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Understanding and Avoiding Common AC Condenser Issues

During the heat of the Utah summer, few things are more important to residents throughout the state than keeping cool and comfortable in their homes. They rely on the air conditioner for this purpose, and issues with any of a few different AC components may cause problems -- a good example of which is any AC dealing with condenser concerns.

At My Buddy the Plumber, we're here to help with all the air conditioning repair and upkeep needs you may have. What exactly is the AC condenser, why is it important, and what are some of the more common problems it experiences? Here's a general rundown, plus how to avoid those issues.

avoiding AC condenser issues

Basics on the Condenser

For those just learning about it for the first time, the AC condenser is one of two main components in what's known as the air conditioner's "condensing unit." The other component is the evaporator, and these work together to cool your home using a system of coils.

The refrigerant in your home's AC system starts off as a gas. It goes into the evaporator where it becomes a liquid through a process of evaporation. As the liquid refrigerant evaporates, it pulls heat from the air in your home, cooling it down in the process.

The refrigerant then goes to the condenser, where it becomes a gas again. The heat that was pulled out of your home's air in the evaporator is released outside through this process. As the refrigerant becomes a gas again, it's under high pressure. That's why the condenser is often made of metal coils that help to dissipate this pressure and turn the refrigerant back into a liquid so the cycle can start anew.

If the condenser is not working properly, however, the process may not happen as intended. Let's take a look at some of the more common issues that can occur.

Dirty Condenser Coils

As we noted above, the condenser relies on a set of coils to help dissipate heat. If these coils become dirty, they won't be able to do their job as effectively. This will cause the refrigerant to overheat, which may in turn cause the AC unit to shut down entirely as a safety measure.

The good news is that cleaning the coils is a relatively easy fix. Start by turning off the power to the AC unit. Then, using a soft brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner, gently remove any debris that may have gathered on the coils. If they seem especially dirty, you can use a no-rinse coil cleaner -- just be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

Airflow Blocks

In other cases, the problem may not have anything to do with the coils themselves. If there's something blocking the airflow around the condenser, it won't be able to do its job properly and will overheat. Again, this can cause the AC unit to shut down.

Common culprits for airflow blockages include leaves, grass, and dirt. Once again, start by turning off the power to the unit. Then, using a garden hose, spray down the area around the condenser to remove any debris that may have gathered there.

Fan Issues

Condenser units also have a fan, one that's vital for helping to dissipate the heat that's released during the refrigerant-conversion process. If this fan is not working properly, it can cause all sorts of issues -- Dirty coils and blocked airflow are just two examples.

Fortunately, fan problems are relatively easy to spot. If you hear strange noises coming from your AC unit, or if it seems to be taking longer than usual to cool your home, there's a good chance the fan is the issue. The best course of action is to call in a professional for AC repair.

Refrigerant Leaks

If your AC unit isn't cooling your home as effectively as it used to, it may be due to a leak in the system. These are relatively uncommon, but they're not impossible. The most likely place for a refrigerant leak is at the point where the coils connect to the rest of the unit.

If you do spot a leak, it's important not to try and fix it yourself. Refrigerant can be dangerous if not handled properly, so it's best to leave repairs to the professionals.

Condenser problems can be frustrating, but they don't have to be permanent. In most cases, a little troubleshooting will do the trick. However, if you're ever in doubt, it's always best to call in a professional for AC repair.

Bent Fins

Surrounding the condenser unit is a series of fins. These help to dissipate the heat coming from the refrigerant inside. If these fins become bent, they won't be able to do their job as effectively.

Bent fins can usually be fixed with a simple fin comb. Start by turning off the power to the unit and then gently combing through the fins until they're straight again.

Frozen Coils

In some cases, the coils inside the condenser may actually become frozen. This is usually due to a lack of airflow, which can be caused by anything from dirty coils to bent fins.

If you suspect your coils are frozen, turn off the power to the unit and then check the coils for ice. If they're frozen, you can thaw them out by using a hair dryer set to low heat. Once they're thawed, be sure to check for any other issues that may have caused the freezing in the first place.

For more on how to understand and deal with possible AC condenser issues, or to learn about any of our HVAC, plumbing or other services in the SLC area, speak to the team at My Buddy the Plumber today.

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