Almost everyone has an air conditioner of some kind set up in their home. It’s nearly impossible to stay cool in the summer without one, so it’s important to keep yours in good working order for the whole season. A broken air conditioner won’t only prevent you from being comfortable in your own home, but it can also drive your power bills through the roof. A broken A/C is an inefficient A/C, and nobody likes being shocked when they open their monthly letter from the electricity company.
The best way to get a full life out of your air conditioning unit is to make sure it’s being serviced and maintained regularly by a licensed HVAC technician. Taking care of an air conditioner is a lot like taking care of a car. Preventative maintenance goes a long way with HVAC units, and it’s always going to be a lot cheaper to have your unit serviced once a year or so than to wait until something goes really wrong. If you allow your air conditioner to break down fully, the cost of repairing it can be unfortunately high. If you do notice any potential issues with your air conditioner, it’s a good idea to have it checked out right away instead of waiting for the problem to get worse.
Whether you’re installing a new air conditioner, having your current one serviced, or getting some repairs done, it’s important to make sure you’re working with a fully licensed and insured technician. You always want to hire someone you know you can trust, so forming a good relationship is key. Ideally, you’ll be coming back to the same HVAC company year after year to get consistently good service.
If you think your air conditioner might be broken, you should get in touch with an HVAC repair company right away. Staying on top of any potential issues will go a long way towards extending the lifespan of the unit and keeping your house cool for years to come.
Repairing Your Air Conditioner
Air conditioners are pretty complex machines with a lot of different but equally important parts. This means there are plenty of opportunities for something to fail and cause a breakdown in the entire system. As a homeowner, it’s important that you be able to recognize the warning signs so you can have your air conditioner fixed before the problem becomes serious.
Common Air Conditioner Symptoms
The most common sign of potential failure in an air conditioner is an overall reduction of efficacy. When things start to go wrong inside the unit, the whole system is affected. If you notice that the air isn’t as cold as it should be, or the air conditioner is staying on for longer than usual, that’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong. You’ll also usually see a reduction in the efficiency of the system. When the unit isn’t working properly, it’s forced to stay on longer and work harder to make up for the problem. This means higher power bills and more wear and tear on the motor. If you see a sudden spike in your electricity bill, you should call an HVAC repair company as soon as possible.
Another common sign that something is wrong is a change in the sound the unit makes. When the air conditioner is functioning properly, you should hear the motor running every time it’s blowing air through the ducts. It should sound pretty much the same every day. If it switches on one day and sounds different, there could be something wrong. A buzzing sound usually means that the metal exterior of the unit is vibrating against something. This could be as simple as a broken isolation foot causing the unit to sit flush against the floor, but it could also mean something inside the air conditioner has broken off and is vibrating around inside. Isolation feet are easy enough to replace on your own, but broken parts inside the unit will most likely require professional help.
Some condensation in or around the air conditioner is normal, but if you notice moisture dripping from the unit, then you might have a problem. The most likely cause is a clogged drain line preventing excess moisture from draining outside. As water builds up in the drain pan, it will eventually overflow and start dripping onto the floor. Luckily, this is pretty easy to fix. However, if the drain line isn’t the issue, there could be something wrong with the drain pan or even the coils inside the unit. If the dripping is caused by ice building up in the unit, then a refrigerant leak is the most likely culprit. Either way, these problems are fixable if you get in touch with a technician and have them take a look at the A/C.
If you notice any of these signs, or anything else strange or unusual, the first thing you should do is turn off the whole air conditioning system. While it can be uncomfortable to live in the heat while you’re waiting for your appointment with the repair company, allowing the unit to keep running could make things worse. If you allow small problems to keep growing into big ones, you could see the size of your repair bill grow exponentially as well. A few small repairs here and there isn’t a big deal, but major problems can shorten the lifespan of your air conditioner.
External Causes of A/C Problems
Sometimes the cause of air conditioning issues doesn’t lie with the air conditioner at all. There are a few things you can check before hiring someone to take a look at the unit. This can save you some time and money if you’re able to find the issue yourself.
