Learn the basics about your home’s Air Conditioner
Air Conditioning systems are installed in millions of homes all around the world as a user-friendly way make living spaces as comfortable as possible. Most of these units can easily be controlled easily with a knob on a thermostat or a push of a button.
But just like any other appliance, air conditioning units are prone to wear and tear over time from regular use, and will develop problems at some point in their lifetime. As such, the engineering and science behind the functioning of your unit is something you should know in case you need to make any repairs or replacements.
Of course, to keep you AC unit running smoothly, you need to pay proper attention to its service and maintenance needs. This will help you save money on repairs and replacements, as well as the headaches and inconveniences caused by unexpected breakdowns, which can leave your house uncomfortable.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the operation, function, and anatomy of residential AC systems, to serve as the ultimate guide to home AC repairs.
How an Air Conditioner Works
Have you ever wondered how your home’s air conditioning system works? Well, one interesting thing you might not know is that your AC works primarily the same way as your refrigerator. The only difference is that a refrigerator generally cools a small, insulated space, while an AC cools a larger, typically uninsulated space like your home, office, or commercial space.
The whole process of making the air in your space comfortable is based on a simple scientific principle, and the rest is achieved by mechanical means. This scientific principle is all about the transfer of heat. When heat is removed, or lost, it leaves cold air which in turn cools your home. To understand this concept better, we’ll look at the three main components: the compressor, the evaporator, and the condenser. They all work in tandem to keep your space cool.
The condenser and the compressor are typically located outside, while the evaporator is installed inside the space. The AC unit uses chemicals to convert a gas into a liquid and then back again quickly. The chemicals ideally transfer the heat from the air inside the house to the outside. The cooling fluid goes to the compressor as a low pressure fluid, which is then squeezed.
The fluid leaves the compressor as a hot, high-pressure fluid, and is transported to the condenser. The outside part of your AC unit has metal fins all around the housing, which work as the radiator of a car and they help to dissipate the heat quickly.
As the fluid exits the condenser, it’s much cooler. It also changes from a hot gat to a liquid due to the high pressure. The fluid then makes its way into the evaporator via a narrow, minuscule hole, and when it reaches the other side of the passage, its pressure has dropped, and it starts evaporating into a gas.
While this happens, heat is extracted from the surrounding air. The extracted heat is required to separate the liquid molecules of the fluid into a gas. The evaporator typically comes with metal fins that help exchange the thermal energy with the surrounding air.
As the refrigerant leaves the evaporator, it has become a chilled, low pressure gas. The process starts all over again as it goes to the compressor. A fan connected to the evaporator helps to circulate cool air around the house and across the fins of the evaporator.
The AC unit ideally sucks air into the ducts through a vent. This air flow cools the gas inside the evaporator, and while the heat is removed from the air, it’s temperature drops. The ducts blow the cool air back into the house.
This process will ideally continue until the air inside the premises reaches the set temperature. When this temperature is reached, a thermostat will trigger and shut off the AC. When the room temperatures start to rise, the thermostat senses and turns the AC back on.
Common Air Conditioning Problems
As mentioned earlier, regardless of the kind of AC unit you have in your home, some problems will inevitably develop. The goal of this section is to help you prepare for any kind of AC problems and give you information on the best way to fix them. Some of these issues you can fix on your own, while others will call for professional help.
1. Reduced or Uneven Cooling Power
This can happen for a variety of reasons. Assuming that no maintenance is needed, a simple fix is to make sure that all of the doors and windows are closed when the AC is running, as it could prevent the cold air from leaving the home and allowing warm air to enter. Some of the possible system issues that could cause reduced power or uneven cooling include system imbalances, airflow blockage, and leaking ducts.
Blockage of airflow refers to literally anything that reduces air flow and air pressure. Check your system to make sure that all registers are unobstructed, with special focus on the warm rooms. If your AC is off balance, it could mean that its condenser fan is out of balance, or disbursement of air is uneven throughout your home due to leaking ducts, which could be caused by improper sealing.
If you establish that it’s a system imbalance causing the issue, your best bet is to contact a professional technician to have your system rebalanced. It’s also recommended that the whole AC system is inspected for any possible leaks.
2. AC unit not turning on
When your AC is unable to turn on, it can be a sign of a few problems. One of the most common cause of this symptom is faulty wiring, which is quite dangerous as it could lead to fire hazards. In case you suspect or notice poor wiring in your AC, you should address it right away. Unless you have above average electrical skills, it’s best to have a professional evaluate the issue and repair any inadequate or damaged wiring where necessary.
