipe and fittings
7. Calculate the loss of subcooling due to pressure drop and change of elevation
8. Verify adequate subcooling to the expansion device

As discussed earlier, the density of liquid refrigerant is a function of temperature. As temperature decreases, density
increases. Thus, when calculating the change in pressure due to a change in elevation, the change in density must be
accounted for. Figure 20 depicts the change in pressure per foot of elevation change as a function of temperature. If the
evaporator is mounted above the condenser, the liquid column decreases the pressure at the expansion device. If the
evaporator is mounted below the condenser, the liquid column increases the pressure at the expansion device.

Figure 20

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Example 3
Assume the same 20 Ton system (from example 1) with two ten ton scroll compressors on a single circuit. However, in
this case, the compressor is mounted below the evaporator. There is 50 between the evaporator and compressor. 30
is horizontal, 20 is vertical. Liquid piping contains two long radius bends, a liquid line filter drier (6 psi pressure drop
according to manufacturers data), sight glass, and solenoid valve. Suction temperature is 40 oF. Condensing
temperature is 120oF. Compressor superheat is 12oF and condenser subcooling is 15oF. Find the amount of subcooling
at the TXV.

Solution:

1. Determine the total length of piping

Total length = 50

2. Obtain subcooling provided by condenser

Condenser subcooling = 15oF

3. Determine refrigerant velocity

From table 5, a 5/8 liquid line provides 3.2 tons at 100 fpm. At 20 tons, this would yield 625 fpm (100 fpm x 20tons /3.2
tons). This is over the 600 fpm maximum. Going to next size larger pipe, 7/8, the refrigerant velocity at 20 tons is 298
fpm (100 fpm x 20 tons / 6.7 tons).

4. Select the smallest pipe that results in an acceptable velocity at maximum capacity

Based on the calculations in step 3, we will select a 7/8 pipe.

5. Calculate the total equivalent length of pipe and fittings

From table 3, the pressure drop for the long radius elbow is 1.4. From table 4, the pressure drop for the sight glass and
solenoid valve are 1.6 and 2.2 respectively. Thus the total equivalent pressure drop for the pipe and fittings is 76.4 (50
+ 2 x 1.4 + 1.6 + 22).

6. Determine total pressure drop of pipe and accessories

From table 5

The pressure drop through the filter drier is 6 psi. Thus, the total liquid line pressure drop is 8.91 psi (2.91 psi + 6 psi).

7. Calculate the loss of subcooling due to pressure drop and change of elevation

From figure 20, the change in pressure at 120oF liquid temperature is .4 psi/ft. The change in elevation is 20. The
change in pressure drop due to the liquid column is 8 psi (.4 x 20). Because the evaporator is located above the
compressor, the liquid column decreases the pressure at the TXV. Thus, the total pressure drop is 16.91 psi (8.91 psi +
8 psi).

8. Verify adequate subcooling to the expansion device

Referring to the saturation table for R-410a in the appendix, the saturation pressure at 120oF is 432.85 psi. The total
pressure after liquid line losses is 415.94 psi (432.85 psi 16.91 psi). Interpolating from the saturation tables, the
saturation temperature at 415.94 psi is 117oF. We must maintain 105oF at the expansion device (120oF saturated
condensing temperature 15oF subcooling). Thus, the total amount of subcooling remaining before the expansion
device is 12oF (117oF - 105oF). At design load, a 7/8 liquid line would provide adequate subcooling at the expansion
device while minimizing refrigerant charge and velocity.
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However, as mentioned earlier, we should analyze this system at all load conditions. At design, we are at a high load,
high ambient condition. If this system could run at a low ambient, high load condition (a conference hall for example), a
7/8 liquid line may not provide adequate subcooling at the expansion device. To be safe, only an analysis at all load
conditions will ensure proper liquid line sizing.

Other Liquid Line Considerations


A few other design guidelines should be considered when designing the liquid line.

