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Facilities Managers: 10 Air Conditioner Basics You Must Know


Air conditioner basics for facilities managers

With all the problems on your plate on a given day, you may not give much attention to your air conditioning system… until it breaks down. Facilities and operations staff need to understand a few air conditioner basics to help keep everything running smoothly and prevent impacts to your operation.

So here’s a guide to the most important air conditioner basics you need to know: the top causes of AC problems, and what you can do to prevent them.

Air conditioner basics: Top 5 causes of AC problems

1. Air flow issues

Air flow is at the top of our air conditioner basics list because it causes so many problems. Your air conditioning system needs proper air flow to function efficiently and remove heat from your space. Air flow issues can cause symptoms from temperature variance and stuffy air to frozen coils to compressor failure.

Air flow problems can be caused by:

  • clogged air filters
  • obstructed condensing units
  • closed registers or blocked vents
  • leaky ductwork

Learn more: Top 10 Causes of HVAC Airflow Problems

2. Dirty coils, filters, lines and drains

Here’s another one of the most important air conditioner basics: a clean HVAC system is more efficient and reliable.

There are all sorts of ways that dirt and debris can take down your air conditioning equipment. Here are a few common examples:

  • Dirty coils impede the release of heat from the system, causing it to run longer and more frequently as it tries to keep your space cool. Eventually, the system can overheat and lead to compressor failure.
  • Clogged air filters keep air from flowing through the system (as discussed above). The system runs less efficiently and effectively. Dust starts getting into the equipment and can damage parts.
  • Lines and drains that are clogged with debris can cause water leaks, which can damage more than just your HVAC system.

Learn more: AC Leaking Water: Air Conditioner Problems and Troubleshooting Tips

3. Low refrigerant charge

Your system needs the right amount of refrigerant to operate. When the amount in the system, known as “refrigerant charge,” gets too low, you’ll start to experience problems.

Your system’s coils and refrigerant lines can develop leaks due to corrosion (often because they are not cleaned). Sometimes you can end up with numerous small refrigerant leaks throughout the system.

When your refrigerant charge gets too low, you’ll notice that the system can no longer reach set temperature. It will begin to run constantly to compensate, eventually leading to frozen coils and even compressor failure.

This issue can be tricky to fix, especially when you have many leaks to find and repair. That’s why the best strategy is to prevent those leaks in the first place.

4. Electrical issues

Damaged wiring, capacitors and other electrical parts can quickly take down your system. Damaged electrical parts can also cause circuit breakers to trip.

5. Control issues

Faulty thermostats or incorrect settings in building management system that control your HVAC can lead to temperature variance problems, poor air flow, and even too much humidity.

Controls are air conditioner basics that you should check regularly.

Air conditioner basics: Top 5 steps to prevent breakdowns

Now that you understand the air conditioner basics concerning common AC problems, you need to know what steps you can take to prevent those issues from happening.

1. Don’t neglect maintenance

Chances are, you know that HVAC preventative maintenance is something you should schedule a couple of times a year at a minimum. But when things get busy, it’s easy for that task to fall down on your priority list.

Yet maintenance is at the top of our air conditioner basics list for a reason! Just about ALL of the most common air conditioner problems can be easily prevented when your system is regularly inspected, cleaned and tuned up.

Learn more: The Ultimate Commercial HVAC Preventative Maintenance Checklist

2. Clean coils

Coil cleaning should be part of your preventative maintenance program (twice a year at least), because grime on the coils causes corrosion and makes it harder to remove heat.

If your condensers are located in an area with poor air quality, you might need more frequent coil cleaning.

Learn more about coil cleaning from this helpful guide.Arista Air Guide to AC Coil Cleaning
3. Change filters

Clean filters are critical for proper airflow.

Your HVAC technician will change your air filters during preventative maintenance. However, depending on your usage and your indoor air quality, you might need to change filters yourself between scheduled maintenance appointments.

This is likely for businesses dealing with a large concentration of fiber in the air, such as working with fabric or paper.

Learn more: Why and How to Change An AC Filter

4. Keep equipment clear

This is one of the air conditioner basics that you have the most control over. Remember that your condenser units need space and air flow to release heat.

That means regularly clearing leaves and debris away from them. In mechanical rooms, don’t pile boxes or other equipment too close to the condensing units.

5. Keep an eye on vents and registers

Especially when you’ve got thermostat wars going on in your space, you must be vigilant about monitoring HVAC vents and registers.

It’s very common for employees to close them, tape something over them, or block them with furniture if they are too cold. Unfortunately, this only compounds the temperature variance problem throughout the building.

It’s smart to regularly walk the floors and check for obstructed registers and vents to keep everything working as designed.

Learn more: Office Air Conditioning Battles: Take Control Before Workers Do

We hope you’ve found this guide to air conditioner basics to be helpful in preventing common AC problems in your facility.

Here at Arista, we are always happy to answer your questions about specific commercial HVAC concerns. Feel free to reach out to us at any time!