An air conditioner breakdown can be devastating. Not only does this issue cause inconvenience and discomfort, but it can also cost a ton of money to fix! HVAC technicians don’t come cheap! The best techs are high in demand, especially during the peak summertime season.
Thus, you can turn back to this age-old wisdom:
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
You should learn the signs that equipment breakdown is imminent. Plus, you would know how to take some basic DIY steps to prevent problems. If DIY is not your thing, that’s okay. Most HVAC service companies provide seasonal contracts to give your unit a once-over at the beginning of the season.
But what causes an air conditioner to fail you? (Always on the hottest day of the year!)
These breakdowns happen because air conditioning units are complicated pieces of machinery. And they don’t always work according to plan. Eventually, your home heat and a/c system will break down–like any piece of mechanical equipment. And when they do, it can wind up costing you tons of money. So let’s look at how you can avoid that misfortune.
5 Signs You Might Be in for an Air Conditioner Breakdown
So how can you tell your AC is on its way out or needs repairs? First, we will look at the key indicators that you might have a problem afoot.
1 – Your Heating Bills Have Gone Up
Higher heating bills are among the first signs that your air conditioning unit is about to break down. As AC components wear out, the entire unit becomes less efficient. The system has to work much harder than before to get the same result. And that requires more energy. Eventually, ACs can lose around half of their efficiency, requiring double the power as before.
2 – You Smell Strange Odors
AC units should be odorless during regular operations. All of the smelly chemicals that make them work should remain sealed in their pipes. And nothing should burn.
If you smell something, it could be any number of problems. The leading cause of bad smells is dust and bacteria in ducts. You should find out how often to change filters for your particular system to prevent this from happening in the future.
If you don’t change them regularly enough, you will ultimately damage your AC. Small particles will get in and damage the internal components – not what you want.
3 – You Keep Hearing Strange Noises
AC units should be mostly silent except for the humming of the fan. But they can make strange noises as they start to break down.
Buzzing noises usually indicate problems with fan bearings. These are easy to fix and shouldn’t cause you much concern. Trickling noises are more challenging to resolve because they usually mean a problem with the cooling loop. In this case, you may have to replace the entire unit.
4 – You Notice Reduced Airflow
Air conditioning units should have no trouble cooling entire rooms and doing it quickly. Modern ACs are exceptionally efficient and make their effects felt rapidly when they work correctly.
However, when air conditioning units are about to break down, they reduce airflow. And your rooms feel much warmer than they used to twenty minutes after switching on your system.
Again, the main reason for reduced airflow is usually a problem with filters. If you haven’t replaced them in a while, swap your old ones out for new ones and try your system again. It should hopefully deal with the problem.
If it doesn’t, then it suggests either an issue with the cooling loop or the fan.
5 – You Have To Call the Technician to Repair Your System Regularly
Air conditioner units are a little bit like cars. At first, it makes economic sense to repair them and keep them on the road. But over time, things start to break down to the point where it’s no longer worth it. And that’s when the real problems can start. Follow our tips for hiring any home contractor to ensure the right person for the job.
Air Conditioner Maintenance
An essential part of keeping your machinery running in tip-top shape is keeping it clean.
Your air conditioner provides cool air by using a refrigerant that essentially absorbs heat from the air and then transports it to the airspace outside of your property. The refrigerant or coolant continually carries out this process of heat removal until the temperature indoors reaches the temperature you have selected on your thermostat.
There are two coils within your AC system that are essential for this process and each is involved in independent stages of the cooling cycle. One is named the evaporator coil (that traps heat inside your home) and the other is referred to as the condenser coil (that releases that heat into the outside environment).
Carrying out regular service on your AC system is essential to maintain your system’s efficiency and a major part of this process involves maintaining and cleaning the coils. Dirty coils can lead to various issues including increased energy use, impaired heat absorption; increased temperatures in your property, as well as frost build-up.
Ensuring that your air conditioner coils are well maintained and free from dirt is essential for the long-term health and efficiency of your system. Dirty coils not only lead to a drop in the efficiency of your system. It can also lead to increased energy bills and frost build-up during the winter months.
1 – How to Care for Your Air Conditioner Coils in Four Easy Steps
As mentioned, the job of the ac coils is to trap the heat inside your home and release it into the outside air in order to keep your home at a comfortable temperature. They also have another role, which is to dehumidify your home as water condenses on them and removes moisture from the air within your home.
Over time your coils can naturally become dirty as the air that hits them naturally carries dust, pollen, and other residues. Dirty air filters in your system can also aggravate this issue, often meaning they need to be cleaned more often, so always ensure that your filters are clean and if not replaced regularly.
You ought to clean your coils at least once a month. However, in reality, this will largely depend on your particular system. In some cases, you may need to clean them more often. You will know this with time as you get familiar with your AC.
Step One: Gaining Access
First things first. You will need to gain access to the system to clean each of the coils. Since all systems vary in their configuration, you will usually need to read the user manual. That is, unless you have previously carried out maintenance on your ac.
Before you begin unscrewing the access panel always ensure your system is turned off. Only then can you carry out the process safely.
Step Two: Using Compressed Air
One of the easiest and most effective ways to clean the air conditioner coils is to use a professional style ac coil cleaner that uses compressed air. Using an air compressor will mean you don’t even have to touch the fragile coils. You don’t even have to attempt to get to hard-to-reach areas. This is because the pressure of the air will very easily remove dirt residues.
Step Three: Using a Brush
For more stubborn build-up, you may find that pressurized air is not cutting it. In which case you can try using a brush. This will allow you to apply more pressure to areas with more stubborn spots. Ensure you are using a brush with soft bristles since you really don’t want to damage your coils; this means avoiding steel and wire brushes.