3. AC not cooling
If your AC is not cooling air to the desired temperature as set on the thermostat, it can be a result of a few reasons. For instance, your AC unit might have run out of Freon, the refrigerant that cools the air; or your unit might be leaking the refrigerant. Other problems could be damaged parts in the unit or airflow blockage.
In case you can’t diagnose the problem yourself, be sure to seek assistance from a skilled technician. Just as with the solutions for other power issues, you might have to clean the coils and other parts of the unit, or replace the filter altogether.
4. Erratic power behavior
If your AC unit is powering on and off sporadically, regardless of your settings in the thermostat, you’re probably dealing with an airflow obstruction as a result of accumulated debris or dirt. You can clean and clear out the evaporator and condenser coil, and replace the air filter.
5. Frozen AC Unit
In case the AC coil in your indoor unit starts to freeze, and ice or frost starts forming in the unit, it could result into a hindered airflow. Ensure that you change your air filters regularly and eliminate any of the obstructed ducts to make sure that the air in your home can cycle through freely. Also make sure that your refrigerant levels aren’t too low, as this could lead to freezing.
6. Issues with the outside unit
The outdoor unit house the compressor, condenser coil, and a fan, and other electrical parts, meaning that the unit could run into trouble especially if it’s neglected. For example, the outside fan might stop working completely. When this happens, the heat from the indoors isn’t being transferred outside effectively, and this could lead to a myriad of problems, such as compressor overheating and tripping the safety overload.
If the outdoor unit isn’t functioning at all, it could be a different problem altogether. It could be a power issue, a thermostat glitch, or a malfunction with the contactor. The contactor is a small gadget whose work is to switch the outdoor unit off and on depending on the signals received from the thermostat.
Diagnosing your AC
In case you’ve noticed that your AC unit is showing some signs of needing repair or service, it’s important to have it assessed by an expert. A minor problem today can easily develop into a major, more expensive repair when left unattended.
Common Symptoms to look for
- Unusual sounds: if the sounds that come from your system have changed, it could be a sign that your unit is no longer working as it should. The sounds might be an indication that more lubrication is required at different components, or a component is broken. Acting fast when you notice these unusual sounds can help you prevent further damage.
- Musty or unusual smell: noticing a smell from your AC vents is not good news. It not only makes your living space less comfortable, but also indicates the growth of mold inside your ductwork or an issue within the AC system.
- Reduced air flow: if you notice a reduced amount of air flowing through your ducts, this could be a symptom of a number of different problems. In case this affects the whole house, it’s quite likely that your compressor is failing or needs replacement. If the reduced airflow only affects a few parts of the house, it might be a problem within the ductwork, most likely a blockage. It’s recommended that you have your air ducts cleaned regularly, to help keep the airflow optimal, and prevent mold from growing inside the ducts.
- Uneven temperature distribution: any drop in your AC performance should be treated as a sign that the unit need to be assessed by a professional. Possible problems include low Freon levels or a failed compressor. If some parts of your house are being kept cooler than others, it could be a problem with your thermostat. An expert can effectively diagnose the problem and fix it.
- Moisture near your system: in case you notice moisture around your AC unit, it could be a sign of either a refrigerant leak or water leaking from the condensation. If the refrigerant is leaking, it could pose a major health risk to you and your loved ones, and needs to be repaired immediately. If the water leakage is left unchecked, it could cause a buildup of mold.
AC Repair Troubleshooting
Here are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot your AC system if it’s not functioning properly, before you call your AC repairman.
Start with these simple tasks
- Check for power: Most AC units draw quite a lot of power, and they’re therefore protected by a number of breakers and fuses to cut them off in case of an emergency. In case your unit won’t turn on, check the fuse panel and the breaker box to see if either have been tripped since the last time you used it.
- Check the fans: If the power is okay, or if the breaker continues to trip repeatedly after you reset it, you need to check the actual AC unit to determine what the problem is. If the fan isn’t kicking on at all, it might be a sign that the thermostat isn’t functioning properly. It could also be that there’s damage to the control unit inside the AC unit. Of course, unless you know what you’re doing, these kinds of repairs are best conducted by a professional AC technician.
- Assess the pump: AC units usually use a pump to eliminate the condensation that forms inside the case. In case there’s a lot of water collecting internally, an overflow valve shuts down the unit to protect the unit from water damage. Be sure to check if there’s water sitting inside the unit, and if the pump is running.