If it seems like your air conditioner is having trouble reaching the desired temperatures inside the house, the fault could actually be with the thermostat instead of the A/C unit itself. A working thermostat is a vital part of any HVAC system. When the thermostat is unable to communicate with the air conditioner, the A/C has no way of knowing when it should turn on or off. If your house is warm but the A/C isn’t turning on at all, your thermostat could be dead or having trouble connecting to the rest of the system. A fix for this could be as simple as a new set of batteries.
A broken thermostat could also lead to a house that’s a little warmer or colder than it’s supposed to be. Thermostats rely on temperature sensors that measure the temperature of the room they’re in so they know whether or not they need to turn the A/C on. If the sensor is on the fritz, the thermostat could be misjudging the temperature in your home and turning the air conditioner on or off prematurely.
If the air conditioner just won’t turn on at all, you should check the fusebox before calling someone to fix the unit. Even with new, more efficient technology, A/C units still require more power than the average household appliance. The high electricity draw of an air conditioner can occasionally overload the circuit it’s connected to and trip a switch in the fusebox. Just flip the switch back on and see if that fixes the problem. You should note that, while it’s normal for this to happen every so often, especially during especially hot summers, it should be a very rare occurrence. If your air conditioner is constantly tripping its switch, there’s likely a fault in the power supply that requires professional help.
Repair vs Replace
There comes a time when even the most well-maintained appliance starts to require repairs more and more frequently. As the parts inside the machine start to wear out, they start breaking more often. At this point, you might start to wonder if just replacing the air conditioner is the best bet. While new A/C units can be expensive, there’s really no point in trying to extend the lifespan of your current air conditioner if it’s already breaking down. The repairs will only become more frequent and more expensive until eventually, the costs of keeping it running have outpaced what the cost of a replacement would have been.
On average, an air conditioner should last you for about 10 to 15 years. Proper maintenance can get you closer to the far end of that spectrum, but ultimately there’s an element of chance involved. If you’re having trouble deciding if a replacement is in order, there’s a simple formula you can use as a rule of thumb. Next time you get an estimate for an air conditioner repair bill, multiply the cost by the age of the unit in years. If that number is higher than the average cost of a new air conditioner – about $5,000 – then you’re better off just buying a new one. It’s a little bit like the calculations that auto insurance companies run before declaring a damaged car totaled.
If you do need to buy a new air conditioner, your usual HVAC service company can help you pick out a new one and handle the installation for you as well. It’s a lot easier to make these decisions when you have experts you know you can trust to help you out.
Finding the Right HVAC Service Company
We’ve talked a lot about working with an HVAC company that you know you can trust, but that’s obviously easier said than done. It can be tough to know where to start, especially if you’re getting an HVAC system for the first time or you’ve just moved to a new area. Here are a few tips you can use to make sure you’re working with the right people.
- Consider Experience – While experience isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to picking out a service company, it’s a great place to start. After all, the only way to get good at something is through experience, and a technician who has been around for a while will usually have a lot more knowledge than someone who’s just getting started. However, plenty of contractors manage to stay in business for decades without being trustworthy, so it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider.
- Check Out Reviews – Customer reviews are the best source of information on the reputation of an HVAC service company. It’s easy for a business to make claims, but the proof is in the work they’ve done and the satisfied customers they’ve created. Google reviews are typically the most trustworthy and accurate, and Facebook reviews are also worth checking out. We recommend staying away from Yelp, which has been known to skew ratings and reviews for companies who pay them. Some companies will also offer up references you can speak to personally about the quality of the work they do.
- Always Get Estimates – Any reputable repair company will offer estimates so you can compare prices. However, if a technician offers an estimate over the phone without coming to your house, this should be considered a red flag. A qualified contractor knows it’s impossible to give an accurate estimate without first taking a look at the unit itself. You should also be wary of repair companies that prefer verbal estimates. A trustworthy HVAC technician will always offer a written estimate that includes every service and expense they think the job will require. If somebody is unwilling to put an estimate in writing, they may be trying to trick you and jack up the cost later on.
- Be Wary of Low Bidders – When you’re comparing estimates, it might seem like a good idea to just choose whoever offers the lowest bid. However, if one estimate is significantly lower than the others, this is actually a potential red flag. It could be an indication that they’re willing to cut corners to save on costs, which will end up costing you more money in the long run. Remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Always Choose a Licensed Contractor – Trade licenses have become something of a controversial topic, but there are a few reasons why you should always work with a properly licensed technician. While it’s possible for an unlicensed technician to be just as skilled as one with a license, you really have to take it on faith that they know what they’re talking about. That’s a significant risk on your end. Another important factor is that unlicensed HVAC technicians aren’t covered by insurance. This means that, if they do make a mistake, you could be stuck with the repair bill yourself.
