Sub-Cooling and the P&H Diagram
Sub-cooling serves several purposes, two of which are to ensure a solid stream of liquid gets to the metering device, and increase the refrigeration effect.
So, why is a solid column of liquid required? Performance of the metering device will be greatly reduced. All metering devices will only meet their rated capacity while being provided all liquid at a specified pressure drop. If a metering device gets liquid and flash gas the performance suffers greatly. The valve will hunt for set point, and the system pressures will behave erratically which could lead to other control problems.
Only liquid droplets can evaporate and remove latent heat from the load. Flash gas is already boiled liquid so there is no latent energy potential to pick up the load in the evaporator. A metering device, in its simplest form, can be considered an orifice (plate with a hole in it). In the illustration below, the upper would be something like an orifice getting full liquid pushed against the plate and developing large droplets to feed the evaporator. The lower orifice is getting a mix of gas and liquid emitting a spray of gas and tiny droplets which will be inefficient at removing the heat energy in the evaporator.
On the pressure-enthalpy diagram, sub-cooling occurs in the final stage of the condenser then continues, to a lesser extent, in the liquid line until it reaches the metering device. The diagram shows what 10 degrees of liquid sub-cooling looks like on a R-410a cooling cycle.
The chart also shows nearly a 10 Btu/pound loss of capacity because the specific enthalpy difference is now less. 10 Btu/lb loss on a cycle that is 70 Btu/lb would be a little over 14%.
Another point to consider is how much sub-cooling is enough? This can be found using the pressure enthalpy diagram and the piping information. Line-sets, filter dryers, friction loss, and condenser pressure drop all add up to give a total pressure loss on the high-side of the system.
The diagram below has 5 degrees of sub-cooling marked against 10 psi incremental pressure drops. After 20 psi the metering device will start getting flash gas. 20 psi seems like a lot of pressure loss, but add it up, 80 equivalent foot of 3/8 liquid line (50 linear foot and three elbows) has a pressure loss of about 10 psi, filter dryer 3 psi, leaving 7 psi for the condenser, that’s cutting it close.
A sub-cooling of 10 degrees allows for almost 40 psi pressure drop before failing at the valve. Most recommendations for split systems are rarely less than 9 degrees of sub-cooling.
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I worked for over thirty years in the HVACR industry. I have designed, installed, serviced, and trouble shot units of various types throughout the years. The posts here are information based on that experience, I hope you find them useful. If you have a different experience, please comment.