Your air conditioner is one of those beautiful pieces of modern technology that just seems to melt into the background.  As long as it’s functioning, you barely notice it’s there — but when it breaks down, it’s a really big deal.  Breakdowns are common for air conditioners as they age, sometimes it’s easy to get your unit back up and running, other times it’s not so cut and dry.  If your unit is acting up, one of these top five reasons for your a/c to break may be to blame.

  1. Lack of Cleaning.  Your air conditioner works at its best when it’s clean.  When filters are clogged, vegetation grows up around the outside unit, or the condenser is full of dirt, it’s hard for the unit to function properly.  In fact, a very dirty air conditioner may even overheat, trip breakers and die.  

You can extend your unit’s lifespan by changing your filters once a month, or when they start to show discoloration.  Spend some time clearing away the brush and vegetation from around your unit once a week, especially in the growing season, and give your unit a bath with the hose several times during the summer.  You’ll be surprised how much better it will run and how much longer it’ll last if you simply take care of your air conditioner on a regular basis.

  1. Plugged Drain Line.  The condensation drain line of your air conditioner allows the moisture that comes out of the air to drain away from the unit.  When the line’s plugged with debris or algae, that water backs up into the air handler, making it hard for the system to continue functioning properly.

Luckily, drain lines are a piece of cake to keep clear.  Once you’ve got it cleaned out, make sure to run a cup or two of bleach water or vinegar through the line every couple of months to kill back the algae that loves to clog your condensation line and loosen the debris that tends to gather inside the line when the air conditioner isn’t in use.  

  1. Broken Thermostat. When your air conditioner works one day and fails to respond the next, the thermostat may be to blame.  Thermostats are basically complicated switches that turn the air conditioner on when the unit reaches a certain temperature and back off when that temperature drops acceptably.  Over time, even electronic thermostats can wear out, and need to be replaced.

Before you call the air conditioning experts, you should check your thermostat batteries and find reviews that can help you choose the best provider.  If you replace them and your unit still fails to respond, you can try to replace the thermostat if that’s something you’ve been planning, or just wait for expert help to arrive.

  1. Refrigerant Leaks.  If your air conditioner is still running, but the house isn’t cool, you may have a refrigerant leak.  Over time, the pipes and valves that are constantly compressing and releasing your refrigerant can develop tiny cracks that grow over time, letting this precious gas escape.  There’s not a lot a homeowner can do about it, but a trained A/C repairman will work hard to find the leak before they recharge your unit.

Air conditioners manufactured prior to January 2010 may contain a refrigerant known as R-22.  This refrigerant is no longer allowed in new air conditioning units due to its ozone-depleting characteristics, so instead of charging your unit, your repairman may recommend replacing it with a newer unit that runs on a safer refrigerant.  Depending on the age of your unit and its history of breakdown, you may be better off to get a new air conditioner rather than trying to salvage the old one.

  1. Old Age. Sadly, air conditioners don’t live as long as people, so the chance that you’ll replace yours at some point is high.  If it stops working at all, doesn’t blow cold air, or makes unsettling noises or smells, your air conditioner repairman may recommend replacement rather than repair.  Often repairs on older units are as expensive as purchasing a new model with a much higher efficiency rating.

When the summer sun’s beating down, we all hope that our air conditioners will continue to run without trouble.  With proper maintenance and regular filter and unit cleaning, your unit should give you many trouble-free years, but don’t hesitate to call an HVAC professional in if you suspect your problem is bigger than a dirty filter or a busted thermostat.


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