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(707) 539-4533 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

updated 6/21/22


Okay, you have detected that you have a problem with the way your air conditioner is running, and made the decision to call a repair service to see what can be done about it. You have presumably spoken to someone with some professional knowledge of air conditioners and told them about it, and they have perhaps made a recommendation as to what is going to be entailed. This has been confirmed, and a service person is making his way over to the house to hopefully fix the problem.

 HVAC 101 Everything you need to know

What to Do if Your Air Conditioner Breaks

Air conditioners are absolutely vital to modern life. Nobody wants to suffer through the hot summer without some way of cooling down, after all. Today’s A/C units are more advanced than ever, with all the best features and technology to keep your house nice and cool all summer long. However, even the most well-designed machines still require maintenance, and sometimes air conditioners break down or experience problems. When that happens, it’s essential to make sure the issue is fixed as soon as possible to prevent small problems from becoming big ones.


If your air conditioner isn’t operating as it should, you might not know where to start. That’s why we put together this guide to walk you through the process of identifying potential issues, finding the right person to fix the problem, and making sure that it won’t happen again. With proper care and attention, your air conditioner can provide you with cool, comfortable air for a decade or longer before needing to be replaced. Here’s a little information you can use to make sure your A/C unit’s lifespan is as long as possible.


Identifying Potential Problems

Obviously, there’s really no way to fix an issue with your air conditioner if you don’t realize the issue is there. An important part of taking care of an HVAC system is knowing how to recognize when something is wrong with the unit. Sometimes these signs can be obvious, like when the A/C won’t turn on at all, but sometimes they can be more subtle. Ideally, you should be able to pick up on both the obvious signs and the not-so-obvious ones. In this section, we’ll go over a few of the most common symptoms of a faulty air conditioner and how to recognize them.


Warm Air

If you spend any significant amount of time at home, this is something you should pick up on pretty much immediately. Warm air coming through the vents could be a sign of a few different problems. The first thing you should do is check your thermostat, especially if you have an A/C unit that can also operate as a heat pump during the winter. If the sensors inside the thermostat are on the fritz, it could be misreading the temperature inside your house and warming it instead of cooling it.


If everything seems normal with the thermostat – and you didn’t just accidentally leave it on warm mode – then there could be something wrong with the air conditioner. The most likely culprits are a lack of proper airflow through the system or a problem with the compressor itself. Either way, an HVAC technician will be able to get to the bottom of the issue.


Poor Airflow

If your home feels warmer than it should, or the air conditioner is staying on for significantly longer than usual, try putting your hand up to a vent. If there’s less air coming from the vent than usual, you have an airflow problem somewhere in the system. The good news is that this is almost always an easy fix. Most of the time, reduced airflow is a sign that there’s a clog or blockage preventing air from passing through the A/C system. You should start by checking the air filter inside the unit. Filters tend to get dirty pretty quickly, which is why you should clean or swap them out every month or so.


If the filter is clean but you’re still getting reduced airflow, the blockage could be in the ducts themselves. Cleaning the ductwork is a more involved procedure and you should bring in professional help to take care of it for you.


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Frequent Cycles

If everything is working normally, your air conditioner should cycle on and off pretty regularly. After a little while, you’ll get used to the schedule, which means you’ll be able to recognize when the system starts cycling more often than it did before. This generally means that something is forcing the unit to work harder than it normally does. It could be reduced airflow, so make sure to check the filters and clean the vents if they look dirty, but it could also mean something is failing inside the unit itself.


Like any machine, air conditioner parts gradually wear down over time. These parts can usually be fixed or replaced, but if they seem to be breaking down more and more frequently, it could be time for a new air conditioner. Frequent cycles could also signal that the refrigerant is running low.


Humidity Changes

Most modern air conditioners come with built-in humidity controls. Even when the air outside gets humid and sticky over the summer, the air inside your house should be relatively comfortable. If the air conditioner can’t moderate the moisture inside the house, that likely means there’s something wrong inside that needs to be repaired.


Some areas, like the southeast corner of the country, get so much humidity during the summer that an air conditioning unit won’t be able to completely control the climate inside. An HVAC technician should be able to tell whether or not an air conditioner will be enough to handle the humidity in your house or if you should invest in a whole-house dehumidifier. This will depend on the climate where you live as well as the size of your house and the scope of the HVAC system itself.


