A/C Problems & Causes

TAGS: HomeownershipHome MaintenanceTexas Living
A/C Problems & Causes
Article Excerpt

What's that sound? What causes an A/C to lose cool air? Check out the most common home A/C problems, what caused them, and if you can diagnose it yourself.

Texas helped to make air conditioning history back in 1928, when the Milam Building in San Antonio became the first high-rise building in the world with A/C on every floor. Nearly a century later, the summer of 2023 has brought a record-setting heat wave, with temperatures in many parts of the state repeatedly climbing above 100 degrees for large parts of the day.

The best time to do preventive maintenance on your A/C, of course, is before the weather gets too hot. Many A/C repair companies offer service plans that provide routine maintenance and certain types of service calls for a monthly or annual fee. This could range from $20-50 per month or $200-500 per year for many companies.

The following are some of the most common A/C problems homeowners might experience, along with possible causes and cost estimates for repairs or maintenance.

The A/C won’t turn on at all.

While this is perhaps one of the most harrowing A/C problems a homeowner can experience, it might have one of the simplest fixes:

  • Check to see if a breaker has tripped. A/C systems use a large amount of power, so they are usually on their own circuit. The condenser, located somewhere outside the house, might have its own switch located close to the unit. Check that first, then check the main breaker box to see if anything has tripped. Hopefully, you can reset a breaker and everything will go back to normal.

  • If your thermostat runs on batteries, check to see if you need to replace them.

  • If the A/C still isn’t working, you should call an A/C repair company. There’s no way to say for sure how much this will cost. It could be a quick fix, or something much more serious.

air conditioner diagram

The A/C keeps turning on and off.

Sometimes, an A/C system will turn on and off more often than is necessary. This process, known as “short cycling,” often indicates that you have a dirty filter or a clog somewhere in the system:

  • Start by replacing the filter.

  • Clearlogs from the drain line. Pour vinegar into the end of the drain line at the compressor, which is the part of the system located inside the house.

  • If a clog has already formed, you may need to call a professional. This is often a simple fix that might only cost the minimum amount for a service call.

The A/C won’t blow cool air.

An A/C unit that blows warm air in the middle of summer might be worse than having no A/C at all. This could be a sign of a dirty filter, or it could be a more serious problem. If changing the filter doesn’t solve the problem, it could be a dirty evaporator coil or low refrigerant levels. Either requires a professional service call.

The A/C won’t stop blowing cool air.

You don’t want the A/C to run all the time. For one thing, that will drive your electricity bill through the roof. It could also put too much strain on the system, leading to long-term problems.

The simplest solution is to raise the temperature a few degrees on the thermostat. That should get the system to turn off once it realizes the temperature is lower than the thermostat setting. If that doesn’t work, you need to call a repair company. It could be an electrical problem that requires professional attention. It’s impossible to estimate how much this will cost since there are so many possible causes.


Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels

The A/C is leaking.

If you see water leaking from the compressor inside your home, or if the condenser outside is leaking other liquids, you should call a repair company. Water inside your home is usually a sign of a clogged drain line. Leaks from the condenser could mean you are losing refrigerant. In that case, you’ll notice the A/C blowing air, but it won’t be cold. Both require a professional, who will probably need a few hours to diagnose and fix the problem.

The A/C is making abnormal noises.

A/C systems have a standard set of noises that they are supposed to make. They consist of various “whirring” sounds. Anything beyond that could be a sign that something is wrong. Grinding sounds aren’t normal. It could be a mechanical problem, such as wear or damage to the belt, fan, or motor. A hissing sound could indicate a leak. A buzzing or clicking sound could be the result of an electrical problem. If you can locate the source of the sound, this will be helpful as you explain what’s going on to a repair company.

fan on AC unit

The A/C smells weird.

An A/C system isn’t supposed to smell like anything in particular. Odors coming from an air vent or the compressor could be an easy fix or a sign of bigger issues:

  • A stale, musty, or mildew smell could be a dirty filter, which you can handle. It could also be the result of a clogged or leaky drain line.

  • An electrical odor, such as the smell of burning plastic, could be an emergency. You might have a short circuit, which could quickly become a fire hazard. Turn your entire system off right away and call a professional immediately.

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