As summer approaches I can’t help but think about our last heat wave. It really made those without air-conditioners want one…and those who did have one…pray that the record-breaking heat wouldn’t break the one they had. And so it was with my neighbor.
As I pulled into my driveway on one of those hot days, he came out to meet me. The signs of his failure to stay cool were apparent. Right away I knew his air-conditioner must have quit working. “Bruce, I’ve been waiting for you to come home all day.” He took me to his garage and explained that earlier he had pulled out a completely clogged filter. He hoped this would help his air-conditioner to start delivering cool air to his home again. No such luck.
At the outdoor unit I could hear the compressor humming. It would overheat, trip the limit switch, cool off, overheat…then trip the switch again. “This 18+ year old unit might be at the end of its rope.” He looked at me to see if I would agree. And I did. As old as his A/C unit was, replacement might be a better choice than performing an expensive repair. And being on the edge of the property line, I would much prefer my neighbor to have a quieter unit.
Knowing the brand we carry is leading the industry in efficiency (and noise level) it was an easy option to present. Fortunately I found the compressor was overheating due to a failed capacitor, which is a much smaller repair, and was able to do the job right then and there. The A/C came on and was soon cooling down his home.
Afterwards he thanked me…and like a dentist can tell when you haven’t been flossing, I began to show him that regular maintenance had not been done on this unit. I pointed out a condensate drain that needed to be dealt with and coil fins that were clogging up, and recommended he call our company for a complete maintenance. The whole reason the capacitor failed was because the filter was not maintained. Thankfully it didn’t turn into a major repair. But by simply doing some basic maintenance, the inconvenience of being without A/C could have been completely avoided.
A couple of days later he flagged me down because his A/C quit working again. This time it was a simple condensate problem. I reminded him how important maintenance was and suggested he have one of our HVAC techs come over to take care of this problem, and a few others that were still threatening the operation of his system.
In all fairness to my neighbor, he’s not the first homeowner to neglect his HVAC equipment. Many of the problems our technicians see are often completely preventable. Air conditioners or heat pumps that sit in the heat, rain, and snow year after year are often thought of as bullet proof. But the fact is, under these conditions, premature and more frequent equipment failure is likely to happen when neglected. Without regular maintenance by a professional HVAC contractor, the units waste energy as they become less efficient and try to deliver the same demand for cooling and heating to your home. That’s one reason all manufacturers recommend yearly maintenance.
Professional maintenance varies in price. When choosing an HVAC company to perform a maintenance on your A/C or heat pump, make sure it is a maintenance you are purchasing and not just an “Inspection.” Inspections can be less expensive and usually just include a safety and operation check. Basic adjustments and cleaning are typically not included. A maintenance should include a basic outdoor coil cleaning. Replacing the filter is typically left up to the homeowner unless a maintenance was purchased that included a visit every three months to maintain the filter.
If your Air-Conditioner or Heat Pump have stopped blowing cold air into your home, here are a few things you can check yourself, prior to calling your HVAC Technician for service.
- Check the Filter. A clogged filter can cause your indoor coil to ice up and block air flow considerably. If your indoor coil is iced over, replace the filter with a clean one and turn off your A/C. Allow a few hours for the coil to completely thaw before turning on again.
- Check the Breaker. It may seem obvious but it’s a common reason for a service call. If you have an electric air-handler or electric furnace, often there is a breaker right on that unit in addition to the one at the electrical panel.
- Check Your Thermostat. Ensure the thermostat is in fact calling for air conditioning. If it is, turn your fan to “on” instead of “auto” and see if your ducts blow air out of them. (“Auto” setting will turn the fan on only when there is a call for heat or A/C, the “On” setting keeps the fan on indefinitely). Then visually check the outdoor unit to see and listen if anything is working. Even if you have to call for service these observations can be helpful to the tech coming out.
- If Nothing is Working…Turn the Unit Off. Trying to operate your equipment when something is broken and not delivering A/C or heat may cause more damage.
If you are not mechanically inclined or just unsure of what to do, don’t risk your safety. Call an HVAC company that you can trust. Once on site, most good companies have no problem discussing basic operation, annual maintenance requirements, and what to do in an emergency or when you’re A/C is out of service. Until then, keep cool!
Bruce Davis Jr.
Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.
Bruce Davis Jr. is a second generation plumber and HVAC technician. He earned his Commercial Plumbing License and later became N.A.T.E. Certified and E.P.A. Refrigerant Certified for HVAC service and repair for commercial and residential HVAC appliances. Bruce has years of experience as an HVAC Technician, Boiler Technician, and Plumber. He is now General Manager for the company he has been with his entire career and oversees the Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning business for Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.