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Anatomy of an Air Conditioner
At Above & Beyond Services, our job is to know everything about your air conditioner, so we can troubleshoot issues and service your AC quickly and correctly. Our technicians have years of training and experience specializing in home comfort.
When you have a problem with your AC, you can always contact us at Above & Beyond Services. Still, you may be curious about how your central air conditioning system works, and we’re here to help. Here’s a breakdown on some of the major components of your air conditioning system.
As you might be able to guess from its name, an air handler “handles” and delivers heated or cooled indoor air throughout your entire home, usually via your ductwork. Your air handler consists of an evaporator coil, blower motor, air filter and the electrical and electronic components required to deliver enhanced levels of indoor comfort.
Air Conditioner Compressors
Just like your heart pumps blood throughout your body, the compressor circulates refrigerant throughout the AC system. Refrigerant is the liquid that absorbs heat from inside your home. Eventually, the collected heat vaporizes the refrigerant, which then travels back to the compressor and away from your space.
An evaporator coil is the part of an air conditioner or heat pump that absorbs the heat from the air in your house. It is inside the air handler or blower compartment. The evaporator coil holds the chilled refrigerant that the compressor moves into it.
A thermostat is the tool you use to regulate the temperature and control your HVAC system. Most thermostats today are digital and programmable and use different sensors to detect the temperature in your home. Once you set your thermostat to the desired temperature, it will switch your HVAC system on or off as needed.
Air ducts are a series of pipes that circulate heated and cooled air through your home through the vents in your floors or ceilings. Properly installed ductwork is an essential part of effective temperature regulation. If you have any gaps, leaks or cracks in your ducts, you can experience significant energy loss via air leakage.
Though air conditioning systems can be complex, the problems we encounter are often similar. You might be surprised at how simple it is to fix some of these issues yourself. However, when in doubt, it’s always best to call the pros for expert diagnosis and repair. Below, we discuss some of the most common issues that can arise with your air conditioning.
Dirty, clogged or otherwise neglected filters are one of the most frequent reasons air conditioners can’t work properly. If your AC is on, but not running to its full capacity, the solution could be as straightforward as changing your filter. Make sure to replace the filter every one to three months, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Bear in mind that some homes have more than one air filter. If this is the case for you, familiarize yourself with the locations of all of them.
Thermostat settings are another common culprit of air conditioning problems. Thermostats tend to be a set-it-and-forget-it part of your home, especially if you own a digital one. However, if your HVAC system isn’t kicking in or cooling your home to the desired temperature, your thermostat may be malfunctioning. Some cases require a trained technician to fix, but before you call, check that you have your thermostat turned on, that it is on the “cool” setting and that your target temperature is at least a few degrees below room temperature.
The refrigerant in your AC absorbs the heat from your home and releases it outside. If your unit is low on refrigerant, you might hear a hissing noise from your system or notice the air conditioning isn’t keeping your home as comfortable as you’d like. Ice formation on the evaporator coils is another telltale sign of a refrigerant leak.
Your AC’s drainage tube is an essential component of your system that removes the water released when the evaporator in your AC unit converts refrigerant from a liquid to a gas. However, over time, this tube can get clogged with algae, mold and other gunk — especially if you’ve neglected regular air conditioner maintenance. One quick way to determine if you have this issue is to check your drain pan, which is typically underneath the unit. If you see standing water in the pan, you likely have a clog. Clearing your clogged drain line is a DIY fix you can do yourself with tools you probably have around the house, but to be on the safe side, it’s best to call a professional.
Breakers or Fuses
Circuit breakers and fuses are a safety feature designed to protect electrical appliances in the event of a power surge. However, breakers can trip and fuses can blow, shutting off power to your unit. If your AC suddenly stops running, one of the first things you should check is the circuit breaker. Always reset a circuit breaker by ensuring that it’s fully in the “off” position first (if not, move it there), then turning it back on. Wait a few minutes and see what happens. If the circuit breaker trips again as soon as your air conditioner turns on, leave it shut off and place a service call.
The capacitors in your air conditioner attach to the motors within the unit, performing the essential function of stabilizing the electrical voltage and providing the power that kick-starts the motors and keeps them running. Faulty capacitors can cause an AC to malfunction in several ways, but the good news is that if you catch capacitor problems in time, your trusted AC technician can quickly swap out bad capacitors for new ones without any long-term damage to your unit. For safety’s sake, it’s best not to attempt this repair on your own because of the high-voltage electricity involved.
Many air conditioner problems originate with the compressor, which supplies energy to the refrigerant that pushes it through the coils. Symptoms associated with a faulty compressor include reduced cooling capacity; a unit that rapidly cycles off and on; a motor that won’t start; and overheating. Bad wiring or a failing motor may be to blame for these issues. A trained HVAC professional can determine the cause of the problem and get you back up and running in no time.
