Steps to Fix Central Air Conditioners

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Central air conditioners are composed of two parts: the condenser and the evaporator. The condenser unit is typically found outside on a concrete platform while the evaporator coil is installed in the plenum or main duct junction above the furnace.

Most central air conditioners are connected to a home’s forced-air distribution system. This means that the same motor, blower, and ductwork used for heating are also utilized to distribute cool air from the air conditioning system. When a central air conditioner is operating, hot air from inside the house flows to the furnace through the return-air duct. The blower then moves this hot air across the cooled evaporator coil in the plenum, which is then delivered through ducts to cool the house. If the air conditioner is running, but the house isn’t cooling, the issue is most likely in the distribution system.

Central air conditioners are made up of two separate components: the condenser unit,
located outside the house on a concrete slab, and the evaporator coil above the furnace.

Both the evaporator and the condenser are sealed, so a professional service person should be contacted for nearly all maintenance besides routine cleaning. Central air conditioners should be inspected and adjusted by a professional before every cooling season. However, it’s important not to end your maintenance with this annual checkup. While there aren’t many repairs you can do yourself, there are specific maintenance procedures you can follow to ensure that your system is operating at peak efficiency. Caution: Before performing any work on an air conditioning system, make sure that the power to both the condenser and the evaporator assembly is turned off.

Before you start working, let’s try to narrow down the job’s scope. Look for the problem you’re having and its solution on the chart on the next page.

For further articles on home repair, refer to the following links.

  • How To Repair Room Air Conditioners: Cooling units that you mount in your window have the same job as central air conditioners, but the repair principles are different. Follow these instructions to get your unit running smoothly.
  • Major Appliance Repair: If the a/c isn’t the only thing in your house on the fritz, you can learn how to fix other machines in this article.
  • Small Appliance Repair: Once you’ve tackled the a/c, a toaster or blender seems like child’s play. Find out how to fix them here.
  • Thermostat Maintenance: To make sure there’s actually a problem with your a/c, you may want to check the thermostat, too. Learn how to calibrate a thermostat.

Troubleshooting Central Air Conditioners

Central air conditions will need some professional maintenance, but there are many minor problems that you can easily fix yourself. If your central a/c unit isn’t working properly, look for the problem you’re experiencing on this chart and see if it’s a do-it-yourself job.

If your central air conditioner is not working properly, this troubleshooting chart can help you identify and solve the problem. The chart lists various problems and their possible causes, as well as the recommended solutions. For example, if your condenser does not run, it could be due to a lack of power, a faulty motor or compressor, or a thermostat set too high. The solutions may involve checking for blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers, lowering the thermostat setting, cleaning the condenser coil and fins, or calling a professional for help. If you are experiencing uneven or inadequate cooling, or if the condenser unit turns on and off repeatedly, the chart also suggests possible causes and solutions, such as balancing the distribution system, cleaning the evaporator, removing debris blocking the condenser, or calling a professional if there is not enough refrigerant in the system. A common problem is a dirty evaporator, which can be accessed if the plenum has foil-wrapped insulation at its front. The article provides instructions on how to clean an accessible evaporator.

How to Clean Your Air Conditioner’s Evaporator and Condenser Coils

What You’ll Need

You’ll want to have these tools on hand to clean the evaporator:

  • Screwdriver
  • Stiff brush
  • Large hand mirror
  • Household bleach
  • Wire

Step 2: Clean the entire underside of the evaporator unit with a stiff brush. A large hand mirror can help you see what you’re doing. If you can’t reach all the way back to clean the entire area, slide the evaporator out a little. The evaporator can be slid out even if it has rigid pipes connected to it, but be careful not to bend the pipes.

Step 3: Clean the tray below the evaporator unit. This tray carries condensation away from the evaporator. Pour 1 tablespoon of household bleach into the weep hole in the tray to prevent fungus growth. In extremely humid weather, check the condensate drain and pan every other day. If there’s much moisture in the pan, the weep hole from the pan to the drain line may be clogged. Open the weep hole with a piece of wire.

Step 4: Put the unit back into place, reinstall the plate, and tape insulation back over it.

Step 5: Turn the air conditioner back on and check for air leaks. Seal any leaks with duct tape.

You may also need to clean the condenser to get your air conditioning functioning properly. Find out how on the next page.

Cleaning the Condenser

In most air-conditioning systems, the condenser unit is located outside the house and is prone to accumulating dirt and debris from trees, lawn mowing, and airborne dust. The condenser has a fan that moves air across the condenser coil. You must clean the coil on the intake side, so before you turn off the power to the air conditioner, check to see which direction the air moves across the coils. Here’s how to clean the condenser:

What You’ll Need

You’ll want to have these tools on hand to clean the condenser:

  • Grass shears or pruners
  • Spray bottle of coil cleaner
  • Soft brush
  • Fin comb
  • Carpenter’s level
  • Pry bar or piece of 2-by-4
  • Gravel or rocks

Step 1: Cut down any grass, weeds, or vines that have grown around the condenser unit; they could be obstructing airflow.

