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5 Common Reasons Your Air Conditioning Fails

cartoon of polar bear tech next to air conditioner


There’s nothing quite like waking up in the middle of a sweltering hot and humid night to find out that your air conditioner is on the fritz, or worse yet — has stopped working entirely. Not only can this make for exceptionally uncomfortable temperatures inside your home, but it can also be a health concern for seniors, young babies, and even pets. 

When it comes to a failed air conditioning system, there are hundreds of potential causes, but here are the top five that we find:

  • Faulty electrical component/wiring
  • Clogged condensate lines
  • Dirty evaporator coil/air filter
  • Refrigerant leaks
  • Broken thermostat

Let’s take a closer look at these reasons your air conditioning can fail and some potential solutions for addressing them. 

Faulty Wiring

1. Faulty Electrical Component or Wiring

Faulty wiring in the thermostat, A/C unit, or even your house can be responsible for these devices not working. A/C units require a lot of power, especially during startup, and if your home’s wiring has a fault, it’s likely overloading the circuit and shorting the most vulnerable components of the air conditioning system. Diagnosing your home’s electrical wiring on your own is a bad idea. These lines carry fatal voltage levels, and working on live wires is unsafe even for electricians wearing special clothing to protect against electrical arcs.

Solution: If you need to reset the circuit breaker, be sure to wait at least 15 minutes to allow the compressor to cool down before turning it back on. If it continues to trip, then it’s time to call on a professional for help. Our technicians can help diagnose the problem and inspect related issues, such as the pressure limit switch.

Clogged Lines

2. Clogged Lines

Can you say Zoogloea? This may be a new word added to your vocabulary today! Zoogloea is a type of bacteria that is commonly found growing at rapid rates in many air conditioning drain lines… think of the Swamp Monster from Goosebumps!

Okay, it’s not that bad. However, blocked drains are certainly the number one problem we come across here in the tropical climate of the Cayman Islands. Clogged AC condensate lines result from improperly designed drain pipes, absence of Ultra Violet (UV) lights to destroy microbes, and, most importantly, lack of regular air conditioner maintenance. 

Solution: While you can clean your air conditioner’s condensate drain line yourself, there are many very important things to know beforehand. For example, after clearing the line, the drain trap must be reset to prevent humid outdoor air from being sucked into the air handler through the drain pipe. If you are having ongoing issues and you cannot figure out why your AC drain line keeps clogging, it may be best to have a professional assess the entire system and sign up for a reliable air conditioning maintenance plan. Another solution to clogged A/C condensate lines could be redesigning the drain system to ensure sufficient slope and proper sizing of the pipe. Lastly, by installing UV lights we can deactivate any microbes before they start to grow on the air handler coil or drain pan. These two components tie directly into the drain line and, if they have Zoogloea, drain blockages become more likely downstream in the drain line. 

Dirty Coils

3. Dirty Evaporator Coils/Air Filters

It is at the air handler evaporator coil where all the action happens. This critical component absorbs heat and removes moisture from the return air, resulting in cold and crisp air supplied to the conditioned space. However, after some time and hundreds of tons of air passing through the coil fins, dust, grime, and mineral deposits from the salty ocean air build up on the evaporator coil. When the air handler coil is covered, it doesn’t effectively absorb heat from the air, forcing it to run harder to cool your home. This increased pressure can overwork the air handler blower motor, the outdoor compressor, or the outdoor condenser fan motor and cause any of these critical and costly components to fail. Not to mention the increase in your energy bill at the end of each month! The same effect can be caused by dirty air filters because they can obstruct airflow if not changed at least every 3 months. Many homeowners are unaware of the impact of clogged air filters on the operation of their air conditioning system and monthly energy bill.

Solution:  Regularly changing air filters is the first line of defense against dust and dirt buildup on A/C evaporator coils. If you haven’t had regular service on your system over its lifespan, and you suspect it might already be dirty, there are a number of solutions to consider. A thorough in-place cleaning may do the trick. This involves using a small mobile pressure washer to clean the sludge out from between the coil fins. The correct cleaning solution must be used as some acidic cleaners can eat away at the coil and cause an even bigger problem. Special tools are needed to reach the nooks and crannies of the coil. If the sludge buildup is advanced, it may be best to completely remove the coil so that it can be taken outside and cleaned even better. This takes much more time and is more expensive. Lastly, installing UV lights help to prevent the growth of microbes on the evaporator coil. This is a great option because it is like having a tiny AC technician cleaning the coil and air handler 24/7!

