July 7, 2022
AC unit in San Antonio, TX

Your air conditioner’s compressor is what allows it to remove heat from your circulating air, making it cooler. However, when there’s a problem with your compressor, you’ll notice right away that it’s not cooling your home properly. Discover how your AC works, the compressor’s role in that process, and the common problems you may experience.

The Fundamentals of Air Conditioning

Let’s start with a brief discussion of how your air conditioning works. It’s actually a misnomer to think that your AC generates or creates cold air. Rather, what you can do is remove enough heat from something that it feels cold. This is precisely how an air conditioner works. It sucks in warm air from your home, removes some heat, and then pushes the cooler air back out.

The refrigerant in the system is what allows it to absorb heat. When the pressure of the refrigerant drops, it becomes cold. Conversely, it becomes hot when that pressure increases. The refrigerant’s pressure drops when it comes into the evaporator coil. When it gets outside, the pressure increases, allowing it to vent the heat it’s absorbed.

This is part of why it’s so important to have the right amount of refrigerant in your system. A technician will check its level during routine AC maintenance, ensuring it’s the proper level.

Understanding How Compressors Work

The compressor’s job is to regulate the refrigerant’s pressure, specifically the high pressure. It compresses the refrigerant back into a liquid state from the gas state that allowed it to get cold. It’s called the compressor because it compresses the refrigerant.

There are several issues you’ll notice that relate to your compressor. However, all of them come back to the same issue, failing to pressurize the refrigerant properly. Unfortunately, a compressor failure typically means you’ll need an AC replacement, not just a repair.

Unusual Noises

One of the first things you may notice relating to your compressor are the various noises it may make. These noises may signify anything from needing maintenance or minor repairs to a compressor that’s burning out.

You may hear a rattling noise coming from the compressor area. This could be as simple as something caught in the condensing fan blades. However, it could also signify an internal part of the compressor has broken and is now rattling around, causing additional damage. A screeching sound from your compressor likely indicates you have too much refrigerant pressure.

Frozen Condensing Coil

Your condensing coil sits in the outside unit and is responsible for venting the heat the refrigerant absorbs inside. There are several problems that would cause this coil to freeze rather than get warm, with the former being due to low refrigerant.

When your system has low refrigerant, the compressor has to work harder to try to build the pressure. Imagine sucking the last remnants of a milkshake through a straw. A compressor was designed to operate with a certain amount of resistance in the system to build the pressure. When the compressor has almost no resistance, serious strain is put on the system.

Weak Airflow

As previously mentioned, airflow is incredibly important to the entire air conditioning process. Without proper airflow into the system, the cold refrigerant has no heat to absorb. It also leaves little cold air moving into your home, making the system run longer to try to achieve the set temperature.

When the refrigerant doesn’t absorb the right amount of heat, it causes the compressor to work harder to raise the pressure to the appropriate level. If the gas-state refrigerant is coming in at a lower temperature, the compressor strains more to achieve the appropriate pressure, increasing wear on the unit. If left long enough, this can cause the compressor to burn out.

Tripping Circuit Breakers

Tripping circuit breakers are actually a symptom of a compressor problem, and it’s critical to give them your immediate attention. Circuit breakers trip when too much electric current flows through the circuit and risks the integrity of the wiring. Electrical appliances, like your air conditioner, draw more electricity when the electrical resistance increases. When we talk about the extra strain, what we’re referring to is the extra electrical resistance the appliance experiences.

When it comes to your air conditioner, the compressor is what draws the largest amount of electricity. In fact, it draws so much when it first starts that it requires a capacitor, which stores a large charge to kick-start the compressor. If your air conditioning circuit breaker is tripping, it is almost always a problem with the compressor drawing too much current.

Dirty or Clogged Condensing Coil

Just like your system requires air to flow through the inside portions, it also requires air to flow through the outside unit. It’s the exterior airflow that allows the heat absorbed by the refrigerant to vent, enabling it to absorb more heat as it moves back inside.

It’s common for the condensing coil to become clogged or blocked if you don’t pay particular attention to it. There’s no filter keeping contaminants off the coil, allowing pollen and other airborne contaminants to collect on the coils. Further, grass and weeds tend to grow up around the coil, restricting the airflow. Then, there are trees and bushes that grow out, also inhibiting the airflow if you allow them to get too close.

Restricted airflow through the condensing coil prevents the heat from venting effectively. This in turn can burn out the compressor because it’s dealing with temperatures it’s not designed to handle. An overheating compressor can ruin the internal seals and oil, causing excessive wear and premature failure.

Improper Installation

Some industry analysts suggest that as many as 90% of all HVAC systems aren’t installed properly. Improper installation leads to many problems, including early compressor failure.

For the compressor, improper AC installation can include things as simple as not leveling the unit properly, leading to unusual torque and increased strain. It can also restrict airflow and refrigerant flow through the system. It can also be as simple as under or overcharging the system, both of which damage the compressor.

Incorrect Repair Protocols

It’s imperative to have your system professionally serviced when there’s a problem. Not following the proper repair protocols inevitably leads to damage and wear to the compressor. This could come from simply reducing the system’s efficiency, slowly eroding its service life. It could also be something as big as overcharging the system, which will cause almost immediate catastrophic compressor damage. Keep in mind that attempting to do your own repairs or service will void any manufacturer’s warranty, leaving you to foot the bill for a damaged compressor.

Depend on the same company people around Selma have trusted to keep their homes comfortable for over 40 years. The technicians at Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating provide heating and cooling maintenance, repair, and installation. We also provide duct repair and cleaning, as well as indoor air quality solutions. Call to schedule your AC repair appointment with one of our friendly technicians today!

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