It almost seems common for air conditioners to break down and stop working, often at the most inconvenient times and during the longest stretches of extremely hot weather. A broken air conditioner can actually be incredibly dangerous, especially around older people who may not have recognized that the AC has even stopped working. Sitting inside a hot home with the windows closed and no source of fresh air is disaster waiting to happen. According to the National Weather Service in 2010 more people died from heat-related deaths, many of them preventable, than any other weather-related catastrophe.
That’s why it’s so vitally important to be vigilant during heat waves and make sure you own home air conditioner is running smoothly and as efficiently as it can. You can help your air conditioner keep up with the heat by closing blinds and not using heat-generating appliances. But when your home begins to get warmer as the day gets hotter and you suspect that your AC is broken then it’s time to jump into action.
Before you rush to the phone to call the air conditioner repair company you may first want to determine if your AC really is broken or if it’s working and just unable to keep up with the extreme heat and humidity. Here’s how you can tell if it’s working or not working:
Your AC air temp should ideally be below 68 degrees.
Is Your AC Turned On?
Yes, it sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often people accidentally turn off their own air conditioner.
Check Your Thermostat: First, you’re going to want to make sure your AC is turned on at the thermostat. It’s going to need to be warm enough in your home for the AC to come on, so make sure your house is warm and then turn down the thermostat to the lowest setting, which is usually 65 degrees. If you have a manual thermostat then you probably just have an AC switch and a fan switch. The AC should be set to on and the Fan switch should be set to Auto in most cases. If you have an electronic or digital thermostat then you’re going to want to make sure you know how to use it and it is working properly. You’ll want to be sure the display is working and there are no error codes. Sometimes as simple as an old set of batteries can prevent your digital thermostat from turning on the AC in your home.
Check Your Power: You can have power to the thermostat but not the air conditioner unit itself, so check your breakers or at least go around the house looking for any other power failures. A central air conditioner should be install on its own electrical circuit, but if anything else doesn’t have power in the house there could be a larger problem. You’ll want to call a repairman or electrician. It’s not safe to work with electricity unless you know what you are doing.
Air Conditioner Testing
If you’re sure that the thermostat is operating and you know how to use it then it time to see if your air conditioner is actually working or not. Here are some ways you can test your AC:
Check Your Air Flow: Next you want to make sure your fan is blowing as it should be. Your air conditioner could actually be creating cool air but the fan may not be pushing the air out. At the thermostat turn the Fan to “ON” so that it should blow all the time. You should hear the fan turn on almost immediately. Walk around your house testing the air flow at each vent by putting your hand up to it. You want to test the vents that blow air out, not the intake vents. Intake vents are usually larger and sometimes located high on the wall. Vents that blow out cool air are often located on the floor or low down on the wall. If you’re unsure about how much air is coming out of your vents you can hold a small pin wheel or a tissue in front of the vent as an approximate gauge of air speed. The faster the pin wheel spins or tissue flutters, the stronger your air flow. If you have no air coming out of one of more of your vents then it could be blocked or your blower may not be working as it should.
In that case you’ll want to first check the filter. The single most common cause for an air conditioner to not work properly is a dirty filter. Learning how to change an air conditioner filter is easy and only takes about a minute in most cases. How do you know if the air filter needs to be replaced? Just compare it to a new filter and if you see a thick coating of grime and dust then you probably need to replace it. Likewise, if your filter has been used for more then three or four months then it almost certainly should be placed to help your AC run better.
Check Your Outside Condenser Fan: If it’s warm in your home and the thermostat is set to 65 degrees then in a few minutes the fan in the large AC condenser outside your home should turn on and begin spinning. If it doesn’t then you should take a look at our Air Conditioner Troubleshooting Guide.
Check Your Air Temperature: This is actually a lot easier than you think. All you need is a cheap digital thermometer or a non-contact thermometers. The air temperature coming out of the vents of your air conditioner should be at least 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the temperature in your house. If the air is not coming out cool then your AC fan may be working, but some other cooling component could be broken or your air conditioner could need charging.
If you determine that your AC is not working as it should be and you are unable to fix the problem on your own then call your local HVAC technician immediately. Of course, the best way to prevent your AC from breaking down is to properly maintain your air conditioner in the first place. Proper maintenance will not only lessen your chances of a break down but it will also save you the expense of costly emergency repairs.
Again, extreme heat can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. You may need to make several calls to find a technician who can help you in a timely manner. You may also want to consider calling your electric company to see if they have any sort of special programs or maintenance specials that you can take advantage of. You don’t want to be stuck in a house on a hot summer day when your air conditioner is not working.