- Check for temperature drops: If the unit seems to be functioning properly but you’re still not seeing any results, it could be an issue with the refrigerant. Just as your car’s AC system, your home’s AC unit might need to be recharged for the best cooling results. This is not job that you can do yourself, so you might have to hire a professional to come check and ensure that unit has the correct pressure and refrigerant amount, and restore it to its full functionality.
With these four easy steps, you will be able to determine whether your AC unit needs more repairs or not. The simplest way is to always check and make sure that power is getting to the unit. From there, you can isolate individual components until you pin down the issue.
DIY – Air Conditioning Repair
How to Power off your AC system
Before you attempt any repairs on your AC unit, you should always disconnect the power, and test to make sure that the power is off. This will protect you and your unit during the troubleshooting and repair processes.
- Locate the system switch – The first step is locating the switch that controls the power to the AC unit. Some systems will require you to use a switch in your fuse or breaker box, which can be labelled as something similar to AC. If the box isn’t labelled, you can remove the main fuse or switch the main breaker to turn off all the power in your home.
- Turn off the power – Once you do locate the switch, turn off the power. Don’t forget to turn off both switches in case your system has separate switches.
- Test to ensure the power is fully turned off – To check that the power to the system is off, change the temperature of the thermostat by about 5 degrees. Wait for at least 5 minutes and check if your system turns on. You have to wait because some systems come with in-built delays, and you can place your hand near an air vent and feel if there’s any air flowing through, or listen for your system to turn on.
- Turn the power back on – Once you’re done with the repairs, you can now turn the power on. You can confirm if its running using the tests described in step 3 above.
Cleaning your AC Evaporator Coils
The evaporator coils are some of the most important components of your AC unit. If a problem develops due to dirty evaporator coils, the efficiency of your AC unit will drop, causing a performance decrease, and ultimately damage or breakdown the unit.
The importance of cleaning your coils
When they get dirty, evaporator coils performance in cooling and dehumidifying is considerably reduced. The air that blows across the coils can contain pollen, dust, dirt, and other contaminants. Since the coils usually become damp when water condenses on them, it’s easy for these particulates to stick to them.
Dirty Air Filters
Dirty air filters (or lack thereof) can increase the amount of substances that get into contact with the evaporator coils. Within a short period of time, enough contaminants can accumulate on the coils and soon start affecting its performance. Dirty condenser coils and evaporator coils can lead to problems like:
- Reduced cooling capacity
- Decreased heat transfer
- Higher energy consumption
- Higher temperatures and operating pressures
- Buildup of ice on the coils
- Accelerated wear in the unit, which translates into system malfunctions, component damage, and lower life expectancy
Overall, AC units with dirty coils usually use up 40% more energy compared to those with clean coils. The cooling function is also reduced by 30% or more, and you can expect your utility bills to rise, nonetheless.
You should therefore check and clean your evaporator coils as needed. If your AC evaporator coils or outdoor unit are prone to collecting dirt and debris faster, you might need to clean them on a monthly basis. Replacing your air filter every 30-90 days depending on its type should prevent this though. Otherwise, you can clean the coils every three months as preventative maintenance.
- The indoor air handler unit should have a removable access panel to access the evaporator coil. When necessary, be sure to check your AC manual to help you locate the access panel and the coils.
- Next, turn off the AC at the thermostat.
- Remove any fasteners or screw to loosen the access panel.
- Have the panel and the screw well stored aside so that they don’t get separated or lost.
Using compressed air to clean the evaporator coils
You can remove light buildups of dust, dirt, and other materials using compressed air to push them loose, as described below.
- Direct the compressed air across the coil in a direction opposite the normal airflow, starting from the cleaner to the dirtier side.
- If there are stubborn pieces, put the air nozzle close the debris.
- If you’re using high pressure air, it’s recommended that you direct it directly through the fins or at a 90-degree angle to avoid damaging the fins.
- Make sure that you maintain a consistent airflow across the coil. This can help dislodge the buildup without the risk of dislodging it further into the fins and thereby making it harder to remove.
- Don’t blow the dirt, dust, or debris into the ductwork or into your home. Ensure that you wear sufficient eye protection to keep the material from entering your eyes and an N-95 dust mask to prevent the dust from entering your lungs. When necessary, you can use a shop vacuum cleaner to collect the dislodged material.
