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When your air conditioner functions correctly, it’s easy to forget it’s there at all, and you may not pay much attention to it on a daily basis. Sometimes, you might notice something seems amiss. Perhaps that’s warm air blowing from your vents, or maybe you notice a strange quiet that isn’t normal. When you look at your outside unit and see through the grating that the large AC fan is not spinning, your first question is likely to be, “Is this important, and is it a problem?”

The simple answer is, it depends. First, it can be helpful to understand the purpose of that fan.

Why the fan in your AC is so important

 AC fan not spinningThe outdoor unit for your air conditioner contains many of its most vital components for proper operation: the compressor, the condenser, and the fan itself. The compressor keeps refrigerant moving through your system, extracting heat from your home and pulling it outside where it is sent through the condenser. Here’s where the fan comes in: by blowing on the condenser, it facilitates re-cooling of the refrigerant for re-use. If the fan isn’t blowing at all, that means your system won’t operate efficiently or thoroughly cool the premises.

Keep one thing in mind: the fan won’t run all the time. If the system isn’t actively cooling, such as if you’ve set “Fan” to “On” at your thermostat, the outdoor fan won’t need to run.

In some cases, your concern may not be the outdoor AC fan is not spinning, but the indoor one—also known as the “blower” or “blower fan.” If you identify this problem, your best bet is to contact a licensed climate control professional at your convenience. When a blower fan stops working, either due to a faulty motor or bad wiring, there is no way for the clean, cooled air to circulate inside your home.

This is usually a simple problem to diagnose. However, when it’s the outdoor condenser fan that does not run, the problem could be one of several.

Identify all the symptoms of the issue

OK, so you know the problem lies outdoors—you’re getting hot air or things otherwise don’t seem to work correctly. Before you can figure out your next steps, observe the unit to see how it behaves. Doing so is a helpful way to figure out the root of the problem.

Listen carefully to the unit. Try switching your system off at the thermostat, then waiting several minutes. Turn the unit back on and move to see what happens outdoors. Do you hear the compressor running? This is usually a humming or buzzing sound–something you would recognize from normal operation. If you can hear the compressor working, but the fan is not moving, this at least indicates the more expensive component is likely not the one at fault. If you hear nothing at all and your unit seems to be doing nothing, that could be indicative of a different issue.

What could lead to your AC fan not spinning?

A unit whose compressor functions but whose fan doesn’t spin may merely have a bad start capacitor. It takes a big jolt of power to get the fan moving from a standstill, and your air conditioner uses a capacitor as a power storage device to supply that boost. If the capacitor goes bad, the fan won’t start. Sometimes, a visual inspection of a capacitor can reveal the fault—however, you should never attempt any interaction with this component by yourself. Capacitors can store a deadly charge, so this issue is best left to professional repair.

If you do not hear any sound at all, the issue could lie in the contactor or the compressor itself. The former is a simple electrical device that serves to supply power to the compressor and the condenser fan; if it fails, the unit will receive no power whatsoever. In other cases, condenser failure will render the unit largely inoperable. When the compressor does not turn on, neither will the fan, resulting in a hotter home that quickly reveals there’s an issue outdoors.

Seeking professional assistance for a remedy

To answer the question we posed at the start: yes, it usually does matter if your AC fan is not spinning. It could indicate electrical problems or a more serious component failure. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is usually a simple fix, especially when you partner with a professional air conditioning maintenance provider. The sooner you make contact after noticing the fan isn’t turning, the sooner you can remedy the problem. Don’t delay by waiting to see if it will turn on again; chances are it needs a closer look by an experienced provider.

Valley Comfort conducts Air Conditioning Installation & Repair Services in the following communities: Santa Rosa, Napa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, St Helena, Calistoga and Windsor