Maintaining Your Air Conditioner
The best way to make sure your air conditioner lasts as long as possible is to keep up with regular preventative maintenance. We recommend having an HVAC technician service your A/C unit once a year before each summer. They’ll be able to make sure everything is running smoothly, pick out any potential trouble spots for the future, and change the refrigerant so your air conditioner is running at peak efficiency all summer. However, besides the yearly maintenance, there are a few things that you can do yourself to keep the system operating properly.
As a homeowner, the most important thing you can do yourself to take care of your air conditioner is to stay on top of the air filters. Filters are vital to keeping dust and dirt out of the air inside your home, and they need to be changed or cleaned regularly. As the fan inside your air conditioner blows air through the filter, dust and other particles build up on the material. This can block airflow through the filter, reducing the efficiency of the air conditioner significantly. In fact, the US Department of Energy estimates that cleaning or swapping a dirty air filter can immediately reduce the power usage of your A/C unit by up to 15%.
Air filters come in both washable and disposable forms. They also come in a wide variety of sizes, materials, and thicknesses. We recommend looking in the instruction manual that came with your air conditioner to see which filters the manufacturer recommends. Some units aren’t meant for air filters with higher MERV ratings, so a more expensive filter isn’t always the best one for your system. If you’re not sure which filters you should buy, you can always ask your HVAC service company for some advice.
The other important thing you should be taking care of is keeping the rest of the air conditioning system clean. This typically involves cleaning dust away from the unit itself, as well as all the vents in and out of the air conditioner. If you have a central air system, you should also regularly clean the vents that connect the ducts to the rest of the house. If dust is allowed to build up in any of these vents, it can block airflow and force the unit to work harder, raising the power usage of the system. The frequency of this regular cleaning will depend on your situation. We generally recommend cleaning the vents every week or so, but you may want to clean more frequently if you have pets or small children. You might be surprised at how much dog or cat hair makes its way up to the A/C vents.
If you have a central air system, it’s also important to keep the inside of your ducts clean. However, this definitely isn’t something we would recommend you do by yourself. Cleaning ductwork is a long and sometimes difficult process, and missing even a few spots can force you to do it all over again sooner than you’d like. Proper duct cleaning will prevent airflow from being blocked, improving the efficiency of your air conditioner, but it also keeps mold from building up. Mold in the ductwork can be extremely dangerous and leads to serious potential health issues. A professional HVAC technician can make sure the ducts are completely clean of any mold, which is important. Even a few surviving spores can lead to the infestation starting anew.
We recommend getting your ducts cleaned every three to five years. The frequency will depend on the size of your ducts, the part of the country you live in, and other factors specific to your home. You should follow your HVAC technician’s advice on how often to clean the ducts.
The Right HVAC Service Company for Peace of Mind
While all of this might seem like a lot of work just to keep your air conditioner running smoothly, it’s well worth the effort. A well-maintained and properly repaired A/C unit can last for a decade or more if nothing abnormal happens to it, potentially saving you a ton of money on replacements. By cleaning the vents, switching air filters, and keeping up on your annual professional maintenance, you can extend the lifespan of your air conditioner by years.
All of this starts with finding an HVAC service company that’s trustworthy and does good work. All the maintenance in the world won’t do you any good if your service technician doesn’t know what they’re doing, so take your time and make sure you’ve found the right place to take your business. Once you’ve settled on a company, you can form a relationship that lasts for decades. The peace of mind that comes from working with someone you trust absolutely cannot be overstated.
If you live in the Bay Area and you’re looking for an HVAC service company, feel free to give Valley Comfort Heating & Air a call. We have years of experience in this industry and we’re eager to prove to you why we’re worthy of your business. You can get in touch with us through our website, give us a call at (707) 664-7201, or stop by our location in Santa Rosa. We’re more than happy to answer any questions you might have, help you with some air conditioner repairs, or take care of your regular maintenance.