In refrigeration, you don’t actually cool a room, refrigerator, or freezer. Instead, you pump the heat out, and doing so requires an arrangement of tubing, blowers, compressors, and evaporators all connected with fittings. If a fitting is left loose, a service valve cap might leak, releasing its refrigerant. If you tighten it too much, you may strip the threads off, not only creating a leak but also making it necessary to cut the valve free and braze a new one on. In private homes, a loose or damaged service valve causes discomfort. In a commercial freezer, this broken valve means the loss of months worth of perishable food. In a hospital, it creates a shortage of lifesaving vaccines and medicines.
Commercial refrigeration repair demands precision. Tightening a service valve, mini-split, or flare nut by hand and giving it a quarter turn just doesn’t cut it. Whether they’re being done by do-it-yourselfers or pros, commercial refrigeration repairs should be completed using precision torque tools.
Constant Vibration Demands Fittings Tightened to Spec
The sound of the evaporator fan, condenser fan, and condenser motor are familiar, comforting noises in our homes. What it means, though, is continual vibrations as the fans spin up and the motors springs to life. These vibrations can loosen fittings on a commercial cooling unit, refrigerator, and even a home’s air conditioner. Once loosened, the refrigerant can start leaking out, and once it’s gone, the blowers do about as much to cool the interior space as a lazily spinning desk fan would. In order to remain tightly in place, refrigerant fitting and machinery parts must be joined with fasteners tightened to the correct level of torque.
Torque is radial force. It is measured in foot-pounds (lbf.ft) and is the amount of force multiplied by the distance from its point of application. In other words, when you slide your hand farther back on a wrench to turn a stubborn bolt, you’re increasing the amount of torque, and you can damage a condenser motor, fans, fittings, or their housings if you do not apply the correct amount. Turning a threaded fitting compresses the threads so that they clamp down and stay in place. Apply too little force and the vibrations of the motor will eventually cause a fitting to become loose. The fans and motors will wobble as they work if the same thing happens with a screw holding them in place. On the other hand, if you exert too much force—and too much torque—when doing commercial refrigeration repairs, you’ll likely create several new problems.
Softer Metals Require a Precisely Measured Softer Touch
Refrigerant tubing is made of copper, and that makes it especially important to use a precise amount of torque. Over-tightening a valve cover or a flare nut trying to be sure you have a tight seal can not only strip out the threads and compromise the seal but also kink the line or break it. When this happens, the only choice is to cut the tubing back, braze a new joint onto it, and try again with a new fitting—a process that takes a significant amount of time. It’s better to install fittings with the correct amount of force precisely measured.
Due to their amazing ability to transfer heat, condensers in commercial refrigerators are often made of aluminum. This too is a softer metal and in condensers, it is especially thin. Mounting it to a frame or rear housing made of steel or stainless requires precise control over the amount of force exerted on the steel bolts or screws holding it in place. Driving the fasteners too hard and too deep can punch their heads through thin aluminum mounts. In the best case scenario, the condenser is then missing a fastener which may lead to issues with vibration later on. In the worst case scenario, you could damage the condenser so it’s unusable by twisting it or bending a large part of it.
Choosing the Best Torque Tools for Commercial Refrigeration Repair
Using quality torque tools is the best way to ensure commercial refrigeration repairs are done correctly. Torque wrenches and torque screwdrivers prevent over-tightening by either warning their user or disengaging when they reach a threshold of force. Breakover wrenches disengage the hinge between the wrench head and the handle when the correct torque is reached, preventing over-torquing. Since they physically prevent the operator from applying too much torque, these tools work well for installing compression fittings, flare nuts, valves, and valve caps to easily twisted refrigerant tubing. They also work well for tightening a bolt on a compressor mount. A click wrench, which warns the user when they’re close to the force limit but does not physically stop the user from exceeding it, can also be a good choice. Click wrenches deliver very high torque values, so they may be the ideal tool for large commercial refrigerators that cool or freeze food storage warehouses.
For the lighter work of mounting condensers and tubing to refrigerators and air handlers, adjustable torque screwdrivers work best. These can be set to the precise specifications of the refrigeration system model being repaired, and the tips can be swapped out to match different fasteners. The variety of fasteners that are used for this purpose may call for a full screwdriver kit with sockets and driver heads that fit any fastener encountered in the field.
A lot depends on commercial refrigeration repairs. Refrigeration doesn’t just ensure our comfort; it ensures that we have safe food to eat and effective medicines. Consulting refrigeration equipment torque specification sheets and having the tools on hand to precisely comply with those specifications ensures that commercial refrigeration repairs go smoothly. That way, both pro and DIY refrigeration technicians can keep their cool and keep their work cold.