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Diagnose & fix ice or frost blockage of the cooling coil or evaporator coil in an air conditioning / heat pump system. We explain the causes of cooling coil ice formation and blockage. Some of these causes can be repaired by something as simple as changing a dirty air filter or cleaning a dirty coil or blower fan.
We discuss simple checks you can make that may avoid a costly service call if your air conditioner is not working. . This article forms part of our series on 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 temperaturer, or an air conditioner that won't start.
Air Conditioner Cooling Coil Icing Problems & Coil Leaks
Cooling Coil Ice-Up on the air conditioner air handler or evaporator coil: A second result of the reduced air flow due to a dirty air conditioning filter can cause
the evaporator coil (the cooling coil) in the
air handler to become blocked by ice, stopping or significantly reducing cool air output from the system.
A visual inspection
of the cooling coil in the air handler can quickly show whether or not it's ice-covered. If the coil is iced-up and blocked,
turn off the cooling system entirely until the ice has all evaporated and cleared. Be sure that your condensate drain is
not blocked and that the water from melting ice will be properly disposed-of.
If you replace all dirty filters on the
system and remove ice from an iced coil and the coil ices up again when the system is turned back on, you may have the next
condition in this list.
Cooling Coil (Evaporator Coil) Leaks, Condensing Coil Leaks: if your A/C system used to work fine but now is blowing only warm air, it is possible that you have lost refrigerant in the system. A refrigerant leak can occur anywhere in the refrigerant piping system, in the cooling coil, or in the condensing coil.
You'll need an HVAC technician to find and repair the leak problem. If the leak is in a refrigerant line it can usually be soldered and sealed and the system re-charged. If the leak is in a cooling coil or condensing coil, the coil probably needs to be replaced.
We explain this topic in more detail below at Air Conditioner Refrigerant Problems - Refrigerant Leaks, Low Refrigerant, Wrong Temperatures.
Watch out: something as simple as a blocked or dirty air filter or dirty cooling coil can lead to frost build-up on the cooling coil. That's because the reduced airflow over the cooling coil may permit it to run colder than normal.
Clogged Air Conditioner filters can lead to lost cooling capacity first, because the clogged filter reduces the air flow
through the system, meaning that you'll feel less air flow at the supply registers than was previously present, and second because the low air flow may lead to partial or completed frost blockage of the cooling or evaporator coil in the air handler.
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My Air Conditioner won't turn off - what to do?
Carla said: My outside air unit will not turn off on its own. I have to manually turn the breaker off to turn it off. Does anyone know why or how I can fix it?
Carla if your A/C won't turn off it could be that the thermostat is set to a temperature that the system cannot reach - due to lost cooling or due to a setting below the capability of the system. If your A/C won't turn off even if you set the thermostat to a temperature that is above the current room temp, then the thermostat or an A/C control board or switch is bad and needs replacement - in that case you need a service call from a trained HVAC Technician. See OPERATING TEMPERATURES HVAC and also CONTROLS & SWITCHES, A/C - HEAT PUMP
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. See HARD STARTING COMPRESSOR MOTORS
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.
Question: Why is my A/C not producing enough cool air?
A/C not producing enough cool air - I had my air conditioning system gassed up last week - $210. ! The unit is not producing enough cold air. The unit is set on 72 and does great at nights but during the day where the temp. outside is reaching mid 90"s it's getting up to 80 in the house. Is my duct work screwed up? How do you repair trailer metal ducting? - Amanda
90 degrees outside and 83 inside with thermometer at 76. Cools off to 76 when sun starts to go down and house then gets cold. New capacitor and condensor just put in. Help. - Ginny 5/17/12
Amanda: if your system is not cooling there could be any of a number of problems - see the article above as a place to start. If your basic complaint is that the A/C temperature at the supply registers is cool enough but the volume of air flow is too weak, we'd start by:
Install a new clean air filter
Check that the air supply registers are open
Check that ductwork has not become disconnected or crimped or crushed
Weak air conditioner air flow - is there a relationship between refrigerant charge level and weak cool air flow rate?