Each refrigeration circuit should have one solenoid valve, one filter drier, and one access port
Each distributor should have one TXV
TXVs should not be designed to control superheat below 40% capacity

First, each refrigeration circuit should contain one solenoid valve, one filter drier, and an access port. The solenoid
valve can be used to either enable system pump down or to prevent refrigerant migration when the system is off. The
liquid line filter drier should be installed upstream of and as close as possible to the solenoid valve and TXV. The
filter-drier prevents moisture and foreign matter from damaging the solenoid valve or TXV. Manual ball valves should be
installed for isolating the filter drier when the core needs to be replaced. The access port is used to charge the system
with refrigerant.

Second, each distributor should have one TXV. Each distributor requires a means of accurately maintaining superheat.
Pairing a single TXV to multiple circuits will not ensure accurate superheat. Thus, each distributor should have its own
TXV (figure 21).

Finally, most TXVs cannot accurately maintain superheat below a 40% capacity reduction. Ideally, we would like to
have a single distributor and TXV per compressor. However, at times, the design necessitates that we will need to run
multiple compressors on a single distributor and TXV. If this is the case, we want to ensure that the minimum stage of
unloading is not less than 40% at all design conditions for that particular compressor/TXV combination.

Figure 21

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Discharge Line
The discharge line transports hot, high pressure vapor to the condenser (figure 22). With modern day refrigeration
systems, rarely are we presented with situations where we have to design a discharge line. Generally speaking, the
compressor and condenser is a packaged system known as a condensing unit. The discharge piping is part of that
package.

Figure 22

If, however, we are presented with a situation in which we need to design hot gas piping, a few design rules should be
followed:

Ensure adequate velocity to return oil to the compressor at all stages of unloading
Avoid excessive noise
Minimize efficiency loss

First, notice that the rules for the discharge line are very similar to that of the suction line. That is because, in both
instances, we are dealing with a refrigerant in a vapor state. However, the hot gas line is a little more forgiving to design
with regards to oil return. That is because the discharge line operates at a higher temperature and pressure that the
suction line. This higher temperature vapor has a higher affinity for oil, facilitating its transport. Like the suction line, we
need to limit the velocity to avoid both excessive noise and efficiency loss. In the case of the discharge line, the
maximum velocity is 3500 fpm.

A few design guidelines should be followed when designing the discharge line:

Max pressure drop = based on specific system requirements (goal is not to exceed 6 psi)
Minimum velocity for vertical and horizontal piping based on table 1.
Maximum velocity of 3500 fpm

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Table 10
Pipe Dia Minimum Velocity (fpm)
(in) Riser Horiz/Drop
5/16 220 165
3/8 250 185
285 215
5/8 315 235
345 260
7/8 375 285
1 1/8 430 325
1 3/8 480 360
1 5/8 520 390
2 1/8 600 450
2 5/8 665 500
3 1/8 730 550

The process for calculating the discharge line size is:

1. Determine the total length of piping


2. Calculate the refrigerant velocity at minimum and maximum capacity (figure 23, table 11)
3. Select the largest pipe diameter that results in an acceptable velocity at both maximum and minimum
capacities
4. Calculate the total equivalent length of straight pipe and fittings
5. Determine pressure drop due to pipe and fittings (table 3, table 4)
6. Add pressure drop due to accessories

Discharge Line Piping Considerations

As with the suction line, riser traps are not required in a discharge line, assuming that the riser is properly sized to return
oil at minimum capacity. Horizontal sections of the discharge line should be pitched slightly (1 in./10) per the
manufacturers recommendations. Like the suction line, they may recommend pitching towards or away from the
compressor. Finally, insulation is generally not required for the discharge line. In fact, any heat loss in the discharge
line will actually add to system efficiency. The line should only be insulated if it poses a safety hazard with regards to
burns.

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Figure 22. Refrigerant Suction Gas Velocity for R-410a (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

Figure 23

Table 11. Correction Factors for R-410a Refrigerant Gas Velocity (ASHRAE Handbook Refrigeration 2006)

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Appendix Saturation Properties of R-410a

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