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Is Your Air Conditioner Compressor Sending Out an SOS?

In order to recognize when your air conditioning system is failing, it helps to have a basic understanding of how the unit functions. The air conditioner compressor and condenser are both housed in the outdoor unit of your HVAC system which uses a refrigerant in the cooling process. Refrigerant is a low-pressure gas – freon in this case. The air conditioning compressor pressurizes the refrigerant and turns it into a high-pressure, high-temperature gas which is then pushed through the condenser. In turn, the condenser turns the refrigerant into a cool liquid which is pushed through the evaporator coils where it is turned into a cool gas. This cool gas is what is pushed out into the air-conditioned space. The cycle continuously repeats itself to cool your home.

Here are some symptoms you should take note of:

Strange noises coming from the outdoor unit when it is operating are an indicator of a problem. While screeching noises could be a slipped belt, squealing, grinding, or grating should be concerning. A word to the wise – these noises won’t go away “next time” the unit kicks on. They mean it is time to call an HVAC professional.

Noises that don’t make you jump, like clicking or rattling, may indicate that the compressor motor mounts have failed and the motor is moving about inside the unit.

Hard starts are when the outdoor condenser unit shakes fairly violently every time it turns on. Shuttering and vibrating are not supposed to happen. Depending on whether or not you have an outdoor sitting area near the AC unit, you may be given a heads up that it is time for a maintenance call if you notice it becoming noisier over time.

Short cycling or turning on and off several times in an hour could indicate anything from a clogged air filter to low refrigerant levels.

Compressor isn’t turning on even though the indoor fan is working…before you assume compressor failure, check the thermostat and see if turning it down prompts the unit to turn on.

Circuit breaker tripping regularly is a sign that the compressor is working too hard or is malfunctioning and trying to draw too much power. The purpose of circuit breakers is to protect your home from fire hazards. The circuit breaker is doing its job by refusing to supply power to the AC unit. Reset it once or twice but then call in an HVAC professional, especially if you notice the breaker is hot.

No cool air blowing through the vents could be due to a clogged air filter or drain line so check those possibilities first. It could also be due to clogged ductwork or low levels of refrigerant due to a leak, either of which would mean it is time to call in the professionals.

Diminished airflow is an early sign of a compressor issue. You may hear the AC running but don’t feel strong airflow through the vents.

Odors coming from the vents can be troubling. A musty smell is usually an indication of mold or mildew in the unit or ductwork. An electrical or metal burning smell could be an issue with wire insulation and means it is time to immediately turn off the unit and call an HVAC professional.

Moisture around the outside unit could indicate that a drain line is blocked or broken. If the moisture doesn’t appear to be water, it could be refrigerant which poses a health risk to you – call the professionals.

Electric bill that fluctuates higher than expected can indicate a failing compressor that is causing the unit to run longer than it should need to for the amount of air conditioning you are intending to use.

Copper line running to the condenser feeling warm is an indication of a lack of refrigerant or a compressor failure. If a layer of frost or ice is on the lines, it can be indicative of a blockage in the supply duct or not enough refrigerant.

There are many other causes of compressor failure, some quite preventable. Refrigerant flood back can occur when the liquid phase refrigerant doesn’t completely change back to a gas as it travels through the evaporator coils. This can cause damage to the compressor. Dirty coils cause the unit to run constantly in order to do its job which can cause the unit to overheat and fail. Blocked refrigerant lines will reduce the unit’s ability to effectively cool your home and can cause a compressor to burn out. Low refrigerant levels will cause the compressor to work harder as it tries to pump refrigerant through the system. This strain can also cause eventual failure.

Proactive maintenance can stop problems before they start so schedule HVAC system checkups seasonally to avoid costly failures. But even with regular service, HVAC units will age – don’t ignore the symptoms of a failing compressor! Rule out a faulty thermostat or a clogged filter and then contact the experts at GV’s Heating and Cooling.