Summers in the Decatur, Alabama area get downright muggy. This means that air conditioning is a must in both homes and offices. AC not only cools the air in buildings to a tolerable level, but it removes the excess humidity as well and improves the air quality.
However, everything with mechanical parts will need maintenance at some point. This includes your air conditioning system. Keeping your system well-maintained will help prevent breakdowns during the hottest part of the summer.
However, maintenance issues can still happen, and which issues AC units will most often face depends on the climate and typical weather in an area. In Decatur, clogged drain lines, dirty condenser coils, electrical issues, and low refrigerant are common issues. All can lead to the loss of air conditioning. In this article, we will discuss maintenance for these issues and others so that you can prevent problems in the future.
A Primer on AC
Before diving into the nuts and bolts of air conditioning maintenance and repair, it is important to know the basics about how most air conditioning works. The process is quite simple and boils down to several steps.
First, the thermostat in your home or office detects a rise in temperature over whichever point it has been set at. It then tells the air conditioner to turn on. This signal goes to the circuit board, which is usually in the furnace. The circuit board tells the blower motor, which is also in the furnace, and the condenser, which is inside the outdoor AC unit, to turn on.
Once this happens, the blower pulls the heat and humid air through the air ducts, and as this happens, that warm air flows over the evaporator coils that are usually above the furnace. These coils contain refrigerant that absorb the heat from the air, and they also make the humidity in the air cool and condense. A drain line near these coils collects this condensation and uses gravity to send it outside before it collects and causes water damage to your AC system.
The refrigerant in the coils then gets pumped outside to the AC condenser and into different coils. The AC unit blows outdoor air across these coils to remove the heat, and then the refrigerant gets pumped back into your home or building to repeat the process.
Common AC Issues in the Decatur Area and Beyond
As with anything that has mechanical parts, AC units can have mechanical issues. Some are easy to tackle, while others require professional maintenance and repair. There are a few common issues that strike AC units not only in the Decatur area, but beyond.
Condenser Drain Lines
It gets humid in Decatur during the warmer months. This means the condenser drainage line—a line of PVC pipe—often must work overtime to take the moisture from your AC unit out of your home. First, water collects on your AC unit and falls into a drain pan, which drains into the line and out of your home.
Unfortunately, this line can clog because water can pull down dust and other debris as it drips into the pan and then into the line. And if this happens, the potential for water damage and rust to your AC unit or to the floor surrounding your unit becomes a very real and scary possibility. A clogged line can even lead to mold or water damage to the foundation of your home, which would be an expensive repair.
If water pools around your AC unit, or if the drain pan has standing water in it, that’s a sure sign that the condenser line has clogged. A moldy, musty smell around your AC unit or a misshapen floor can also show that a clog is present.
Maintaining Your Drain Lines
You can reduce the chance of a clog by pouring a cup of bleach or vinegar down the drain line once per year, to eliminate any mold or mildew inside. Changing air filters every few months will also prevent dust from getting into your unit and dripping into your drain line.
If your line does clog, it may be possible to clear it yourself, if you’re comfortable. However, you’ll need a wet/dry vac and some duct tape.
Turning off your AC is the first step, and then you’ll need to find a vertical PVC pipe (which is typically white) that is closed off with a cap. Attach the hose to the end of the line, seal it off with duct tape if necessary, and run the vacuum for just a minute or two.
Calling The Pros
Sometimes clogs just don’t come out, or you don’t have the equipment to loosen them yourself. Here, you will need to have a professional come out to repair the matter. At Southeastern Mechanical Services, we have experience dealing with clogged drain lines in every AC system.
Condenser Coil Maintenance
Even in Decatur, there are months where you won’t need to turn on the air conditioning, but even during these months, the condenser coils on your unit can get dirty as they sit in the outdoor part of your unit.
To recap, condenser coils compress the refrigerant that just came out of your home into a liquid, which forces the refrigerant to release the heat collected from your home. Dust and outdoor debris can collect on your condenser coils, making them less effective in dispelling the heat and forcing your entire AC unit to work harder. Therefore, it’s important to have the coils cleaned once per year.
Maintaining Your Condenser Coils
You can take steps to keep your coils clean and working efficiently. Clearing the area around your outdoor AC unit of vegetation and other debris will help with air flow and heat exchange.
If you have a coil brush, you can use this to clean the coils in your outdoor unit, which look like a grid of metal bars (like what you would find in a refrigerator.) Typically, you will find dust and other debris attached to this grid, and this is what you will want to remove.
