We are rapidly approaching the dog days of summer when the star Sirius comes over the horizon. The ancient Greeks believed that this was the time when the Northern Hemisphere experienced the hottest and most uncomfortable days of the year. It may be true, but thankfully we now have air conditioning to help keep us cool and dry. It’s especially a blessing when the outside is hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk and muggy enough to make you feel like you should be chewing the air instead of breathing it.
However, sometimes the air conditioner stops working. And it doesn’t matter if you have central air or a window mounted unit, when the cooling stops, fixing it becomes a priority. So here we at Think Crucial are going to go over the most common reasons your air conditioner is going wonky. We’ll also tell you what you can do to fix it, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
There’s ICE on your AC
By far, this is the most common reason for your AC to stop blowing that precious cold air. While your air conditioner is supposed to keep the inside of your home cool, it shouldn’t be cooling the outside too. If your AC is blowing warmer air than usual, take a look at the outside coils. If you see ice building up on them, that’s a serious issue. Ice will prevent the coolant in your air conditioner from venting the heat to the outside. Once that happens, you aren’t going to be cooling anything down. Ice forms for one of two primary reasons.
The first reason is that there’s something fishy with the coolant. The most likely cause is that your refrigerant levels are low. When that happens, the coils that are supposed to vent the heat to the outside get too cold and moisture starts to freeze on them. Over time, the ice accumulates, resulting in you wondering why your AC isn’t blowing cold air anymore.
The second reason is that your AC isn’t getting proper air flow. The coils and radiator fins are probably dirty. Alternatively, you may have a dirty air filter as part of it as well. Remember that you should be cleaning your AC filter every month; more often if you run your air conditioner all day. Over time, even the coarse filter on your AC will get dirty and clogged. That will prevent the air flow needed to remove the heat from the coils, which causes ice to form.
The easiest way to fix the dirty coils is to use your vacuum. Use the soft brush attachment and sweep your coils and everyplace else you can reach. Check your filter. If it’s washable, give it a wash and let it air dry. Washable filters should be cleaned at least every couple of weeks.
If it’s a disposable filter, then change it out according to your manual. As a rule of thumb, a filter will last 1 month for every inch. So a 3-inch filter should be swapped out every quarter. Again, this is just a guideline. If you run your AC more often, the filter will need to be changed out more often. If you use it less, your filter will last longer.
If your coils are clean and the filter is clear, then you will need to deal with a qualified AC service technician to get your coolant levels checked. Likely, you’ll need to get refrigerant added. The service tech will ensure that your unit doesn’t have any leaks and will then recharge it to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. If you have a window unit, don’t hesitate to call a service shop to see if you can bring your AC in. Trying to charge a window unit yourself can be dangerous if you’re not sure what you’re doing. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.
Fans, Wiring, or Smoke...
Other common issues with air conditioners require much more serious fixes. In these cases, you’re going to need to call a licensed HVAC technician. However, you should still do some basic checks so the service tech knows what to expect.
First, check the circuit breaker that your unit is attached to. Sometimes the breaker will trip if the AC comes on at an inopportune time, especially if you have a window unit. For central air units, there is sometimes a safety or condensate overflow switch on the compressor unit outside. Make sure that this is engaged.
If the breaker is functioning properly, then the next step is to inspect the unit itself. If you have a window unit, unplug it. If you have central air, turn off the breaker. Do a visual inspection of the coil and tubing. See if you can smell anything out of the ordinary. A smell of ozone or scorched plastic indicates that you need to get a service technician to inspect the air conditioner.
Having an air conditioner during the scorching summer months is a blessing. Sometimes, however, something happens and your treasured AC stops blowing cold air. In these cases, you can do some simple checks to try to restore the cool air, but in most cases, you’re going to need to call a service tech. To really prevent your AC from going on the fritz, you need to invest in a proper preventive maintenance routine, which we’ll cover here next week.