AC Repair Troubleshooting Tips

March 13, 2020

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It’s never recommended that a homeowner attempt AC repair on their own, as air conditioners are often far more complicated than they realize. Today’s models are also especially technical, often with computer chips and other parts control digital readouts, built-in dehumidifiers, and similar features.

Simple AC repair includes changing the furnace filter, cleaning the grille around the AC condenser, and checking the fan blades and drip tube for any obstruction. A home’s thermostat might also need recalibrating or new wiring.

To help you through this process, you might note some simple AC repair troubleshooting tips. Some fixes you might address on your own but consider calling a heating and cooling company near you for complicated repairs. It’s also good to note if DIY repairs might void a warranty on your home’s air conditioning unit!

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AC Repair Troubleshooting Tips

When performing any fixes around your home, first be sure you use all needed safety precautions! Shut off circuit breakers, wear protective gloves and eyewear, and keep children and pets away from your work area. If you’ll be using any aerosol sprays, such as lubricants or cleansers, wear proper breathing apparatus and ensure your home is well-ventilated.

  • First check for tripped circuits, including the circuit breaker to the home’s furnace. If you’re not sure what indicates a tripped circuit, switch off the circuits to the air conditioner and furnace and then switch them back on.
  • Change the home’s furnace filter. When this filter is clogged and dirty, airflow slows down and even stops so that your home’s AC unit doesn’t cool the house as it should. If you’re not sure the condition of the filter and don’t remember changing it in recent months, replace it!
  • Even with a proper blind or other protective covering, the grille or coil around an AC condenser might get clogged with leaves, twigs, grass clippings, and other such debris. That coil allows for proper airflow around the condenser; when it’s clogged, the condenser overheats and shuts down. Clean out debris around those grille blades and note if this gets your AC working properly again.
  • Check under the lid of the coil for debris including cobwebs, dirt, dust, and other “crud.” This buildup might also shut down the AC compressor; rinse away any debris with a garden hose and note if this gets the unit working again.
  • A central air conditioner typically has a disconnect box located next to the compressor, typically mounted on an exterior house wall. This box acts like a safety switch or designated circuit breaker. Note if the switch is in the off position or otherwise disconnected; there are also fuses behind this switch that might need replacing.
  • To check for obstructions, open the top of the condenser unit and carefully feel for rocks, vermin and pests, children’s toys, and other such items potentially obstructing the blades. Give the blades a spin with your hand and note if they move freely. If not and there are no visible obstructions, the blades might require new bearings.
  • With the condenser top open, check the wiring around the unit and attached capacitors. If you notice any bare, worn, or disconnected wiring, have an AC repair company or electrician replace those for you.
  • Inside the home, the evaporator coils attach to a drip hose or pipe, which should also connect or empty into a floor drain or utility sink. Check this hose for any obstructions and give it a thorough cleaning as needed.

If you try all these quick fixes and your home’s air conditioner doesn’t cycle back on or cool your house adequately, it’s probably time to call an air conditioning repair contractor near you.

Signs of Needed Residential Air Conditioning Repair

An air conditioner refusing to cycle on is not the only sign of needed AC repair! The sooner you schedule needed repairs, the less risk of continued damage to your unit, so note some signs that it’s time to call an AC contractor near you.

  • If you hear thumping or bumping when the AC cycles on, shut off the circuit breaker and check under the lid of the compressor unit for stray rocks, toys, and other items. If the housing seems clear, that sound might indicate a broken part that needs repair or replacing.
  • A residential air conditioner might make a slight whirring sound as it cycles on but if you notice other odd sounds, such as grinding or high-pitched squealing, it’s time to call an AC contractor near you! Grinding often indicates a broken part and squealing typically indicates worn bearings in need of replacement.
  • Never overlook burning smells from your home AC unit! A burning smell often indicates a worn motor or blower, broken belts, something caught inside the unit, or an overheating compressor. Continuing to run the unit with these needed repairs only makes damage worse, so call for AC repairs once you notice any burning or other such odd smell.
  • If the AC unit cycles on or off too quickly, this might signal the need for a new thermostat or wiring between the thermostat and the air conditioner.
  • When an AC unit cycles on but the home doesn’t seem to cool as it should, this might signal the need for air conditioning repairs; however, your home’s insulation might also be degraded or otherwise need replacing. Holes in the roof and gaps around window frames let in heat from outside; roof repairs and weather-stripping might keep out that heat and keep your home’s interior cool and comfortable.
  • An AC unit struggling with worn parts or an old blower might cause a sudden increase in utility costs over the summer. As that air conditioner struggles to operate, it draws more power, increasing your power bills. If your higher electrical costs cannot be explained away by a rate increase or other means, call an AC contractor near you for an inspection.

While a home’s AC unit might struggle to work as it should during overly warm and humid summer days, don’t overlook any of these signs of needed repairs, or of an air conditioner that simply doesn’t cool your home as it should. Timely repairs reduce the risk of those fixes getting more extensive, and more expensive, over time.

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Do You Need Repair or AC Replacement?

In some cases, an air conditioner is simply beyond repair and needs replacement. How do you decide when it’s time to get a new AC unit, or when does a heating and cooling contractor normally advise an AC installation or replacement versus repairs?

One consideration is your expected repair bill and if more parts are sure to break down in the next few months or year! If your immediate repairs, and repairs you’ll face in the next year, are close to the price of a new AC unit, it’s good to simply invest in that replacement air conditioner.

Many older air conditioners are also very inefficient, meaning a large percentage of the energy they draw is used to run the unit’s internal parts and not for actual cooling! An upgraded energy-efficient unit might result in lower utility bills throughout the year.

An undersized air conditioner might also struggle to cool your entire home so that some rooms always seem hot and stuffy. An oversized unit might also offer too much power for your home so that you’re simply wasting electricity. Replacing your air conditioner with a properly sized unit for your home means consistent, even cooling and no wasted energy.

What Is AC Maintenance and Is It Needed?

Regular AC maintenance is an excellent choice for keeping your residential furnace and air conditioner in good repair and for avoiding otherwise unnecessary breakdown. Standard AC maintenance typically includes a good cleaning, removing dust and dirt from inside parts as well as debris from around the compressor housing.

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An AC contractor might oil moving parts, check belts and hoses for signs of wear, and look for rust around connectors and other such parts. Wires are checked for wear and the thermostat also tested and calibrated as needed. Drainage hoses are also checked and cleaned. Refrigerant levels are checked and the unit inspected for leaks, and airflow through the evaporator checked as well.

Your air conditioner contractor often makes minor repairs during this maintenance check, replacing belts, tightening connectors, and applying nonconductive coatings if necessary. These simple fixes help avoid major repair bills down the road, and keep your air conditioner functioning properly and efficiently.

Related Questions

How much does AC repair cost?

Many AC repair contractors charge by the hour, often between $75 and $150, while some will offer a flat fee for certain repairs, such as replacing a damaged motor. If you’re not sure the repairs needed, be prepared to pay an hourly fee or a small flat fee for an inspection, and then a quote for needed repairs.

Why does an AC run but not cool the house?

If your AC is running but not cooling the house, it might need a recharge of refrigerant and repair to the compressor or hose containing the refrigerant. The thermostat might also need calibrating. Your contractor can note needed AC repairs for a unit that cycles on but doesn’t cool.

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