Refrigerant Leaks

4. Refrigerant Leaks

As you can probably imagine, refrigerant is an essential part of any air conditioning system. Over time, the components that hold refrigerant can corrode and slowly leak. These refrigerant leaks can occur in the evaporator coil, condenser coil, filter drier, and at joints in the refrigeration system. There are also some occasions where leaks occur from poor manufacturer welds at joints. A specific type of corrosion that is common near coastal areas is called formicary corrosion. This is where very tiny organic acids from the air collect primarily on evaporator coils and create pinhole-sized leaks by eating away at the system. These are believed to be most common in very airtight homes that have little introduction of fresh air because there are many household items that release, or offgas, these organic acids — cleaning products, candles, paints, carpets, cooking fumes, drywall, wood floors, etc. In airtight homes, these compounds are highly concentrated and are more likely to cause leaks in the air conditioning refrigeration system. 

Solution: There aren’t always preventative measures to avoid all types of refrigerant leaks, however, there are things you can do as it specifically relates to formicary corrosion. The introduction of fresh air using an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) can help to reduce the levels of organic acids in the home. Another more budget friendly option is to install an oxidizing device that breaks down these organic acids. Introducing fresh air not only benefits the air conditioning system but also has proven positive health effects. Limiting the number of chemicals and gases (including organic acids) floating around in the air in your home is shown to ease various medical symptoms including dizziness, headaches, nausea, blurred vision, lethargy, memory lapse, and lung problems. 

Broken Thermostat

5. Broken Thermostat

Sometimes the A/C equipment is working just fine — the problem is actually in the thermostat. If the temperature in your home feels dramatically different than its setting, it could be due to a faulty, uncalibrated, or improperly placed thermostat. If your thermostat display is not powering up, the first thing to do is replace the batteries. If that doesn’t help, there may be an internal short in the thermostat. Alternatively, your air conditioner’s safety float switch may be engaged and braking power to the thermostat. The thermostat may not be faulty at all, just uncalibrated or improperly positioned. For example, if the thermostat has been installed on a wall that gets direct sunlight, it will affect its accuracy and performance. 

Solution: If the thermostat is not turning on, you may try replacing the batteries first. The second thing to check is the circuit breaker and/or the safety float switch located on the condensate drain line of the AC air handler. It is important to handle the float switch with care, as repeatedly engaging the switch may damage the compressor. For this reason, it may be better to have a professional do these checks. A reputable air conditioning service provider will be able to confidently diagnose the problem. Sometimes the only fix is to have a professional replace the thermostat, reposition it, or recalibrate it. They will also be happy to discuss the option to upgrade to an automated or learning thermostat that can automatically control and schedule your cooling program to optimize energy usage and maximize savings.

Bonus Reason — Old or Worn-Out Parts

There’s another common reason your air conditioner could fail — it’s old. Over time and regular use, everyday wear and tear can slowly break down the components of your air conditioning, which can negatively affect its performance. Not only that, but parts like your compressor, electrical components, and fan blades can break down simply due to regular use. 

Solution: If you want to save yourself that emergency air conditioning repair call in the middle of the night, invest in regular tune-ups and other maintenance from our team of professionals. We can inspect your entire system and replace old or worn out parts. Fixing the small issues now can help prevent inconveniences and more significant problems in the future, so rely on our air conditioning maintenance services to keep your system performing at optimal capacity for years to come. 

Some of these tips and tricks can be performed yourself, but don’t be afraid to call a professional to assist when necessary. HVAC is a complicated subject, and our workers are trained and certified in what to do. Give us a call to find out how we can get your A/C unit back up and running today.