Alternatively, you can clean the evaporator coils using commercial cleaners. Most of the available options are the foaming type, which break down and drain away into the drainage system of your unit. Be sure to follow the instructions and precautions as directed by the manufacturer.
Another way to clean your AC coils is using warm water and a mild detergent. Mix a simple detergent and warm water into a hand sprayer or spray bottle. Apply this mixture onto the coils and allow to sit for some minutes so that it soaks in and loosens up all the dirt and debris. Then, you can wipe down the materials using a soft brush or cloth using caution not to bend or damage the very sensitive fins. Use gloves as the fins are very sharp.
If the coils are heavily soiled, they may require heavy-duty cleaning techniques, strong chemicals, and specialized equipment like a steam cleaner or pressure washer. The cleaning process will also require some revisions on your AC system, such as cutting and reattaching refrigerant lines, removing the coil, restoring the vacuum state of the lines, and refilling the system with refrigerant.
For the heavily soiled coils, or coils that are dirty enough to significantly affect the function of the air condenser, your best bet is to schedule a professional AC unit cleaning and maintenance. They will most likely have the correct training, equipment, and material to clean up your unit without causing damage to the components.
How to Replace AC Air Filter
Air filters can quickly become clogged with debris over time, especially in seasons where they run around the clock. Failing to change the filter can lead to much more expensive repairs, increased energy bills, and reduced lifespan of the unit.
Fortunately, AC air filter replacement is one of the easiest repairs you can do to keep your system running optimally. Swapping out the filter is quite a straightforward process, regardless of the system you’re using, and this is something you can do on your own.
Here’s how you remove and replace air filters:
- Locate where the air filters is. With many installations the air filter is located around the thermostat. So, go to the thermostat and look for a vent. If you can see any return vent with a filter nearby, check your indoor AC unit, since some models usually house their filter close to the system instead of the return air grille.
- Loosen the fasteners or screws holding the front part of the grill to the vent. Remove the cover gently and set it aside, storing the screws carefully. You should see the air filter right behind the cover.
- Next, reach out and remove the cover.
- While setting the cover aside, check its condition. A dirty filter will have a greyish, dingy brown color, especially if it has gone beyond its prime. If yours looks whitish, there might be some life left in it.
- If the filter is ready to be replaced, remove it and carefully place it into a garbage bag to prevent the particulates from re-entering your homes air. Grab the new air filter.
- Look out for the arrow pattern near the edge of the filter. The direction the arrow points shows the correct airflow. As a rule of thumb, the arrow shouldn’t point out or at you. In case they do, the airflow will be restricted.
- With the arrow position in mind, position the filter in that the arrows are facing the wall.
- Now, gently place the air filter into the return duct opening, starting with the bottom part of the filter and easing to the top.
- Check again whether the arrows are pointing towards the duct.
- To make sure the filter is snugly fit, give it a gentle pat.
- Put back the cover and tighten the fasteners.
At this point, your task of changing the air filter is complete. You should start noticing your home feeling a bit more comfortable as air is moving more freely through the system. Read more & buy filters here
How to Fix a Frozen AC Unit
If your AC unit is frozen, the first thing you should do is to flip the breaker and keep it off until the unit is fully thawed. This won’t take long in the summer.
When the ice on the coils has melted, it’s important to have the coils dried and get rid of any moisture might have pooled around the unit. This will help to improve efficiency and will reduce the chances of your unit icing up again when you turn it back on. When you do this, be sure to get rid of any debris that could be blocking the drainage channels.
Before you switch your AC back on, ensure that you’ve set the thermostat such that you only turn the blower fan on. This will circulate air through the system and can help to eliminate any remaining ice crystals in the coils.
Another good option is using a hair dryer on low heat setting to blow warm air along the outside of the coils. Although it might be tempting to use a high-heat setting to speed up the process, it’s something that you shouldn’t do because it can potentially crack the condenser coil, leading to costly repairs.
Once you’re sure that the ice has fully thawed, turn on the AC unit back on, and check to see if there’s cold air blowing through the registers. If the air is cool, then you can be sure that the ice is removed along with any other blockages. If it’s not cold, turn it off and repeat the steps again.
Should You Repair or Replace your AC unit?
If your home’s Air Conditioner keeps developing problems, you might be considering a replacement. However, there’s a lot more than money that you need to consider.
Things to consider
- Type of Unit: the kind of AC unit you have in your home will make a huge difference when determining whether to repair or replace. If the unit is over 15 years old, having it replaced could be the best option. Otherwise, use the 50% rule – if the repair costs are 50% or more than the value of the unit, it’s more economical to have it replaced. At this point, your AC system is likely to continue needing expensive repairs and it may actually cost less each year to replace it with a new energy efficient new air conditioner.
