Air conditioners are rugged and durable. But over time little things—and occasionally big things—will go wrong. In some cases you will need to call a trained repairman to take care of the trouble. However, you do not have to be a technical expert or even a mechanically-inclined person to perform some basic troubleshooting and repairs on this essential component of your HVAC system. Before you investigate anything on your own, however, make sure you have your unit’s user manual handy so you won’t be flying blind.
The four most common types of problems in air conditioners are a failure to work, a failure to cool, unexplained water leakage and unexplained noises. Here’s what you should do if …
Your Air Conditioner Does Not Work …
1. Check the main power panel and secondary circuit boxes for a tripped breaker or blown fuse. If you find anything punching the breaker off and on or changing the fuse should solve the problem.
2. Check to make sure all switches are still on. This includes the furnace power switch, the outdoor condenser power switch and the 240-disconnect next to the compressor.
3. Try changing the batteries in your thermostat to see if that is the cause of the trouble. If changing the batteries makes no difference remove the wire from the Y terminal, touch it against the R terminal and hold it there for a couple of minutes. If the compressor suddenly kicks on the thermostat needs to be replaced.
Your Air Conditioner Does Not Cool …
1. Open the front of the air handler and check on the filter. If it is dirty clean it and if it looks worn out replace it.
2. If you see ice on the coils inside the air handler turn on the fan—with the cooling off— and give the ice a couple of hours to melt.
3. Check the drain pipe that emerges from the unit to see if it is clogged with sediment or algae growth. If clogging is found a wet-dry vacuum can be used to suck out the water plus the sediment, and if algae is present you will need to wash out the drain pipe with a bleach-water solution (ratio one part bleach to 16 parts water).
Your Air Conditioner is Leaking Water …
1. Check to see if the drain pipe is plugged or cracked. If it is the former clean it and the latter replace it with ½ inch tubing available from an online HVAC vendor or home improvement store.
2. Test the condensate pump (the machine that removes the water collected by the AC) to see if it is working. Pour water directly into the intake to see if the pump starts. If it does not it is time to buy a replacement.
3. If the pump runs but does not remove water from the condensation trough, check the valve on the discharge tube to see if it is jammed. Also, be sure to look inside the tube to see if it is clogged with algae. Clean everything as well as you can and replace the tube if a large quantity of algae is present.
But What About Unexplained Noises?
Excessive noise may indicate an air conditioner that is on the verge of breakdown or failure. There is little you can do to diagnose the problem in this instance, however, so persistent squeaks, squeals, rumbling or grinding means it’s time to summon an HVAC technician to diagnose and fix the problem.
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