It's one of life's cruel ironies: when you need your air conditioner the most, it may be at the most significant risk of failure. While air conditioner systems can help keep your home cool on even the warmest days, it's essential to understand how these conditions can stress your equipment. Recognizing these potential areas of trouble can help you to spot and repair problems before your system fails.
While a well-maintained air conditioner should be able to cope with even extreme temperatures, the extra stresses of a heatwave can push a weak system over the edge. Here are just three ways that warm weather can potentially overwhelm your air conditioning system.
1. Poor Heat Transfer
Your air conditioner can overheat if the conditions are right. All air conditioners work by transporting heat from inside your home to the outside environment. This process works because the temperature of the refrigerant is typically much higher than the ambient air after it leaves the compressor. As the hot refrigerant moves through the condenser coils, it releases heat and condenses and cools into a liquid.
Under normal circumstances, this transfer can take place even when the ambient air is scorching. If the condenser coils are dirty, damaged, or otherwise in poor condition, then the refrigerant may be unable to release its heat. Higher refrigerant temperatures disrupt the normal refrigerant cycle, forcing your compressor to work harder and potentially causing it to overheat and shut down.
2. Frozen Evaporator Coils
An air conditioner system that works too hard can create another problem: frozen evaporator coils. Central AC systems typically cycle on and off at regular intervals of 15-30 minutes. If the system is struggling to keep up with excessive temperatures, then the compressor may run for much longer. In this case, the temperature at the evaporator can drop low enough for condensation to freeze.
Ice on your evaporator coils can be just as dangerous to your system as extreme heat at your condenser coils. The ice insulates the coil, preventing the refrigerant from absorbing heat from your home. Not only will this reduce your system's ability to cool your house, but cold refrigerant returning to your compressor can also lead to damage.
3. Electrical Surges
Your compressor draws a significant amount of power when it engages. This power draw shouldn't usually be an issue, but faulty wiring in older homes can sometimes lead to electrical problems. During prolonged heatwaves, extended compressor runtimes or frequent cycling can potentially trip your home's breaker.
When this occurs, it usually means that there is an electrical fault at the condenser unit or somewhere else in the wiring. Avoid resetting your breaker and turning the air conditioner back on, since it will likely to continue to trip your breaker. Instead, have a qualified HVAC contractor help you to find and repair the underlying fault.
Rely on qualified AC repair to avoid complications with your system during a heatwave.