AC Repair Guide for Homeowners

Welcome to the first summer in your new home. Congrats! Enjoy sipping a cool drink in the shade, chatting with your neighbors on your porch, watching fireflies in the garden, fretting about why your AC isn’t working as well as you think it should be…

The world of home repairs can be daunting. It’s no small job, learning the intricacies and intimacies of your home and its operating systems. Here’s a quick guide to common AC problems, how you can diagnose and fix some and which ones you should leave to the experts.

 

 If your AC isn’t cooling…

Check the power.

Sometimes turning on your unit will affect something in the electrical system in your house. Make sure that power going to the AC unit and that no breakers have been tripped.

Take a listen.

Is there a noise when your air conditioning unit starts up? Does it sound like it’s trying to work? If it does, good news. Power is flowing even if your air isn’t flowing exactly right.

Check the thermostat.

This may seem silly, but your problem may be as simple as making sure your fan setting is on AUTO not on ON. And make sure the thermostat is turned to COOL not HEAT.

Change your filters.

Even if they seem relatively clean, air filters can get clogged quickly and if dust bunnies collect with vigor, they can turn into dust dragons and back up your system. It’s a quick and inexpensive repair so check this bit of maintenance off the list.

Check the vents outside

If you have an AC unit that has components outside your house, make sure the units are clear of birds’ nests, squirrel storage, growing vines or other debris.

Take a look and listen.

If the coils seem frozen or there’s a hissing sound coming from your indoor unit, chances are it’s a leak and that means it’s time to call in the pros. A leak is generally caused by  holes or cracks in the coils that actually circulate refrigerant. Since coolant can be toxic and needs to be handled carefully, you don’t want to take on this fix on as a novice.

 

If your AC isn’t turning off…

Check that thermostat again.

Are its batteries fresh? Is it set too low? Put it up a few degrees and see if it turns off. Did that work?

Check the fan.

If set correctly, the fan should only kick on when the thermostat tells it to. Do you have a Fan Limit Switch? If you do, make sure it’s set to AUTO and not MANUAL.

Take a look at your insulation.

If you are in an older house, your insulation may be worn down or your joints may not be sealed. Call a pro to help with this one, check the areas the need reinforcement and re-seal any joints or vents.

 

To even out hot spots and colds spots…

Check out your Soffit vents.

These are the vents that you’ll find near the low point of your roof, up in your attic. If they’re blocked, as they can get in the fall and winter when leaves fly and animals make nests, there will not be enough air flow in your attic which will inhibit the whole air flow cycle in the house. Make sure those vents are clean.

Insulate.

The attic ceiling, the vents and ducts, the areas around windows. There are plenty of spots for air to escape and invade if your insulation isn’t sufficient. Hot and cold spots are just one result, but the bigger problem is huge heating and cooling costs. Investing in insulation will help in the heath of your home all around and with your monthly bills.

Install fans.

Ceiling fans do more than just cool. If you keep them going in the right direction (clockwise for summer, counter clock wise in winter) they can help keep air flowing and even out the temperatures in your home.

 

To get rid of stale air…

Open a window.

Though this may sound too obvious to even mention, we sometimes forget that cool air that feels fresh is really just recirculated air. And recirculated air gets stinky, so opening windows in the cool part of the morning or late at night can help freshen up the whole house.

Get green.

Air filtering plants like Parlor Palms, Snake Plants, Peace Lilies of Siam Aurora plants can actually clean the air inside all on their own with just a little water and sun. They’re so effective they’re even used In the Space Station. If they’re good enough for NASA…

Dust and vacuum.

Dust gets sucked into the AC unit and gets recirculated. Keep your furniture and carpets as dust free as possible and consider more baths and outdoor brushing for any furry friends that might live with you.

 

When to call a professional

 

There are times when a pro is simply necessary. Here are the times when you definitely need an HVAC specialist.

Once yearly maintenance.

Ask a pro to come in and check your heater and AC at once so you can be alerted to any issues or concerns. This is usually an inexpensive visit, but can alert you to repairs or replacements that will be needed in the near and distant future.

Weird noises.

Bangs, clangs and hissing sounds are not normal or indicative of a problem that will just fix itself. Call in an HVAC technician to identify the trouble and potentially take proactive measures to keep from a system failure. Repairing a smaller component like a contactor or ignitor is much less expensive than replacing an entire unit.

Ice build-up.

If your copper lines have ice or frost on them, bring in the pros. It’s a sign of refrigerant leak and will likely need a replacement of the system’s coils or of the whole unit. Freon, the refrigerant used in AC units, is odorless and colorless but can cause nausea, dizziness and fluid build-up in the lungs. It’s a serious problem and a toxic fluid, and not to be seen as insignificant.

Abnormal electric bills.

If there’s a sudden spike in your bills, chances are your AC isn’t working optimally. Have a technician out to see if something has changed in the system to bring up your costs.

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