Owning an air conditioner can be a source of great comfort when temperatures in your neighborhood begin to rise, but it can also be a source of consternation if your system isn’t working correctly. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your utility bills are steadily climbing each month, or that your home isn’t as cool as it should be? Maybe strange noises are coming from the indoor unit—it might even be leaking water! Plenty of things can go wrong with air conditioners, so it pays to recognize the signs of common issues well in advance. Read on and learn about some of the most common problems with air conditioners so that you can be prepared if you experience them.
The Five Most Common Problems with Air Conditioners in Residential Buildings
These are the five most frequent HVAC problems that homeowners face when they call for our help. Learning to identify these issues can help you deal with them before they grow into situations that are beyond your control.
- Dirt and Debris
Some of the most severe damage to your air conditioner can be caused by the simplest of materials—namely, everyday dirt and dust. HVAC systems use air filters to keep these materials out of the system, but many AC owners do not take the time to keep these filters fresh and clean. Typically, air filters in AC systems are supposed to be replaced once at the end of each month during seasons when the system is in use. AC owners may also elect to use reusable electrostatic filters, in which case they can simply clean them instead of replacing them with new ones. Clean filters ensure that foreign matter will be less likely to enter your ducts and settle on sensitive components, where it can damage them and cause performance issues.
Filter maintenance is one way to protect your ducts from dirt, but over time a certain amount of debris is likely to congeal within them anyway. For this reason, it is best to invest in professional duct cleaning every 2-5 years so that you can prevent matter from building up to the point where it affects the airflow in your system. When air cannot travel through your ducts because of a blockage, your system may work too hard and place undue stress on the compressor or other sensitive parts. The air conditioner will, therefore, need to use more energy than usual, driving up your utility costs—and if the compressor should fail, you’ll need to spend over a thousand dollars to replace it. Be proactive and avoid these problems.
- Leaking Ducts
Keeping your ducts clean is essential, but it’s also vital that you prevent them from leaking. Your air conditioner works hard to ensure that the air flowing through the ducts is fresh and cool, so you don’t want it leaking out of holes in the ducts before it has a chance to enter your home through the proper vents and provide comfort for the people inside. If your home feels warmer than it should while you are running the air conditioner, take a close look at any visible ductwork and check to see if there are any holes or loose areas. It could be that you have leaky ducts.
Some leaks in ductwork are caused by wear and tear over time as things fall out of place and your house naturally warps or shifts. However, others are the result of sloppy craftsmanship on the part of a former HVAC tech. Keep an eye out for duct tape while you are looking at your ducts. Duct tape can be a temporary leak solution, but it should never be used to connect ductwork during the installation process because it’s not intended to be a permanent fix. Any tape that has been holding your ducts together for a long time is probably letting cool air out of your ducts in the wrong places, and you should have a professional connect them with more permanent methods.
- Improper Installation
Many air conditioners suffer from efficiency problems because they are simply the wrong size for the building. Each air conditioner is designed to provide a certain amount of power (measured in Btu) for a given space (measured in square feet). If an air conditioner is too powerful, it will cool an area too quickly, causing it to turn off and on again too frequently and eventually wear itself out prematurely. On the other hand, an air conditioner that is not powerful enough will have to work too hard to cool a given building, driving up utility costs to the point where using the system is not cost-effective. If your air conditioner is short-cycling or costing too much, ask a professional to come in and reassess its size.
- Drain Pan Problems
If enough dust makes its way into your drain pan, it can cause a blockage that prevents your AC from naturally removing condensed water from the system. This water can eventually pool up in your condensate drain pan and overflow, resulting in puddles near your indoor unit. Water can be a safety hazard in numerous ways, so check your drain pan frequently and make sure to clear out any congealed matter. If the blockage is in a place you cannot reach, call for help.
- Incorrect Refrigerant Levels
Refrigerant is the chemical that makes the cooling process possible in the first place, so it must exist at precise levels if you want your air conditioner to operate at maximum efficiency. Improper refrigerant levels can result in compressor failure, so keep an eye out for common signs that your refrigerant levels are off. Ice forming on your refrigerant lines is an obvious tell, as well as a hissing or bubbling noise when you run the system. If there is a leak, a licensed HVAC tech can offer refrigerant recharges and suitable repairs.
Learning the signs of common problems with air conditioners will ensure that you are always one step ahead of a problem in progress. Keep this guide handy, and know who to call if you experience any of the symptoms discussed above.