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Short on-off cycling of air conditioner or heat pump compressor/condenser unit diagnosis: what causes the A/C or heat pump fan condenser unit to keep cycling on and off rapidly and how do we fix it? Here we explain the common causes of compressor unit short cycling.
This article series explains how to diagnose an air conditioner or heat pump that is not cooling: this article explains
how to diagnose and correct air conditioning problems like lost or reduced air conditioner cooling capacity, reduced or no cool air flow, reduced or no actual lowering of the air temperature, or an air conditioner that won't start.
Air Conditioner or Heat Pump Short Cycling Diagnosis
Reader Question: My Air Conditioner (or heat pump) keeps cycling on and off too rapidly - what might be wrong? short A/C on-cycle problems
Joe said: short cycling air conditioner compressor diagnosis: I have the same problem as Mathew: my A/C compressor cycles on and of every ~10 seconds. I is about 5yr old. What can we do to fix this system. Please help. Thanks!
Matthew said: short cycling air conditioner problems: Our air conditioning compressor cycles on and of every few seconds or minutes. What can we do to fix this systems not even a year old
Five causes of a home air conditioner compressor short cycling on and off too rapidly - Short Cycling Air Conditioner Diagnosis & Repair
DanJoeFriedman (mod) said to Joe and Matthew (re questions just above):
Loss of air conditioner refrigerant - a refrigerant leak in the system. You may be able to repair the short cycling problem temporarily by recharging the air conditioning system but the proper repair is to find and fix the leak. Otherwise you will have to keep repeating the costly service call to just add refrigerant. See REFRIGERANT LEAK DETECTION.
A/C Coil Icing - the evaporator coil (cooling coil) is iced over (such as due to improper refrigerant charge or dirt or a reduced air flow due to a dirty filter) - take a look in the air handler to see if the coil is blocked by ice or dirt.See FROST BUILD-UP on AIR CONDITIONER COILS
Oversized air conditioner - if the short cycling has always been a problem since the day the system was installed, there is a good chance that the unit is too big (too many BTUS) for the space being cooled. A more subtle version of this same problem is that you've done something like closing doors or adding a partition that had the effect of reducing the size of the space being cooled. Sometimes we can mitigate this problem by running the blower fan at a lower speed or by opening interior doors to increase the size of the space being cooled or even by moving the thermostat. See AIR CONDITIONER BTU CHART and OPERATING TEMPERATURES HVAC
A/C control problem - it's less likely, but a damaged control board or switch could also be causing rapid equipment on-[off cycling.
Compressor damage or compressor start-troubles: - I've seen these other causes of air conditioner short cycling: if someone manually turns the air conditioner thermostat up and down or on and off too frequently, a hard-starting compressor may find that it has been shut down with high internal head pressure inside the compressor. Normally that head pressure bleeds off over time, making it easier for the compressor to re-start (against low head pressure) the next time it turns on.
Bad thermocouple or dirty thermistor on gas fired equipment: Short cycling or unexplained on-off cycling of heating equipment has also been traced (by one reader) to a dirty or failing thermocouple (possibly the reader meant a dirty thermistor).
Or see THERMOCOUPLES
This condition was reported in the FAQs by a reader commenting at HEAT ANTICIPATOR Adjustment
But if someone is turning the system on and off quickly, the compressor may have a hard time re-starting against the pressure on its outlet side. A starter capacitor addition or replacement might fix the problem. If your A/C compressor is showing this symptom but works OK if you leave it shut off for 30 minutes or longer, that may be the trouble.
We have also see or a damaged compressor internal refrigerant valve causing high head pressures;
In sum, you need a service call from a professional to correctly diagnose and repair the problem. Ask the service tech what she/he found and let us know - what you find will help other readers.
What about a compressor that stays on too long instead of too short a time?
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Timothy Hemm, Yucala, CA, contributed photographs of electrical wiring and equipment installed in California buildings. Mr. Hemm can be contacted at TimHemm@yahoo.com
A/C - HEAT PUMP CONTROLS & SWITCHES: air conditioner controls and switches - begin here if your A/C won't start. Here's an important tip: most refrigeration problems, in air conditioners, refrigerators, or freezers, are electrical, not mechanical. In air conditioning school, we used to drive out and collect abandoned refrigerators that people were tossing out during our community's spring cleanup week. Taking these appliances back into the shop we found that almost always the problem that had caused the owner to dispose of their air conditioner or freezer was in an electrical connection or electrical control. So it's worth checking out switches and controls on an air conditioner before replacing more costly components.
OPERATING DEFECTS: major air conditioning problem symptoms and how to get the air conditioning system working again,e.g. compressor or fan noises, failure to start, and inadequate cool air volume
A/C DIAGNOSTIC FAQs: air conditioning system diagnostic FAQs: Q&A about air conditioner repair - a detailed air conditioning system diagnostic checklist
Thanks to reader and research scientist Cyril Roberts, Barbados, for technical discussion and investigation of air conditioning system dehumidification problems (April 2009).
Thanks to readers Beth & Dennis for asking about how to improve an inadequate air conditioning system supplying cool air through crawl space ducts and floor registers. (May 2010).
Thanks to reader William Smith for discussing cooling coil leaks and lost cooling capacity diagnosis - June 2010
Thanks to reader Jacob Behrends, FL for discussing how a clogged condensate drain line can overflow condensate into a condensate pan that in turn may contain a safety switch that shuts down the whole air conditioning system. August 2010.
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Determining Electric Motor Load and Efficiency, U.S. Department of Energy, web search 08/01/2011, original source: http://www.p2pays.org/ref/40/39569.pdf [copy on file at InspectAPedia.com]
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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"Air Conditioning & Refrigeration I & II", BOCES Education, Warren Hilliard (instructor), Poughkeepsie, New York, May - July 1982, [classroom notes from air conditioning and refrigeration maintenance and repair course attended by the website author]