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Air Conditioning Problems: Repair or Redesign a Noisy AC Unit?

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Last Updated on June 25, 2015

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Is Your Noisy Air Conditioning Unit Broken or Poorly Designed? Know the Signs.

Do you feel like that rattling or humming sound coming from your air conditioner is beginning to rattle your brain? It’s not just you. Everyone in the building has noticed: your employees, your customers, and your boss. If you’re in charge of the air conditioning system, they’ll have your head before too long if you don’t do something about it.

It’s no secret: everyone hates annoying background noise. The problem is, the noise is more than just annoying. The acoustical environment affects more than our nerves. Loud background noise drives away customers in a restaurant, decreases productivity in an office and even impacts the learning environment in a school.

There are two kinds of distracting sounds that can come from your air conditioning system:

  • The normal sounds of the motor, fan, compressor and air moving through the ducts. To prevent these sounds from being disruptive, you need to choose a quiet system to begin with, and build the environment to minimize noise and locate it away from people.
  • Then there are those rattles and loud noises that tell you something is going wrong with the system and it may soon be a whole lot worse.

Signs it’s just poor design

If your air conditioning system has always been too loud, you may have chosen the wrong unit. It could be a lower cost unit that lacks noise reduction technology, or the unit could be too large for the space. Here are some suggestions from Today’s Facility Manager on designing your system for the best acoustical environment:

  • Locate the equipment as far as you can from offices, classrooms, and restaurant dining rooms.
  • Create buffer zones between the noisy equipment and areas that you need to keep quiet. These could be printing rooms or storage areas.
  • Put mechanical rooms near roadways or noisy areas outside to absorb more sound.
  • Design ductwork so that air travels in a smooth, even flow. Certain ductwork patterns create a turbulent flow that requires bigger and louder fans.
  • Use duct air returns instead of air return louvers. The latter cause air to move from room to room, carrying equipment noise and even conversations throughout the building.

If this is the issue you’re faced with, get some advice from a qualified NYC HVAC expert. You may be able to make design changes that will make your building a whole lot quieter and its occupants a whole lot happier.

Signs something’s broken!

On the other hand, if the sounds coming from the air conditioner or the ductwork have appeared suddenly or become dramatically louder, you have a maintenance issue that needs to be addressed. Don’t delay or you could soon face a much bigger problem! The noise could be caused by any of the following:

  • Lack of lubrication. This happens when you’ve been neglecting your seasonal preventative maintenance. Call in your friendly HVAC service tech to clean and tune up the system, and take care of this problem before your unit fails completely.
  • Clogged coils. When the coil fins are crusted with dirt and debris, your system can grind to a halt in a hurry. Not only that, but since the unit is working much harder and running much longer than necessary, this problem is also driving up your electric bill. Again, this issue can be fixed with preventative maintenance. Don’t just send your cleaning crew down there with a dust mop, call in the experts who use special chemical cleaners and vacuums to remove the debris.
  • Debris in and around the fan blades. When dirt collects on the fan, it creates drag and slows the fan down, which impedes its function and can create a loud humming sound. Some insulation or other debris may also have fallen into the path of the fan blades, also impeding the function and making noise. The fan may also rattle if the blades have become loose or damaged. Your HVAC tech can take care of this problem, and regular cleaning prevents it from happening in the first place.
  • Loose screws. Air conditioners vibrate, and this can cause screws to loosen and make a racket. If you’re lucky, sometimes all it takes to fix your noisy rattle is a screwdriver.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Many problems can be prevented altogether with regular preventative maintenance. If you’ve been neglecting this task, it’s time to think about putting together a maintenance plan based on your needs and your budget. To learn more, download our guide to HVAC Preventative Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your HVAC Infrastructure.

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