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Troubleshooting your Air Conditioning: How tell your repairman what it is doing

Updated on July 26, 2012
If you see this when you look in your living room, your A/C isn't working
If you see this when you look in your living room, your A/C isn't working | Source

So it's Summer

It's summer, it's hot, and your A/C isn't cooling down the house. You know the feeling. You just know it's going to take forever and you feel helpless while waiting. Listed below are going to be a few things to look for that you might be able to fix yourself, and if not maybe a work around, or the best course of action to take while waiting for the repair man to come and dash your hopes of buying that new video game with the overtime you have been (hopefully) getting.

Clean filters increase airflow
Clean filters increase airflow | Source


I know it sounds too easy, but if your filter isn't allowing air to flow through the coils. Your unit won't be able to blow cold air out, or at least not enough to cool your home down. you should replace your filter every month. Some filters market themselves as being able to be changed out every three months, or maybe even longer. While I am sure they have lots of fancy research that proves why their claim is valid, look at it this way, the filter cannot prevent less contaminants from coming into contact with it. So a 3 month filter during the third month has more than 2 months of debris and dust blocking the airflow going to the coils, making the A/C less efficiant.

Also if you have pets that shed, you may want to check your filter weekly and clean off excess hair from the filter and put it back.

The best way to tell if the filter is dirty is to check it, but you will also notice less air coming out the vents. Your coils might also freeze up, which will discuss below.

Trust me, there is alot more ice inside.
Trust me, there is alot more ice inside. | Source
Snow cone machines got nothing on this A/C
Snow cone machines got nothing on this A/C | Source

Freezing up: The coils are covered in Ice

If you have no air coming out your vents, but you can hear your fan blowing. Your coils may be freezing up. First thing to do is check the filter, see above. If it's clean, and there is still no airflow, you may want to open up where your blower assembly is. Before removing any panels, make sure to turn the A/C off. For this if your assembly has a door with a handle, you should not need to turn the power off at the breaker, if you have to remove screws then I would suggest it. You may inadvertently open up the power supply area of the assembly instead of the air supply.

You may not have to if it is obvious that there is ice in the coils. Like in the top picture, sometimes everything can seem normal but when you open up the assembly it looks like the bottom picture. You can also check the large copper pipe to see if there is ice on it.

A frozen coil could mean a couple things:

1)It could mean that there is a problem with the air flow. That means either the filter is dirty, or the coils are dirty. You can change the filter yourself, but the coils need special care and solutions to not be damaged. And without taking the coils out (Something only a certified professional can do) you can only clean one side.

2) It could mean the fan isn't working. This is something that you will be able to audibly hear. If this is the case, quit running your A/C. The only thing you are doing is putting stress on more expensive parts, and wasting your electricity bill.

3) Your freon could be low. This means there is a leak somewhere. You will need to discuss this with a certified A/C technician. There is a small window in freon charge in your A/C unit that will cause it to freeze up. If there is way too much it won't cool it may even only blow hot air, it there is way to little it can't get cold enough to make ice. So it freezing may mean that the leak is very very small, and may not be able to be found. Sometimes the unit can go for 1-3 years before it leaks enough to need a charge, if this is the case it may be more cost efficient to not replace any parts. Still have the technician check common leak points, it is almost always at welding points.

If your fan is working but your A/C is freezing up you can still give yourself some relief until the technician shows up. Let the A/C run for a while, maybe an hour, or until you start noticing the air from the vents is not coming out as well. Then turn the A/C off, but turn the fan on. This will blow warm air on the ice, cooling it down, and sending it out the vents.

You should also do this if you find the filter dirty and the coils frozen, because after you thaw out the coils, with the filter replaced you may not have any problems.

The fan on top is the one you need to check
The fan on top is the one you need to check | Source

The A/C is on, but it is blowing Hot Air!

Sometimes the air is blowing, it's on cool, but the air is hot. This isn't pleasant, especially if you left the A/C on all day so when you come home from a hard day, you can be cool. Once again there are a couple things that can be going on. Some you can do something about, other's you need a certified technician for.

1) First thing to do is make sure your thermostat is on cool, and the fan is on auto. If the unit is off, but the fan is suppose to be on, its just going to circulate the hot air in the home.

2) If it everything is set the way it should be, go outside to your unit. first thing to check is making sure the fan on top of the unit is working. Put your hand on it and make sure the fan is blowing air up, and that it is hot. Most times this will be the problem, if the fan doesn't work, the freon in the coils outside are not cooled. Those coils are cooled by air being pulled up from the fan. If this is the problem, only run the fan inside without turning the compressor on. Thats the only relief you can get.

These coils look pretty dirty.
These coils look pretty dirty. | Source

3) Look at the coils, if they are filthy, you can clean them yourself. First thing to do is turn the unit off and kill power to it. Then just spray water from a hose into the coils and clean them. This isn't as efficiant as having a technician clean them, they have special tools and cleaners that are designed to not bend the metal fins on the unit, but it will still make a large difference. Note that this is rarely the sole problem.

4) If everything else is fine, check to see if you can hear the compressor running, if you can't tell with all the noise of the fan you can go inside, turn off the unit for about 15 minutes, go back outside, have someone else turn the unit on, the fan will come on first, then the compressor will come on, you will be able to hear the difference sound start up. If it doesn't you may need a new compressor, there are some other possibilities that are much cheaper, cross your fingers, and maybe a whole new unit. Sorry, thats gonna cost a pretty penny. It happens though. Don't run the unit until its repaired, it will only make things worse, might cause a fire, and otherwise is just wasted electricity.

If number 4 is fine, your going to need to call a technician, you could have a problem with the thermostat giving the instruction of having the heater on when the A/C comes on the problem, there could be too much freon in the system, or tons of other possible issues that are unique to your system. Keep your A/C off, only use the fan for relief.

When in doubt, call a technician

I hope this helps, there are alot more issues that can happen with an A/C than listed here, but these are some quick easy things that you can do that will help you either fix your own problem, help keep you cool or prevent you from wasting electricity or wearing on you machine while waiting for your technician to arrive. You can also cut down on the technicians time by being able to tell him better what your problem is, reducing your bill.

Also always offer your technican a cold drink, we appreciate it, even if we refuse. What HVAC technicians do is hot work.


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    • Morgaren profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

      There are a couple things to be able to check for, and they get kinda complicated. The first thing you mentioned is essentially choking down on other vents and trying to force more air into the desired room.

      If that isn't working there are other things that you will need to consider, like where is the room? Does it get afternoon sun? How is the insulation? These can play roles as well, especially if this problem is just during the hottest months. If that is the case, you may just need grab a fan and blow cooler air from from the rest of the house in there till you can have some contractors check it out.

      There is also the possibility that there is a hole in the air ducts. sometimes at the end of a delivery line, the last vent will have the part that is suppose to be blocked off damaged, and you have the cool air going straight out into the wall, rather than out the vent, or a vent could have collapsed. These are things you may be able to look at yourself if you can access your ductwork, for a start you can take the vent covers off, and with a flashlight look down the vents, see if you see anything.

      One other thing is you air assebly may just not be big enough to push all the air needed for your home. Those are mostly things that can cause that problem, not a whole lot of quick fixes though. Let me know if you need more info.

    • xcubist profile image


      6 years ago

      Great info, but what can you do if you have one room that is perpetually hotter than other rooms in the home? The ac works just this room never gets as cool as the rest of the house. I've checked to make sure that the vents are open and in fact they are opened further than the rest in the home.


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