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Leave a reply

John Thistle
John Thistle
21:32 17 May 23
I recently had my air conditioning unit installed by Polar Bear Air Conditioning in Cayman Kai. I was very pleased with the service I received. The workmen, Jerome, Tony, and Nathan, were all professional and courteous. They arrived on time and were dressed in their uniforms. They laid out carpeting where they would be walking inside the house to avoid leaving debris or making a mess. They worked clean and kept the space tidy. They were polite and provided me a good understanding of the work they completed as well as showed me all pieces of equipment. They emailed me a jpg image of each piece of equipment's information plate so that I could record it in my home management software, as requested.Here are some specific details about the work they did:They installed 3 new high-efficiency air conditioning units that are much more energy-efficient (26 SEER) than my old units.They cleaned and disinfected the air ducts, as well as replaced previously installed flex ducts with rigid duct work that is superior in efficiency and durability.They installed new filters to help keep the air clean and free of allergens.They explained the operation of the new units to me and answered all of my questions.They cleaned up after themselves and left my home in good condition.I would highly recommend Polar Bear Air Conditioning to anyone in need of air conditioning installation or service. They are a professional and reliable company that provides excellent customer service.
Charles Mobley
Charles Mobley
01:19 01 May 23
Our ac stopped working a few weeks ago and Polar Bear sent Roemaine and Tyrone to diagnose the problem. Roemaine and Tyrone very quickly identified the problem and communicated with me. It turns out the best option was replacing the condensing unit which Paul quoted within a matter of minutes and they had expert installation team (Tony and Jerome) complete late in the afternoon with short notice. I’m very happy with their work!
17:26 22 Feb 23
I have, over the years been trying to find a reliable, professional A/C maintenance and repair company. I have tried a few. That search is now over after using Polar Bear. Billy and Jerry were absolutely a pleasure to work with. Knowledgeable and professional from the initial diagnosis to the final repair. I highly recommend this company and the team that came to do work on my AC. Tim.
Gill Gordon
Gill Gordon
01:58 27 Jan 23
Polar Bear technicians are always very polite, friendly and professional in their service. Each of their technicians that we have dealt with have been great and they are always super responsive to getting someone out. Pictured are Antony and Billy who completed our recent service 👍
Zichri M.
Zichri M.
22:27 30 Dec 22
Great work. I received an email and also a call from the dispatcher that the tech would be calling me, and sure enough, the tech (Simon) called shortly after that to let me know he was on his way which was very much appreciated. The customer service from all of the team and updates was spot on, and Simon was very thorough and very knowledgeable. He was also very courteous and professional. I rate Polar Bear as the best company in town. Great work!
Glenroy Miller
Glenroy Miller
03:27 24 Dec 22
Tyrone is very knowledgeable and professional, he gave me a step by step update of what he was doing. He also gave advice on how best to protect not only the unit but my family. My wife and I are totally satisfied with the service.
Kyle Roberts
Kyle Roberts
22:50 23 Dec 22
Polar Bear's service and response was amazing! Nicole who answered my phone call and scheduled me was extremely friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable! The Technician assigned to me was Simon and he was also extremely friendly and very knowledgeable. Within a minute of looking at my system he knew what the errors and issues were! He was able to fix one of the two problems that day, and then came scheduled and came the following day to fix the remaining issue. He was perfectly on time and the courtesy call before arrival both times before arriving was a welcome touch as it made sure that I was ready.Will continue using polar bear for all my HVAC needs! 5*
Kayla Shibli
Kayla Shibli
01:09 05 Oct 22
My experience with Polar Bear has been awesome!!!! From the beginning, the office staff were so professional and kind, then receiving my AC quote, the gentleman has been very prompt in his response time—, the kind of employee that puts customer first and has such a nice and an approachable attitude, very patient in answering my questions and providing guidance as required by me- customer focus completely, then as if that wasn’t enough to convince me to move my AC maintenance and installation to Polar Bear; the technicians that attended to my AC installation provided such excellent service— what stood out was how they used a carpet that was placed on my floor to avoid making any mess on my floor and whatever mess they did make, the technician used their broom to remove it. I know this message is long but I really wanted to express my THANK YOU and appreciation for such excellent customer service that I’ve experienced by Polar Bear — you have won me as a customer!! THANK YOU! Keep up the excellent customer service!!! Looking forward to building a relationship with you as a new customer.
Robert L White
Robert L White
11:48 15 Aug 22
Olivia and Demitri very professional , competent and are delightful people! She came by and diagnosed some issues with our AC system . I am reviewing your estimate at this time..I truly enjoyed meeting them. They both real assets to your Company!Rob
Omari Rankine
Omari Rankine
04:58 10 Jul 22
I am very pleased with the service that was provided by Polar Bear. I had an issue where the ac was not working at one of my rental properties after hours on a weekend. Rohan came all the way out to East End at 10pm and worked on the issue to get the system back up and running. He was very thorough and explained the issue in detail, and the measures I needed to take to prevent it from reoccurring. Excellent customer service

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