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A Dallas Best Pick’s Guide to Common A/C ProblemsMay 10th, 2012 by
This article was crafted with the help of Total Air & Heat Co.
Dallas/Ft. Worth is a hot town, and it’s not just because it’s listed among Businessweek’s “50 Best Cities in America.” In 2011 alone, Dallas had 39 days of 100+ degree temperatures. Dallas homeowners rely on their A/C systems to tame the weather in the Lone Star State, but heavy usage without a little tender loving care can lead to some serious problems.
Common A/C Problems
According to Steve Lauten, owner of Total Air & Heat, a family-owned air conditioning and heating company that has been serving the Dallas/Ft. Worth area since 1957, there are about five A/C complaints that commonly show up in the company’s service requests.
“The main call we get is that the system is not cooling well,” Steve reports. “It can’t maintain the temperature in the house.” Often, this can be blamed on the level of refrigerant being low.
Other problems include the system:
- Leaking water
- Tripping the electrical circuit breaker
- Not cooling at all
- Producing unusually high energy bills
Steve notes additional A/C problems that often start with small warning signs homeowners should heed:
- The easiest way to tell there may be a repair coming up is if you notice that the air conditioner runs and never shuts off. If it never gets to the temperature you’ve got the thermostat set for—assuming that you’re setting your thermostat at a reasonable temperature—you may need to call a professional.
- If the air inside the house feels sticky or damp, that’s an indication that the system’s not getting the relative humidity in the house down enough.
- If your air conditioner trips the circuit breakers and it runs fine after being reset but then trips the breaker again, that’s a sign of something wrong. The system needs to be examined by a professional.
In most cases, Steve points to the lack of maintenance as the root cause of A/C problems. “A typical air conditioning system in our area runs enough hours in one year to be equivalent to a car that drives 75,000 miles,” Steve explains. “Would you drive your car 75,000 miles without service?”
Changing your filters is one of a number of routine maintenance tasks that homeowners can complete on their own and that can go a long way toward preventing system breakdowns.
“In many cases, when we get ‘no cooling’ service calls, we get out there and find that the air filter is so clogged up that it’s caused the system to shut down,” Steve says. How often a filter should be changed depends a lot on the type of filter that’s recommended for the system. Inexpensive fiber filters costing fifty cents to a dollar should be changed monthly, while pleated filters are typically good for 60 to 90 days. A/C systems with built-in air cleaners usually require four- to six-inch media cartridges, which Steve says “typically run in the vicinity of $30 to $50, but you only change them once or twice a year.”
But as Steve points out, keeping up with filter maintenance makes health sense as well as home sense. “Whatever dirt in the air the filter doesn’t catch ends up in the A/C system. The best air filter in your house is the human lung. You’d like to breathe air into your body that has fewer pollutants in it. Putting in a good-quality air filter makes sense.”
A Word about Cleaning
Washing off the outdoor section of the unit is crucial. If the outside coil is dirty, it can’t release heat as easily, which sets up conditions for a system failure—not an appealing thought as the summer heat closes in.
When cleaning the outside unit, Steve suggests the following steps:
- Turn off the power to the system at the circuit breaker (an important safety precaution).
- Use a garden hose with a low water pressure to thoroughly rinse down the unit, being careful about the fins on the coils. Steve suggests using a hose without a nozzle on it and spraying water through the condenser coil at least once a year — twice a year if you have a heat pump system.
Other Methods to Maintain Clean Air
The A/C system in the home doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Many times there are other areas of the home where problems can be addressed that will result in a longer life and better efficiency for your cooling system.
Air ducts that aren’t sealed well can affect air quality and cause the A/C system to lose up to 30 percent of its cooling capacity. Leaking ducts can also account for extra indoor humidity, which also makes the system work harder.
“What we really recommend is for homeowners to have an air conditioning and heating professional look at their duct system, determine where it leaks, and seal that up,” Steve says. “Also, they should make sure the duct system is sized big enough for it to work properly. That’s going to help them during the summer and winter, and it’s going to do a good job of dehumidification in the summer.”
Taking care of your ductwork goes a long way: “One hundred percent of the time, rectifying shortcomings in the ducts is going to extend the life of the system, because it does not have to work as hard. It’s going to lower your utility bills dramatically, and you’re going to be more comfortable.”
Energy-Efficient Windows & Insulation
- Single-pane glass is a lot less energy efficient than double-paned glass. Fixing gaps around the windows and doors where they don’t seal well is very, very important.
- According to Steve, the most important thing is going to be how much attic insulation the house has. Many 10- to 20-year-old homes were insulated when they were built with R-11, but the federal government now says that homes ought to have a minimum R-40 or R-45 insulation. An investment in additional insulation in an older house will pay large dividends.
Overall, Steve emphasizes that the life and efficiency of a residential cooling system rests in the hands of a proactive homeowner. “It’s clearly stated in all owners’ manuals of air conditioning systems that routine maintenance is required.” By taking care of small maintenance matters on a regular schedule and looking out for the warning signs that indicate a need for professional help, a homeowner can look forward to an A/C system that reliably provides a cool, comfortable atmosphere for many years.
This article was crafted with the help of Total Air & Heat Co., a Dallas expert in Air Conditioning & Heating. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.