Your condenser coil is the other half of the coil system in your AC. Condenser coils work in tandem with evaporator coils to release the heat from your home. Like many other parts of your AC unit, the condenser coil requires regular cleaning to continue functioning properly for the lifetime of your system. This is especially true for the condenser coil, which is part of your outdoor unit and is therefore prone to a buildup of dirt and yard debris. Neglecting periodic maintenance and tune-ups will force each part of your air conditioner to work harder to keep up, which will inevitably lead to premature breakdowns.
AC contactors are small, but crucial, components of your air conditioner. The contactor works alongside the capacitor to keep your AC running smoothly when you need it. Essentially, the contactor is a type of switch that provides power to components such as the compressor and condenser fan and turns the AC unit on and off. A contactor can fail both electrically and mechanically. If your contactor has stopped working, you may hear a loud buzzing sound coming from the unit. You might also notice signs of damage upon a visual inspection.
How to Repair Your Air Conditioning Unit
If you’re relatively handy around the house and have a few simple tools, you can save yourself a potentially pricey service call by doing some repairs on your own. Here’s how.
Step 1: Start With the Easy Fixes
If your AC has suddenly stopped working, don’t panic. There are a few common-sense things you can do before you pick up the phone and call a professional. First, check all air filters and make sure they’re clean, not clogged. Ensure all the air vents in your floors and ceilings are fully open — these allow airflow to circulate throughout your home. Look at your thermostat — is it set to both “cool” and “auto?” Do you have your desired temperature set several degrees below room temperature? Finally, go outside and visually inspect your unit. Is there any shrubbery or debris blocking the ventilation? Do you hear any strange noises or see ice forming on the unit?
Step 2: Test the Fuses
In the heat of a Delaware summer, we often ask our air conditioners to run nonstop, with no rest periods. Sometimes, this continuous labor causes the unit to overheat, which then triggers a blown fuse. Essentially, a blown fuse cuts power to the system, saving it from further damage. If your AC has blown a fuse, the first thing you’ll notice is that the outside unit isn’t doing anything other than producing a humming sound.
If you understand the basic electrical system of the AC, you can check for a blown fuse yourself with a multimeter. However, to avoid an electrical shock, make sure you have taken the necessary precautions to ensure your safety. When in doubt, call a trained service pro to check your fuses.
Inspect the Access Panel
Faulty wiring is another reason your air conditioner might be failing to do its job. You can check your wiring by opening the AC access panel. After shutting all power to the unit off, remove the screws holding the panel in place. Then, look for any signs of frayed wires or small animal nests. If you are comfortable with the safety protocols for working with electricity, you can repair the wires yourself. Otherwise, it’s best to call someone with the necessary tools, training and experience.
Step 4: Replace the Run Capacitors
If you’re a confident DIYer, replacing AC run capacitors yourself is a fairly simple repair. First, shut off the power. Then, unscrew the bolts and remove the side panel of your AC unit. Visually inspect the run capacitor, which is a cylindrical component with three terminals on top. If you see the top of it is bulging upward instead of lying flat, it’s time to replace it.
For your safety, never touch the run capacitor without first discharging it. If you are not experienced at working with electricity safely, do not attempt this repair yourself. Always call a professional with the training to handle the job.
Step 5: Replace the AC Contactor
The typical lifespan of an AC contactor is between five and 10 years, depending on how regularly you’ve had your unit maintained. Since this piece is relatively inexpensive and DIY replacement is pretty straightforward, you can do this repair on your own if you have a can-do attitude. After fully disconnecting all power to your AC unit, disconnect the wires from the contactor and unscrew the feet from the unit. Then, screw the feet on the new part back on the unit and reconnect the wires.
Again, if you are not confident in your electrical safety knowledge, you must call an HVAC technician to make this repair, as it can be very dangerous to work with high-voltage equipment.
We hope you now have a better understanding of what your air conditioner entails and how all its components should work in concert to keep your home comfortable in hot weather. Remember, if you lack the tools, experience and specialized skills needed to complete a DIY air conditioner repair, call Above & Beyond Services for a speedy response, even in an emergency. Remember, the cost of annual HVAC maintenance is a small price to pay for your peace of mind.
Our BBB-accredited company offers a full range of installation, repair and replacement services. Because we believe nobody should overpay for HVAC service, we’ll give you a free second opinion on your estimate from a competing HVAC company. Contact us at Above & Beyond Services today and let us put our 20 years of experience to work for you. We offer same-day appointments whenever possible, along with our 100% satisfaction guarantee.
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