Water Dripping or Leaking

Because of the refrigerant used to cool the air, some condensation inside the air conditioner is to be expected. However, if moisture is gathering outside the unit or dripping onto the floor, then something is wrong. Luckily, there’s a pretty good chance the problem is a clogged drain line. The drain line is a small pipe that allows excess moisture to flow from the unit outside your home. If the line is clogged, water will gather in the drain pan and eventually overflow. You can actually fix this yourself with a wet vac or plumbing snake.


If the drain line isn’t the issue, you should call a technician to take a look at the unit. Moisture dripping from the air conditioner can cause water damage to the floor underneath, so it’s important to get this problem taken care of as soon as possible.


Strange Odors

If you notice a strange smell permeating your house, the culprit could be your air conditioner. The most likely scenario is that it just needs a full cleaning to get rid of whatever was stuck or started growing in there. The source of the smell could also be in your ducts, another reason to have them cleaned regularly.


When it comes to odors in your HVAC system, the main thing to be wary of is mold. Air conditioners and ducts are perfect environments for mold to grow, and the air flowing through the system can spread the spores all throughout your house. If the odor smells musty or earthy like old socks or rotting wood, then you should turn the HVAC system off immediately and have the whole thing cleaned. Mold spores in the air can cause severe health problems for anyone living in your home, so this possibility should be taken very seriously.


Unusual Sounds

Your air conditioner should make a low-level humming sound every time it turns on, so noise isn’t necessarily a problem. However, if the unit is making sounds that you haven’t heard before, that could be cause for alarm. A buzzing sound could signify a broken part vibrating around inside the housing or a broken isolation foot causing the unit to be flush against the ground. A squealing or grinding sound might point to something else more serious, like a fault in the motor itself.


If you hear any of these sounds, you should turn the A/C system off immediately and call an HVAC technician. Allowing the air conditioner to run while it’s making strange noises can make the problem a lot worse, especially if two parts are grinding together. These issues typically won’t go away on their own, so having the unit fixed is probably going to be your only option.


Finding a Service Technician

If you think you’ve identified a possible problem with your air conditioner, the next step is to find someone to fix it for you. If you bought the A/C unit yourself and had it installed, you can always go back to the contractor who installed it for you. However, if the HVAC system was already there when you moved into your house, or you weren’t satisfied with the installation work your contractor did, it’s time for you to find a new HVAC service company.


A good first step here is to ask around. Talk to your friends, family members, and co-workers about their HVAC systems and ask them who they use for repairs. If one name comes up over and over again, that’s a good sign that they’re reliable and trustworthy. Reputation is everything in a trade industry like HVAC, so good worth of mouth can often separate the great contractors from the decent ones.


If you think you’ve identified a few options, or if nobody stood out while you were asking around, a smart next step is to go online and look for reviews. Customer reviews are a great way to verify the quality of a technician’s work and customer service. We recommend looking at reviews on Google and Facebook primarily since anybody can post them and the business has no control over which reviews are shown. The reviews on a company’s website are typically cherry-picked, and we’d warn you against trusting them over public reviews. The same goes for anything posted on Yelp, which is known to prioritize positive reviews for businesses that pay their fees and negative reviews for businesses that don’t, skewing the ratings.


You should never hire a contractor, HVAC or otherwise, without first getting a full estimate of how much the work will cost you. If a company refuses to offer an estimate, that should be an enormous red flag. This indicates that either they’re not knowledgeable enough to plan their work ahead of time or, more likely, they’re planning to scam you by charging you high rates after the work is already finished. A reputable HVAC repair company will offer a full estimate only after taking a look at your air conditioner. It’s impossible to know for sure how much work is required without first seeing the situation firsthand, so be wary of estimates given over the phone. In fact, you shouldn’t trust verbal estimates in general. A truly professional and trustworthy contractor will offer an estimate in writing so you can know they’re not going to change any prices afterward.


Finally, we highly recommend only working with fully licensed contractors. While it’s possible for an unlicensed technician to know just as much as a licensed one, you’re taking a gamble if you hire one. More importantly, only licensed technicians are able to carry full insurance for their work, which is extremely important for your protection. If an uninsured technician makes a mistake working on your air conditioner, you could end up being stuck with the repair bills since they don’t have any business insurance to cover them. When it comes to appliances as expensive and important as air conditioners, that’s a financial risk that we really don’t recommend you take.


