When it’s hot and humid outside—like it so often is in late spring and summer here in Martinsburg, WV—the last thing you want to deal with is a broken central air conditioner.
We get it. And we’re here for you.
You might be surprised to learn that improper, inefficient operation causes many of the most common central A/C problems. This advice from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) may seem like common sense, but it’s worth sharing: “If your air conditioner is on, be sure to close your home’s windows and outside doors.”
Other common A/C problems stem from poor installation or servicing and inadequate maintenance.
Depending on the problem you’re experiencing, and your level of comfort with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, you may be able to diagnose and fix it yourself, but some A/C issues are best left to a professional HVAC technician.
Here are some of the most common central air conditioning problems, plus some advice on what you should do about them.
No cool air – There are several reasons why your A/C might blow warm air instead of cool. According to our retail partner Trane’s A/C troubleshooting guide, the outdoor coil could be blocked. Check your outdoor unit and clear any debris that’s accumulated on or around it. Another possibility is your A/C’s filter is dirty or clogged and in need of cleaning or replacement. If neither of those is the issue, your thermostat controls may not be set correctly. Trane recommends turning the thermostat off and back on and then resetting it to your desired temperature. Low refrigerant levels also can cause an A/C to blow warm air and should be addressed by your HVAC technician.
Poor airflow – This may indicate a leak or blockage in your system’s air ducts or a dirty filter. Consider having your ducts inspected, cleaned, and sealed. Make sure all the vents and registers in your home are open and not being blocked by furniture, drapes, or anything else that could impede airflow. Check your filter and change or clean it, if needed.
No airflow – If your A/C isn’t blowing any air at all, there could be several issues. First, check for a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. If neither of those is the cause, then check that your filter doesn’t need to be changed or cleaned. Dead thermostat batteries also could be the culprit. Other possible causes, which should be handled by an HVAC technician, include a faulty relay or fan control, thermostat problems, a bad motor, or a frozen evaporator coil.
Uneven cooling – When one room or level of a home is noticeably warmer than the rest, restricted airflow is often to blame. A dirty filter, blocked or closed vents, or damaged or leaky ductwork could be the root cause of such an issue. However, air leaks in other areas of your home also can allow conditioned air to escape. Perform an energy audit of your home—paying special attention to the rooms you’re having trouble keeping cool—to determine where the leaks are. Then seal the leaks. The DOE recommends caulking and weather-stripping leaky doors and windows, for instance. Low refrigerant levels also can cause uneven cooling.
Broken thermostat – Is your thermostat’s display screen malfunctioning or blank? First, check that your thermostat is set correctly (you never know—maybe you forgot you changed the settings, or someone else did without you knowing). If that doesn’t get your thermostat working again, see whether it needs new batteries. While you’re at it, check for dust or debris that could be clogging the inside of your thermostat as well as for any loose or broken wires.
Constant running – If your A/C seems to be running constantly, the first thing you should do is check your thermostat. Make sure the fan is set to “Auto.” If the fan is set to “On,” it will run continuously, even when the A/C isn’t actually cooling. If your A/C is running constantly while set to “Auto,” your thermostat may be set too low for your A/C to keep up—especially if it’s extremely hot outside. Try to keep your thermostat at around 78 degrees Fahrenheit during the warmer months of the year. Not only will this prevent your A/C from constantly running, but it also will save you money: “Running your air conditioning at 78 degrees instead of 72 degrees can save between 6 and 18 percent on your cooling bill,” according to the DOE.
A/C won’t turn on – This issue also could indicate a problem with your thermostat. Try replacing the batteries. If that doesn’t fix the problem, it may be time for a new thermostat. Electric control failure also could prevent your A/C from turning on. Schedule an appointment for one of our HVAC technicians to check your A/C unit’s electrical connections, compressor, and fan controls.
High humidity – There are several reasons why your A/C might not be controlling your home’s humidity. If you frequently have your thermostat’s fan set to “On,” allowing the fan to run continuously, that can increase the amount of moisture in the air. Keeping your thermostat on “Auto” will enable your A/C to control humidity. If your thermostat setting isn’t the cause of high humidity, your A/C could be too large for your home, which could be causing it to short cycle (turn off and on too frequently) and preventing it from properly dehumidifying the space. Consider installing a whole-house dehumidifier, which removes excess moisture from the air, or getting a new A/C that’s the right size for your home. Your A/C also might simply be too old to keep up with the humidity in your home. If that’s the case, then regular cleaning and maintenance of your A/C can help improve its performance, but your best bet might be either upgrading to a new A/C or adding a dehumidifier.
Properly Maintain Your A/C to Prevent Problems
You may have noticed that seemingly small concerns such as a dirty filter can cause many of the common A/C problems. This perfectly illustrates the importance of proper maintenance for your A/C. Like any heating or cooling appliance, an A/C requires regular care to keep it functioning effectively and efficiently throughout its life. On the other hand, “neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increases,” according to the DOE.
Here are some essential A/C maintenance tasks you can tackle yourself:
- Clean or replace filters once a month or as recommended. “The most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace or clean its filters,” the DOE advises. “Replacing a dirty, clogged filter with a clean one can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent.”
- Regularly inspect your outdoor unit. Once a month or so, or after any stormy weather, check your outdoor A/C unit for signs of damage. Check the insulation on the refrigerant lines leading into your house and replace as needed.
- Keep your outdoor unit clean. Trane recommends using soap and water to clean the enamel finish of your outdoor unit. “For stubborn grease spots, use a household detergent,” Trane says in its air conditioner maintenance guide. “Do not use lacquer thinner or other synthetic solvents as they may damage the finish.” Also, follow the 2-foot rule, keeping the area in a 2-foot radius around your outdoor unit free of any debris, such as leaves or foliage, to allow for adequate airflow.
- Make sure your outdoor unit is level. Once a year, check that your outdoor unit is on level ground. “As soil settles, it’s not unusual for the condenser pad to get off-level,” according to an A/C maintenance guide from HomeAdvisor. “Using shims and the level, you can bring the condenser back to a level position.”
In addition to completing these DIY chores, you also should hire a professional HVAC technician to inspect, service, and clean your A/C every year—ideally in the spring—to keep it running at peak performance levels. You should do this even if your A/C seems like it’s running fine. “As your HVAC system runs, it accumulates dust and dirt in key areas that affect its efficiency, like the condensing coils and air filters,” according to an article published by Angie’s List. “Left unchecked, your A/C system can lose 5 percent of its operating efficiency each year because of this buildup, meaning it can’t cool your house as capably as it could if it were clean.”
A/C Problems Making You Sweat? Call Sunfire!
Whatever is causing your A/C not to function like it should be, Sunfire Energy Solutions can help. Our certified HVAC technicians are experienced in diagnosing and solving all kinds of HVAC problems.
Let us make sure your A/C is ready to beat the heat this summer! If you notice any A/C problem—large or small— and you live in Martinsburg, WV, or the surrounding area, call our 24-hour service department at 304-267-3029 or fill out our online request form.