Nearly 6% of all electricity consumed in the United States powers air conditioners in our homes and businesses. We love our creature comforts, and a reliable way to beat the heat is high on the list of things we value. When problems arise with our air conditioners, it’s natural to want to know what’s going on right away to correct the problem as soon as possible. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things we experience is short cycles that leaving us wondering, “Why is my air conditioner going on and off?”
Short cycling occurs when a minimal period elapses between your AC unit shutting off and activating again. Depending on the temperature outside and your thermostat settings, a normal cycle runs between 15 and 20 minutes. If you find your unit cycles on and off again every few minutes, it’s usually indicative of a problem developing in your system. There is no easy one-size-fits-all answer to the question of why this happens. It could be a combination of problems or a single issue.
Your AC unit is too large for the space
Can you have too much of a good thing? When it comes to air conditioning, the answer is “yes.” Short cycling can sometimes occur after you complete the installation of a new system. The unit you selected can be too powerful for the amount of space in your home that requires cooling.
At first, it can seem like a good thing—you’ll notice your home cools down very quickly. However, the short cycle times can become not only frustrating but also detrimental to your energy bill. A unit that is overpowered for your home’s size may draw more energy to start each time, and frequent cycles increase that burden. Discussing your options with a trusted HVAC professional is the right way to go if you’re in this situation.
Your air filter is dirty and taxing the system
This is the best-case scenario for a short cycling air conditioner. As you wonder, “why is my air conditioner going on and off?” you should also ask yourself, “When was the last time I changed the filter?” While your filters are in place to help cut down on the dust and allergens your AC circulates through your home, they do eventually become dirty. As contaminants become trapped in the filter’s fibers, air flow gradually reduces until the system must work much harder to draw in an equivalent volume of air.
A filthy filter not only puts more strain on the unit but can also cause the system to short cycle. Swap your filter for a fresh one, especially if it’s been months since the last change. This switch may resolve the problem by restoring strong airflow to the system. There are plenty of other good reasons to change your air filter, like better energy efficiency and improved air quality.
Your thermostat is not in an ideal location
In some cases, the problem lies not in the air conditioner but in the unit controlling its actions—your thermostat. Keep in mind the thermostat senses the ambient air temperature in the location where it was installed. Ideally, this is in a location recording temperatures that are comparable to the temperatures elsewhere in your home. Some locations can expose the thermostat to big temperature variations, triggering rapid cycles.
Direct sunlight or positioning near doors and windows can cause these issues. If you think your thermostat isn’t in a good spot, call for help and request a relocation. Since this will involve your home’s electrical wiring, it’s best not to tamper with the setup yourself.
Your compressor is low on refrigerant
Sometimes your unit engages and disengages quickly because it can’t meet demand properly. This often occurs when the unit is low on refrigerant or when a leak has allowed most of it to escape into the environment. Lacking the ability to fully and thoroughly cool the home, the system shuts off until the thermostat tells it the temperature still needs adjustment. The system continually tries to attain a temperature it cannot generate. In a similar vein, your condenser coils may be very dirty, hampering the fan’s ability to cool refrigerant back to normal temperatures.
Getting a professional answer to “Why is my air conditioner going on and off?”
When swapping your filter out doesn’t do the trick, solving this problem can easily become a source of frustration. However, instead of wondering “Why is my air conditioner going on and off,” take action. Investigate the potential causes and try fixes you can safely complete on your own.
When all else fails, reach out for an experienced technician’s help. Get your energy bills back under control and enjoy the proper climate control you expect instead of contending with the frustrations caused by short cycles.
Valley Comfort conducts Air Conditioning Installation & Repair Services in the following communities: Santa Rosa, Napa, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, St Helena, Calistoga and Windsor