Step Four: Professional Cleaning Products
In some cases, you may require professional HVAC cleaning products to remove stubborn dirt from your ac coils. These are typically foam formulas that gently remove the residues. And the one that is most appropriate for your system will typically depend on a range of factors.
For this reason, it’s always best to seek the advice of a local HVAC service person if you are finding that the other cleaning options are not working for you. This is the safest way to ensure you are cleaning your system without damaging it.
2 – Give Your AC Condenser Space
When landscaping your yard, you have several options to keep the yard looking well maintained. The main point to remember is to always leave a 24-inch clearance around the entire AC unit no matter what you do, including branches, foliage, or fruit obstructing the unit.
If you want to screen an ugly AC unit from view, consider growing a tall standalone annual. For example, sunflowers or zinnias. Or a fast-growing summer plant, like elephant ears. You’ll need to replant them every spring in most climates, but it should not be a problem as they are fast and easy to grow. If you like some variety, these are a great option as you can plant new varieties each year.
A simple trellis covered with annual vines such as sweet pea and morning glory, or thunbergia is another fine choice. The trellis efficiently screens the unit from view while being aesthetically pleasing and functional. Besides annual plants you can choose perennials and shrubs that will last several years, saving you effort on replanting.
You’ll want to leave plenty of room for an HVAC technician to work on the unit, so it’s recommended to not block more than two sides of it.
In case you don’t want the hassle of weeding and watering the area around your unit, consider xeriscaping. This is recommended because it is drought-tolerant, requires less maintenance, and eliminates the need for any chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Suggested materials for xeriscaping are bricks, boulders, succulents, and gravel.
3 – Keep the Fins Clean!
You might think that looking after the yard is enough work, and be tempted to ignore the cleaning of the AC compressor or other parts of the unit. This would be a mistake, however, as it’s easy for grass clippings, fallen leaves or even trash to get stuck underneath the unit or in the vents. Keeping the AC clean does not have to be a pain.
Just follow these simple steps to clean up your AC:
- First of all, turn off the power for the outer as well as the internal unit to prevent electric shocks.
- Using a wet/dry vacuum with a soft-bristled attachment, vacuum away foreign objects from the fins.
- Remove all brush, vegetation, and debris from around the condenser. If any of the fins are bent, use a fine comb to gently and carefully straighten them out. Do not make contact with the tubes that carry the refrigerant, as it may damage them.
- Carefully lift out the fan after removing the top grille and place it in a safe location. Remove any debris from inside the unit and wipe the interior clean.
For a quick clean, just hose down the outside unit with water and remove any debris in and around the unit.
4 – Is a Cover Necessary?
Like most objects left outside, AC compressors are also prone to damage during storms or during the winter months.
However, the major brands make their outdoor units durable and long-lasting, able to take a beating from almost any kind of weather. Even these AC manufacturers don’t recommend covers during winter.
Reasons not to keep a cover on your AC include moisture, rodents, and mildew. With a cover on your air conditioner, you can trap moisture in, which can then create mold. You are much better off not using a cover for this reason. Similarly, a cover can attract rats and other rodents to shelter inside the unit during the winter. This leads to problems such as chewed electrical wires ad stripped coolant lines.
On the other hand, there are times when we recommend a cover for your outdoor AC unit. For instance, during hail storms. Similarly, covering the unit during blizzards and snowstorms will help prevent the buildup of snow inside the unit. Covering the unit during fall can also prevent falling leaves from blocking the AC’s vents. If you do buy a cover, look for something that’s waterproof, easy to install, and durable.
5 – Trust the Pros
Apart from keeping the unit clean and the space around it clear, you may encounter various issues with your AC from time to time. You can prevent many problems by simply getting a reputable contractor to regularly service the unit.
Some common problems that may require a professional include the following: ice on the outside unit during warm weather, no cool air blowing from the AC, and strange noises from the unit. Sometimes just the steps here to keep the unit clean and clear can help fix the freezing up or lack of cool air. But if they don’t work, or if other problems are present, call a professional.
6 – Not Getting Cold Air
If your AC is not blowing out cool air, it might mean your AC has dirty filters, the thermostat is faulty or has the incorrect setting, or maybe a power problem. To fix this yourself you should first inspect the thermostat and determine if the setpoint temperature is 5 degrees lower than the room’s temperature to start the AC’s cooling.
The thermostat may have dead batteries that need replacing. Check for blocked or closed vents and then check your air filters for dust and replace them if needed. Finally, check the fuse box for tripped breakers or blown fuses and adjust if required.
7 – Unseizing a Frozen AC Compressor
If your outdoor unit has ice on it, it may mean dirty air filters, leaking AC coolant, defective parts, or duct/vent issues. For the dirty air filters problem follow the steps outlined earlier. For other issues, consult a professional who can properly diagnose and fix the issues without damaging the HVAC system. Modern ACs have many parts that need to be installed and maintained correctly in order to give optimal results. Qualified and experienced technicians are the best people for this job.
The Bottom Line on Preventing an Air Conditioner Breakdown
The loss of use of your HVAC unit is an inconvenience during any season of the year. But in the peak heating or cooling seasons, then your situation can become uncomfortable quickly. Take these preventative measures to ensure a healthy unit.
In order to clean your coils effectively and safely always ensure you read your system’s manufacturer guidelines. And if required seek the advice of a local HVAC technician. Replacing an ac unit is a fairly significant home renovation, so your care goes a long way towards a fatter wallet.