Les said: Weak air conditioner air flow: Our A/C was serviced two months ago and the repairman said it had a leak. $400 later it was recharged with coolant and now the ac is doing the same thing. Very little pressure coming out of vents and no cold air coming out. Does anyone know what I can do for the weekend? It is stifling!!!! See A/C Air Duct Problems
DanJoeFriedman (mod) said:
Les: A leak that was fixed by a re-charge is not as good a repair as a leak that was fixed by finding and fixing the leak - you'll just have to keep adding refrigerant.
But weak air flow out of the vents would not be due to a refrigerant leak; more likely a clogged filter or crushed or disconnected ductwork, or a blower fan problem.
Weak air Flow traced to Clogged Air Filters: Can Clogged Air Filters Affect the Room Thermostat?
(May 13, 2011) Jim said: If air conditioner filters are clogged will it cause the thermostat to shut off?
Jim: clogged A/C filters won't cause a room thermostat to shut off. The thermostat responds to room temperature. However clogged A/C filters that reduce air flow, cause coil frosting, or otherwise reduce or stop the flow of cool air into the room where the thermostat is located would mean that the thermostat would remain "un-satisfied" and should mean that the thermostat says "on" - continuing to call for cooling. See AIR FILTERS for HVAC SYSTEMS
Air Filters & Cooling System Amperage Draw: Could Removing the Air Filters Cause the Electric Motor in the Air Handler to Draw Higher Amps?
Question: got one for you. i put an ammeter on my air handler and it read 8.25 amps, I removed the filters and it went up to 9.75 lmao at the situation the amperage should have gone down. what gives here
Reply: causes of variations in electric motor efficiency and current draw measured in amps
Lost: this amps variation is beyond my expertise, but in general reducing the load on an electric motor will show up as lower amps or current draw, not higher amps. Here are two interesting explanations of amps or current variations on an electric motor that I found when researching the question:
1. Voltage variations and current draw at electric motors: If your supply voltage is varying from your power company that can show up as higher amps draw on the motor (though it's a suspicious coincidence to see it exactly when you removed the filters and supposedly reduced the load on the motor). Quoting from motorsanddrives [dot] com: "The effect of low voltage on electric motors is pretty widely known and ... The amount of power the motor draws is roughly related to the voltage times current (amps). Thus, when voltage gets low, the current must get higher to provide the same ... To summarize the situation, low voltage can cause high currents"
2. Load variations and electric motor efficiency: A second possible source of seeing higher amps or current draw on your blower motor when you pulled out the air filters and thus reduced the load on the blower motor might be illuminated by this U.S. DOE pamphlet "Determining Electric Motor Load and Efficiency" - Quoting: "Most electric motors are designed to run at 50% to 100% of rated load. Maximum efficiency is
usually near 75% of rated load. Thus, a 10-horsepower (hp) motor has an acceptable load range of
5 to 10 hp; peak efficiency is at 7.5 hp. A motor’s efficiency tends to decrease dramatically below
about 50% load."
Question: what causes warm suction lines in an air conditioner or heat pump system? Warm A/C suction line (should be cold) and zone control dampers that stopped working
JMONTE said: warm A/C suction line question: After my condenser is turned on for about 4 minutes the suction line starts to get warm to the touch. can you tell me what the problem may be
If the HVAC suction line gets warm, you may be out of refrigerant, or the system may be running in heating mode if it's a heat pump. See OPERATING TEMPERATURES HVAC.
Becky, If a motorized HVAC zone control damper is not opening or closing, most likely the motor has failed, or the thermostat that operates that zone control is off or set in an incorrect position. See ZONE DAMPER CONTROLS
Becky said: motorized air conditioning zone dampers not working
My house has "zone" control with dampeners to close off the upstairs over the garage room unless that thermostat is on - the room is not cooling. I have located the damper under the house. What are some causes for the damper not opening and how to repair them? condensation, motor to damper? silicon glued properly?
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Questions & answers or comments about air conditioner system diagnosis & repair
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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]