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Top 7 Causes of Air Conditioner Problems and How to Prevent Them

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If you’ve ever spent a hot summer in New York City in a home or business plagued with air conditioner problems, it’s certainly an experience you don’t want to repeat. Don’t leave your summer comfort to chance! Learn about the most common causes of air conditioner problems and the easy steps you can take to prevent repair issues.

Top 7 causes of air conditioner problems:

1. Low refrigerant. The refrigerant is the stuff that your air conditioner uses to remove the heat and humidity from the air in your home or business. If your system develops leaks in the refrigerant lines, you can end up with not enough refrigerant to effectively cool the air. Unfortunately, fixing this air conditioner problem correctly is not just a matter of replacing the refrigerant. An HVAC repair technician needs to find the leaks and repair the holes in the lines, which can sometimes be a time-consuming and expensive process, especially when there are multiple leaks.

2. Frozen evaporator coils. Your air conditioner’s evaporator coil is filled with refrigerant, and is responsible for absorbing the heat from the air like a sponge. It may sound counter-intuitive, but those coils need warm air circulating around them to work properly. When something goes wrong with the airflow and the evaporator coil gets too cold, a layer of ice can build up on the outside. When that happens, you’ll get warm air or none at all coming from your air conditioning supply registers.

Related Article: AC Troubleshooting: FROZEN HVAC System? Don’t “Let It Go!”

3. Dirty condenser coils. Your unit’s condenser coils, part of the outdoor unit, gets rid of the heat removed from the air by expelling it outside the building. The condenser coil won’t work well when it gets covered with a layer of dirt and grime. This is a very common problem in NYC with all the soot and pollution in the air. When it happens, heat transfer is impeded, and your unit has to work harder to do its job, leading increased wear on the parts and even system failure.

Related Article: Clean HVAC System Condenser Coils = Lower Energy Bills

4. Fan problems. There is a fan that blows indoor air over your unit’s evaporator coil to cool the air, and another that blows air over the outdoor unit’s condenser to expel the absorbed heat outside the building. If either of those fans isn’t working properly– due to a faulty motor, lack of lubrication, worn belts or too much dirt and debris– you end up with poor airflow and air conditioner problems. If you neglect the problem, it can lead to compressor failure, which is often a death sentence for your air conditioner.

5. Leaking ducts. The ductwork that runs through your walls and ceilings carries the cooled air from the air conditioner throughout your space. However, if there are holes or breaks in the ducts (which can be caused by rodents or careless workers), that expensive cooled air winds up inside your walls where it’s not doing anybody any good. And, of course, this scenario causes your air conditioner to work harder and drive up your energy bills.

6. Thermostat problems. Especially if you still have the old dial-type thermostats, they could be incorrectly calibrated, which means your air conditioner isn’t getting the right instructions from the control system. This problem is fairly easy to fix by replacing or recalibrating your thermostats. If you have new programmable thermostats, sometimes these are tricky to program and they may be set incorrectly. If you still have the manual, check the instructions to make sure your thermostat’s settings are correct.

7. Clogged drains. All the moisture that your air conditioner removes from the air has to go somewhere. It’s supposed to be removed from the space through a drain line, into a pan and finally down a drain. If the line or drain gets clogged or the pan gets full, the water can back up and damage your system. You can also wind up with water leaks that damage your walls, ceilings, and furnishings. If you don’t see it right away, you’ll eventually have mold growth.

Related Article: AC Leaking Water: Air Conditioner Problems and Troubleshooting Tips

Easy steps to prevent air conditioner problems:

1. Replace dirty air filters. Air flow problems that lead to coils freezing are often caused by clogged air filters.

2. Inspect ducts and repair any holes. If it seems like there’s not enough air coming from the registers, or your energy bills keep going up, have an HVAC expert take a look at the condition of your ducts.

3. Install a programmable thermostat and learn how to use it. Eliminate issues with older control systems by installing new thermostats, which are more precise and save energy. You can even get thermostats that can be controlled remotely using your smartphone or tablet.

4. Clear brush and debris from around the outdoor unit. When the condenser and outdoor fan unit get clogged with leaves, trash and dirt, the unit can’t expel heat as effectively.

5. Don’t neglect regular maintenance. Virtually all of the most common causes of air conditioner problems can be easily prevented with regular maintenance. Have an HVAC expert come in to inspect and tune up your system each spring before starting it up for the first time. It’s relatively inexpensive, and you’ll save yourself from having to make that emergency call when the AC stops working on the hottest day of the year.

Air conditioner maintenance contract tips

  • Did you know that you’ll get the best deal on air conditioner maintenance when you sign up for a yearly service contract?
  • All contracts are not created equal. Make sure you get one that’s designed for your needs and your equipment.
  • Keep shopping if you’re expected to sign a contract written in legalese that makes it impossible to understand what’s covered. Reputable service providers make sure you can understand what you’re signing.

Want to learn more about finding the right contract and service provider for you? Get helpful information from our free guide: HVAC Preventative Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your HVAC Infrastructure.
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