Tip & How-To about Heating & Cooling
A few basic principles for air conditioner troubleshooting. For both central home air conditioner or window air conditioner, the first thing to check is whether the unit is getting proper power. If the unit uses 220 volt power be sure that the proper voltage is getting to the unit. Same for 110 volt units. A voltage meter can be used to assure that the voltage is correct.
For window air conditioning units the voltage can also be checked before and after the thermostat. If voltage is being supplied to the thermostat but not from it then the thermostat probably needs replaced. This is a fairly common problem. Another place to check is the fan motor voltage. The fan on window air conditioners runs both the indoor blower and the condenser fan. If that motor fails than the compressor may run for a short time, but will overheat and shut off. Continued operation like this will result in compressor failure. This motor can be economically replaced for larger window air conditioners, but for smaller ones the cost of replacement will be more than a new unit.
Central air conditioners for the home are more complex and there are more things that can go wrong. As with the window air conditioner the thermostat can also be a problem. The central air conditioner thermostat will only have 24 volts going to it. So don't look for high voltage there. Some units the voltage will be coming from the outdoor unit and others the voltage will be supplied by the indoor air handler or furnace. Most home central air conditioning will be supplied by the indoor air handler or the furnace. If the air conditioner is for cooling only the unit will usually have only two wires going to the condenser unit. Make sure that you have 24 volts across those wires.
The next thing to check will be the indoor blower. If your thermostat is calling for cooling then the indoor blower should be running. If there is no air moving across the indoor cooling coil then you will soon have a big block of ice formed on the coil. This can happen for a few reasons. The indoor blower is not working, the air flow is restricted and not allowing air to move across the coil. A clogged air filter would also do this. Or the outdoor condenser unit has lost the charge of refrigerant.
Finally and worst of all is when you have a complete compressor failure. Often when this happens the compressor will "lock up" or not be able to turn when power is supplied to it. Overheating or lack of lubrication are usually the main causes of compressor failure. Overheating can be caused by the outdoor coil around the compressor getting clogged with dirt, leaves, or grass. Loss of the refrigerant charge will also cause the compressor to overheat. It is the cool return gas coming back to the compressor that helps to keep it from overheating.
As you can see there are many things that can go wrong with an air conditioner and I have not come close to exhausting the possibilities here. I have just touched on the most common problems in a very basic way.
There are some basic trouble shooting things that can be done very easily. Most problems are above out of the range of comfort for many homeowners and professional help should be consulted before any attempt is made at repairs. Remember also, that the release of refrigerant gases into the atmosphere is a federal offense in the US. Proper care must always be taken to minimize the release of any gases. A license is also required to handle refrigerants. Make sure that the professional you call has the proper certifications to handle refrigerants properly.
Posted by D. Floyd... on
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