Air conditioners are amazing inventions. Created in 1902 to control the humidity level in a printing press, the modern day A/C has become a common household amenity. In today’s world, it’s rare to find a home or office building that doesn’t have some type of air conditioning. Chicagoland residents in particular know that a day without air conditioning in the hot Midwest sun can be tough.
While air conditioners are amazing, it’s important to remember they are just like any other piece of mechanical equipment. Just like a toaster, cell phone, or car, your A/C can break down. They’re not indestructible. An A/C is composed of many working parts, and it requires all of them to keep your home comfortable and cool. If a single part malfunctions, the entire A/C could stop working until the problem is resolved.
Over the years, we’ve dealt with hundreds of malfunctioning air conditioners. We’ve discovered that many A/C units encounter the same problems. If you woke up to a broken A/C and a 90 degree day outside, don’t fret just yet! The solution may be simpler than you think.
Check Your Thermostat
If your air conditioner won’t start, check your thermostat before panicking. Make sure the display screen on the device is lit. If your thermostat doesn’t turn on, you might need to replace the batteries or check for a blown fuse.
Once you have confirmed your thermostat is receiving power, check the settings on the device. Programmable thermostats can be confusing, and you might have the wrong settings in place. Look up the instructions for your specific thermostat and ensure it is set to the cooling program you desire. It’s also worth considering the installation of a smart thermostat, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat, which takes away the grunt work of programming your thermostat for you.
If neither of the above issues seem to be the problem, keep in mind that thermostats can suffer from wiring issues as well. If your A/C is constantly running rather than cycling on and off like it is supposed to, it could be due to a miscommunication from your thermostat. A qualified electrician can address this concern.
Change Your Filter
If you’ve heard us say it once, you’ll hear us say it a hundred times: you need to change your A/C filter. The air filter inside your A/C prevents dust, dirt, allergens, and other contaminants from entering your home’s air. It plays an important part in your HVAC system, and it’s crucial you pay attention to it.
Over time, your filter becomes clogged with the debris it prevents from entering the air. A clogged filter can’t do its job effectively, and it reduces the airflow going through your unit. How often you need to change out your filter can depend on its size and thickness, though most homeowners replace their filter every 1-3 months.
If you’ve gone months without changing your filter and are facing an A/C breakdown, it is likely related to a lack of maintenance. A clogged filter can cause short cycling, uneven cooling, or even frozen coils inside your A/C—all of which can contribute to an uncomfortable home environment.
Clean Your Condenser
Your air conditioner has two main components that work together to produce cool air for your home: the evaporator coil and the condenser coil. The evaporator coil is responsible for pulling heat from your indoor air. It absorbs the heat into a supply of refrigerant that travels to the condenser outside. As the refrigerant travels through the condenser coils, a fan cools it down in order to release the heat.
When your condenser gets dirty, it can struggle to release heat from the refrigerant, which will impact your unit’s overall ability to cool the air. Because it’s located in an outdoor environment, the condenser can get dirty over time. It can also pull in dirt and debris through its fan, which prevents the internal components from functioning as they should.
You can clean your A/C condenser with a stiff wire brush and a hose, but we recommend getting your yearly A/C tune-up instead. HVAC technicians are trained on how to clean your unit without damaging it, and they will also be able to troubleshoot any other issues they find along the way.
Check Your Evaporator Coil
A dirty condenser coil is a common cause of A/C breakdowns. Though the evaporator coil isn’t exposed to outdoor elements, it can still encounter dirt-related problems of its own.
The interior of your A/C accumulates dust and dirt over time. If you fail to get your yearly tune-up before the summer season, your unit will be running throughout the summer with a thin layer of dust and dirt covering its components. While this doesn’t sound like a big deal (a little dust never hurt anyone, right?), it can impact your air conditioner’s ability to function.
The evaporator coil in your A/C needs to be clean in order to work the way it is supposed to function. The evaporator coil helps cool down the refrigerant located inside in order to extract heat from your indoor air. When the coil is dirty, it prevents the heat exchange from taking place, causing the evaporator coil to get too cold. If ice starts to form on the coil, more and more ice will follow until the entire coil is encased in a block of ice. This can lead to a serious A/C breakdown and the need for an emergency repair.
As mentioned above, an A/C tune-up is the best way to prevent your evaporator coil from getting dirty. By letting an HVAC technician clean your air conditioner, you can ensure your evaporator coil doesn’t freeze.