Step 2: Clean the condenser with commercial coil cleaner, available at refrigerator supply stores. Instructions for use are included. Flush the coil clean (do not use a hose); let it dry.

Step 3: Clean the fins with a soft brush to remove accumulated dirt. You may have to remove the protective grille to reach them. Do not clean the fins with a garden hose, as water could turn dirt into mud and compact it between the fins. Clean the fins very carefully: They’re made of light-gauge aluminum and are easily damaged. If the fins are bent, straighten them with a fin comb, sold at most appliance parts stores. A fin comb is designed to slide into spaces between fins. Use it carefully to avoid damaging the fins.

Step 4: Check the concrete pad on which the condenser rests to make sure it’s level. Set the carpenter’s level front to back and side to side on top of the unit. If the pad has settled, lift the pad with a pry bar or a piece of 2 x 4, then force gravel or rocks under the concrete to level it.

During autumn and winter, it’s important to protect outdoor condenser units from the elements to avoid blockages caused by leaves and damage from ice. You can use a commercial condenser cover specifically designed to fit the shape of the unit, or secure heavy plastic sheeting using strong cord.

If you have cleaned the unit and still aren’t receiving cool air, the problem could be with the refrigerant. Find out what to do in this case on the following page.

Dealing with the Refrigerant

The refrigerant used in most air conditioning systems is known as Freon. If there is an insufficient amount of Freon in the system, little or no cooling will take place. If you suspect a problem with the Freon, it’s best to call a professional service person to recharge the system. Note: Do not attempt to charge the refrigerant lines yourself.

If you need to repair the system’s coolant lines, first inspect the lines running from the condenser outside to the evaporator inside the house. If the insulation is damaged or worn, it can reduce the cooling efficiency of the unit and should be replaced.

Replace any damaged or worn coolant line insulation with new insulation of the same type as soon as possible. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation.

With the knowledge of when to call for professional help, you can make some repairs on your own and save some money. By following the tips in this article, you can get the cool air flowing again sooner.

For more articles on home repair, check out the links below.

  • How To Repair Room Air Conditioners: Cooling units that you mount in your window have the same job as central air conditioners, but the repair principles are different. Follow these instructions to get your unit running smoothly.
  • Major Appliance Repair: If the a/c isn’t the only thing in your house on the fritz, you can learn how to fix other machines in this article.
  • Small Appliance Repair
  • Thermostat Maintenance: To make sure there’s actually a problem with your a/c, you may want to check the thermostat, too. Learn how to calibrate a thermostat.

FAQ

1. What are the common problems with central air conditioners?

There are several common problems that can occur with central air conditioners, including refrigerant leaks, faulty compressor motors, clogged air filters, and malfunctioning thermostats. In addition, issues with ductwork or electrical connections can also cause problems with central air conditioning systems.

2. How often should I have my central air conditioner serviced?

It is recommended to have your central air conditioner serviced at least once a year. This can help prevent potential problems from occurring and ensure that your system is running efficiently. A professional technician can clean and inspect your system, check refrigerant levels, and make any necessary repairs.

3. Can I repair my central air conditioner myself?

While there are some simple maintenance tasks that homeowners can perform, such as cleaning or replacing air filters, it is generally not recommended to attempt to repair a central air conditioner yourself. These systems can be complex and dangerous to work on without the proper training and equipment. It is best to hire a professional technician to diagnose and repair any issues.

4. How can I tell if my central air conditioner needs to be repaired?

There are several signs that may indicate that your central air conditioner needs to be repaired, including reduced airflow, strange noises, foul odors, or a noticeable increase in energy bills. If you notice any of these issues, it is best to have a professional technician inspect your system to determine the cause of the problem.

5. How long do central air conditioners typically last?

The lifespan of a central air conditioner can vary depending on several factors, such as the quality of the unit, how often it is used, and how well it is maintained. On average, a well-maintained central air conditioner can last between 12 and 15 years. However, if your system is older than this or experiencing frequent problems, it may be time to consider replacing it.

6. What should I do if my central air conditioner stops working?

If your central air conditioner stops working, the first step is to check the circuit breaker to make sure that the system is receiving power. If the breaker is not tripped, the next step is to contact a professional technician to diagnose and repair the issue. Attempting to fix the problem yourself could be dangerous and cause further damage to the system.

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