Preparing for an Appointment

Once you’ve settled on a contractor and made the call, the rest is mostly up to them. However, there are a few things you can do to prepare for the appointment and make their job a little easier. Making sure you’re ready for the visit will help everything go smoother, and the technician will be sure to appreciate the help. Here’s a short list you should run through before the repair technician arrives:

  • Make sure your phone is nearby and not put on silent. A technician will usually give you a courtesy call before they leave, and they may assume you’re not home if you don’t answer. Missing the call could lead to having to make another appointment for later, and nobody wants that.
  • Take a quick look at the air filter before the technician arrives and make sure that it’s clean. A dirty filter blocks airflow and could make it more difficult for the technician to identify any problems with the unit.
  • It’s extremely helpful if you can tell the technician a little bit about what’s going on with the air conditioner. You don’t need to be able to diagnose everything yourself, but you should keep track of any trouble signs you notice. Saying something like “The A/C is making a weird squeaking sound and the air is coming out warm,” is a lot more helpful than just saying “The A/C is broken.”
  • Make sure you know where every part of the air conditioner is, including both units of a split-system A/C. If you have any other appliances hooked up to the central air system, like a dehumidifier, you should know where that is too – it might be relevant.
  • Keep any kids or pets out of the way while the technician is working. This will make things easier for them, but it’ll also be safer for the children and pets.
  • Get any permissions you might need before the work starts. If you’re renting a house or an apartment, make sure to check in with the landlord before you hire someone to work on the air conditioner. Not only will this keep everyone happy, but the building owner might even offer to pay for it if you have a good relationship.
  • If you’ve had someone work on this unit before, try to find the bill if you still have it. It can be a lot of help to know what has already been fixed and what other problems the air conditioner might have experienced. Try to do this even if you’re using the same technician as last time. They see a lot of air conditioners for their job, and they probably won’t remember the specifics of the work they did for you.
  • Clear an open path to the air conditioner and make sure there’s space to work all the way around it. It’s a lot more difficult to focus on fixing the unit when you’re jammed in between storage boxes up in the attic, and it can sometimes be dangerous too.


After the Appointment

If you want to keep your air conditioner running as smoothly as possible, your work doesn’t end after the technician leaves. The next step is to make sure you’re following a regular maintenance schedule. This is the best way to prevent any further issues with the unit. Just like with any machine, preventative maintenance will go a long way towards keeping your A/C running well for years to come.


We already alluded to this above, but one of the most important things you can do for your air conditioner is to stay on top of the air filters. A dirty air filter will affect the whole system, forcing it to work harder to make up for the reduced airflow. This increases the wear and tear on the parts inside, making it much more likely that something will break. It will also force the air conditioner to use more electricity as it stays on for longer and works harder to push air through the dirt clogging the filter. That means a big spike in your monthly power bill.


Luckily, this is a pretty easy thing to keep track of. Typically, the packaging that the air filter came in will have a cleaning schedule on it so you know how often to wash it off. Some filters are disposable instead of washable and should be replaced as often as the packaging dictates. This tends to be about once a month or so, but it can vary depending on the specifics of the filter.


The cleaning shouldn’t stop at the filter, either. It’s a good idea to keep all the vents and grills in the system clean and free of dust for maximum airflow. The ducts themselves also need to be cleaned, and you should have this done professionally every two to five years, depending on the specifics of your house and the nearby climate. Unlike vents and air filters, the ducts are fairly difficult to clean and we don’t recommend that you try to do it by yourself. Missing even a single patch of mold will allow it to continue spreading and soon you’ll be in the exact same position again.


Finally, you should have your air conditioner professionally serviced once a year by an HVAC technician. They’ll clean the unit, check for any trouble spots, cycle and top off the refrigerant, and generally make sure everything is running smoothly. This is the best thing you can do to avoid potential repairs down the road. It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but the cost of a repair bill will be far more than the cost of having the unit checked out once a year.


Get in Touch with Us Today

Finding a trustworthy and reliable HVAC contractor is one of the most important things you can do to keep your air conditioner running smoothly year after year. A good technician can handle your regular yearly maintenance, clean your ducts every few years, and take care of any repairs that might be necessary as they pop up. When the time comes, your HVAC contracting company should be able to help you find and install a new air conditioner as well.

If you’re located in the Bay Area and you’re looking for someone to repair your air conditioner, feel free to give Valley Comfort Heating & Air a call today. We’re more than happy to send someone out, give you an estimate, or even just answer any questions you might have. You can get in touch with us through our website here, call us at (707) 539-4533, or come visit our location in Santa Rosa, CA.


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