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Building Science

What Exactly Is a Low-Load Home?

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) has created a task force to provide guidance

Small apartments and condos that meet current energy codes are usually low-load homes. Now ACCA is working on a definition of that term, along with guidance for heating, cooling, and ventilating them.
Image Credit: Energy Vanguard

I found out last month that the (ACCA) is working on a new design manual.  You certainly know of some of their other manuals:  . They have as well (H, Zr…) but now they’re working on one that will address a part of the market we encounter more and more often.  And that would be low-load homes.

ACCA put out a in the spring of this year.  (Applications were due in April, so it’s too late to apply now.)  The objectives of the new manual, at least as specified in the call for volunteers, are:

1,500 square feet per ton of cooling

At the ASHRAE conference in Houston, I spoke with someone who’s on the task force and was told they’re defining a low-load home as a house that has a house-size-to-load ratio of 1,500 square feet per ton or greater.  That sounds about right to me.  At the low end, that means a 2,000 square foot house would need only about 16,000 BTU per hour of heating or cooling capacity. That’s an air conditioner or heat pump smaller than 1.5 ton! 

And that’s just the starting point for low-load homes.  We’ve done load calculations for homes that are in the 2,500 to 3,000 square feet per ton range.  (See my 2016 article with data from our results.)  Here we’re talking about a 2,000 square foot home that needs less than a ton of cooling. As the objectives above point out, heating or cooling 2,000 square feet with 400 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air flow is a challenge.

This is…

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  1. User avater
    Armando Cobo | | #1

    Dream on...
    ACCA's Manual implementation in the industry is a joke... If ACCA can't or wont make sure most of their members use the manuals correctly and stop defrauding the consumer with the manuals they have now, are they making us believe that a new manual will be followed correctly? I'll take bets now...

  2. Shane | | #2

    Like Armado I have my doubts
    Like Armado I have my doubts any new manual will be followed. Still, there's hope, some HVAC contractors take a professional approach.

    Based on the advice of a competent HVAC contractor, I had a 2 stage 3 ton unit and a modulating 60,000 BTU furnace in a prior house that was 3000 sqft. The house had 2x4 construction, fiberglass insulation, and R38 cellulose in the attic. It took extreme conditions, or returning from vacation, to see the AC in the second stage or higher stages on the furnace. That unit was downsized from a prior 4 ton unit and 100,000 btu furnace by a younger professional HVAC contractor who hadn't been in business very long but was smart enough to do a simplified manual j and was confident that 3 tons would be plenty. He was right, it was adequately sized, maybe even a bit oversized at that.

    More recently, here in climate zone 5 just east of the Mississippi river, I received a bid for a 3 ton AC and 80,000 BTU furnace for a house under 2000 sqft. The plans specified R/60/40/20/10 "pretty good house" guidelines, and didn't have an excessive amount of windows, and those were under a healthy overhang facing south and specified as having a U value of under .2. The bid was from a well known local company with an excellent reputation. Later, I had my own ratings done, the manual S came in at 1.5 tons, and the heating load at 35,000 BTU, and we know that there's a good amount of safety margin built into those calculations which may not even be optimized for "low load" houses.

    So, the new design manual could be useful for the few who are willing to follow it.

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