- Comfort and Convenience: a new AC unit usually comes with a few year’s warranty, and generally requires a single visit to install. In comparison, an older unit will require an initial visit to repair the problem, along with subsequent visits to install the replacement parts. You should also consider the air quality coming from your unit. A newer unit will be better at controlling the humidity and temperature of the air inside your home, which means improved comfort and air quality for everyone.
- Red flags: you might need to replace your AC unit if it consistently creates uneven temperatures around your home even after frequent repairs, it breaks down frequently when used more or during extreme weather, and if it makes excessive noises, which could be a sign of overexertion.
As already mentioned, keeping your AC unit running optimally and smoothly will require you to take proper, consistent maintenance on it. While you can do most of the repairs we have discussed at home, some of them require the attention of a certified AC technician. They have the training, knowledge and experience to quickly diagnose the problem and get your system up and running as it should.
- Top of article
- Learn the Basics about your AC
- How an Air Conditioner Works
- Common Air Conditioning Problems
- Diagnosing your AC
- AC Repair Troubleshooting
- DIY AC Repair
- Cleaning your AC Evaporator Coils
- How to Replace AC Air Filter
- How to Fix a Frozen AC Unit
- Should You Repair or Replace your AC unit?
- How to choose the Best AC Contractor Near Me
- Contact Us
How to choose the Best AC Contractor Near Me
Choosing Wrong Can Lead To Years Of Frustration and Extra Expenses
There are many advantages to choosing the right AC company to service your air conditioning system. Both financially and emotionally.
Choosing the wrong AC company can cost you $1000’s and lead to years of frustration.
We have noticed that some AC contractors here in Delmarva don’t spend enough time training their technicians. This can lead to disaster. Some technicians are sent to clients homes and have only been working with that company for a few days, weeks or months. That AC technician may not have the years of experience that the AC contractor may have. This can lead to faulty repairs or even worse.
Our Air Conditioning technicians have years of experience as a requirement and have been background checked and drug tested for your safety.
Choosing the right AC contractor can make your life much easier.
Choosing Above & Beyond Services as your AC repair company could be one of the wisest decisions you could ever make. Our owner, Gary Lee Mitchell, affectionately known as GL, personally guarantees to oversee all AC installation projects from beginning to end, to ensure your 100% satisfaction. That is how we can offer better guarantees than our competition. We know exactly what is going on behind that new AC unit.
We guarantee that you will be 100% satisfied with our workmanship.
We are 100% committed to making your air conditioning repair project our priority from beginning to finish. All AC contractors say that, we mean it.
- Worry Free, Zero Risk Guarantee
- 150+ 5 Star Reviews
- Small, Local & Family Owned
- Always On-Time or we pay you $25
- Super Fair Pricing
- Skilled, Time Tested AC Technicians
- Fast, Friendly and Honest
- 24 Hour AC Repair Service
- Drug Tested and Background Checked
AC Repair Reviews
Hear what others are saying about our AC repairs.
I would like to thank G.L. Mitchell at Above and Beyond. Our AC has been down all day, he came out and was able to fix it right away. Awesome service and very reasonable. Highly recommend l.
After having another area AC company make 2 unsuccessful attempts to repair an issue with our central air, I called Above and Beyond. Even though I was a new customer, the owner was at our home within 2 hours of my call. Within 5 minutes of walking in the door, he had diagnosed the issue and had our AC system working as good as new in about an hour. Above and Beyond will now be my first and only call.
Our AC system went out on us 3 days ago, luckily we were bless the the past 3 nights were cool. I called around trying to find service for our system, but every company I called was booked up for the day and part of next week, so I googled AC companies near me and I saw a few companies who had high review ratings and in an arm stretch near us. When I scrolled and saw the reviews for above and beyond services, I had to take the chance to call and see what they were about. I must say it was the best decision I made. The lady I spoke with Tina provided me the best customer service I have had in a awhile. She was very professional and willing to get a technician to our home. Fast forward to the afternoon, I received a call from above and beyond technician tell me he was enroute to our residence. The technician Scott was professional and knowledgeable. He quickly pointed out to me what the issue was and fixed it with no hassle at all. Pricing for service is good and on top of that Above and Beyond offers a military veteran discount. I will be using this company for future jobs and highly recommend them to everybody.