After brushing, you can wet the coils with a hose and apply condenser coil cleaner, which will collect any leftover debris. After letting it sit for several minutes, you can rinse it off. You’ll need protective gear for this step, as you’ll want to avoid any skin or eye contact with the cleaner.
A Professional Cleaning
Of course, not everyone wants to put on protective gear and do a deep cleaning or has the time to tackle such a chore. That’s why we’re here to help. If you want to schedule a professional cleaning, contact us and we’ll get you set up. You’ll keep your air conditioner running at peak efficiency during the hottest months of the Alabama summer.
Refrigerant: The Blood of Your AC Unit
Air conditioners work because of refrigerant, which circulates in and out of your home, carrying the heat to where it belongs: outdoors. Refrigerant also removes humidity by making the moisture in the air turn to condensation, which drains from your home via the drain line.
It is vital that refrigerant, or freon, stays where it belongs: in your evaporator coils and in your condenser coils. But sometimes leaks can happen, and refrigerant can run low or even run out altogether.
When this happens, cool air will stop circulating through your home, or not as efficiently as it did before. You may notice the air coming from your vents is not as cool as it was, or not cool at all. It is also possible that you will notice an icy buildup around your coils.
Making Sure That The Issue Is Refrigerant
By cleaning your condenser coils, changing your air filters often, and having inspections done on your AC unit, you can rule out other issues that can cause your AC unit to work less efficiently. Many other issues, such as dirty coils, can cause the air from your AC vents to come out less cool than they would otherwise.
Checking and Recharging Your Refrigerant
Checking and recharging the freon in your AC system is best left to the professionals, who have certifications to buy refrigerant and to repair the systems that contain it.
A professional can check your refrigerant levels with special gauges and charge (add) more refrigerant to your system if needed. The same pro can also look for and repair leaks in your system that caused the low levels. It’s important to note that it’s not normal for refrigerant levels to drop over time, and that decreased levels mean there is a leak somewhere.
Inspecting the Electrical Components
All AC units have several electrical components: the thermostat, the blower motor, the relay, the control panel, the fuse box, and so on. Any of these components can malfunction, and it’s important to know how to tell if something is amiss.
The thermostat begins the AC process by signaling the rest of the AC unit. From there, the control panel and relay turn on the motor to draw out hot air and blow cool air into your home or office. Outside, the AC compressor controls the flow of refrigerant through the system, and the outdoor fan helps to remove the heat from the condenser coils. An outdoor capacitor supplies electricity to these components.
When one electrical component in the chain fails, the rest of the system will as well. Knowing the likely issue will help you and your AC technician understand the issue quickly and get it fixed.
Something Isn’t Right: Identifying the Culprit
The last thing you need during a hot Decatur summer is to have your AC unit become unresponsive, or to have it blow only hot air back into your home. Sometimes, electrical components will give you signs before they fail, allowing time for repairs before the problem leads to failure and a higher repair cost.
Squealing, clunking, and other sounds such as rattling could come from a fan motor wearing out, inside your home or in your outdoor AC unit. Loose parts and worn fan belts can also make noise. These components will need repair before they do damage to your system.
The power supply to your AC system can also malfunction. This problem could manifest as your AC randomly turning on and off throughout the day or turning on frequently and staying on for short periods of time. This means your unit may not be getting enough power, requiring an immediate fix.
Thermostat issues can show up as temperatures in your home that don’t match the set temp on the thermostat. It’s possible that the AC unit might not turn on at all or take a long time to kick on.
An AC system that only blows warm air could have a bad capacitor, a bad compressor, or some other issue such as low refrigerant. With a bad capacitor, the outdoor fan may not turn on at all.
Professional Inspections and Repairs
Dealing with electrical components yourself isn’t recommended unless you have electrical experience. A professional AC tech has experience in inspecting and replacing any electrical parts that may cause issues with your AC system. Some electrical parts, such as bad capacitors, are simple fixes and relatively inexpensive. A replacement will get your air conditioner back up and running in no time.
Other fixes are more intensive and may involve replacing worn fan motors and belts. Perhaps your AC system needs a new control panel or the wiring in your outdoor unit is faulty.
Of course, having an annual inspection done on your AC will help to identify any components that are failing. A technician will examine every part of your system to ensure it’s in proper working order and will recommend any repairs or replacements. Because not every electrical component will give a sign before it malfunctions, annual inspections are important. Prevention always beats a cure.
Your Maintenance and Repair Needs in Decatur and Beyond
Here in the Decatur area, we understand how important it is to maintain your AC system and to keep it running smoothly for years to come. We are here year-round to keep you and your family cool and comfortable during the hottest parts of the year. For all your inspection, maintenance, and repair needs, contact us today.